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Rio de Janeiro – Sun, Fun & Food

46 hours, 5 airports, 4 planes, and 3 South American countries later we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

October 2, 2009 - Decision DateOur anticipation to experience this charming, yet troubled city of 12 million souls was initially tempered by our lack of sleep. But no time for too much sleep as Rio offers a plethora of activities: frenetic beaches, busy markets, imaginable views, dancing, and walking tours of local slums.

We settled into our hostel in famed Copacabana. The place was alive with 20 somethings from around the globe. Everyone was drawn to Rio for a similar reason… the charm you read and hear about. We had barbeques, consumed caipirinhas, and listened to travel encounters across continents. Everyone raved about the juice bars seemingly on every corner in Rio. So far, I have enjoyed twelve glasses from an array of fruits. And we splurged a bit at a churrascaria, an all you can eat seafood, sushi, and meat experience. Three hours of deliciousness!

Itacoatiara Beach Ipanema Beach






Our first adventure wasn’t even in Rio itself, but rather on the opposite side of Guanabara Bay in Niteroi. It took two buses, a ferry, and 2.5 hours to reach Itacoatiara Beach and it sure was worth the effort. It seemed as if we were the only two “gringos” soaking up the rays on this beach too remote for the average tourist. We tried strange sandwiches with the help of friendly sunbathers, watched skilled surfers navigate the 10 foot waves, and enjoyed the natural beauty surrounding the enclosed stretch of sand.

Muscle ManThe weather continued its hot streak, so we hit the packed beach of Ipanema. I have never seen so many beach umbrellas and sun seekers in my life. We eventually found a small area to lay our green and maroon towels surrounded by men in “banana hammocks” and women in so-called bikinis. It seems a government mandate is in effect for all men to workout 3 hours per day, chug Muscle Milk, and otherwise look immensely fit. In order to make visitors feel better about themselves, the municipality installed pullup bars for skinny guys named Greg.

Ever the tourist, we had a drink at Garota de Ipanema where the famous Tom Jobin bossa nova song was supposedly written. So the story goes, The Girl from Ipanema would stroll by the bar to pick up smokes for her mom or head to the beach with friends. She was such a beauty, Jobin was compelled to compose a song after her.

Needing some Americana, I searched out any bar that was televising the Bengals versus Steelers game. We found refuge in an Ipanema pub that served terrible pizza, overpriced beers, and a jerky feed of the game. DISH Network Satellite, fed to a converter box, connected to a laptop, then channeled to the projector resulted in a grainy picture. Following the action via the the football was useless, so we were aided solely by the player’s reactions to each snap. Grinning and bearing the action alongside us was John, an oil man from Texas, that we chatted with until the brilliant conclusion of the Bengals game. Noting our tight backpacker budget, John picked up our tab via an expense account! Can you say… booyah!

Garota de IpanemaChoppy Carson Palmer







It has been such a great mix of Brazilian food, drink, and beaches coupled with the familiar, albeit choppy, sights of home.

- Greg


1) When arriving at the airport, you can either take a taxi ($35 total) or the REAL bus ($4 per person). The bus is safe, air conditioned, and drops you on Atlantic Avenue in either Ipanema or Copacabana. If arriving at night, opt for the registered taxi.

2) Food and juice can be had for cheap ($6 lunch) on nearly every corner and all have similar prices. While the food may not win any American Heart Association awards, it is reasonably priced in an otherwise expensive South American city.

3) There are many hostels to choose from ($20 – $35 per night for a dorm bed) in both Copacabana and Ipanema. Opt for Ipanema as it is a bit safer, has the better beach, and is less touristy.

Peru – Highlights & Tips

All told, Peru engaged us for 23 days in September 2009. Our first stop on our world tour was a splendid ice breaker. We spent time with Peruvian families, imbibed on unique drinks, and saw much of what this proud country has to offer.

- See & Do

Lake Sandoval & Amazon Rainforest1) Amazon – the sights/sounds/smells were incredible!

2) Mach Picchu – 4 days of hiking makes you appreciate the remarkable Inca empire

3) If time permits – Lake Titicaca & Colca Canyon

4) Peru is not your “beach vacation” – activities are dominated by hiking and lots of walking.

- Transportation

1) Air – LAN Peru (impressive service & planes) covers much of the country and you can save big $$$ by using the Peru version of the site. Star Peru is a low cost carrier and has decent coverage.

2) Bus – You can go almost everywhere in Peru via bus if you have the patience and time. Opt for the “luxury” buses as they are more reliable, have sober drivers, and are quite comfortable. The extra money is well worth it… trust us.

3) Taxis – Negotiate cheap fares to/from bus terminals and airports. Also widely available in cities. Be sure to get a legit taxi as stories of baggage theft/robbery are rampant.

- Food

1) Greg enjoyed the saltado (alpaca, fries, onions, rice).

2) Ash became quite ill from something or other, so she relied on pasta, pizza, and wrapper type food much of the time.  A diet light on alpaca to be sure. 

3) Soup – they love their soups flavored with a bone, though it is quite bland.

4) Most Peruvian food is laced with salt, watch out!

5) Avoid buffets like the plague.

- Drink

Pisco Sours v11) Pisco Sour (the national drink) – tastes like a margarita, but made with egg white. Captain Ron would be proud!

2) Cusquena – this beer is everywhere and is usually served warm. Opt for the “grande” and share the $$$ saved with a friend. Greg enjoyed many of these.

3) Coca Tea – a classic in the higher elevations. It does wonders for symptoms of altitude sickness.

4) Chicha – consumed for hundreds of years in the Andes. It is a fermented maize drink that only the daring travelers will try… it will reek havoc on the weak’s stomach.

- Culture & Citizens

1) Attire – Regardless of tourism, the friendly people wear the traditional dress.  Women: a blouse with colorful accents, black shahs to cover their head, heavy/colorful skirts, a sash, thick tights, and sandals.  Men: colorful ponchos, dark pants,sandals, and a chullo (beautiful alpaca hats that tie under their neck).  Some men are transitioning to a look more familiar to the West. 

2) Mix of Spanish / Inca heritage– the celebration of these two cultures is equally celebrated.

3) Family – large family units with literate children (Spanish & English) and strong values.  Many young mothers and it seemed every family had a baby.

4) People – incredibly friendly, trusting, and welcoming.  We can’t say enough how much we enjoyed the Peruvians with which we interacted.

- Safety

1) Don’t be a fool – simple rules apply as petty crime is present. Don’t wear jewelery, stash your wallet, and be vigilant.

2) Lima – fly in, then get out! We spent 1 day here and that was plenty. One gets an uneasy feeling in the capital city for good reason. We met a German couple that was held up a gunpoint in broad daylight. Stay in well populated areas and never walk alone.

3) Cusco – the main tourist city (near Machu Picchu) had a fantastic vibe at night with a heavy police presence. We felt very safe here.

- Costs

1) Lodging – when in doubt, pick a hostel near the Plaza de Armas (main square in each city). Dorms range from $6 – $10 and privates from $8 – $12 per person.

2) Food – Breakfast is generally included with your hostel, lunch $4 – $6, and dinner (entre & beer) $7 – $9 per person. Cooking at the hostel will cost you about $4 per person + strange conversations.

3) Transportation – Flights between cities cost between $75 and $125 per person. Buses range from $8 for a “local” to $30 for a “luxury” liner for distances of 6 – 10 hours.

4) Excursions – The Inca Trail fills up months in advance and the price continues to climb. Most trekking operators charge between $450 and $550 for the 4 day / 3 night hike to Machu Picchu. Overnight Amazon tours run in the $130 – $190 range while excursions to Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon are about $20. Every excursion except for the Inca Trail is negotiable – don’t spend a penny more than you must!

Plaza de Armas Fountain & Peru FlagLooking back, we covered lots of climates, cities, and sights in just over 3 weeks. Perhaps we were giddy and traveled a bit fast as this was our first month. Only 2 days were spent to rest and that clearly is not sustainable. Peru is an inexpensive country for the necessities of life, but the costs add up quickly when embarking on the tantalizing excursions. Peru has so much to offer… incredible sights and even better people.

- Greg & Ash

Colca Canyon & Van of Tourists

Our last excursion in Peru… the Colca Canyon.

We departed from Arequipa early with yet another conversion van full of travelers. With 6 hours of driving, we hoped our destination would prove to be worthy of the ride… valleys reportedly twice as deep as America’s Grand Canyon. However, Peru’s version lacks the incredible vertical walls, thus not the same awesome sight. Regardless, we aimed to see more rural towns, hot springs, and the famed Andean Condor.

Grazing Llamas The first day was dominated by driving with the occasional stop to snap photos of the sleepy terrain. Wild llamas, alpacas, and large rodents dotted the barren landscape. For lunch we stopped at a touristy overpriced buffet (asking $7) and I negotiated a far simpler meal, freshly cooked, for $1.50. More driving and we found ourselves in Chivay for the night, supposedly home to fantastic hot springs.  Wind ErosionSuspicious, Ash and I decided to “tour” the hot springs rather than pay full admission. Good choice… the so-called hot springs were nothing more than warm bathtubs full of thong wearing tourist with too much back hair. Then more tourist fun – an “authentic dinner theater” able to hold 100+ of your closest friends from around the world. Oh, and our hostel was disgusting.

Andean Eagle & Blond BombshellExcited to put the second ½ of the prior day behind us, we woke to a screaming baby, quickly packed, then headed for the main event: Cruz del Condor. This made the whole trip worthwhile. Another two hours in the van and we found ourselves near the deepest gorge of the Colca Canyon. The view itself was stunning, but then deep below, a fast moving streak. Then two, three, five….

Wild Falcon (on a rope) Andean Mountains - Colca Canyon Below






Andean Condor SoaringRising like a thermometer in the early morning desert, the eight condors steadily rose with the air draft created by the Andes Mountains. Effortlessly, they glided in the brisk air closer and closer to the camera wielding spectators. Curiously, these lanky birds dine purely on carcasses, preferably the brains and stomach. Thankfully, I did not perish on this day. We watched the magnificent birds soar for 40 minutes and just as quickly as they appeared, the condors moved further along the abyss below.

After a six hour drive chatting with a close talking Belgian diplomat, we arrived back in Arequipa for some much need rest. Our last stop in Peru certainly had its positives and negatives. But the natural beauty coupled with the majestic birds outweighed the tourist fueled itinerary.

- Greg


  1. Book tours in small groups. We saw tour buses full of, well, tourists. At least our tour of 12 folks had a personal touch to it. Again, negotiate and haggle and NEVER pay full price.

  2. There are great hot springs in the Colca Canyon, just avoid Chivay. The hot springs in Yanque (near Chivay) are incredible.

Culture Abounds on Lake Titicaca

I’m baaaaaaaack! Thanks for all the well wishes the past week. Sickness was inevitable, but I didn’t think it would strike so suddenly. Let’s just say I will be much more careful when eating…no more buffets!

After our journey to Machu Pichhu, Greg and I boarded a bus early the next day to Puno, Peru. There isn’t much in Puno, but it is the launching point for adventures on Lake Titicaca. This lake interested us because it is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 ft above sea level (and it has a hilarious name).  It is located on the Peru/Bolivia border. It also contains 41 different islands making it feel and look more like an ocean.  To give you an idea of Lake Titicaca’s size, here is a comparison to some familiar lakes (one acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre to a depth of one foot):

  • Lake Michigan - 3,987,456,000 acre-feet
  • Lake Titicaca - 723,148,586 acre-feet
  • Lake Wilson (Kansas) - 235,000 acre-feet
  • Lake Monroe (Indiana) - 182,250 acre-feet

Having arrived in Puno, we made plans for a 2 day / 1 night excursion on Lake Titicaca. I was still on a “wrapper food” diet and wasn’t feeling great the day of our scheduled departure. So we decided to take a day to relax before venturing out to the lake. Fully rested, we boarded a sleepy boat at 8am full of tourists from France and Spain. Our first stop were the much anticipated islands of Uros.

Floating Island of Uros  Authentic Uros Attire    






 There are 42 of these tiny artificial islands, only five prior to tourism. The inhabitants live on these islands made of ½ reeds and ½ their roots found in the shallow areas of Lake Titicaca, adding reeds as necessary. The original purpose of the islands was that of defense. They would move their floating homes whenever they felt a threat arise. Home on UrosThe people live, sleep, and cook in small reed huts about the size of a dorm room. By day, the men fish and gather reeds while the women cook, weave, and tend to the family. The islands are also self sustaining. They have a school through Junior High, barter with land dwelling people for grains, and drink potable water straight from frigid Lake Titicaca.

After Uros it was a two hour boat ride to Amantani, a volcanic island. Though not as impressive compared to Uros, we were able to closely interact with the local people. We were introduced to our host, Wecelia, then ushered to her family’s home for a unique lunch of lightly fried minnows, potatoes, and vegetables. Upon seeing the minnows, my stomach immediately churned while Greg gladly, then regretfully tried one. Our room for the night was made from mud-bricks and the door was miniature, only coming up to Greg’s chest. Nevertheless, we were thrilled for the opportunity to live like a local for one day.

Greg's Better Half Lake Titicaca


We hiked one hour to the pinnacle of Amantani then made our way back down just in time for dinner. Lacking electricity, we ate our dinner of fried potatoes and rice by candle light. We sipped some warm coca tea, then Wecelia and her husband dressed us in their traditional clothes so we could attend the native fiesta. With a flashlight guiding our way, we made our way through town just in time for the fiesta to begin. Mmmmm... Not so much According to Greg, it is the most sober fun one can have in a concrete bunker. For about 2 hours, the locals and tourists alike danced to authentic Peruvian music. Greg said it reminded him of the Wedding March my Miller family likes to perform at weddings… Miller’s, hopefully this frames the evening for you! After the fiesta, we made our way back to our little mud-brick room for the evening.

After an early morning breakfast we boarded the boat en route to another volcanic island, Taquile. In this case, Juan Carlos (guide) did not save the best for last. It had beautiful scenery similar to the previous islands, but lacked something unique. I was still not feeling 100%, so I was anxious to get back to Puno and a nice warm bed.

How the people lived on Lake Titicaca reminded me of the simple things we take for granted. Showers, lightswitches, flushing toilets, baking oven – none of these appeared in Wecelia’s humble abode. Though they must be doing something right… life expectancy on Lake Titicaca is rumored to be over 90 years old!

- Ash


  1. Visit 2 or 3 travel agencies before booking a group tour. Every agency offers similar excursions, so find one that will negotiate with you. Price, included meals, and lodging are all fair game for haggling.

  2. Multilingual guides can get scatterbrained and forget to translate important pieces of info. Before partaking in activities on any tour, make sure it is included, and if not, find out the cost. We took a 10 minutes boat ride around Uros we thought was included and $7 later we learned our lesson!

Machu Picchu – What A Spectacle (Part II of II)

I awoke early in the morning on Day 3, the cold mountain air filling my lungs. A friendly porter was quick to deliver warm cocoa tea to us as we packed our sleeping bags/pads and personal belongings. Then we hit the Inca Trail for the longest day yet, 16 kilometers.

Group ShotSun GateInca Subway

A steady uphill climb and we reached the circular ruins of Runkuracay where the fog slowly lifted from the depths of the Pacamayo valley below. The path beyond these ruins was particularly stunning with views over staggering cliffs. We enjoyed a warm lunch and a short siesta before embarking on a far easier stretch of the trail. The path hugs the mountain ridge within the cloudforest, full of brilliant orchids, meter thick moss, and tree ferns. We even passed through an “Inca subway” which was a cleverly carved tunnel into the rock. One last climb and we reached an impressive vista offering views of snow-capped Mount Salkantay. A few hours later, we reached the final camp after maneuvering hundreds of steep steps. A hot shower ($1.50) and a cold beer ($4.00) awaited us. I was able to speak briefly with Ash and was anxious to meet her at Machu Picchu the next day.

We indulged on plates of salty popcorn while waiting for Smitty and the Aussies to appear. Well past dark, Christina limped in donning a white bandage on her bloody forehead, a shredded right sleeve, and a red stained pant leg. The clasps on her boots became entwined and her momentum had taken her headfirst down the rocky steps of the Inca Trail. But Oz makes them tough – she had walked one more hour before two porters arrived to carry her to the camp. Myself and some fellow hikers indulged on a couple beers before saying our goodbyes to the helpful porters. Then off to sleep in anticipation of the Big Day!

High Above Machu PicchuWalking Stick Above MPMountain View

3:45am came fast. And all 200 sleep deprived hikers had an extra spring in their step on this morning. But that enthusiasm had to wait until the checkpoint opened at 5:30am. Then, like a pack of wolves, we all scurried for the famed Sun Gate – our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. The name is a misnomer, at least on this day. It should be called the Cloud Gate! We sat impatienly for over an hour as the fog suffocated any chance to witness the spectacle. We had had enough and descended into the cloud forest until the fog thinned and ruins took shape. And there it was: Machu Picchu!

Anxious to see Ash and check on her health myself, I went ahead of the group towards the main entrance. But my own battles with the food would delay our homecoming. Like an unstoppable rebel force, my stomach forced me to retreat to the forest surrounding Machu Picchu. Does a bear crap in the woods? Yes. Does Greg. You betcha ya. I entered the path once more with a group of Asian tourists staring strangely at me, so I motioned that I had been photographing butterflies.

Ash at Machu PicchuMP in BackgroundAriel Shot of MP

With that straightened out, I finally met up with Ash and thanked Hernan for taking great care of her. Low on energy and unable to eat, Ash was still able to see/touch/smell Machu Pichhu. We toured the impressive complex for 3+ hours – the temples, courtyards, terraced fields, and irrigation systems. A truly amazing sight. Well worth the rollercoaster ride!

Both worn out after four grueling days, Ash and I headed back to Cusco to get some sleep before departing the next day for Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incas.

- Greg

Machu Picchu – Two Grueling Days (Part I of II)

Having decided Peru (cheapest one-way flight) would be our first stop on our global tour, I couldn’t wait to embark on the Inca Trail and spy Machu Picchu. We booked our spots in June 2009 as only 200 hikers are allowed on the trail each day. Finally, the day was here!

Before we departed, the omens of inclement health were gathering. I had spent an evening in the chilly hostel restroom the day prior and Ash began to have fits with her stomach. Nevertheless, we met our guide and fellow hikers the night before hitting the trail for a debriefing. What a diverse and exciting group we would be getting to know: newlywed physicians from Finland, a globetrotting tandem from Ireland & Germany, a Brazilian man on leave from his wife for 10 days, a Niece and her courageous Aunt from Australia, and a young couple from England wrapping up a 9 month world expedition.

We were under a sheet, two blankets, and a bedspread by 10pm, though neither of us felt up for dinner – not even a guinea pig (a delicacy in Peru).

Almost to Kilometer 82Pretty in PinkFinal Wishes Upon Departure

A newish blue van fetched us early the next morning and we were off to get final supplies (walking sticks, chocolate, water, ponchos) and headed for Kilometer 82 – the starting point of the Inca Trail. Day 1 on the route to Machu Picchu was characterized by a steep climb along the Vilcanota River then gradual inclines/declines until reaching the first campsite, 12 kilometers down the rocky trail. The terrain was not too difficult, but the inability to consume food/water, severe nausea, and an overall lack of energy were beginning to wreak havoc on Ashley’s frail body. We ate a simple dinner then Smitty (guide) taught Russ, Amelia (English couple), and me a classic Peruvian card game with the oh so clever name of “cards”.

Twas a LONG night for Ash. She was up and down every 30 minutes having to evacuate from either end of her suffering body. All told, she got about 2.5 hours of sleep… the night before the toughest day of hiking.

Already awake when the porters roused us with a warm cup of cocoa tea, Ash was in bad shape. She nibbled on 2 bites of a cold pancake and it was clear a decision was looming. The nine other hikers moved along to the first checkpoint, while Ash took frequent breaks. Our companions were resting when we arrived and Smitty was concerned. I forced Ash to eat one piece of chocolate after seeing she could hardly lift her arm over her head. The hikers went ahead as Smitty advised us about our choices. We heard his recommendation loud and clear: the next five hours of hiking are steep, we will gain altitude, and the campsite is frigid. Because Ashley had barely eaten in two days and couldn’t keep anything down, it would be foolish for her to continue. So the decision was made – Ash would go back to Ollantaytambo via horse with Hernan (2nd guide) and meet us at Machu Picchu on Day 4. Saddened, we said our goodbyes and I provided Hernan with a healthy tip to take good care of my beloved gal.

Typical Trail4,200 Meters Above Sea LevelDead Woman's Pass

With a heavy heart, I double-timed it with Smitty to catch up with the rest of the group. After a grueling 45 minutes uphill, we reached them at a river crossing. The next five hours offered some fantastic terrain coupled with the most difficult hiking of the Inca Trail. At first the sun was scorching, but as we reached the highest pass of the trail, the wind was fierce and the air cold. Having climbed 4,000 feet to Dead Woman’s Pass, the view was incredible. The physical drain of this hike validated our decision for Ash to head back… it really would have been Dead Woman’s Pass.

Day 2 CampStill ClimbingDice, A Game of Ambition

A two hour decent and we reached camp around 3pm and enjoyed a much needed siesta after hiking 11 kilometers. Claudio, the Brazilian fellow limped into camp later after falling and tweaked his knee. Ray (Irish man without red hair) had an infection on top of his right foot. Dutifully, the Finnish doctors were there to help them both. Smitty taught us a Peruvian dice game called Ambition then we dined on rice and chicken. I retired to my tent with Ashley on my mind, though I was happy to have her sleeping bag and pad on such a cold night!

Stay tuned for Day 3 & 4!

- Greg


1) Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer – holes in the ground don’t have TP dispensers and it seems as if soap hasn’t been invented quite yet.

2) Other hikes leading to Machu Picchu are available – all cheaper than the Inca Trail.  These can be booked once in Cusco days before your adventure.  If your heart is set on the Inca Trail, book early.

RTW Preparations – Overview

So how does one go about going from a permanent address, a leased car, and an apartment full of “stuff” to a 50 liter backpack and a passport? Lots of work.

Weekends/weeknights, dreams, road trips… our pursuit to see the world enveloped our lives. Fighting the urge to splurge, finding the proper gear/clothing, and building a web of bank accounts were among the daily tasks. And to do it all on a tight budget took some tough choices and LOTS of research.

We consulted blogs, long-term travel websites, and had countless discussions to come up with a comprehensive packing list. Many of the categories below will have a detailed blog entry for those interested in how we reached the summit of Preparation Mountain.

Without all the gory details, below is a consolidated list of what we accomplished with August 31, 2009 circled on our calendars:

  1. Backpack – type (top loader vs. side loader), brand, size, daypack.

  2. Clothing – shoes, flip flops, socks, shirts, shots, pants, dresses, jackets, bras, underwear, hats, etc.

  3. Electronics – iPods, headphones, cameras, photo storage, netbook, external DVD player, bluetooth earpiece, travel charger adapters, battery charger, rechargeable batteries, etc.

  4. Lighting – headlamp, torch.

  5. Sleeping – sleeping bag, ear plugs, sleep sacks, alarm clock, sleeping masks, etc.

  6. Security – moneybelt, decoy wallet, backpack locks.

  7. First Aid Kit – case, materials (bandages, Imodium, tweezers, moleskin, thermometer, pain reliever, cold medicine, etc.).

  8. Prescriptions – case, pills (malaria, diarrhea, altitude sickness, pain reliever, birth control, antibiotics).

  9. Dopp Kit – case, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, bar of soap, razor, shaving cream, deodorant, face wash, lotion, vitamins, etc.

  10. Sanitary Items – travel detergent, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, travel towel, etc.

  11. Bite Avoidance – DEET repellant spray, permetherin.

  12. Useful Items – Sunscreen, pocketknife, Ziploc bags, resistance bands, sewing kit, sunglasses, notebook, dive masks/snorkel, cards, etc.

  13. Banking – close unnecessary accounts, research banks with favorable international transaction policies, link up accounts, traveler checks, notification of foreign travel, etc.

  14. Paperwork – backup (hard copies, copies for family, email backup), immunization records, blood type, flight serial numbers, passport, visas, power of attorney, drivers license, etc.

  15. Immunizations – yellow fever, hepatitis A/B, meningitis, typhoid fever, tetanus, polio.

  16. Unwinding Your Life – change of address, pay all outstanding balances, unload car lease, storage of personal items, etc.

- Greg


1) Begin your preparations 6 months before your targeted departure date.  This will significantly reduce your anxiety.

2) Before purchasing anything, come up with your Packing Checklist, your game plan.   Again, this will reduce anxiety.

3) The best way to save $$$ on RTW preparations is to only purchase necessary items.  For example, if you aren’t going to be camping every week, don’t buy a sleeping bag!

Trek up the Old Peak

Ash and I are off on a 4 day / 3 night hike of Machu Picchu.  Along the ride to discover the Lost City of the Incas are 2 Brits, 1 Brazilian, 1 German, 1 Irish, 2 Finnish, and 2 Aussies.  We won’t let America down!

We will post about our success or failure soon.  So stay tuned…

Supposedly Higher Than Everest

Supposedly Higher Than Everest

God Bless America

As we depart for Machu Picchu, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, it is hard to ignore the date on my watch. 9/11.

The memory of this date and what has transpired since evokes a wide range of emotions: profound sadness, patriotism, deep anger. Just thinking about still brings tears to my eyes. I was a Sophomore at Indiana University that Autumn morning. Sleeping safely in the cold dorm of Pi Kappa Phi alongside 45 smelly fraternity brothers, I gingerly awoke to the commotion. Was I hearing it right? No. No way. Swiftly moving through the hallway made of indestructible walls, I found my way to a room shared with 5 other Brothers. All four televisions were tuned to various stations: FoxNews, Weather Channel, CNN, Local ABC. All showing the terrifying replay of that fateful morning.

Trying to understand the magnitude of this horrendous event, we sat around the ‘tube with hardly a word spoken. When it became clear that the plane crashes were no coincidence, that it was an incredibly callous and cowardly act of terrorism, my thoughts were trained on revenge. This feeling of rage stayed with me for days, then turned to a distinct feeling of patriotism. That I lived in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

Knowing that the world is full of great people – from Argentina to Botswana, from India to Vietnam, from Russia to Jordan – I reckoned it was time discover what the civilized world has to offer. While I am jokester at heart, one thing I take quite seriously is being an United States of America Ambassador. The stereotype going of the USA is that Americans believe they are better than everyone else. And that is what two folks in Peru told me in just 10 days here. Though after spending some time with them, they see ordinary Americans are just like them. We share the same family values, demand respect, and are generally selfless.

Being away from the Stars and Stripes for over 12 months, makes me long for the simple things of life like ordering a burger and actually getting a burger. I will miss so many things I take for granted like sharing a beer with good friends or going to Lincoln Park High School to vote in a fair election.

If September 11, 2001 taught me anything, it is this: while humankind can be cruel at times, the masses share a common goal of freedom and prosperity. And you can’t let the bad apples overshadow all the good in this world.

Feel free to leave your own thoughts or comments below. Thanks for reading and may God Bless America.

 God Bless the USA!

Sacred Valley

Outside Cusco in the Andes Mountains lies the Sacred Valley. We spent from sun up to well past sun down exploring this historical area in Southeast Peru. We thought this would be a proper way to learn more about the Incas while also preparing for the physical demands of our four day Machu Picchu hike.

We started our day running late due to Greg being on the usual “Dietz Time”. So after briskly jogging to Naty’s Travel Agency, we boarded a bus full of tourists from Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico, and France to find the last two separate seats available. We had an hour drive until our first stop though it felt like eternity. An impatient Peruvian child sitting in front of me was spending his time closing my curtain or reclining his chair so that I couldn’t move. I swear he was doing this to spite me. Our first stop was an artisan market filled with alpaca sweaters/hats, clay pottery, and dolls. Uninterested, Greg and I walked through the small shops then investigated a South Korean supported artisan workshop. Back to the bus… this time we got seats together… away from the obnoxious kid.

PisaqPisaq in the backgroundAndes Mountains

Our second stop were the ancient ruins of Pisaq. These ruins were set high atop the mountains and were an impressive spectacle. The Incas used the Pisaq area for three purposes: military, religion and agriculture. There are remains of numerous watchtowers built into the mountain that were used to protect the capital city of Cusco from rural invaders. The narrow walkways up Pisaq were a little nerve wracking so if heights aren’t your thing, the ground view ought to suffice.

Not so goodDuring this tour we met a Kiwi named Jonathan who was kind enough to instruct us on the capabilities of our Canon camera. We had a ball exchanging travel stories over a negotiated lunch and even made plans to spend some time in New Zealand with him and his wife, Haley, in December. We can’t wait!  Greg also tried some interesting Peruvian spirits.

The next stop was another Inca archaeological site, Ollantaytambo. At an altitude of 9,160 feet above sea level, this ruin was the most impressive so far. Inca Emperor Pachacuti utilized this spot as his royal estate. Alongside his wife, he would sit high above his kingdom and watch his fellow Incas work day and night. Ollantaytambo took over 100 years to construct and it would take between 50 and 80 men to move a one ton rock. To see and touch these ruins makes you truly appreciate the Inca’s ambition and wherewithal.

OllantaytamboThe Emporer's seatOllantaytambo

On our way back to Cusco, we stopped at the local market in Chinchero. Here we watched how local people make sweaters, hats, blankets, etc. from Alpaca fur. We couldn’t leave this place without purchasing something (teddy bear) after watching how long it takes to make each item. For example, one small rug takes over a month to make. While watching the process of cleaning the Alpaca hair, the local artisans provided some hot tea for us to enjoy on a chilly night. I took one sip and quickly realized my stomach would not handle it. Throwing caution to the wind, Greg joyfully imbibed. Two hours later he was paying homage to the porcelain God while I slept soundly. Always trust your instincts!

If Machu Picchu is what brings you to Cusco, the one day Sacred Valley tour is a real dandy to prepare yourself.

- Ash


  1. When booking a Sacred Valley tour, shy away from the lunch included option. If included in the package, lunch will run you $10, but upon arrival Greg was able to negotiate lunch for $7 and a free drink!

  2. Bring warms clothes along as it gets darn cold after sunset – this is true for all areas around Cusco.

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