It’s 2017, and I feel like « a charity vibe » has taken over me (or it could be the fear of being deported by Donald Trump to Tijuana, not quite sure). Bye bye luxury, stolen hotel bathrobes, and cucumber-infused water. You will be missed.
I intensively watched National Geographic for several days hoping to get inspired; My significant interest for lamas and ultimate goal to make video clip starring lamas shaking their heads on Trap music brought me to Peru. To make this trip even more exciting I decided to volunteer for a local charity program ruled by the Peruvian government. Lamas and charity? Don’t believe me, just watch.
High in the sky
After a bumpy ride and a few prayers, I safely landed in Cuzco, « el oblingo del mundo ».
Located at an altitude of 11,000 feet, I had no choice but to drink coca tea on a daily basis to boost my immunity, and also because I was falling asleep every 2 minutes.
Cuzco is a very interesting city built in a shape of a puma. Plaza Armas is one of Peru’s top tourist attractions. Historically, it was the site of the last battle between the Incas and Spanish conquistadors (I am not trying to be your tour guide, just saying). The Pachacutec Statue, the Basilica Cathedral of the Virgin of Asuncion and selfie-stick vendors will keep you busy for a few hours. Plaza San Blas is the new San Francisco, with John Lennon clones walking around barefoot and playing guitar.
Further north, you will find a few lama gangs. Each lama is dressed to grab tourist attention. I have to admit this is an excellent marketing strategy since I ended spending a few dollars taking selfies with each lama. I got racks.
Need a break from eating Guinean Pig? Don’t look any further. This tiny restaurant located in the heart of Cusco on Calle Procuradores is the perfect place for lunch or afternoon treats. Get a huevos & avocados bocadillo, banana & chocolate waffle and a fresh squeezed orange/mango juice for less than 4 dollars!
Hidden souvenir store located on Calle Plateros. Unique and limited edition objects, all handmade in Peru. Stylish gift ideas that will please your overly demanding friends.
Great Irish pub to hide from local festivities and meet lost foreign travelers. Enjoy a fresh beer at the top of the world. In fact, it is the highest Irish-owned pub in the world!
Ride or die at Machu Picchu
All my bag packers friends recommended visiting the Machu Picchu. Two options were available. The balling way, where you take a fancy train up to the top, and the ghetto way. I choose the second option.
It will cost you about 85 dollars to get the 2-day package to Machu Picchu. With my negotiation skills, I got this tour for 75 dollars. Never did I imagine the upcoming struggle.
What to pack? Keep it simple. Don’t bring your 1000 lamas sweaters or either your Chanel makeup. A bottle of water, sunscreen lotion, sunglasses, underwear, rain jacket, small lamp, granola bar and a portable battery charger are the essentials.
After a 7-hour bus ride to Hidroelectrica, the driver informed us that we would have to walk on our own to the next village located 3 hours away. According to him, all we had to do was to follow the railroads. The look on my face was priceless as I try to find someone to carry my bag. It failed. We were potentially the new cast for the TV show Survivors. Not only, we had to cross an old bridge that could collapse anytime, but we also had to avoid arriving trains and fight mosquitos.
Ahead, a girl was wearing high heels on pebbles while carrying her enormous bag. What was she thinking!
I finally arrived at Aguas Caliente. Tour guides were calling a hundred names, it was a total chaos. I managed to get my room key. The hotel was 0 star obviously. It must have been someone cousin’s house. Humid as fuck. I had to sleep with my clothes on and my wallet on top of me as I feared for my life. As a result, I spent most of my night with my French crew drinking Sangrias. Local bars had this amazing offer where you could get 4 cocktails for the price of one. Say no more.
The following day, we met at 4 am to hike the Machu Picchu. Half of the crew gave up because it was raining outside and we couldn’t see much. The rest of us were fully recognizable with our giant plastic raincoats, chewing coca leaves like native Peruvians. We made it to the top, and it was a breathtaking landscape. The Inca energy was surrounding us and I finally stopped complaining.
Say What! Bring your passport for a Machu Picchu stamp at the entrance. It’s FREE.
I needed a dramatic title to introduce this section.
To immerse myself in the local culture, I joined a renowned volunteer program in South America called Maximo Nivel. This institution is a bit mafosio on the side. They charged me $750 to work with children for 2 weeks. This program included a free accommodation in home-stays and breakfast/diner. Just a friendly reminder that a room costs $150 to rent per month in Cuzco!
I spent my first week at Cusi Maki a shelter for street children located outside Cusco. Every day I rode the bus with locals for 10 cents during 1 hour. The association didn’t know how to handle the number of volunteers arriving and departing every day. The lack of resources was blatant: rotten books and toys from the Middle Age. Where is my money at?
For my second week, I wanted to get a taste of the cartel. The association transferred me to a Catholic orphanage called Aldea Infantile Juan Pablo II.
Saint Pope John Paul II prayer candles and Divina Misericordia posters were everywhere. I worked with a small group of 9 phenomenal girls, dressed in pink from head to toe. They had a personal mama by their side, cooking and cleaning all day long. Their rooms were filled with brand new toys and fancy clothes. How can we explain such a drastic contrast from the previous shelter I worked for?
Over the week, I tried to teach the girls English and French as a conquistador would do but quickly gave up. Instead, we spent our time dancing throughout their casitas and watching Korean telenovelas. Pimp your life
Lima no lamas
Enough of lamas and high altitude, it was time to get back to the city. Locals tried to discourage me from going to Lima by myself. Of course, I didn’t listen.
When you book a domestic flight there are two prices available besides the fake first class offer.
A price for locals and a more expensive one for tourists, generally double. Don’t try to be slick and get the local price thinking they won’t verify the information provided. A $170 additional fee will be waiting for you at the airport if you can’t provide a Peruvian ID!
Outside the airport, a hundred of taxi drivers were waiting for their next prey. Don’t be a target and simply book your ride via Uber. Uber Pool is also available.
As we drove through the city, I noticed numerous military tanks and soldiers walking around as a coup d’état was on the way.
The district of Miraflores is the safest area of Lima. Located 20 minutes away from the historical center and near all the coolest surf spots, I was in heaven. Luxurious buildings, fancy cars, and Palm trees are the routine. I stayed at Hotel Runcu Miraflores, a charming modern boutique hotel located in the heart of Miraflores. Breakfast was included and served every day on the rooftop. A bakery was located across the street, which was perfect for my midnight croissant cravings.
First stop, the ATM. The Uber driver dropped me at the bank and minutes later I was heading out carrying in my hand a stack of Peruvian Sol singing my favorite jam « Stuntin’ like my daddy ». The driver rushed toward me, yelling « Are you crazy mama? hide your money you’re gonna get shot ». Scarface on my mind, I hoped in the car, locked myself and we drove off ready for some new adventures.
Playa Waikiki is one of the popular spots to catch waves. Several surf schools and board rentals are located on the beach. For additional technical surf details please refer to professional websites. I can’t say much on my side since I barely catch any waves. I usually spend most of my time hanging under my board.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima is located in Barranco, a bohemian district next to Miraflores. Eclectic collection. Make sure you stop at the small boutique located at the entrance to get more souvenirs! (don’t blame me if your luggage gets heavier).
Manolo café can’t be missed. Manolo is known for its delicious churros filled with Nutella. Local specialty or not, I fall in love. A genuine love.
I met with two French weirdos from my previous trip to Cuzco. Backpackers type discounts minded and cheap as hell. All they cared about was their next savings or where they could find authentic French croissants. Not wanted to check restaurant reviews, they randomly picked a restaurant hoping to get the best it. Well, we did, since we all ended up with food poisoning!
Sometimes things are best done alone.
I continued my expedition solo, altering between my hotel bathrooms and the beach.
Peru was definitely a challenging experience that changed my perspective on traveling. I was often caught off guard and had no plans for tomorrow. The charity aspect added some substance to the purpose of my trip. However, one month is not enough time to change the world!
Peru is a destination for all, a great place of discoveries where everyone can follow its ambition.
Last prayer before I board the plane back to LA. Obama out.