My First Saint Lucian Sunset

The Body Holiday by LeSport – Castries, St. Lucia

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After a minor flight cancellation scare the day prior to the trip, I was able to get a different flight into St. Lucia, unfortunately flying in to the further airport from The Body Holiday.  Upon arrival into UVF Jason and I were unaware of the two hour ride to the resort.  We expected an hour, but with the traffic through Castries, the ride was really two.  When we finally did reach LeSport, we checked into our room, and walked immediately out to the balcony to experience this first sunset in St Lucia.

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The BMW of Las Islas Flotantes

Islas Flotantes, Lake Titikaka – Puno, Peru

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The Uros people of the Floating Islands in Lake Titikaka have a long history of creating a life out of reeds.  The people use the reeds for everything, from the islands’ construction to a fibrous snack.  They cook with them, build with them, weave with them, and boat with them.  The basic reed boat is much simpler than this example, coining this particular style as the BMW of the Floating Islands.  If you ask me, weather simply built or more complex, the Uros people’s boats have a visual appeal similar to that of the Vikings in Scandinavia.

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Paititi – Cusco, Peru

Peru - Kat1 125 Located on the top corner of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Paititi boasts more than a great location and decent prices.  The small interior is a bizarre meeting of classic American Diner meets heavy Inca stone, with interesting artistic elements placed about.

The extensive menu contains Peru’s delicacies that adventurous foodies come to try (such as cuy and anticucho), as well as a plethora of soups – which is a great start for any restaurant in my book.  There is a menu of lighter soups for those who’ve just arrived in the altitude ridden city, and have not yet adjusted…as well as a separate menu of more traditional Peruvian soups, better for those who have acclimated.

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Peru - Kat1 139Everything that I tasted here was superb, and seasoned just right…not too much, and not too little…probably the reason we ate here twice during our 4 days in Cusco.

Both times Damany and I tried different soups, and both times we shared the chicken with the green rice.  I have no idea what exactly was in that rice, definitely cilantro, but there was another favor I couldn’t place which made it additively enticing…to the point that I’m still kind of dreaming of it.

map via Paititi

Restaurant Paititi

Portal Carrizos 340,
Plaza de Armas, Cusco-Perú
Phone: +51 84 252686

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Adrenaline Rush of the Dune Buggy

Huacachina, Peru

The adrenaline rush I got from my first time in a dune buggy is certainly unforgettable…it’s a feeling I would give up coffee for to have every morning.  This video was shot just after Damany and I climbed out of the buggy for the first time, getting ready to sand board.  The driver, Julio, was so amazing that we came back to Huacachina from Paracas, just for a second ride with him.  Our feelings on the activities are pretty obvious.

To book your own dune buggy and sandboarding trip with Julio, contact Williams Tours: – I promise he’ll take care of you, he’s the best guide in the area.

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Hotel Rumi Punku – Cusco, Peru

Peru - Kat1 156 Hotel Rumi Punku is one of the gems of Cusco.  While the price  point does not place them on the scale of a luxury hotel, the services and care provided to guests sure makes one feel luxurious.  And the location is excellent, just a few blocks walk from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.

Rumi Punku was suggested to me by Charyn Pfeuffer (@charynpfeuffer) as a decently priced nice hotel – something above the level of a hostel (a word Damany had been afraid of prior to this Peru trip).  The hotel does have more luxurious rooms, which indulge hot-tub lovers who might be interested in returning to such a treat after an intense Inca Trail trek – I would have done this had I planned to stay in Cusco for another night after the trek.

The first major win with Rumi Punku would be the airport pickup, which is included in the cost of your room.  This is a great service – being confused with cabbies, prices and directions upon entering a city with such a drastic altitude change to adjust to can be highly exhausting (and therefore dangerous for lowlanders).

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Once arrived at the hotel, the first cup of coca tea is immediately provided.  Care is taken to explain to each guest the physical affects of altitude and how to deal with them properly.  The numerous benefits of coca tea in high altitude environments are also explained.

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Each of the rooms here open up to the courtyard.  They are simple but clean, with traditional elements of  Peruvian art and design work used well throughout.  The bathrooms are lovely – and while they may not have a large sign displayed instructing guests not to throw paper in the toilet, the rule still applies here (as it does throughout the country).

Peru - Kat1 050The doorway at the hotel’s main entrance is a work of Inca construction, flanked by stone walls imitating the same architectural period, and is considered a historic monument of Cusco by Peru’s National Institute of Culture.  The name of the hotel itself is a dedication to these basic Inca elements (Rumi meaning stone, and Punku meaning door or entrance) which make up it’s historical appeal.    The courtyard within the stone walls off the structure is alive with all kinds of flowering plants – a cozy oasis for the altitude affected guests to lounge around lazily while acclimating.

The staff was especially friendly and helpful.  Damany and I had the front desk set up a personal taxi to bring us to the Pisac textile market.  When they gave us the initial price we asked them to call back to confirm that this price was for both ways (as a group of us had gotten a van the day before to see the Maras Salt Mines, the Inca Terraces at Moray, and Chinchero for less than was quoted).  Though you may be able to find a taxi on the street for less, it is highly advised not to get into random cabs in Peru.  Having a hotel, restaurant or bar call a cab driver they know is safe to ride with is well worth an additional fee.  When getting a taxi through the hotel, the desk will charge you directly and deal with paying the company themselves.

Pisac, Textile Market

Breakfast is included in the price of rooms, laundry services are available, and unlimited amounts of free coca leaf tea is provided in the lounge – where guests may also use internet, television, or play games like chess.  Rumi Punku also boasts a spa and gym, which I did not use so cannot speak on.

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If you are doing the Inca Trail trek, your tour will begin and end in Cusco – so be sure that you have a hotel or hostel that is willing to hold the extra bags you don’t want to trek with.  This service is available in most hospitality locations in the city, but it’s still a good idea to make sure before booking a room.

If you’re not traveling through Peru on a major budget, Rumi Punku is a reasonable option with a bit of a luxurious flare, and I highly suggest it.

Hotel Rumi Punku

Calle Choquechaca 339
Cusco, Peru
(0)84 22 1102

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Brujas de Cachiche | Lima, Peru

I’m a sucker for traditional foods, and I like to know where I ‘m going to get the best preparation of that dish before trying it if possible.  In Peru, anticucho (beef heart) was one of the country’s plates I had saved tasting, just for the visit.

While on the Inca Trail Trek, a couple in our group were telling us about this amazing place they had gone to in Lima – where the waiter told them to try the anticucho and said it was beef.  Upon finishing the meal and praising what they had just eaten, the waiter alerted them that it was actually the cow’s heart they had for dinner.  They mentioned that it was some of the best meat they had ever tasted, and that the restaurant also boasted double piscos (which were the best piscos they had tried thus far).

Immediately, I asked the name of this restaurant – already reserving the eatery as the place I would try this particular Peruvian delicacy in my head.  Damany and I were ending our trip in Lima, it would be almost 3 weeks until our arrival there, and I would not be fooled into having improperly prepared anticucho prior to it.

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Brujas de Cachiche was definitely a treat on our last day in Peru’s capital.  The interior was classy, the service was great, the piscos were doubled, and the anticucho was to die for.  Served on kebab sticks, the juices made the meat glisten.  It was the most tender piece of steak I had ever put in my mouth, and had an amazing flavor full of garlic and spice.  Liver being the only other organ I had ever tried (unless you count the guinea pig brain and eyeballs after Machu Picchu a few weeks prior), I was expecting more of a mineral flavor.  Heart, it seems, tastes just like beef – logical, knowing that it’s just a muscle, but still unexpected.

103bThe heart was so good Damany indulged with me, and didn’t even make a face.  Since we’ve been back in America we’ve tried the anticucho in other restaurants, though I’m not sure any will EVER compare with that of Brujas de Cachiche – it really was that amazing.

Brujas de Cachiche

Calle Bolognesi 472,
Miraflores, Lima, Peru
ph: 447-1133/447-1883

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Introducing Rare Beautiful Things New Website

3-111 Handmade Turkish AshtrayIt’s been some years since Damany and I started Rare Beautiful Things, collecting goods as we traveled, inspired by numbers of people walking into our home and asking, “where did you get this ashtray (or pillow, bag, etc…)?”.

We began by bringing carpets and goods to a flea market in Baltimore, and our first website was quite basic – nothing could be purchased from it, most items had no prices, the photos looked pretty bad, and the overall feel just wasn’t quite right for us.

When you came onto the site, there was the landing page with the “enter” button…which really served no purpose, other than to add an extra step before seeing product.

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The images on the inventory page were pretty bad, and were not enticing a customer to go any further…but then again, what were they going further to, photos of items they couldn’t buy right off the web?

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The company has grown slowly as we’ve gained more experience in the field, and really become more focused on our goals and our image.  Rare Beautiful Things is a small, boutique company – we want to serve our clients well, and our goal was for our website to be very user friendly, and contain a small number of one-of-a-kind products, so not to overwhelm our visitors.

Our web designer, Tova Raykin, deserves a huge shout out on this one, as she really listened to our needs, and gave us a beautiful website which we believe really fits our goals, and shapes our image properly.  You’ve seen the look of Rare Beautiful Things old website in the photos above, now go check out the new one – I think it’s awesome, but would still love to hear any feedback!

*I’m also excited to announce that Tova and I will be working on the design of this blog – so it’s just as appealing and professional as RBT’s site!  Watch out for the new look, coming soon!

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Smells Like Poop

Paracas, Peru

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Paracas Nature Reserve, also known as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”, is a small rocky island chain that provides a quick and cheap excursion for the animal lover to see  a plethora of birds, including penguins and pelicans, as well as sea lions lounging on the rocks.  The 2 hour boat tour does a large circle around the main island, showing off the wildlife, as well as educating the tourists about the fertilizer (that white layer on the rocks behind me) that is collected here for export.

Known as “white gold” to the Peruvians who work here, the bird poop is collected and exported (mostly to North America).   It is one of the countries more plentiful natural resources which is exported for income – and can definitely be smelled while circling the wildlife filled islands on the tour.

No need to spend the night in Paracas though, tours can also be taken from nearby Huacachina, which is only 1 hour away – and offers way more than just a quick boat tour.

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A Desert Oasis for the Adrenaline Junkie

Huacachina, Peru

Peru - Damany4 002A mere 4 hours south of rainy Lima sits this amazing oasis town, known to the locals as the “Land of Eternal Sun”.  Huacachina boasts barely 3″ of rain a year – a dramatic change from the cloud lined days of Peru’s capital city.

While small, this desert oasis has become a backpackers haven – offering cheap lodging, good food, and a plethora of activities in the surrounding areas.  The most obvious activity for the adrenaline seeking backpacker, of course, is sand boarding and dune buggying – something Damany and I quickly returned to Huacachina for a second dose of.  Nearby wineries offer wine and pisco tours, which make for a jolly day; and Paracas (the poor man’s Galapagos) is only about an hours ride from the oasis.

All of the hostels surrounding this small water hole are well priced, and offer “BBQs” with unlimited food and pisco sours, to entertain their guests by night – making Huacachina somewhat of a party town when the sun rests.  It’s kind of the perfectly balanced location for the curious traveler – offering relaxation by the nature of it’s size and location, as well as a number of highly popular activities and social events so that it’s almost difficult to get bored.

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Weaving Demonstrations in Chinchero

If you’ve ever wondered what “handmade” means when buying one of those intoxicating and colorful weavings in Peru, Chinchero is a great, informational, stop.  In this small town outside of Cusco, demonstrations of the processes that go into creating these colorful pieces are done for curious tourists.

There are many different ways of weaving, and the tools and looms vary from one type of weave to the next.  A Jacquard loom may be used to make fabrics or tablecloths, while a backstrap loom may be used to create other types of textiles.  Both of these methods can be seen in Chinchero.

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Weather it’s made from wool or alpaca, the raw material goes through the same basic process from animal to weaving.  Once the material is sheered from the creature, it must be washed to get all of the dirt out.  In Peru there is a root which is used for soap – the raw root is grated into clean water which then becomes sudsy.  Dirty wool is cleaned in this soapy water, and rinsed in a bucket with fresh water.  The potency of this root as a cleanser is clearly apparent in the difference of color between the dirty and clean wool.

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Once the wool is clean, it is ready to be dyed.  Natural dyes are made from natural materials.  Different roots, berries, leaves, or other organic resources are collected – each with a specific color property.  The natural matter is then placed in a pot to cook with the wool or alpaca, which will transfer the color to the material.  This color is set permanently by adding salt to the pot.  Once the material is rinsed of excess pigment, it is hung in the sun until it is a dry, usable material.  Some of the color results are quite surprising to the untrained eye, when you see the yarn sitting with the plant that created it’s color.

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Wool or alpaca may be spun into yarn before or after it is dyed.  The process of hand-spinning wool is pretty much the same across the globe – a drop spindle being the small (and lightweight) primitive tool of choice.

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The knowledge of raw materials in Peru is quite impressive.  I learned here that one of the resources used to create a color is a small worm, found on cacti.  The blood of these worms creates a red pigment, which with one drop of a lemon, becomes an intense orange.

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These particular natural pigments would have also been traditionally used as makeup (lipstick or blush).  This knowledge is something that has been collected and passed down by the Peruvian people over time.  The traditions are a part of their culture and livelihood – the intoxicating colors interwoven with their lives and history, just as they continue to be incorporated into the woven arts of the people throughout the country.

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