Managing Your Money on the Road

(null)I opened my eyes and looked out past the lace curtain on my time-capsule 70s hotel room. Without needing to leave the warmth of my bed and its four layers of thick blankets, I could watch the morning fog roll down the side of the mountains surrounding my hotel in La Paz, Bolivia. My eyes strained to make out the silhouette of the teleferico station perched at the edge of the plateau where El Alto begins, and the tiny cable cars rolling up and down the steep hillside, like toys.

My time in Bolivia was drawing to a close and I was contemplating how much money I would need for my last few days in the country. It’s always a tough balance – you never want to have too much, but of course you don’t want to run out either, so I in my sleep-haze I began attempting the mental addition to figure out how much I’d need to settle my hotel bill, book a tour in Salar de Uyuni to see the famous salt flats, and to get myself to the Chilean border in the next few days.

I reached down to the floor to rummage around in my purse for my wallet to see how many Bolivianos I had left after dinner the night before.

My heart nearly stopped – my ATM card was missing!
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Where to Eat in Cusco: Centro Historico

Cusco is definitely worth more than the few days that people give it, often as a pit stop to or from the nearby main attraction, Machu Picchu. In reality, the city has a charming historic center with the grand Plaza de Armas as a central meeting place, interesting museums and churches, a circuit of impressive ruins and – most importantly – many culinary delights, if you know where to look! Sure there is a well-established “backpacker trail” here, with the accompanying pubs, pizzas, mass produced souvenirs and cheap massages. But not to be overlooked are great options for foodies in the markets, street stalls and even cooking classes.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Budget Eats in Cusco: Street Food

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugIf you’re on a budget or just looking for a snack, look no further than the streets! Around the mercados and plazas you can often find stalls dishing out small plates of local favorites like arroz con huevos (a fried rice dish topped with egg), sopa de pollo, trout ceviche, boiled quail eggs, popcorn, churros, seasonal fruits and even chicha.

In the evenings, you can often find my favorite snack – anticuchos – for just a bit more than $1. Anticuchos are skewers of meat, usually topped off with a boiled potato and drizzled with spicy aji sauce, if you’d like extra flavor. The classic anticucho is corazon (beef heart) but I’ve also seen kidney, chicken, sausage, and regular beef. The most reliable spot, usually with 2-3 stalls open each night, is on the steps near San Francisco church.

>> If you want to go where the locals do for anticuchos and aren’t afraid to venture a bit further, check out this recommendation from CuzcoEats.com: Anticucheria Condoritos. Highly recommended!
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100 Days

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New Year’s Day 2015 at Machu Picchu

Today makes 100 days since the day I landed in South America.

A whole new continent, a whole new language and a whole new world of adventure. I’ve learned so much about the people, places and of course food culture of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and now Bolivia. I’ve made friends from all over the world and I have left pieces of my heart in so many places.

I’ve watched the clouds swirl around the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, climbed 700 steps to the top of La Piedra in Guatape, spent Thanksgiving with new friends in Ecuador. I’ve filled my belly with ajiaco, choclo mote, ceviche and empanadas. And surprisingly, I’ve done it all in my limited – but improving – Spanish and I’ve learned to get by on a daily basis out in a world where things often feel quite foreign.
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A New Year’s Tradition: Letters to the Universe

When one door closes, another opens. Or something like that, right?

I feel the same way about the changing of the calendar from one year to the next. It’s a perfect time for starting fresh! New Year’s Day has grown to be my favorite holiday of the year.

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Growing up, I remember my grandmother starting the water boiling for everyone to take a shot of hot sake once we watched the ball drop in Times Square in NYC. (To this day, I still can’t stand hot sake and will only take mine cold.) In my 20′s, I loved it for the parties the night before – getting all dolled up and celebrating with my friends, maybe even searching for a tall, dark and handsome stranger to kiss at midnight. These days, I tend to celebrate in a quieter way. To be honest, I think I didn’t even make it to midnight the past three years or so. (Sorry, not sorry!)

Part of the reason that I’m usually at home celebrating New Year’s Eve these days is that I truly look forward to getting up early to greet the first sunrise of the year at Sandy Beach with my friends. We’ve created a bit of a tradition and it always helps me to look back at the year that’s passing and to bring a fresh energy to the year that’s ahead. It’s grown to be such a fun and meaningful way to ring in the new year and I always love hearing when other people have joined in and found a way to participate as well, or put their own spin on ours.

In 2008 (video above), my word was EXPLORE and it was especially meaningful getting together with my friends as on January 8th that year, Jess and I set off on our adventure through SE Asia and the Pacific. That year I traveled until I couldn’t any longer, eventually passing through 17 countries!

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Comida Tipica in Cusco: Cuy Chactado

Looking for traditional food in Cusco, Peru? Try Cuy!

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Roast cuy on the street in Quito, Ecuador

Cuy is a local specialty of the highland regions in South America, especially Ecuador and Peru. You can find it served in a variety of ways, often wood-fired or roasted, though people complain that it can be dry and a lot of work for such a small amount of meat. A friend tried it in a stew (pipian de cuy), which would mean it’s less dry but you also get less of the taste of the cuy itself and more of the stew ingredients. When I’ve talked to friends in both Peru and Ecuador, it’s not often on the top of their “must eat” lists, so it can a bit of a gringo thing to do, made popular by the likes of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern.

If you’re not an adventurous eater, the presentation can be daunting as well – the cuy usually comes served whole, with head (including teeth!) and sometimes little claws in tact. I never got around to trying cuy in Ecuador so when we got a recommendation for a place to try it in Cusco, I knew I had to go for it and fortunately a couple of guys from my hostel were game to come along as well. Perfecto!

Cuy can also be a bit pricey, with restaurants in the tourist areas often charging 50-70 soles or so for a plate. You can sometimes find it cheaper on the streets outside of a mercado or at a pincanteria, but they will usually be smaller and very tough. In Quito, I’d seen a woman selling them on the street for only $5 for a half. In Cusco, we opted to go to a restaurant more popular with local families called Quinta Eulalia, where cuy chactado (deep fried guinea pig) with roasted potato and a rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper) will set you back 45 soles.

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Cuy chactado (deep fried guinea pig) at Quinta Eulalia in Cusco, 45 soles

The restaurant was just a short walk from Plaza de Armas on Calle Choquechaca. To find it, head in the direction of Sacsayhuman and look for the blue balconies on the right side of the street. The restaurant takes up two floors – the second floor surrounds a nice outdoor courtyard and the top floor is a bit more enclosed, which is good if the weather is colder! Quinta Eulalia has been in business more than half a century, and when we arrived around 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with locals. A trio of musicians made their way through the restaurant, giving things a festive feel. We waited about 15 minutes for a table to free up, watching the huge entree portions of lechon and roast lamb coming out of the kitchen – giving us time to decide on our ordering strategy.
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