Archive | July, 2017

Peru: Machu Picchu

26 Jul

Of course, no trip to Peru is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. So with only a couple days left, we took an enjoyable plane ride over the Andes Mountains, headed for a side trip to the classic Inca ruins.

Listening to an audio book, we learned that the ancient city was rediscovered on July 24, 1911, and we would be visiting on that day (106 years later)! Also, FUN FACT! My dad’s name is Andy, and we would be in the Andes Mountains, in the Osh Kosh region, and I used to wear Osh Kosh when I was young, and I love corny little verbal connections like these.  


Perfect clouds and a short flight from Lima to Cusco, capital of the Incas.



Planes and then trains. The luxurious Inca Rail where they served cookies and drinks. We didn’t have the option to take the crowded, local train.



Riverside views.



The line to get an early morning bus up to Machu Picchu.  Felt like Disneyland.


As you can see, the line for the early bus to Machu Picchu was ridiculous, so we went with the cheaper afternoon bus. There were kitchy things for sale everywhere in Cusco

While in town, we kept noticing what resembled LGBTQ pride flags and thought it was cool that the city was so open-minded and progressive and liberal, only OOPS, they’re totally not, and it’s actually the flag for the city of Cusco. Our bad, carry on, Cusco. (But seriously, look how similar they are.)




So anyway, we hopped on a bus in the afternoon and took it all the way to the top. We chose to take a private, guided tour for Machu Picchu to get a more intimate experience.

You know how sometimes you finally see a place in person and it’s kind of disappointing? Not the case here. The views from the top are breathtaking, and exactly as they appear online.


Machu Picchu.



Photobombing Machu Picchu.



No caption necessa–oh crap this is a caption.



Black & white cuz I’m artsy.



So steep! Hard living and hard life out here.



Pretty surreal landscape to set up your temple.






12 sided stone was a 12 out of 10. Would definitely  recommend


Once you get in to get a closer look at Machu Picchu it becomes even more impressive. See those stones right there? Nothing is holding them together! They have no mortar, they are just perfectly fitted. And they had no machines to smooth them out.

Our private guide told us that the higher your status within the community, the larger and smoother the stones that made up the foundation of your home would be. The craftsmanship is still incredibly impressive today, some 500+ years later.

After getting our fill of the views and soaking it all in, we decided to walk back down rather than take the bus.  It was a mad rush to make it before dark.




Ok, one more…


We ate some delicious alpha steak for dinner back in Cusco.  

In the morning, it was time for us to depart, the road was blocked because of a protest. They actually put rocks in the road so people couldn’t pass. Turns out the protest was for teachers who wanted to be paid more–same story all over the world!

We met some helpful Peruvians who walked us across the protest lines and picked up a taxi on the other side to take to the airport for our flight back to Lima.



Teachers protest with rocks in the road to block traffic.



Police in riot gear.


Machu Picchu was a real commitment to even get to, out of our way for sure, but I’m glad we went.  It was cool and classic, just not quite on the level of our camping misadventures.  I like iconic sites and I’m grateful to have visited this one — the first of the Seven Wonders of the “New” (or “Old”) World that I have ever seen.

Bucket List Checker,




Peru: The Amazon Edition

20 Jul



The Road to the Amazon is Paved With…

36 canyon tunnels. We had to drive down a one-lane highway through 36 canyon tunnels to reach our destination.


One of the 36 terrifying caves


Q: How does one do this safely?

A: Trick question. One does not do this “safely.” But one is granted an illusion of safety by leaving first thing in the morning, before there is too much traffic, and by laying on the horn the entire time.


Q: Well, what if another car comes while you’re driving through?

A: You need to be paying attention and one of you (the gringo) will need to put that baby in reverse and back, back, back it up.


See what I mean? You can’t hear the horn, but I’m on it.


Refreshingly, we made it safe and ‘sound’ to the other side, and man, was it worth it. Look at this view!





The Amazon? More like “The oh-DAMN-azon.”



So, after taking a few more snapshots and listening to a book from audible based in the Amazon, we made it to our lodgings. On the way, we laughed at a land-locked restaurant that served ceviche, or, as they called it “beviche.” Does this stand for “best ceviche” in town? Does the “b” stand for “beuno?” I’ll give the marketing team a B+. It’s about the intrigue; and it definitely kept us talking.

After the beviche, we made it to Tingana, the organic eco-farm where we met locals hard at work and a couple from Argentina..





We explored the lush landscape,



Things that will hurt you in the jungle…


learned about the different plants,



Things that will heal you from the things that will hurt you in the jungle.


watched the experts hard at work, and even got the chance to try some of the fruits. Muy delicioso!


One of my favorite outings in this neck of the woods—ahem, excuse me, this neck of the jungle— was taking a boat down the river to explore the flora and fauna of the rainforest. We took a boat out during the day, and during the night.


Half-expecting to see an alligator somewhere in here.




Canopy views.




Row, row, row your boat…


On the night tour: Imagine red, un-blinking eyes staring at you through the trees; animals communicating in the night; an alligator swimming past the boat, its eyes watching its prey (us) intently as it lingers on the surface. Just kidding— there are no alligators in this part of the Amazon. #thankgoodness

But, those red-unblinking eyes…that part is true. We used our headlamps to shine a light and see what animals were lurking; they were predominately spiders and other insects although we did spot a lot of blue heron and other beautiful birds sleeping in the trees (and attracted armies of moths in the process). We were able to get really close because it was so dark and quiet. Birds are so cute when they’re sleeping.

It was a magical Amazonian experience that would have been truly terrifying had we not been with experienced guides.



Some other highlights from this trip include but are not limited to:

1. Taking a tour of a Peruvian chocolate factory where I had the best chocolate of my life. I do not say this lightly. I don’t mess around with chocolate.



The satisfied smiles of two incredibly happy chocolate eaters.


2. Meeting this adorable stray dog.



Can we keep him, please?


3. Celebrating mi cumpleaños!! Ben woke me up with some of my favorite fresh fruit, palma de rosa, to be exact. We were also able to find this really massive (and delicious) cake at the nearby market. So we overdosed on cake, but the fruit from the morning balanced everything out… in a sense, it was a really healthy day…



Happy birthday to moi!! Wait, wrong language…


Another time, early in this trip, when we made it to a town near Huarez known for its famous ice cream—how could we not stop here? Luckily, there was a group of nuns grabbing a quick cone. They were kind enough to advise us on our flavor choices, and I was baptized in the creamy deliciousness of their recommendations. Ice cream, around the world, is as close to heaven as it gets. Bless you, nuns. Bless you.

After some more wonderful food (including mini avocados without pits), more humbling encounters (including the one with our hostel host in Moyamba, who ended up planting one of the seeds from our palma de rosa and naming the tree after me), and our desperate search to find a cock-of-the-rock bird (a myth, I tell you!), we headed out on a Friday morning.

But the thrills weren’t over yet; while driving and intending to finish up our books on tape (shout out to Trevor Noah’s memoir; we couldn’t have done this without you), we happened upon a 17-piece marching band. They were amazing, so we pulled over to watch them perform. I’m not sure if they were rehearsing or if they were still stuck in their garage-band phase, but we were the band’s only audience. We really enjoyed ourselves, and the lack of onlookers somehow made the whole experience even more special. And hey, when they hit it big, I can say with the confidence of a craft-beer-drinking hipster that I knew about this 17-piece Peruvian band before they were cool.

All in all, this trip was most definitely a success. And to end this post, I’ll give you guys a few takeaways—some tidbits of prime travel knowledge, if you will:

1. If you buy a really cool hat in the Peruvian mountains and show it off in the Peruvian Amazon, don’t expect the locals to know what the hell you’re wearing. (a teaser to the next post)

2. “Tengo ganas” does not mean “I’m excited” in Spanish. It just doesn’t.

Your Amazon woman,

Peru: Getting High in the Andes

17 Jul

I visited Peru for the first time this summer. On this trip, I met up with boyfriend-candidate Ben who was having an adventure of his own, learning Spanish and working at a monkey sanctuary in Bolivia.


Morpheus (top) with my favorite monkey, Ben.


We decided to rent a car and head north to take on some serious hiking in the Andes.



But first, ceviche.



Gorgeous man, gorgeous mountains.



Near Carhuaz – Chacas drive



Endless photo ops.


After we arrived in Huaraz, we went on one acclimatization hike. We had planned for a second, but it was blocked off and so instead, we headed to the cute city center and rented a tent, sleeping pads, a stove, and cookware, thinking this made us legit and ready to summit mountains foolish enough to stand in our path. It seemed like a good use of our time to rent equipment rather than to practice one more day.

My original plan was an ambitious 8-day trek with pack mules in La Cordillera Blanca, because why not? I thought: “We’re young, (relatively) fit, and there is never going to be a better time! Let’s do this!”

But… ever the voice of reason, Ben talked me out of it (thank goodness). He found this grand plan to be a little too ambitious for us.

“Why don’t we start a little smaller?” he asked. And so we did.

We decided instead to take on a 3-day hike up to Laguna Ishinca, thinking “Two nights? We love the outdoors! No problem. We got this!”


The “cute” city center I was referring to…with a parade.


We drove the long, winding road to the Laguna Ishinca trailhead.



This is actually a “road.”



Pardon me, sheep, but which way to the trailhead?



Stunning views from the start.


We found a home to drop our rental car, with a lovely local named Asusenna and her family, who promised to watch it until we returned on Friday. We did our best to learn a few basic phrases in Quechua like “Hello. How are you?” Where is the bathroom? Have a nice day!” until Ben, looking anxious, told me we had to start walking or we wouldn’t make it to the campsite by dark.

We studied our guide book, threw on our packs, and took off onto the trail.



Getting directions: The Ancash Region natives speak Quechua so, even for my own personal interpreter Ben, communication was an issue.



The first llama of the trip.


We soon learned we had very different hiking styles. The guidebook said that this hike should take 5 hours, but 3 hours in, it was clear we were nowhere near halfway through. Ben raced ahead like he was in a video game and had to reach the next checkpoint by a certain time or he would fail that level and die and have to start over or whatever happens in video games when you don’t reach the thing by the alloted time. Or so, that’s how it felt. I got very familiar with the view of his backside drifting further away.

Meanwhile, my style is more to mosey along, take frequent rest stops, snack, take pictures of everything, chase llamas and butterflies, snack some more, wave and try to chat with locals and passerby’s (people smile in the countryside when you see them!), search for Ben on the horizon, and snack. It’s all about energy conservation!



Views though! Time for a snack.



Blue skies for days.


I caught up to Ben at a flat, grassy area where the guidebook told us to resist the temptation to set up camp, and forge ahead. I had my pack halfway off, but Ben urged me forward, so I grabbed a snack, found his tracks, then trudged on. Finally, we reached our guidebook-approved campsite just before dark.

We pitched our tent with our headlamps on and collapsed into bed. But, in our haste to get into the mountains, we forgot to consider just how high we were. We began our day at 3,000 meters (a shade under 10,000 feet) and had climbed to 3,700 (over 12,000). A word to the wise: Altitude sickness is real, yinz.

I’m not exaggerating, I legit felt like it was over. I couldn’t breathe. It was pitch black (apparently altitude sickness gets worse at night) and Ben reassured me that, if I needed him to, he would carry me back down to town, but I wasn’t sure he was up to the challenge of a rescue job. We had been hiking for 8 hours, he could barely breathe himself, and besides, we weren’t there yet in our relationship and I would be damned if I was going to play my damsel in distress card. I told him to tell my parents I loved them.

Not helping matters was the fact that it was absolutely FREEZING, and we were NOT prepared for the cold. We shivered throughout the night. At around 5 a.m., when it was still dark, we felt like we had to get moving or die in our tent. By 5:30, light was coming up over the hills but had not, yet, entered the valley.

So, wrapping ourselves in everything warm, including our sleeping bags, we hiked up the mountain to chase the sun and seek out warmth. Brrrrrr.

At long last, we crested the ridge and sat down to thaw out in the morning light. The feeling slowly returned to our bodies and we could finally enjoy the views. Maybe we wouldn’t die after all?



Survival smiles.


We scurried back to our campsite and noticed that there were around 100 other tents in the valley, most with mules grazing nearby. These people looked like they had been on the trail for months, with thick layers of dirt and grime, chapped lips, high-tech, warm-looking gear, and worn boots. And here we were, on the verge of death after day 1 of an introductory hike.

We busied ourselves with heating up water for coffee and talked about how serious we had been about heading back down immediately. But, now that the sun was out, could we possibly make it through another day’s hike?

The reason we had initially chosen this path was for the refugio located nearby. This was a hut with bunk beds for tired and cold hikers, but not cheap at $40 per person, per night in a communal living situation. It sat at 4,350m (14,271.65’, to be exact). But, we needed it.

We were feeling ambition again, and the sunlight was helping. Not ready to retreat back down, we altered our plans and sought refuge in this refugio (see what I did there?) for our second night. We dropped off our gear, and since we had such a horrible time last night, thought we should hike up even HIGHER. *Narrator shakes her head in disbelief.*

We hiked up to 5,000 meters (roughly 16.5k feet. About 1,000 feet below Everest base camp.). My legs burned from my hips to my toes, but the views were worth it.


Sadly, we forgot our swimmies.



Roughly 3 miles above sea level, NBD.

We made it back to the refugio and had a much better night’s sleep. When we woke, we spent most of the day walking down to return to our warm car. No wonder the initial hike took so long! We went far!

We couldn’t find Asussena or her family, so, unfortunately, we left without saying goodbye. Shortly down the gravel road, someone started yelling at us, but since we couldn’t understand them and we were so tired and so grateful to be sitting down, we kept going. Then a taxi came speeding after us, I could see it in the rearview mirror and I pulled over to let him pass. They were driving so quickly!

It was Asussena, who had chased after us in a taxi because she thought someone was stealing our car. It was Thursday, and we had told her that we weren’t supposed to be back until the following day. Oops!

And so we cheated death and stole our own rental car. A successful boyfriend-candidate test for Ben and one of my favorite moments (in hindsight) from our time in Peru. Next time I’ll acclimatize better.

Hasta pronto,


Anthrocon 2017

7 Jul

Patrick, Russell, and Colleen came to Pittsburgh for 2017 Anthrocon and, once again, IT WAS THE BEST WEEK OF MY  ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Every time I read through this blog to edit this post I add more explanation points to that sentence!!! Best week!!!!! Wahoo!!

If you’ve never met me, here’s a post explaining what they’re all about.  And here’s a link to last years post, another to a link to when the furries were here in 2015, plus, bonus, a gratuitous time I saw them in Australia.



The Fast and The Furriest.



Tails, ready to WAG ALL OVER TOWN!!!!!!!



I’ve never seem them look better.



Helen and I had been waiting for this weekend for, no exaggeration, months.



My dad, showing support.  I mean, honestly.  Is this not THE CUTEST ELEPHANT YOU HAVE EVER SEEN?!?  My heart could explode.






Dealers Room!! More fur swag than ever this year!



Natalie, blending in with the fur-niture.



Living their best lives!


unnamed-19 copy




Check out that trophy! Russel WON the poker tournament. Fur-st place! He played for 8 hours, raised money for charity, AND WON US A HEAD!!!! First fur-eaking place!!!!!!  The head will make its debut next year.



“Pet Him —->” and “Pet Me”, together.



Sometimes, we wear each others fur.



Patrick, being a troll for variety and ‘mi, strongly identifying with elephant ears.



Entertaining questions from the local Pittsburghers at Eat ‘n Park.



Mascots: including this to remember how enjoyable (hilarious) the species specific talks are.



An anteater at the insect talk.


At the rodent talk the head rat said  “Everyone who is an artist likes drawing pictures of rats!  There is no one who doesn’t!”  Ha, hiliarous! He loves rats so much! But then later, upon hearing the story, Katie Diamond confirmed it was true.  Even she likes to draw pictures of rats.



And, of course, the fan favorite, My Little Pony Talk.  This year we won miniature ponies and started a new tradition which involves sitting on the ground and making up stories about their lives.



Andrew, radiating happiness!  The rest of us are radiating confusion (but also happiness!), what is that animal?



Russ, our hype man.




Story time with Kitty Kat Katie.


“Pet Him —- >” and “Pet Me”, at it again.



The intense, likable, dancing Gold Fish.



Signature best friend moooove!



Furry rave.



Right after we all saw the Best Fireworks Ever.


This year was epic!  We’re figuring out the kinks, our favorite talks, and how to spend our free time.  SO EXCITED FOR NEXT YEAR!
It’s hug time,