East USA Roadtrip

After spending a good week in Washington DC, we were ready to move to our next destination. We wanted to see Niagara Falls and the Amish County. After quickly checking the bus options, we decided renting a car was the way to do it. Buses are expensive and at odd hours. Driving would also train us for the big road trip on the West Coast!

East USA Roadtrip

Once we agreed to drive to Niagara Falls and back, we decided to utilise our time on the road in the best way possible. We planned and booked Airbnb at various locations so we could experience more. 1000 miles (1609 kms) later, we had USA road experience. Here is the route we took –

Pennsylvania

We picked up the car from Hertz and we were on our way. Our first stop from DC was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country famous for Mennonites and Amish communities who are originally German. We had thoroughly researched how to avoid the tourist traps and were not disappointed.

Amish Country, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Dutch Country was incredibly green, beautiful and full of barns. It was picturesque. We visited farmer’s market and bought fresh apple ciders and pretzels. We enjoyed smorgasbord, which is a Amish buffet. The food was hearty and warm.

Amish Country, Pennsylvania

Amish Country, PennsylvaniaWe were delighted to watch real Amish people going on with their lives in traditional ways. What a wonder! Before heading east, we visited a working museum showing the life of 19th Century Pennsylvania, especially the German influenced area. They spoke German there until the early 20th century. Who would have thought!

Amish Country, Pennsylvania

Our next stop was Philadelphia which is a great historic city in the eastern United States along with New York and Boston. We lived close to the Art Museum though we skipped visiting it. We’re no art aficionados and DC had spoilt us with free museums. But visiting the Rocky Steps were a must! There were lots of people around, some posing in iconic Rocky post at the top of the stairs.

Rocky Stairs, Philadelphia

The city is meant to be extremely walk-able and hell yeah it was. We walked from our Airbnb apartment to the center without any issues. We saw the Liberty Bell and the Independence Hall, both Iconic Symbols of America’s Freedom and Modern Government.

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia

Other than sightseeing, the city had lots of bars we visited especially for SIPS. City’s bars had specials on Wednesdays and we were able to enjoy that. We even found a local bar 2 doors down from the apartment. Fancy that! Philadelphia was a great little city which has been cleaned up and is a great place to stop at.

Philadelphia

Ithaca

We were slowly making our way from Philadelphia to Niagara Falls. Ithaca was a great little town on the way there. We stayed at an Airbnb house next to the woods in Ithaca.

East USA Roadtrip

The town is home to Cornell University which we visited for the Waterfalls and to see what an Ivy League university looks like. The waterfalls were beautiful while the University was historic and had a bunch of reunions happening.

Cornell University, Ithaca

We visited the Ithaca Lake for sunset and it was an incredible sunset. The downside was that returning from the lake we had to be extra careful of deer crossing the road. The town itself was cute and we had nice drinks and tapas. Due to the university, it was very lively even on a weekday.

Ithaca Lake, Ithaca, NY

The next day we visited Robert Treman State Park, Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock State Park and Watkin Glenn State Park all in one day. It was a lot of driving but we saw some incredible places and hiked beautiful trails. Watkins Glen in particular was strikingly beautiful.

Waterfalls, Ithaca, NY

The craft brewing culture is quite big in USA and Ithaca region is a wine producing region. Therefore, we were able to mix the two and taste wine and beer in the same vicinity. Wine is produced in summer after the harvest while beer can be produced all year round, it’s a fantastic idea. The beer flights were quite cheap while we found it odd to pay for wine tasting. I suppose Hunter Valley back in Australia has spoilt us there!

Winery & Brewery, Ithaca, NY

On our way out, we spotted at a farmer’s market to enjoy some fresh breakfast. To our delight we came across a Sri Lankan gentleman selling authentic Sri Lankan meals. Of course we had a fulfilling brunch ;)

Niagara Falls

The primary reason we took this road trip was to see Niagara Falls. Ithaca to Niagara Falls was a 3 hour drive and it was quite comfortable. We were only expecting the falls but the area around was like a carnival. Lots happening on both sides of the border.

Niagara Falls, NY

Something we didn’t know – there are 2 falls, American and Horseshoe falls. The Canadians have the better view of both sides. However, the American side gets you closer to the brink. Its a different experience seeing a huge river get to the edge and just fall. It’s hard to put the experience in words. Although the viewing area around the Horshoe Falls was under restoration, we managed to get the glimpse of the falls.

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, NY

Luna Island is a little island on the American falls where you are surrounded by the river on both sides before it falls down hundreds of feet. The wash is carried by the wind and standing close to the edge gets you and your electronics pretty wet.

Niagara Falls, NY

 

After the falls we drove to Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes on the border of US and Canada. It was windy and cold but seeing Toronto’s silhouette made it all worthwhile. We were so close to Canada!

Lake Ontario, NY

We met Shruti’s friend Neha in Buffalo, the other big city in the area. We went to Anchor Bar which is where Buffalo Wings originate. We ate, drank and chatted for several hours. Finally we drove back to DC, returned the car and killed final hours before our flight to LA with the Patel Family. It was a great end to a great trip.

Washington DC

After 4.5 months in South America, we were finally ready to say good bye to an amazing continent. With only 2 more months to end our epic trip, we were prepared to enjoy everyday to the fullest. And the best way to do that is by being on the road most of it! We arrived in Washington DC, with the plan of spending a week at one location and then just driving around USA. Yes, road trips!!

The backstory

Europe was our intended destination after South America. We had booked flexi flights into and out of Europe. The final piece of the puzzle was getting a Schengen visa for Shruti which would allow us to visit majority of European countries.

However, no European Embassy would accept an application from a non-resident in South American countries. As a result, we cut our losses, booked cheap flights to East Coast USA and planned a crazy road trip.

Deciding Washington DC

We knew we had to visit DC because Shruti’s bestie Richa had delivered a cute baby girl, Nia, just 2 months ago! Of course we had to see her. So we started looking at various flight options from Lima, Peru. Luckily JetBlue flew to DC, via Fort Lauderdale, for a reasonable price. We knew we had to be on that flight.

Upon arriving in DC, we did a bit of sightseeing. The city has tons of museums and art galleries which are completely free and that suited us very well!

Sightseeing in Washington DC

The Museum of American History gave us great amount of knowledge on the history of USA. A lot of it involved war and conquest. The Museum of Air and Space had great exhibitions on flight, space and science in general. We did feel like bimbos there because engineering isn’t our cup of tea.

Museum of Air and Space, Washington DC

The Washington Mall was an incredible sight. The huge park was home to many of America’s Iconic Landmarks. The Washington Memorial was grand while the the Lincoln Memorial was like a temple. Several other War Veterans Memorials were moving while the Martin Luther King Junior memorial was worth a walk.

Washington DC

The White House, Washington DCWe were also able to visit the Capitol, The White House and the Library of Congress. The White House was touristy but a great symbol of power but the Capitol was mind blowing. The system had been setup so the President never outweighs the People. We got a chance to tour the precinct and saw some of the best marble architecture known to man. The dome was being repaired but the building still oozed the brilliance of USA and its founding fathers. A must must must see! The tours happen every half hour.

Capitol, Washington DC

The Library was again a great example of marble architecture. The overlook of the reading room was a little crowded but the view was magnificent. Again, it showed the brilliance of America’s Founding Fathers who placed symbols of power next to symbol of knowledge.

The Library of Congress, Washington DC

It is hard to get a scale of the entire area of the mall. All the areas that I have mentioned above are based around an L shaped grassy area. It took us 2.5 days to see all of this and we skipped several museums!

Tomb of Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery, Washington DCWe also drove to Arlington National Cemetery. Upon arriving there we were blown away! USA truly respects and honours their soldiers. The entire area was filled with thousands of tombstones. It was a sight to behold and reflect. The Tomb of Unknown Soldier and J. F. Kennedy and his family shook something deep within us. We paid our respects and left with a heavy heart wishing there was such a place for brave Indian Soldiers too.

Arlington Cemetery, Washington DC

Catching up with Friends

We spent the weekend with Richa, Nik and Nia and had a ball. First of all, Nia was the best entertainment(of course, we didn’t have to do the dirty work!). We went to several local restaurants, talked a lot and Nik and I even managed to leave the girls at home for some beers at a great local brewery. We got beer glasses, free beer and a tour of the beer making process. A great weekend definitely!

Patel Family, Washington DC

We also had dinner with Shruti’s school friend, Ashwati. She picked a Greek Restaurant and we couldn’t be happier. Oh, how we missed food variety in South America!

 

Enjoying Peru in a Month

If you have been following our blog then you know the length of trouble we went through to get Peru Visa for Shruti. We had given up on the thought of visiting Peru but I guess the Gods were on our side and the final attempt in Bolivia worked!

With the remaining bank balance and 3 months in hand, we had to do Peru in a month. Though we couldn’t visit the northern part of Peru, we are definitely satisfied with our travels to Cusco, Arequipa, Ica and Lima.

Peru is home to the most popular tourist spot in South America – Machu Picchu. But we realised there is so much more to Peru than just the Lost Kingdom of Incas. With plenty of hiking opportunities and cultural experiences, Peru is a dream location for a travelers. So much to learn and try!

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru in a month

The Inca Culture is really prominent in most part of the country. We had plenty of mora and chicha while chatting away with the native women. And then when we reached Lima, we were a little ‘shocked’. When we got to the Capital city, we were blown away by the development and advancement in the society. So different to the Sacred Valley of Cusco!

Peru Travel Map

List of Posts

Exploring Puno, Peru

Arequipa & Hiking in Colca Canyon

Cusco – the Inca Capital

Sacred Valley of Incas

Machu Picchu

Huacachina – Desert Paradise

Lima – The Capital of Peru

Lima – The Capital of Peru

Heading out of Huacachina, we could go to Lima, the Capital of Peru or head further north to the mountains in Peru. We soon realised we didn’t have much time remaining before our flight to USA and so deciding our next destination wasn’t that difficult.

Getting to Lima

We arrived in Lima from Ica on a bus. Getting a bus was a pain but even worse was getting to the suburb Miraflores in Lima. The bus wasn’t going to a terminal so it dropped us on a highway with a road leading straight to Miraflores. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers were keen on ripping off tourists and asked for ridiculous prices. It helped that we went up a pedestrian bridge and asked a policeman who guided us better. We eventually took a taxi which dropped us right outside our Airbnb house. We had finally arrived in Lima, the last leg of our trip in South America!

Long Term AirBnB

Until now, we had used hostels and hotels in South America. We didn’t use AirBnB due to communication issues and safety. However, Lima looked like an expensive city, even when we looked at backpacker hostel charges. Suburbs around Miraflores seemed safe but were too expensive. Airbnb seemed like a reasonable option. We found a flat shared with one other guy for a decent price for a week. To be honest, we only saw him once when he came around one morning. We used the apartment like our own except his room and had no issues other than an inquisitive concierge attendant.

Miraflores

Miraflores and its surrounding suburbs are the tourist, expats and elite hub of Lima. The old city was considered dangerous and unsafe so tourists usually don’t live there. At first glance, you realise that the suburb is huge. It starts from the beach and keeps going quite a way inland. On our first night, craving Indian food we decided to walk to an Indian restaurant while doing our shopping along the way. The food turned out to be good but we had walked way too much.

Miraflores, Lima, PeruThe next day we walked to Larcomar Mall and the boardwalk which was recommended by our host. The mall is built right along the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The building architecture is very open, providing views of the sea from the food court, restaurants and break out areas within the mall. Some restaurants charge top money for a meal with the view. Moreover, despite the grey weather in Lima the Malecon area (boardwalk) of Miraflores was a safe place and great area to hand around.

Larcomar, Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Shopping

Since Peru was the last stop in our South America trip, we decided to do some shopping for our USA trip. However, being backpackers, we couldn’t afford things from Larcomar. Therefore, we found a Peruvian version of Paddy’s Market closer to the centre of the city.

Polvos Azules complex was very similar to Flemington markets or Paddy’s Markets in Sydney. It was several levels of clothes, footwear, luggage and anything else you can think of. The catch was that it was all fake branding for a fraction of the cost. You could find Nike, Adidas, VANS, Gstar shoes that were not real but only an expert could tell them apart. In terms of clothes, you could get the copy of any of the popular soccer jerseys. I bought a Ripcurl Singlet almost the same as any in an Aussie surf shop for 15 soles, $5USD. Shruti managed to get a few A&F looking tops for 50 soles, $15USD. We knew we would be using them a lot in US so could use and throw. A great place to shop for fakes!

Lima’s Transport System

As with any big city there are traffic problems in Lima. However, from what we heard it was worse there. Therefore, the government decided to build a metro style BRT System. Buses run in the middle of the highway and each cross road is a terminal. The pass cost us 15 Soles each with 10 soles to spend. Each journey costs 2.5 Soles and as long as you are going along the highway the BRT is pretty good. We were able to get from old city to Miraflores with relative ease except the peak hour. We can’t comment on how good it is for the entire city but it certainly works well in some sections.

Old City

Lima is old, period! Along with Caracas, Cartagena, Mexico City and possibly Santiago de Chile, it is one of the oldest cities in Latin America. Therefore, although we were living in the posh, new and hip part of town, we had to visit the dodgy, old and preserved part of town. Getting there was relatively easy. Line A, B and C go to different parts of the Old City. We arrived close to the main square of the old city which had a Sunday market going on.

The great thing about South America is that small business is everywhere on the streets. There were book sellers, food stalls, artists and other people trying to sell things to the huge Sunday crowd. As we arrived at the Cathedral, we were completely blown away by the preserved buildings. The wooden balconies of Lima were unique and we had not seen them anywhere in South America.

Old City Lima

Lima has gone through since big earthquakes and the current buildings are preserved since the last earthquake but the colors and the condition of the buildings were a sight to behold. We had a late lunch in the old city with one of the girls we met in Puno. The old city is famous for being dangerous but especially on a crowded Sunday, we felt no danger. It was incredible!

Old City Lima

Party

We had a weekend in Lima and thought we make the most of it. Our host recommended a few places but they were too far so we went to the Parque Area of Miraflores. We had a great kebab for dinner, did some gambling and drank some expensive beer. Guess what? Shruti managed to double the money. Not a bad result!

The clubs were average with the usual music and crowds. We changed clubs a few times but then went to a pub to play pool and drink some Happy Hour Pisco Sour at 1:30am. The scene wasn’t for us but we were happy to say goodbye to South America and Latin music with it!

Paragliding

While walking around the malecon (boardwalk) and Larcomar Shopping Centre, we had seen people paragliding above us. It seemed breathtaking as people crisscrossed above us while enjoying that view of the ocean. Shruti and I decided to do this as our last hurrah to South America. The cost was USD 80 or 220 Soles. We decided to pay in Dollars as were trying to avoid getting Soles from the bank.

The paragliding association was close to Larcomar on a cliff overlooking the sea. We had to get weighed to choose the right guide, get the gear on and fly. It seemed as if Shruti would go first but my guide was ready first and before I knew what was happening, I was above the Pacific Ocean with a quiet guide.

Paragliding, Lima, Peru

I had a smile on my face as we went over Larcomar and the sea walk. People would wave and I would wave back. It was a very happy moment for me to be over the buildings on the last day in South America.

Paragliding, Lima, Peru

The problem was that I couldn’t see Shruti in the air. The guide and I had a rough landing as he told me to lift my legs as high as possible. We came very close to not making it according to Shruti. She was standing there waiting for her turn but the winds were just not strong. After I returned, we waited and waited but no luck. Shruti’s initial guide, a tall middle aged guy even passed her on to my guide as he was lighter to help with the wind but to no avail. It wasn’t Shruti’s day and she wasn’t able to fly. Bummer!

Paragliding, Lima, Peru

Goodbye South America

We took an Uber from Miraflores to the airport. On the way, the Uber driver took the Malecon Road between the cliffs and the beach passing by the Larcomar Mall. We passed through Lima’s famous traffic, checked in our luggage, had a subway for dinner and flew to Washington DC, USA. With that, our 4.5 months in South Améis came to an end. Hasta Luego!

Final Thoughts

We spent a week in Lima but to be honest we didn’t do all that much. We rested a lot, posted on our blog and chilled in Miraflores. It was a time of contemplation and rest. We saw enough in the city to entertain us but despite that Lima has a lot more to offer.

Lima, Peru

Huacachina – Desert Paradise

We were finally done with Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and we were ready to get out of the crazy tourist area. Little did we know our next stop was another touristy area!

Getting There

We took an Exclusiva bus to Ica from Cusco. We paid 150 Soles, USD 47, per person for this trip which was the most we paid in transportation in South America. They were the cheapest in the “luxury” buses and the only one to provide a bedlike 180 degrees seat. We even had to change the dates and they did so without a charge.

Once inside, we were amazed! A seat that reclined to 180 degrees, with headphones,  and an individual entertainment set with a selection of English movies as well as dinner and breakfast.

Exclusiva Bus, Cusco to Ica, Peru

The journey took 16 hours and we were dropped at the Exlusiva bus terminal in Ica. We hired the only available taxi for Huacachina. To be honest, I had never heard of the place expect from some Aussie saying “Its a sick desert oasis, mate” and I trust my fellows!

Dune Buggies And Sand Boarding

Huacachina is a Desert Oasis. Period. Some say that the oasis is no longer natural and the local office bring tankers of water so tourists continue visiting. Anyhow, real or not, it still amazed us. Right in the middle of the sand dunes is a green patch with palms and a pond.

Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The town is very small – we managed to walk all around it in 20 minutes. We arrived at 7:30am in the morning and most hostels were either still closed or just opening. We took the cheapest hotel we could find and decided to stay for 2 nights before heading to Lima.

Upon our check in we learnt that the hostel organizes dune buggies tour and we signed up for it. Dune buggies in Huacachina look unlike anywhere else. They appear to be a combination of a small truck and a Wrangler Jeep.

Dune buggie, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

The tour started at 4pm with confusion as every other tour in South America. There were three buggies and no one knew where to be seated. After jumping between buggies for 10 minutes, we were ready to hit the dunes. Or, at least that is what we thought! We hit a check post 5 minutes into the ride where we had to pay a 3 Soles per person as dune tax. Beats me why they don’t charge ahead!

Anyhow, the tour started and we got on the dunes. The buggie moved alot and we were convinced it will be a bumpy ride. After some laps of the dunes, the buggie stopped at the edge of a dune. Then whooooaaaaahh we were going down the dune in a bumpy car at a crazy speed. Ah yes, we had seat belts but it didn’t help. We screamed and held on for the next 15 minutes as we went down many dunes. Shruti loved it but I hated it but I was committed and there was no way out.

We stopped to take sunset pictures on top of a dune and then we were it again going down the dunes. It was really an intense experience where my heart was in my mouth. We eventually stopped for sand boarding. We started with a practice run down a small dune. Shruti went sitting on the top and reached down fine. I started out ok sitting but it got bad at the end when I flipped off the board and hit my head on the sand. Ouch!

The second run was much better but then came the final run. It was down a huge dune! Everyone went down in their own way and Shruti cruised down too but I stayed put. The fear of hitting my head again was too great. That ended the tour!

Extended Stay

Until we reached Huacachina, we had been in the mountains for close to 2 months. Everyday of wearing jackets and base layers finally got to us. Huacachina provided an excellent respite from the cold. It was sunny and hot all day so we decided to make a 2 day trip into a 4 day trip.

Wine & Pisco Tasting

The problem was that there was not much else to do in Huacachina other than dune buggies. A guy working at the hotel asked us if we wanted to do a wine tasting tour. We said yes knowing that I wouldn’t be able to taste anything as I was on antibiotics.

The “tour” as it turned out was the same guy driving us around to different wineries. The wineries were all in Ica which is famous in Peru for wine and pisco. The former is the standard grape wine but the latter is a distilled alcohol from a particular type of grape. The first winery we visited had an English-speaking guide on hand to show us around. The guide knew Shahrukh Khan and started chatting to us about him!!! Go figure.

She showed us around the vineyard, the collection point and informed us that grapes here are still crushed traditionally by feet. The more important part though is that the alcoholic pisco as well as grape juice is kept in huge earthen pots standing. Shruti tried the pisco and wine and we decided to buy a bottle of pisco for home.

Winery, Ica, Peru

The next winery was a little more mum & dad business. The complex was big but there was no guide. Our driver/guide gave us the tour here in Spanish which I then translated to Shruti. The weird thing was that the wine cellar was a cellar as well as a museum. It had things like alligator skins, antique pieces and the earthen pots in what was a damp and dark storage yard. The best thing was that you could try wine yourself using a bamboo stick and buy a bottle, a 2L plastic can or a 5L can. What!

Winery, Ica, Peru

It made wine look more local which we loved. It wasn’t your fancy schmansy wine tasting place where a host gave you 1 sip of all and then you were obliged to buy an overpriced bottle which is cheaper at a liquor store. Here you tried a shot or 2 from the earthen pots and then grabbed whatever quantity made you happy or drunk. We ended up buying the baby maker wine or Perfecto Amor which is its real name. It is a sweet wine which supposedly helped raise the population of the district, hence, baby maker. Mmmmmmm ooooh baby! Jokes we bought it for Shruti’s friends in USA.

In the Summertime

Huacachina had not much else except sun and the hotel was pretty average except the bar, pool and 3 dogs. I was off the drinks so we didn’t use the bar much but we fell in love with the pool and dogs. Our day would start with brunch (usually the same spot) and then we would return to the hotel, jump in the pool and laze on the pool chairs while occasionally playing with the dogs. This pattern continued day in day out. It was like we were taking a break from our holiday, you know, just rejuvenating.

Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Up the Dunes

One morning we decided to climb the dunes overlooking the town. We had to start early to beat the harsh sun. Now, the dunes look beautiful and camels look like ships on them but for humans its way tougher to walk on them than on land. We went up a small dune, rested for a bit and then went up the biggest dune in the area.

Up the dune, Huacachina, Ica, PeruThe view got better with each step and the oasis looked remarkable. After a brief rest and some photos, we decided to run down the dune. We felt like kids again! After that workout, we went to a backpacker hostel for breakfast where I had the Israeli breakfast full of tomatoes and bread. I can’t tell you the name now but it probably had a throaty sylable.

Up the dune, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Final Thoughts

We had a great time in Huacachina with a couple of downers. Firstly, I had my awesone towel stolen off the line by some Peruvian teen girls (thats what the hotel said, we don’t want to blame anyone) but the hotel reimbursed me with exactly the same type which someone forgot. Secondly, because we wanted to end Huacachina with a lazy swim, we left our swimmers for drying and they are probably still hanging in the sun there. Most likely, the hotel will replace those for stolen swimmers.

Up the dune, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Getting out of Huacachina/Ica was a pain. There was only one company going to Lima which had 2 types of buses every hour, one was faster and didn’t stop while the other was slower. We took the slower one but trying to understand the difference was a pain. In the end, we boarded a bus an hour after we arrived which stopped lots except for a bathroom break. That was the end of Huacachina.