Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Peru: A day trip to Pisac

I was a lazy tourist who woke up and leisurely had breakfast at 8ish morning. I suspect the rest have already departed and went on their way as I was the only one at the dining area and travelling activities in Peru mostly had early start, like hiking. I was served some cereal with fruits and yoghurt first, I wasn't sure what else was included in the breakfast provided so I started on my food. The omelette came later after I have finished my cereal, a bit like breakfast starter and main course.

As it was a Sunday, I decided to make my way to Pisac as there is a big Sunday market. Otherwise one could also travel to Pisac from Cuzco, in fact the distance is slightly shorter. There are contradicting opinions on the market if you read the reviews but I've not been to any market, there really is nothing to compare or judged. Sure, there were many souvenir stalls but there were also stalls selling Alpaca goods, cooked food.

Getting to Pisac town
There is no direct public transport to Pisac from Ollantaytambo (excluding taxi). So to get to Pisac, a transfer of colectivo at Urumbamba is required.

Ollantaytambo to Urubamba takes about 30 minutes, S/2 (~USD 0.20 / ~AUD 0.83 / ~RM 2.46). Urubamba to Pisac, about an hour, S/5 (~USD 1.50 / ~AUD 2.10 / ~RM 6.16).
However on the way back I was told to pay S/4 for the colectivo from Pisac to Urumbamba.

I think the colectivo fare could be higher on Sunday compared to other days because I heard the driver said domingo (Sunday) when a local passenger asked him.

I got on the colectivo to Urubamba from outside the market in Ollantaytambo and continued till Urubamba's main station. What I didn't realise was that the connecting colectivo wasn't at the station. I was told that to it was about 10-15 minutes walk from the station. The direction I was given was - walk out of the station, turn left and walked about 10-15 minutes (i.e backtrack to the direction where the colectivo came from).

Unfortunately there wasn't a very clear indication of how the colectivo stop looked like as there is no sign to indicate that it is a stop or station. It would be on your left and when you see many colectivos (white colour vans), just go in and ask.

Getting to / fro Pisac ruins
This is the pricey bit, unless you walk about uphill to the ruins from Pisac town (probably 2 hours). Alternative is to take a taxi there. It was hot and my lungs capacity were still poor, I didn't really need any other motivation and paid for the taxi. It did feel ridiculous that I paid S/25 (~USD 7.50 / ~AUD 10.55 / ~RM 31) for the 20 minutes ride as compared to my commute from Ollantaytambo. Yes, I paid the same amount on the way down. I could've walk down and was contemplating that but it was getting really hot then (read: lazy tourist started the day late) and I wanted to save some time as I travelled out of Ollantaytambo later in the evening.

The view getting to Pisac is amazing right?

Pisac ruins

This Inca citadel sits on a hilltop above the village. It boast an impressive agricultural terracing. Above them are narrow-ish footpath and steep stairs to the the top, where the ceremonial center is located. There are some simple signs telling you are looking at so you won't be completely lost.

After spending some time exploring the ruins, I found a taxi to take me back to the town. Remember, otherwise there's the walking option. Downhill isn't as taxing as going uphill. Majority of the vehicles there were waiting for other people though but there are random ones who had just send someone there, like me.

Pisac market
Pisac market is one of the famous markets in Cuzco, especially the Sunday market. A large section of the market is dedicated for souvenirs and handicrafts if you want to buy Inca related goods like alpaca clothing, sweaters, scarves, backpacks, etc. As the market is really quite big, it wasn't crowded at all. At the main square, the local communities dressed up in their colourful clothing and set up shop selling their wares. I had opted to have lunch at one of the stalls. I was shown what ready cooked food they have and I get picked what I wanted. Initially I thought she was just going to grab a bit of everything so I ended up with quite a big plate. I was stuffed! I paid S/10 (~USD 3 / ~AUD 4.20 / ~RM 12.50) for my very, very big plate of rice with dishes. Despite very full, I can't pass on chicha morada, S/1 (~USD 0.30 / ~AUD 0.42 / ~RM 1.25) and not tried it. It is deep purple colour and made from dried corn. It was refreshing and I actually quite like the taste of it.

Getting to Ollantaytambo from Pisac
It works the same way as getting to Pisac, just the other way around. Colectivos leaving Pisac to Urubamba stop at the bridge that crosses river to town. Colectivos to other places also stop at the same place, but once you get there, just ask where to wait for colectivo to Urubamba and the locals will point you to the right direction. I've included the fare I paid above.

On my return to Ollantaytambo, Ollantaytambo was celebrating the town's anniversary, that was at the end of October. There were dances performances at the middle of the square and circling outside were food stalls. I tried to watch a little, it was not easy as everybody seems to tower over me but I managed a little. I returned to the hostel thereafter, chatted with the hostel staffs a bit before I make my way to the train station to Aguas Calientes!

Side note: I was told by the staff at Ollantaytambo hostel where I stayed that one needs to have Peruvian identification document to buy a mobile sim card. I asked him because initially I thought it would be handy to get one though I usually don't. He was willing to help me to get one but in the end, I didn't because I was getting along ok without connection, thanks to maps.me. That said, for some reason maps.me kept on telling me that it takes 50 minutes to walk to Ollantaytambo train station even though it was only about 15 minutes walk away. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Peru: Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is a small town connected by cobblestones streets and brown buildings on Inca stonework. There are many steps going up and down, much to my lungs' despair. I had a misstep and almost fall and tumbled down a flight of steps upon arriving at Ollantaytambo, along with my backpacks, no thanks to my clumsiness and lungs that was trying to catch up with my oxygen intake.

Julio dropped me at Ollantaytampu Hostel Patacalle. I initially booked a room with shared bath but was upgraded to one with attached bath. The reception was so cute, he asked me, "do you mind if I give you a room with bathroom attached?" Of course not! The room was clean, come with a double bed and small table. Imagine it with an energy saving light bulb with very low wattage, one with a somewhat reddish hue too. One thing missing from most of the bathrooms in hostels that I stayed in was exhaust fan. So it took awhile for the bathroom to be dry, especially after a hot shower.

After checked in, I went out for lunch! After I asked the hostel for recommendation, I headed to Apu Veronica. I ordered the set lunch menu at S/17 (~USD 5 / ~AUD 7 / ~MYR20),  which came with a starter of pumpkin soup and main of grilled fish plus a drink. I wanted to try chicha morada because I am not familiar with it at the time, unfortunately they didn't have it at the time. So I asked for a bottle of water instead. Peruvian set lunch menu is my absolute favourite thing to order when I was in Peru - local food, yummy, affordable.

After lunch, I walkabout the town. It didn't take long to finish walking the town because it wasn't big. The reception guy said it takes 10 minutes to walkabout Aguas Calientes and 30 minutes to walkabout Ollantaytambo. Haha.

After that I make myself to the biggest attraction in Ollantaytambo - Ollantaytambo ruins.

It is believed that the Ollantaytambo ruins date back to the 15th century, built by Inca Pachacutec. From afar, one can see huge terraces which were build for farming and irrigation system. At the top of the fortress is the military area. Years later, it was also a site of a major battle against Spanish during a rebellion led by Inca Manco. I was still panting and puffing with the slightest elevation and almost talked myself out of climbing those terraces. The rain that started drizzling wasn't any help in motivating me but I am glad I made my way up those steps.

I had an early night but not before I picked up some yummy picarones which are Peruvian doughnuts with local squash and sweet potatoes. I found them outside Ollantaytambo market. They were sold in four for s/1.50 (~USD 0.45/ ~AUD 0.62 / ~RM 1.84).They were made fresh, so still hot with almost crispy exteror and doughy interior with drizzled of syrup, served in a disposable plate. They were good and not too sweet!

I, unfortunately lost the photo but it was a bad photo anyway, because I was determined to bring them back to the room and and enjoyed them. Imagine me carrying a plate of 4 picarones trying to navigate the cobblestones street back to the hostel and accidentally took one or two wrong turns, despite it being a small town! Haha.. it was already getting dark anyway (not because I took the wrong turns) and remember I mentioned the room was lit by low wattage reddish light? That's my long winded story as to why I had a poor photo of the picarones.

The other site to visit in Ollantaytambo is free. I visited this the next day - Pinkuylluna.

The entrance to Pinkuylluna isn't big, it is just like an opened door with a staircase leading up to uneven walkway. I didn't hike all the way up but only until a good height to take some photos. Haha. The best thing is Ollantaytambo ruines can be viewed from Pinkuylluna.

Side note: I am running out of shows to watch... :/

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Peru: Chinchero, Maras and Moray

After 3 flights, 2 transits and total flying time of about 18 hours I decided that getting a taxi from Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (Cuzco) to Ollantaytambo will be good for my sanity. I landed in Cuzco at about 6 in the morning and it seemed a waste if I disregard Chinchero, Maras and Moray on my way to Ollantaytambo. It is only logical that I make a stop on the way to Ollantaytambo as they are exactly that, on the way. Of course, I could get myself to Ollantaytambo first before getting a colectivo and visit them but despite expensive, it was definitely worth the money spent when I landed in a cold, rainy Cuzco.

The main reason why I proceeded to Ollantaytambo right after I reached Cuzco was because of the altitude. At 11,152 feet above sea level, Cuzco is higher than the rest of the Sacred Valley.

There are two recommended companies to consider if one is to pre-book a taxi - Taxidatum and Cusco Local Friend. Both have very good ratings in Tripadvisor but I went with the former because of cost. Not a big variation but it is still cheaper. The driver, Julio (?sp) was already waiting at the exit of the arrival terminal with a board with my name but really, there probably wasn't a need for it. I was the only Asian who walked out of the airport at that time. First stop was Chinchero.


Firstly the driver dropped me off a 'house' in Chinchero village for demonstration of traditional textile dyeing. Despite beautiful scenery along the way, I fell asleep along with the moving car motion. I remembered my first thought was - I hope there is more to Chinchero as I was obviously not in a shopping mode first thing in the morning after getting off a flight.

Anyway, I got off the car and saw alpacas and guinea pigs. There were so many guinea pigs and for some reason the squeaky noises they made felt like sounds from video games. I was first served a cup of hot tea, which was brilliant as it was colder than I anticipated as it was autumn in the southern hemisphere. In front of me were some plants, flowers and wool in different colours. I was shown how to wash sheared alpaca wool and how washed and dried wool made into thread for textiles. The lady who did the demonstration also showed how they extract the different colours for dyeing process. The demonstration ended with her weaving the threads into shawls. I was then ushered to where they sell shawls, beanie, etc. I had a browse but wasn't in any shopping mood, I said thank you and left.

Fortunately, there is more to Chinchero. My next stop was Chinchero ruins. Entrance fee applies and this is where you'll need to decide which type of tickets that you want. A full ticket "Boleto General" covers 16 archeological and cultural sites in both Cuzco and Sacred Valley. It isn't cheap and costs S/130 (~USD 39 / ~AUD 54 / ~MYR 163) but valid for 10 days. There are also 3 different partial tickets at S/70 each. I initially wanted to take Circuit III which valid for 2 days and covers Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero and Moray but ended up getting the general tickets as I also wanted to visit Saqsayhuaman and these will take more than 2 days.

I walked up the steps leading to the ruins at Chinchero. They consist of a series of nested terraces and a church which was built in the early 1600's. Photography is not allowed inside the church. It wasn't a big ruin but the surrounding scenery was beautiful.

On my way down back to the car, I bought a beef empanada (S/3) for breakfast.

Salt Pans of Maras / Salinas de Maras

As we cruised towards these salt pans, Julio told me we have reached the town of Maras. We didn't stop but just passed through. However, Julio stopped by the road side for me to take some photos as we approached the salt pans.

These salt pans command a spectacular view as it cascade down a hillside valley like uneven steps. They were said to be first created sometime pre-Incas. Whilst it looks quite big but the area can be accessed isn't large. There is a separate ticket to go in to the salt pans and it cost S/10 (~USD 3 / ~AUD 4 / ~MYR 13). I met a fellow visitor from Columbia who was limping a little due to muscle soreness as she hiked up Huayna Picchu the day before. Ahem, that worried me a little. Haha. On the other hand, she also told me that it was the first day she was such glorious sunshine, despite the rain earlier.


These circular terraces are archaeological site about 50km away from Cuzco. The full purpose of these concentric terraces are not fully known but it is believed that it could be related to agriculture. By this state I was already gasping for air when I walked a little faster or when there were very insignificant uphill patch. This was when I suspected I could've experience a mild case of seroche (altitude sickness).

The 3 stops probably took about half a day or so. By the time I reached Ollantaytambo, it was a good time for lunch.

Side note: I started writing this post in November! It got stalled because unfortunately I lost all my photos that was taken with my camera. All the ones left are the ones taken with my phone. The majority of my photos were taken by camera though... so... there... sigh. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Peru: From Andean Highlands to Capital City

I've always wanted to visit South America. Machu Picchu was forever on the list of place that I want to go. 2 years ago my friend informed me of sale flights to South America but I already made plans with another friend for travel so I let it slide. I made up my mind that I will make this trip to Peru happen, even if I would be travelling by myself.

As I have not been to South America, it is very foreign to me (still is) and during my last holidays to Europe I felt that I should learn a new language, a non Asian language. Even though Spanish language is pretty much only spoken in Spain in the European continent but many Latin American countries speaks Spanish. So I signed up for Spanish lesson sometime this time last year. My Spanish level is very negligible and I am sure they gave me a lot of allowance but it was so rewarding when I managed simple, brief conversations with the locals.

There are a few people who commented that I am brave to travel to South America by myself, and some gave me the "are you sure it is safe?" look. I can't say for the rest SA countries but I have not once felt unsafe during my travel in Peru. In fact Peruvians that I met along the way are friendly. I was surprised that it was really easy to go around. Taxi drivers and peddlers are not pushy. A taxi driver even told me where to catch a colectivo (public transport in the form of a van) when I told him I don't want taxi but wanted to take a colectivo. People returned me money when I overpaid them (because of my poor Spanish, haha), and I don't feel ripped off because I am a tourist. Of course, travel like how you would anywhere, be vigilant, don't do stupid things and be safe :)

LATAM operates direct flights to Santiago on certain days from Sydney and Melbourne. When I bought my flight tickets, Machu Picchu was the only item in my itinerary. So I bought a ticket that get me to Cuzco.

M: Morning; A: Afternoon; E: Evening, MN: Midnight

26/10, Day 00 - On flight*. Transit in Santiago enroute to Lima. Domestic flight to Cuzco.
27/10, Day 01 - Landed in Cuzco. Taxi to Chinchero, Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo* (Ollantaytampu Hostel Patacalle)
28/10, Day 02 - Ollantaytambo, day trip Pisac, train to Aguas Calientes* (El Tambo Machupicchu)
29/10, Day 03 - Machu Picchu, train to Cuzco* (Hotel Royal Frankenstein)
30/10, Day 04 - Cuzco*
31/10, Day 05 - Cuzco*
01/11, Day 06 - Flight to Puerto Maldonado* (Green Diamond Amazon Lodge)
02/11, Day 07 - Puerto Maldonado*
03/11, Day 08 - Puerto Maldonado*
04/11, Day 09 - Puerto Maldonado. Flight back to Cuzco. Overnight bus* to Arequipa
05/11, Day 10 - Arequipa*. Early bus to Cabanaconde (Vallecito Backpackers)
06/11, Day 11 - Trek to Llahuar* (Llahuar Lodge)
07/11, Day 12 - Back to Cabanaconde* (Backpacker Hostel Pachamama)
08/11, Day 13 - Back to Arequipa. Overnight bus* to Ica.
09/11, Day 14 - Arrived Ica, taxi to Huacachina* (Hospedaje Dulce Estancia)
10/11, Day 15 - Day trip to Islas Ballestas and Paracas National Reserve. Bus to Lima* (The Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast)
11/11, Day 16 - Lima. Night flight out of Lima
*referring to where I overnight

Side note: Going to watch Fantastic Beast...

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hobart: A quick introductory visit

Hobart is just about an hour from Melbourne by flight but for some unknown reason it was the last state that I make my way to in Australia. There were plans but they didn't materialise. Last month, however, I have finally made a travel there, for work. It was mostly work really but I managed to fit in some play and food, in small pocket of free time.

Courtesy of work, I stayed at Grand Chancellor Hobart which overlooks the Hobart Harbour. The photo above was taken from the hotel's level 19. Most of my time in the hotel was spent in conference rooms for talks or in the room working. Yes, the room comes with a working desk....

We were served morning tea and lunch as part of work. On top of that, we also had dinner functions so I only ate outside for 2 breakfasts. I had to order room service for dinner on day 1 as I had to work but on second night I had dinner at The Glass House. The food we had at The Glass House was excellent but I was also trying to put on my best behaviour so no photo on that one.

Room service dinner

I wanted to have seafood in Hobart, so I ordered the Tassal salmon fillet dish. It came with lemon scented crushed potato, soft herbs and sauce americaine. It was pretty good.

Jackman & McRoss

I had a walk around and popped by Jackman & McRoss for breakfast on one of the days. It had a good review on food apps. It was ok. I had scallop pie for breakfast, not a very common breakfast item I think. Haha.

Daci & Daci Bakery

There were a couple of items that I wanted to try but in the end I chose Huon aquaculture smoked salmon, fried duck eggs & brioche. Didn't look like a big portion but definitely filling.

Walks / Things to do
A good walk round the harbour towards Battery Point, throw in a breakfast in one of the cafes then back via Kelly's Steps.

Salamanca Market
Salamanca Market is one of the Australia's most famous street market in Tasmania. It is located at Salamanca Place and operates every Saturday from 8:30am to 3:00pm (except Anzac and Christmas Day if they fall on a Saturday). It is a great place to explore great Tasmanian produce and locally made products.

It is bigger than it looks...
MONA - Museum of Old and New Art
I only have time for one thing, and given good reviews of this museum I thought I'll go have a look. I had some reservations on going to MONA because I am not that cultured. Still clueless about modern art but the place is pretty cool, and I do like some of  the interactive arts.

I won't go into details of how to get there, etc as the website is quite detailed. The ferry ride is worth it. I went there by ferry but took a taxi to the airport right after. Also want to mention that I had a carry-on size luggage as well as a sling camera bag. I had to deposit both due to size and of course, I have no intention to lug around the luggage. I carried my camera, phone and wallet with me as I walked around the museum.

The staircases don't move but reminded me of Harry Potter.. haha

That was all I did in Hobart, plenty of eating and work. Hobart, I'll return for more :)

Side note: December is next week! Wow

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Sydney: 2D1N work trip

Heading to Sydney
Unlike the previous years, I have not been travelling to Sydney till early last month. It was also a strange one (to me) because we were flown up for a meeting. So it was a short 2 day 1 night trip and managed to secure a room at the excellent Swissotel again ;)

The previous times I stayed in Swissotel I didn't see this smartphone on loan service, maybe they have just started this.

I am also happy to know that I still know how to swim. Thank goodness. Haha. Yes, I woke up at about 6 in the morning, went for a swim before breakfast on my second day yo. Yes, I managed to try different eating places this time though. So here goes.

Ipoh Town (I went to the one on York Street)

I am always on the hunt for good char kway teow and I saw that they have it on their menu so that was the main reason this shop was in my list to try. I changed my mind on ordering the CKT though because my colleague told me that they used the thin type of rice noodles. I ordered the Ipoh Hor Fun ($11) instead, it was pretty good and I won't mind going back for a fuss free lunch.

Yayoi, The Galeries
I caught up with an ex-colleague for dinner and the food below were shared. They were good! Yumm.

Nasu miso, $10.80
Yayoi Gozen which consisted of pork loin cutlet, salmon salad, salmon teriyaki and sukiyaki, $32
shima hokke shio-yaki, $19.30
We didn't have any dessert but went to have tea at another location.

Bluebird Coffee Sydney at Regent Place
They had taro latte on menu on the day of my visit and I wanted to try it despite just had a very full meal. It wasn't heavy nor sweet, so I did enjoy it.

Being extra, we also ordered 2 cakes to share and I had the bigger share. Both were good but we preferred the tiramisu as the crust for the cheesecake felt too thick at some parts.

Devon Cafe Barangaroo
This cafe is more pricey than average cafe but I had my eyes on the truffle menu!

Espresso to kickstart the day
Truffle egg sando
The staff were attentive, a bit too attentive.. haha.. they would walk over and check on me whenever I turned to look at the counter side. I was sitting with my back facing the counter. The waitstaff thought I was trying to ask if my food was ready, in actual fact, I was looking at the menu and contemplating if I wanted to grab a matcha latte takeaway. Hahaha.

I didn't have time to go out for lunch on my second day, and it didn't feel right to do so as well, especially when my colleague wanted to take the 3:30 PM flight back to Melbourne (I just booked the same time as her to make things easier). So we ended up grabbing an expensive sushi roll in the airport to tie us over to dinner.

Back to Melbourne

Side note: Hopefully the last 2 calls to tradies this week [-o<

Peru: A day trip to Pisac

I was a lazy tourist who woke up and leisurely had breakfast at 8ish morning. I suspect the rest have already departed and went on their ...