Author Topic: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks  (Read 3782 times)

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5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« on: February 24, 2022, 08:06:51 PM »
When we originally purchased the first flight for this trip, I had in mind to start putting together a TR in real-time, first of the planning stages, and then as we continued on to each destination, to update the report on longer flights when I had some downtime. While it was a nice plan, that never did end up happening, so I’m putting this together from various notes, google reviews, as well as from memory. If you’re planning a trip to these destinations feel free to reach out with questions, because there’s a good chance I missed details, and a direct question might jog my memory. If you’d like the phone numbers for any of the guides we used, feel free to reach out as well.

I want to thank everyone who published Trip Reports with their experiences- it was a great help in planning our trip!

The idea for this trip was originally born out of @Dan’s post for cheap flights from LAX to Hawaii, and then a second deal from NY to LAX. At that point we were hopeful that countries in Asia will reopen by the time we finished our Hawaiian leg of the trip (yeah right…), and our dream was to structure this as an around-the-world trip by flying from Hawaii to Southeast Asia, then the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and then finally back home. Alas about three weeks prior to our trip, there had been no major movement in Asian countries reopening, so we dropped that idea and moved on to our second choice, which was South America. (Interestingly enough Google informed me that we did end up traveling around the world in terms of mileage, covering about 26k miles).

You might find the times allotted to each destination odd (either too much or too little), so I’ll give some background. We were a group of 5 travelers (and a baby), and some of us had already visited some of these places, so we decided to spend less time in those areas (Big Island, Maui, and Panama). Another factor was that we’re all self-employed and had to put in a few hours of work each day, so we tried to have some downtime at least every two days (that didn’t always work…). Not everyone in our group was present for the totality of the trip- I was actually the only one who completed the full trip from beginning to end. We did not use any points/miles for this, and set a goal of $5k maximum per traveler for the full trip, not including food. Our final total was $5,400 per person including food, so looks like we actually managed to stick to a budget for a change. Another goal of this trip was to check in absolutely no baggage anywhere, so that we could be in and out of the airport in the shortest amount of time, as well as keeping checked baggage fees to a minimum. We managed to stick to this for all flights except one leg, where we were forced to check in a box of kosher food, as we wanted CY milk (Brazil to Peru). Everyone in our group had a dedicated “job” for the trip- I did most of the driving (I was the only driver over 25 so that saved us a bundle in underage and additional driver fees), and one in our group enjoys cooking so if you’re wondering how we managed so well with only raw food at our disposal in Hawaii and Peru, we did have a chef of sorts on board.

Airwander, a site that finds free stopovers, saved us hundreds of dollars on this trip. To give one example: advertised price per person for SFO to PTY- ~$530, PTY to GRU- ~$300 (~$830 for both legs). Our total for the aforementioned flights per person using Airwander: $334. We also used them to bundle SDU to VCP & VCP to IGU, as well as IGU to GRU and GRU to LIM. We saved upwards of $1,200 per person on airfare using Airwander.

Instead of using a million adjectives to describe how amazingly stunningly beautiful something is I’ll just insert a picture, and let you decide. Don’t think I was dismayed just because I don’t describe a place as very very awesomely amazingly beautiful.

Our trip started in the 3rd week of October, and I returned home in the last week of November.

Now onto the first destination…

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2022, 08:14:07 PM »
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Kauai, Hawaii
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2022, 08:22:51 PM »
As mentioned, the idea for this trip was originally born out of @Dan’s post of cheap flights from LAX to Hawaii, and then a second deal from NY to LAX. Our tickets from JFK to LAX was originally in the $80 range, but @Dan posted a second deal for $56 (https://www.dansdeals.com/airfare-deals/domestic-flights/hot-fly-nonstop-nyc-los-angeles-san-francisco-just-56-3-7k-chase-points-way/) so we had United credit us the fare difference. While we didn’t end up booking the LAX to Hawaii deal with Southwest (https://www.dansdeals.com/airfare-deals/hawaii-flights/southwest-fly-nonstop-hawaiian-islands-80-4-7k-points-way/), we purchased our tickets through United for $90. We chose Kauai as our first and longest stop in Hawaii, as none of us had ever been before.

Our flight landed in LAX at 9PM and our flight from LAX to LIH wasn’t until 8AM the following day, so we reserved the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham LAX for the night. We had to wait 45 minutes outside the airport for the Wyndham shuttle, while every other brand’s shuttle (both pricier and cheaper than the Wyndham) drove by multiple times... eventually we made it to the hotel and checked in with no further drama.

On our flight from LAX to LIH the plane was mostly empty, and we were each able to spread out in a separate row. We landed in LIH around noontime-


for some reason we missed the memo that Hawaii requires travelers to fill out a quarantine-exempt form and generate a QR code via https://travel.hawaii.gov/, so we spent the first half hour after disembarking in the heat (while the airport is not fully outdoors like Kona in Big Island, the airport “walls” are large windows that are all open) completing the forms.

The first thing that hit us after landing are the views- they’re breathtaking. The amazing thing about driving or being stuck in traffic in Kauai is that the views are everywhere- I found this not to be the case on Maui, Big Island, or Oahu- Kauai is just magical in this aspect. It’s the one place I enjoyed being stuck in traffic, even if it didn’t exactly suit my schedule. Some people see Kauai as a claustrophobic version of Maui, and while I can definitely see why, I did not feel that way.



The airport car rental counters are off-site, but the shuttles run frequently so there wasn’t a long wait. We used Alamo and got the cheapest sedan available (see my notes on Polihale as to why that was a bad idea).

Kauai feels very backward and small-towny- most busy roads are one lane in each direction, and the speed limits are low as well. Don’t rely on Google maps for the speed limits as they’re more often wrong than not.

Kuai has roosters everywhere- sort of like pigeons in NY. They’re not generally bothersome, except that their circadian rhythm is off and instead of crowing just when the sun comes up, they crow all day and night.

As mentioned, we traveled with the bare minimum, so our first stop was to Costco, Walmart, and the other shops mentioned on Chabad Kauai’s website (https://www.jewishkauai.org/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/625667/jewish/Kosher-on-Kauai.htm) to stock up on food and other basic essentials. Unfortunately, no one had kosher chicken at the time, but Scott from Costco’s bakery section was very helpful in providing us with the raw La Brea bread loaves and instructions on how to bake them (they’re delicious, although your system might not be used to eating this amount of whole grain- considered yourself warned). If you don’t want to go through the hassle of buying raw fish and cleaning it, there are plenty of OU-certified fish in the freezer section at Costco. As expected, everything was about 4X the price as on the mainland.

After stocking up, we headed to our rental in Princeville (https://www.vacasa.com/unit/60595). While the place is a guesthouse, and attached to the host’s home, there was no noise coming from their side of the house throughout our stay, and they didn’t bother us. The place was clean, with enough soap and towels to go around, and matched the pics with no surprises.

The jetlag hit us hard (I think Hawaii has been the worst for me so far- it seems that I’m able to handle a 12-hour change like China better than a 6 hour one like Hawaii…) so that was it for the night. While there are downsides to not being able to keep your eyes open past 9PM no matter how hard you try, there is an upside to witnessing the beautiful Hawaiian sunrise each morning (this went on pretty much for the entire duration of the Hawaiian leg of the trip- we finally got used to the time zone the last week, in Oahu. Yay.).

Friday morning, after witnessing a beautiful sunrise and getting some work done, we headed back to Lihue airport for our 11:45AM tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The drive from Princeville to Lihue takes about 45 minutes, and since check-in was scheduled for 11AM, we left Princeville at 10AM, confident that we’d make it in time. About 10 minutes into the drive, we hit a traffic jam. Turns out the roads were being repaved that week, and the construction crew alternated the traffic between north and south, leaving just one lane open. All would have been fine if they alternated the traffic every few minutes, but instead they changed direction every 30 minutes. Even worse, they closed the road in two spots, so when we finally made it past one worksite, we had to wait another 30 minutes at the next spot… we seemed to be the only impatient ones on the road- everyone else seemed fine with it (and when traffic finally started moving and the car ahead of me didn’t get the memo I honked at him- that was the only honk heard on Kauai that week. I felt like a pariah and didn’t attempt that one again). We called the tour operator after hitting the first jam, and luckily our pilot only had us booked for the day, and agreed to wait around til we made it, which was well after 12:30PM. The ride itself was INCREDIBLE. I can’t recommend it enough. Mount Wai'ale'ale, Waimea, Na Pali- those are things that cannot be explored from the ground in the same way, if it all. Another benefit to doing the helicopter tour as our first activity meant that we got a really good idea of the island’s layout- where things are located, as well as the climates.







On the way back to Princeville we stopped at the secluded Moloa’a Beach.



After that we had a mad rush back to our rental to prep for Shabbos. We found a nice selection of Israeli wine at one of the local shops in Princeville, based on the Chabad Rabbi’s recommendation.

On Shabbos we took a hike down to Wyllie Beach. The trailhead from the Westin side is very steep, and while you can maneuver down by letting gravity do its jobs, the way up is impassable after a heavy rain. We just about managed it. The Beach is rather secluded near the trailhead, but is quite popular further down, where it’s more easily accessible (although the sea-level approach is very far from the Westin). I believe this was the calmest beach we encountered in Kauai- the surf hits a reef further out so by the time the waves hit the shoreline they’re calm.

Sunday morning our first stop was at Opaekaa Falls, where spent a few minutes eating breakfast.



As with the rest of Kauai the parking lot was teeming with roosters.



We started our journey south, passing Tree Tunnel on the way. The speed limit here is 50MPH, but it’s ok to drive slowly to enjoy the road- remember this is Kauai- no one is going to honk.



Next up was Glass Beach- the way down to this beach is less than scenic (it’s behind Chevron’s gas storage facility). Also, the beach itself does not always have glass- we were lucky that we visited at a time when there was a decent amount- some days it’s just a regular beach with no glass at all.



Next on our route was Hanapepe, and on the way we stopped at the Hanapepe Valley Lookout where you can see some canyons as well as lush valleys and mountains in the distance.



If you enjoy quant bridges, Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is for you- I wasn’t very impressed but to each their own.



After Hanapepe we headed West to Polihale and Waimea. Kekaha Town is the last bit of civilization on this side of the Island, so we stopped at G’s Juicebar for some delicious cold smoothies. I don’t know what this area looked like before covid, but the place was a ghost town, and based on the owner’s eagerness to serve us it appeared that he hadn’t had a customer in a while. We then headed to Polihale State Park. First, let me give you some idea what the drive is about. After getting off the main highway there’s a 5-mile drive on an unpaved bumpy road. Since we had just a little sedan this was bum aching, took over 20 minutes each way, and I hit my undercarriage a few times on those bumps. A high(er) clearance vehicle is a must, and while a Jeep or other 4WD vehicle isn’t, I do recommend it as you won’t be in as much pain, and it won’t take as long. The locals zoomed past us in their Monster trucks- it was embarrassing- us crawling along at 5PMH while they passed us doing 40MPH... As we got closer to the beach we passed the “Polihale State Park” sign and instead of pulling over, I attempted to go further. Big mistake- I managed to get my car’s wheels spinning in the soft sand, and nearly didn’t make it out. The locals with their large wheels drive all the way down to the beach, but most vehicles can’t handle it. The beach is a local hangout and is rarely empty. There are sand dunes as well as cliffs on the Northside of the beach that are the edges of Na Pali. I would’ve liked to hike closer to those cliffs, but the heat and sun here are unrelenting- the temps were in the 90’s and by far the hottest spot we visited on Kauai. After this excursion my car moaned and groaned for the remainder of the trip.



After Polihale we headed towards Waimea canyon.



The temp here is between 10 and 15 degrees lower than on Polihale. At Waimea Canyon Lookout there’s a $10 parking fee plus a $5/pp fee. It’s an honor-based system- they generally don’t check to see if you paid or not (yes, we did pay). The color of the canyon (green vs brown) will depend on the amount of recent rain, and since it had rained recently, we were able to spot some waterfalls.



Next, we drove all the way across Waimea State park- a winding 8 miles of beautiful views- to Kalalau Lookout. While it was clear and sunny at the Canyon, here it was cloudy and rainy- one of the things I love about Hawaii- the way you can be in a desert area one minute and in a tropical rainforest the next. The temps here at Kalalau are 25 degrees less than on the beach, and with the rain we needed a sweater here. If you get here while it’s raining wait a few minutes, and the clouds will part.



Polihale is just a few miles (about 7) from the North Shore of Kauai but because of the Na Pali cliffs Kauai has no loop road, and we had to drive 75 miles around the entire island to get back to our rental.



On the drive back we stopped at Larsen’s beach for sunset- another rocky drive on a dirt road- as most beaches here in winter the surf is rough, and not suitable for swimming in winter. This is a rocky, overgrown, beach.

The next day we started out late after working for a few hours. Our first stop was Ho’opi’i Falls. This isn’t a must do if you’re short on time, but it was a nice 2.5-mile hike along some waterfalls. The trail is slippery after rain so be careful. Towards the end the trail splits in two, with one path leading to the pool below the falls, and another leading to the top of the falls.



Next, we did a short stop at Kilauea Lighthouse- depending on the season you might be able to see whales, dolphins, sea lions, and various birds- we didn’t get to see much. There’s also a sanctuary here that we didn’t visit.



Our last stop of the day was to Ha’ena Beach for sunset. The drive is a blast- narrow roads with the ocean on one side and cliffs on the other, and it often turns into one-lane bridges where the signs recommend honking to warn oncoming cars (don’t, unless you want to look really green).

There’s a lot more parking at Ha’ena Beach than at Tunnels Beach, and no parking or entry fee. Ha’ena Beach is walkable and connects to Tunnels Beach, as it’s actually one long beach. Across from the parking area here there’s a lava tube that’s open to the public. No swimming here in winter as the currents are vicious. We saw a seal or sea lion (I’m not good a differentiating between the two) on the beach here.





Next morning, our last day in Kauai, we started breakfast at Moloaa Sunrise Fruit Stand- if you buy some drinks you can use their picnic tables, and the views of Kauai, like everywhere else, are beautiful.

Our original plan had been to eat breakfast at Wailua Falls, but we hit another Kauai traffic jam, same as on Friday, so we decided to pull over and make the most of it. Next, we visited Wailua Falls- parking here is limited but not impossible.



We then we headed South to Spouting Horn- at high tide the water shoots up and creates a geyser of sorts. Parking here was plentiful.



Next up was Mahaulepu Beach- we got lost using Google Maps to get here so I drew up some instructions: navigate to Poipu Bay Golf Course (right past the Hyatt) and take Ainako Street down til the end to the parking lot. Lots of parking and beach access.





After this we headed to the airport for our next Island destination.

A general note about Hawaii: always have water in your trunk and a full tank of gas. Always wear sunscreen.

Next up: Big Island, Hawaii

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Big Island, Hawaii (Hawaii Volcanoes NP #11)
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2022, 08:31:02 PM »
Our flight from Kauai to Hilo in Big Island had a short one-hour stopover in Oahu- happily for us the flight from Kauai to Oahu took just 20 minutes. While the airfare to Hilo airport was more expensive than to Kona airport (the airport on the West side of Big Island), and we had to pay a surcharge on our car rental for picking up the car at Hilo and returning it at Kona, Hilo was a lot closer to our Airbnb, which made it well worth it. We had reserved a Standard SUV from National since we were planning on driving up to the Mauna Kea summit (there’s no Emerald Aisle at Hilo), and we were given a few options to choose from. We chose a Jeep Wrangler- it was the perfect vehicle- roomy, and a blast to drive in. Next, we drove to Walmart to stock up on some food and essentials. After spending time in Kauai Big Island feels very American- multi-lane roads and big box stores abound. After heading to our Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/44319983), which we chose due to its proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we realized that the host had given us the wrong code- we spent 10 minutes trying the code, then 10 minutes trying to reach the host, but no luck. We then called Airbnb directly and turns out the host had accidentally reversed the code in the instructions. Airbnb provided us with a $25 voucher and mailed us a puzzle. Yay. The place was exactly as in the pics, except for the Wi-Fi, which was terrible. The incredibly cool thing about this location (I don’t know if this is true for all of Big Island) is the amazing bird sounds. They go on all night- it’s simply incredible. Note that this area is very dark at night, with no lights for miles.

Next morning, we headed out bright and early for Hawaii Volcanoes NP. This was definitely the highlight of Big Island. I had never seen an active volcano before, and while there weren’t huge lava flows, there was a lot to see. We used Shaka Guide’s audio tour (https://www.shakaguide.com/islands/2/big-island/tours/3/hawaii-volcanoes-national-park-tour) in the park alongside the Big Island Revealed book.

After stopping at the visitor center and listening to a short ranger talk, we started up our Shaka Guide tour and headed to Sulphur Banks along Crater Rim. There’s a strong Sulphur smell here.





Kilauea Overlook is where we got our first glimpse of the volcano. The lava isn’t visible from this lookout, but we were able to see the smoke rising out of the crater floor.



Next, we stopped at Kilauea Iki Carter. There are people hiking in the crater in the pic below but they’re too small to see.



We then walked through Thurston Lava Tubes, and then headed to Devastation Trail. Devastation Trail has this incredible Mars-like feel (I’ve never been to Mars).



Next on our list was the Hilina Pali Overlook- we started down the road, but it was closed halfway through for nesting season. On a clear day one can supposedly see 30 miles down the shoreline from this Overlook. Devils Throat, which is right outside the Hilina Pali turnoff, closed that day as well.

We did a quick stop at Pauahi Crater and Mauna Ulu Fissure Trail- I found this to be one of the coolest spots in the park- it’s a very short hike to the lava field, but the ground is very shaky, and the gravel constantly cracks, so wearing good shoes is important here. This place made me feel like the ground could split apart and erupt at any moment. The formations from the lava are incredible and the stones here are metallic and multi-colored as result of the heat from the lava. The place was also deserted and again made me like I was alone on this planet.





At Alanui Kahiko we saw the old road abruptly cut off and covered by lava.

Next, we hiked to Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs- again- good shoes here are a must, as the ground here is rough. I don’t recommend this if you don’t enjoy difficult hikes, petroglyphs, and a sunburn. On sunny days the rays are unforgiving here, and the wind is pretty strong as well. Got myself a nice sunburn even with sunscreen.



The ocean views along the drive, with the black lava as juxtaposition.





Our last stop with sunlight was at Holei Sea Arch- I don’t recommend going this close to sunset as the sun was in our eyes, making it hard to see the arches. Per the rangers Holei Sea Arch is temporary, as the lava will eventually break off into the sea (although each new eruption brings the possibility of new sea arches).



Tsunami warning signs.



After dark we headed back to Volcano House and Kilauea Overlook for some great volcano views,



and about an hour after dark, we hiked about a mile (each way) to Keanakako’I Overlook for some lava views. The rangers had closed the road due to the lava and to accommodate visitors, and the hike had a festive-kind of feel with hundreds of people heading in the same direction.



The night sky in the park.



The next morning, we spent a few hours at Sirius Coffee, a local internet café, getting some work done. It was a great experience as locals kept on coming in and sharing their 2018 volcano experience (this area was particularly damaged in 2018, and many locals lost their homes).

Our first stop of the day was to Lava Tree State Monument- we only spent a few minutes here.



Next we followed blog recommendations (https://thishawaiilife.com/red-road-hawaii-kalapana-kapoho-road/) along Puna’s “Red Road”- it’s an incredible drive that passes many different views- green fields, black lava, palms trees, and of course the ocean.



We also saw many areas where entire communities where destroyed, with lava reaching 10-15 feet above the road, and a single house here or there that survived.



Stop one was Kehena Black Sand Beach- the surf is incredible here, crashing against the rocks. We did not climb all the way down as we noticed that this a nudist beach.



Next, we stopped at MacKenzie State Recreation Area- the place has some nice lava cliffs. The currents are very strong here, and we were able to feel the spray by standing on the cliffs. There are lots of dangers signs about porous rock and deaths here.



Our last stop along this road was Isaac Hale Park- this used to be a beach park but now it’s mostly covered in lava from the 2018 eruption (which makes it way cooler)- it also has some hot ponds, but it reminded me of a Russian bathhouse and seemed rather gross.



For our last stop of the day, we headed to Mauna Kea for sunset. The main road- Saddle Road- is a wide and comfortable road, til we turned off for the summit. We originally planned to head all the way to the summit but by the time we got to the Visitor Center (9,300 feet- the summit is at 13,803 feet) it was late, the sun was starting to set, and we were already breathless due to the altitude. Instead, we hiked about ¾ of a mile up a hill across the visitor center, so that we could face the sun as it went under. The hike was hard at that elevation, but the views made it worth it.



The night sky at this altitude is great, so we stayed for some time after dark. They didn’t bring out the telescopes at the Visitor Center due to covid, and there was no hot water for the same reason, but thankfully we had brought our sweaters along so we were fine even after the sun went down, when the temps dropped by about 20 degrees.



We then headed to Safeway in Hilo to stock up on some more food here- they have a decent kosher selection here- brands like Elite, Osem, Gefen, Kedem, etc. Safeway also had the cheapest gas on the Island at the time.

The next morning, Friday AM, we drove from Pahoa all the way across the Island to Kona for our flight to Maui. The drive took us up and down Saddle Road- 58 miles with no civilization (or gas stations). We used a lot of gas on the first half to climb Mauna Kea but then nothing on the way down- it’s a blast. The highest point on the road is 6,600 feet, and the place is stunningly barren. If you’re driving in fog (as is often the case here) it can be dangerous, but we had a clear way throughout. It was cool watching our gyroscope- at times it visibly looked like we were going down but based on our gyroscope we were actually ascending. I had to break twice on the downward slope because of trucks- they use this route a lot to transport things from Hilo to Kona and vice versa- but they eventually moved over to the shoulder once they had 2-3 cars behind them and allowed us to pass. The change from Pahoa to Kona is amazing- in just 45 minutes we went from Pahoa, which is green with splotches of black lava, to Kona, which is a desert, windblown, and dry.

We made a quick stop at Costco to fill up our gas tank and headed to the airport. The Kona airport is outdoors, so there’s no AC here. Luckily they had a dedicated pre-check line here so security was a breeze.

A general note about Hawaii: always have water in your trunk and a full tank of gas. Always wear sunscreen.

Next up: Maui, Hawaii

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Maui, Hawaii (Haleakala NP #12)
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2022, 08:38:51 PM »
We landed in Maui Friday morning and being that we were in a hurry to prep for Shabbos, it was a special pain that the car rental counters require a tram from the main terminal. The trams were packed so I did my best to maneuver close to the doors to be first in line at the car rental, as getting out last would mean being stuck behind a long line of tourists. We had a reservation with Budget for a small SUV, as we wanted something that wouldn’t fall apart on the West Maui Highway or the Road to Hana past the gulch pools (you can absolutely do those with a sedan- we just wanted to be more comfortable than on Kauai). The guy at the counter wanted to know what my driving plans were- I was a bit reluctant to get into detail since I didn’t want to be read the riot act about what’s considered off-road driving. When I mentioned that we “might” head up to Haleakala he immediately upgraded the reservation to a Jeep Wrangler free of charge (I’m assuming they try to push the Jeep on as many customers as they can, seeing that this is what most of their fleet is comprised up of). While I wasn’t disappointed with the vehicle, it was a lot more outdated than our Jeep on Big Island, and it didn’t have Bluetooth nor Android/Apple Car Play. I tried changing it to a newer model, but all their Jeeps were the same model and year.

Our first stop was to Costco, Safeway, and Walmart to stock up on provisions. Costco had CY cheeses and Meal Mart Pastrami. Safeway didn’t have any heimish kosher food, but they did have a lot of kosher non-dairy breads, which we had been having a hard time finding elsewhere- items like Cheesecake Factory pre-baked baguettes and pizza crust (which went great with the Costco cheese for homemade pizza). We then headed to our Vacasa rental- a story onto itself. Originally, we had booked this non-refundable property with Vacasa over the phone (https://www.vacasa.com/unit/49896), but a week before check-in, when reviewing the reservation, we suddenly realized that the reservation was missing the last night of our stay. Uh oh. Maui stays get incredibly expensive the closer you get, and we didn’t want to shlep to a new place for the last night… We reached out to Vacasa to see if they could offer us a resolution. They reviewed the recording of the call, and while it turns out that we had indeed forgotten about the last night, the agent who had taken the call had not confirmed the total number of nights. Since their policy is that they must repeat back the number of nights, they agreed to comp us the last night of our stay with no extra charge at any of their available comparable properties. Unfortunately, at that point there was nothing available that suited our Hungarian tastes, and we settled for this “frumpy”-looking rental (https://www.vacasa.com/unit/16988). The place was clean, the views were amazing, and not having to shell out a few hundred for our mistake, we felt decently placated. I must say that Vacasa really went the extra mile here. The stay was non-refundable, so their revenue was locked in either way, and it was clear from the playback that we were at fault. They were under no obligation to offer us an additional night (which would have cost us $350+ at a minimum at that point), for no charge, yet they really went out of their way to make us happy. Note that many Maui rentals do not have A/C- the general expectation is that you’ll spend days at the beach and nights cool down considerably, so having windows/doors open (all screened) does the job well.

We had originally wanted to do Haleakala Sunrise on Monday morning, but advance tickets were sold out by the time we finalized our plans, so our only option was to book the last-minute tickets that are released two days prior, on Shabbos morning at 7AM. We roped in a friend from Israel to be ready at 8PM Israel-time on Motzei Shabbos to book the ticket through my recreation.gov account. On Friday morning I had this brilliant idea of booking a reservation for Sunday morning, just in case the guy from Israel was unable to snag a ticket. Turns out recreation.gov only allows one reservation per location every 3 days, so when the guy in Israel tried booking the ticket through my account, he got an error message that I had already booked one for Sunday morning. By the time he set up a new recreation.gov account the reservations were all gone. Oh well. You live and learn. Unfortunately, my Sunday AM reservation didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts in our group, so we did not end up visiting Haleakala at sunrise on this trip.

Our first stop on Sunday morning was Front Street in Lahaina. It’s a quaint town, and we actually managed to find parking on the street easily (which is not the norm). We walked along the promenade and the shops (we spotted a Likutei Moharan in one of the bank’s waiting areas).


We then stopped by Banyan Tee Park, which features the largest Banyan tree in the US. It doesn’t look like one tree, as Banyan trees grow roots from its branches, but it was cool.



Next, we headed North to the West Maui highway. This is a really fun road, at times just one lane, with lots of bridges and hairpin turns. I loved it. After this Road to Hana was a joke… At one point we were driving on this one-lane dirt road (where the State-funded road ends), and I’m driving slowly as I can’t see ahead of me because of the sharp turns, and this local girl comes speeding against me like it’s the Thruway. She was so close to heading off the cliffs and straight into the ocean that there was a mini avalanche in her wake down the cliff, and her left wheels were hanging off the road (there’s no guardrail here)…

Our first stop on West Maui Highway was Nakelele Blowhole. Unfortunately, we got here before high tide so we didn’t get to see the waves spouting through the blowhole (the surf was fierce though, which was beautiful in itself).



Next, we stopped at Olivine Pools. There are lots of signs here about the dangers of drowning which really gave me the willies, especially as the place was deserted. I was unable to find the trail all the way down to the pools, as there were no markings, and the path was not clear. The trail was eerily quiet and beautiful though, with all those lava rocks around.



There are also great views of the bay and peninsula here- just keep in mind you’ll need to drive all those switchbacks if you continue going (it’s fun, don’t worry).





We continued down this fun road all the way to civilization in Kahului.

Our next stop was to Snorkel Bob’s in Kihei to rent some snorkel gear. Based on a few recommendations we headed to Maalaea Beach for snorkeling, but we didn’t get to see much.

Next, we headed to Haleakala National Park for sunset at the summit. Interestingly enough, while the summit here is at 10,023 feet, the altitude adjustment was easier than Mauna Kea. The drive up was rather scary, with a ton of switchbacks and steep drops on the side of the road and the sun in my eyes…



The barrenness of the place is eerily beautiful, with the clouds spread out below.



Just after sunset, when the sun had already dipped below the horizon, the colors started popping.



The drive down was a lot easier since it was too dark to see the how steep the mountainside was- there were also a lot of cars heading out at that time which helped.

Next morning, our last in Maui, we headed out bright and early to Road to Hana. We used Shaka Guide’s loop tour (https://www.shakaguide.com/islands/3/maui/tours/9/loop-road-to-hana-tour )- the only downside to this tour is that he kept insisting we not stop at this waterfall because the next one is nicer… my suggestion: stop at all of them.

We passed Ho’okipa Beach Park (crazy surfs here at times)- if you’re lucky you might get to see turtles here.



Honomanu Bay- there’s no real spot to park here. Best to park a few feet down the road and walk back carefully.



Keanae Lookout- you can’t swim here because of the power of the waves.





Wailua Valley Lookout- the contrast between inner Maui with the rain and clouds on one side, and the beach on the other side, is nice. Next up we climbed into some lava tube on the side of the road.



We drove down to Wai’anapanapa State Park but as we did not have reservations we were turned away. Wai’anapanapa State Park is supposed to have a cool black beach that comes highly recommended. Next, we passed by the town of Hana and Hana Bay (I highly recommend you fill up on gas if your tank is not substantially full- continue reading to see why I have this newfound paranoia on shlepping a full tank everywhere). The beach at Hana Bay is by far the ugliest one I encountered in the whole of Hawaii.



Next, we spent some time hiking at Ohe’O Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools. The pools were closed to swimming and the views from the trails to the pools weren’t great- we had to crane our necks to look back and see the falls, but the views out on the ocean were beautiful.





Since it was already after 5PM when we finished at Ohe’O Gulch we started heading back to civilization via the backside of Haleakala and didn’t make any more stops that Shaka Guide recommended. At first the road is just a dirt path meandering through the rainforest, but after a bit it turns into a nice, paved road on the mountainside of Haleakala. The views are beautiful. Barren, with the ocean on one side and the peak on the other. There are wild cows roaming around here, adding to the beauty. Our troubles started a few minutes into the drive, while still on the dirt path, when the gas light went on. Uh oh. The closest gas station, which is in Hana, was about 35-40 minutes away. While our tank would still support this drive, it was about 5:15PM, and the Hana gas station closed at 5:30PM that night, so there was no way we could make it. Our only option was to keep pushing forward to Kula, about 1.5 hours and 40 miles away, where civilization restarts and the first gas station is located. It was a fun ride for sure. I reserved gas to climb the peaks and kept my foot free on the downward slopes (which was quite scary as those downhills are steep, but I needed to conserve momentum for the next peak up…). Suffice to say it was a tense ride with lots of warnings to brace. When we finally got to Kula, with the pedal fully pressed against the floor at this point, guess what? The gas station was closed for the night. I continued pushing forward to the next town, Pukalani, where we bh made it to a gas station. I’m pretty sure that another minute or two and we would have been stranded. The way from Kula to Pukalani was mostly downhill, which definitely helped us get there. We put in as little gas as we could to keep the car going, as we had prepaid for the tank with the car rental, and headed to the airport for our 40 minute flight to Oahu.

A general note about Hawaii: always have water in your trunk and a full tank of gas (lesson learnt I think…). Always wear sunscreen.

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Oahu, Hawaii
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2022, 08:42:12 PM »
Our first stop after landing was to Thrifty Car Rental, which required a shuttle from the airport. We rented a car because we were planning on doing some activities on the North Shore, plus we had done some research on street parking and there seemed to be plenty of parking available near our rental. This turned out to be true, and all in all it was indeed a good idea that we rented a car, although most visitors and blogs discourage this on Oahu. We headed to our rental (while we booked this via Airbnb, it’s actually a timeshare located in the Club Wyndham at Waikiki Beach- https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/39420558). The place was roomy and clean, located in a great area, and street parking was available one block over on Beach Walk.

Spending a few days in Oahu worked out really well for us, as I had purchased a set of two GoEverywhere Passes from this deal (https://www.dansdeals.com/points-travel/buy-go-everywhere-2020-pass-just-20-20/) for just $20 (thanks @Dan!). DDF’er @Agoldsc1 agreed to swap two of his Oahu passes for a different US city (we needed 4 passes in Oahu for our group), so our itinerary in Oahu was made up exclusively of GoCity activities.

Our first stop the next morning was a North Shore hike. While the location was meh and rather boring, our guide was a local and it was interesting to pick his brain and get a feel for the culture and mindset. Next, we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. The place was a lot of fun, with a variety of dances and activities from various Polynesian Islands- we could’ve easily spent all day here. They do a basic performance of each island, and then there are a few workshops on each place to learn more, like local cooking, crafts, etc.

We were planning on heading to Aloha Lani Kosher for dinner that night, but unfortunately the place was closed due to covid, so we ended up getting some food at Walmart instead.

The next morning, we had planned to hike Diamond Head Crater, but to our mazel the park was closed for the week for local school activities. Around 11AM we did a sail with Makani Catamaran. The waters were smooth and the views of Honolulu beautiful.



Next, we headed to Iolani Palace, which I really enjoyed. They do a great job explaining Hawaiian history of the past 300 years, and how the US government strong-armed their way into taking over.



We walked around a bit and met a TV crew shooting Magnum PI which was fun (for those of us in the group that enjoy that sort of thing). At night we did a Luau at Ka Moana Luau- I wouldn’t recommend Oahu as the place for a Luau, but we had free tickets with our GoCity Pass, and some of us had been to a Luau before, so it was ok. We had requested a kosher meal in advance which they promised to accommodate, but it never showed.

Next morning at 6AM, our last day in Hawaii, we headed to Pearl Harbor via Fly Shuttle Tours, which included a short city tour (which is why we didn’t take our car). We spent a few hours touring the ships and Memorial area. The USS Bowfin Submarine is by far the coolest submarine I’ve ever seen



and the memorial is properly solemn and beautifully done.





We didn’t really have time to cover all the ships that are in the harbor as we were pressed for time, but I’d say you can easily spend a full day here.

At around 11:30AM we headed to the airport for our flight to Panama via SFO. Our flight out of Oahu was delayed from 1PM to 2:35PM- luckily, we had a longer stopover in SFO, so this didn’t upset our plans too much. The signage at HNL airport is really bad- the departure terminals are not clearly marked (and the terminal was not listed on our boarding pass for some reason), so we had to drive past each terminal on the inner road to check which airlines were located where. Also, TSA only had one checkpoint open, on the other side of the terminal where we entered of course, so we had to walk through the entire terminal to find an open lane…

Honolulu is a beautiful city, and if it wasn’t located in Hawaii, where it has Kauai, Maui, and Big Island to compete with, I believe it would garner a lot more attention for its beauty.

Next up: Panama

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Panama City, Panama
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2022, 08:45:40 PM »
We spent just a short weekend in Panama on this trip, sandwiched between Hawaii and our next stop in South America, to eat some good kosher food after two weeks of cooking on the go. As mentioned in my previous post we flew from HNL to PTY via SFO. The gates at SFO were crowded and a general hullabaloo. We spent a good few minutes trying to figure out how to get from our domestic landing gate to the international Concourse A. The signs were badly marked or nonexistent, and airport employees had no idea what was where. Eventually we found it, and after making it to the head of the security line we found out that our boarding passes were invalid- turns out that the boarding pass Copa issues online is not worth anything, and they expected us to check in at the counter to confirm vaccination status and the completion of their online clearance form.

After an uneventful flight we finally landed in PTY on Friday morning. Our first stop was at Coffee Bean in the airport to eat some freshly baked goods and banana bread, of course (I love their banana bread). We did not rent a car here, and used Uber, which was consistently cheaper than local cabs by about half. We then headed to Residence Inn for check-in, even though it was still early in the day and check-in didn’t start until 3PM. The staff were very gracious and provided us with a free suite upgrade as well as early check-in. They also did their best to accommodate our Shabbos needs, and while rooms start on Floor 5 (which is actually the 7th floor I believe), we got a room on the 6th floor which is the lowest one they had availble (this gave us a view of the ocean and the ships lined up to wait to pass through the canal)- they also showed us which doors were manual and how to enter the stairwell from the outside without having to use the automatic doors. Note that the place does not have manual room keys- we stuffed some tissues into the locking mechanism to keep it from closing.

After getting settled in our rooms we head out to get some lunch. At first we headed to La Spezia- walking in the 90 degree heat- only to find out that they were closed (I believe they’ve reopened since). We then took a cab back to Jeffrey’s, and literally ordered the entire menu. After this we headed over to Super Kosher to stock up on some food.

Shabbos night we ate the meal at Chabad, which is one block over from the Residence Inn. It was a beautiful experience with lots of singing.

Shabbos morning, we ate at Beth El- there weren’t a lot of people there that week as it was a holiday weekend, and it was also their first week of them having communal meals since covid. We had a bit of a run-in on Friday with Beth-El as the coordinator asked us to come down with our passports to get clearance beforehand, and unfortunately whoever was supposed to be there to do the interview wasn’t, and we were told by the guard that we would be denied entry on Shabbos. Bh we managed to get through to the Rabbi and he assured us that he would personally let us in on Shabbos, so everything worked out ok in the end.

On Motzei Shabbos we went to Aroma Gourmet for some Melava Malka.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at Jeffries again, and then headed to the Miraflores Visitor Center to see the canal, where we had booked tickets in advance. There was quite a long line in, as they only allowed a limited number of visitors in at a time. Unfortunately, the exhibits were closed due to covid, and only the outdoor observation decks were open. Thankfully we got there just in time to watch the last morning ship pass before the canal changes direction which results in a few hours of downtime with no ships passing.



We then headed to Casco Viejo for a walking tour and visited the Museo de Las Historia (free entry). It was interesting to see their take on the US’s invasion to build and retain control of the canal. We took a quick break in between to head to CliniLab for an antigen test before our flight that night to Brazil- it was the only place that we could find that allowed walk-ins and didn’t require an advance appointment. They charged us $28pp, and closed at 2PM for the day- apparently lots of clinics here keep bank hours. We then headed back to Casco Viejo for some more walking and a quick drink at a local bar.

After this headed to Aria for dinner- delicious as usual- before heading back to PTY for our flight to Rio via Sao Paulo.

Esty from GoKosher Panama (https://www.gokosherpanama.com/) was very helpful in guiding us through the covid restrictions here, as well finagling reservations at Beth El.

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Brazil (Rio, Iguazu- Argentina, Sao Paulo)
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2022, 08:50:52 PM »
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
While there are direct flights from Panama to Rio de Janeiro, they’re not available every day of the week. We did manage to find one non-stop flight from PTY to Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, but it left early in the day, and we wanted to spend some time in Panama on Sunday, so we booked a flight that left late at night from PTY with a short stop in GRU (Sao Paulo) before heading to Rio. In retrospect I’m not sure the extra shlep was worth it, but so it was. The landing in Sao Paulo was really something- the city is nestled amongst the mountains and the plane flies in and out of the valley to land, at times parallel or below the mountains on both sides.



This was our first flight into Brazil, and we got up from our seats as soon as the fasten seatbelt light went off as we’re used to doing. It took us a minute to realize that we were the only ones to get up- turns out in Brazil they disembark in an orderly fashion- first four rows from the front and back, and then work their way to the middle- the stewardess told us that this is to keep the plane in balance but I’m sure planes in the US aren’t built differently and require different balancing rules, so go figure… GRU airport was a disaster during our stopover- there was a huge security line (we had to exit and clear customs/covid restrictions in GRU), and none of the domestic Priority Pass lounges were open so we had to wait around at the gate (where there were 10 seats for 2 gates). Landing in Rio was cool as well, as the city is instantly recognizable with Sugarloaf Mountain and the famous statue. Same as with Panama, we did not rent a car anywhere in Brazil, and used Uber, which was consistently cheaper than local cabs by about half. The driving in Rio is absolutely crazy and I wouldn’t recommend it to those of us who are used to orderly lanes and traffic lights being obeyed- it’s a balagan, with cars weaving in and out everywhere. We got to our Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/273463) around noon, which was 2 hours before check-in, but our host was gracious enough to let us in (note that this Airbnb would be problematic on Shabbos as it only has an electronic lock). The kosher food situation in Rio is a lot weaker than we expected, but luckily we had some food from Panama to tide us over for lunch. We took a quick nap, worked a bit, and did some basic shopping (prices here are unbelievably cheap- we purchased American brand shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and detergent for a grand total of $4.88). We then stopped by Kosher Place- a small kosher grocery with CY milk and cheese to stock up a bit, and then headed to Sugarloaf Mountain for the last gondola up. The timing was perfect as we got to see both sunset and the night skyline. The views were amazing, with Rio spread out below.





We then headed to Sushinharia for dinner- the sushi here is really good, and the desserts are delicious. Their pricing is also something that’s rare in NYC- cheap. The sushi chef sent us a few complimentary rolls to taste, which was nice.

The next morning, we headed to the café in Barilan school/community center- the food here is pareve and meat, and there are limited options availble. While waiting for our tour guide to come pick us up we stopped by the post office to mail some touristy photos from Sugarloaf Mountain to family- it arrived after we got home😉. Our tour guide, Bruno, which we found via an agency on Tripadvisor, spoke a decent English, and had a driver and luxury van with Wi-Fi. We paid $300 for our group, which included Bruno’s time, the driver (who also waited for us during dinner and then took us to the airport), and tips for both. We stopped at all the major Rio sites such as the Maracana Stadium, Amanha Museum, Escadaria Selon, Carioca Aqueduct, Imperial Palace Cultural Center, and Palácio Tiradentes amongst others. The great thing about the tour was that Bruno is a local, so we got some insight into how the middle class in Brazil feels about their life. He was also very serious about his role as a tour guide and had an answer for every question we had.





We then headed to Shaq Shuq for dinner before our flight to Iguazu via VCP, where we spent the night (unfortunately there are no direct flights from Rio to IGU most days). Leaving Rio airport was a breeze- quick security lines, nice airport, and the Priority Pass lounge was open.

We landed in VCP late at night and tried getting an Uber to our hotel (which was farther from the airport than we assumed, for some reason) since the cabs at the airport wanted more for one car than it would cost us to get two cars with Uber (our group didn’t fit in one car). Unfortunately, while Uber was quoting us a price for our trip, they did not actually have drivers in the area. After some haggling with the local cab drivers, two of them agreed to a flat fare instead of metered pricing, but guess what? As soon as we got to the hotel they insisted on the metered fare instead… in the interest of getting out alive we ended up paying them the metered fare (it wasn’t expensive- about 80 real for a 30 minute ride per vehicle, which is about $15- but they had agreed to 60 real- oh well…). We stayed at the Hotel Monreale (https://www.monrealehotels.com/hotel-monreale-plus-airport-guarulhos) that night. At check-in there was an issue with our room type which resulted in more single-bed rooms rather than the doubles we had booked, so they ended up giving us additional rooms free to compensate and make up the number of beds. Early the next morning we headed back to VCP for our flight to IGU. VCP airport was nice and roomy, but the airport is huge with no autowalks, so it took forever to get around. Additionally, none of the Priority Pass lounges were open which was a bummer.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina
The first thing that hit us when landing at IGU was the heat and humidity. Our tour guide from https://iguazufalls.com/ was waiting for us at the airport with a driver and large van- we paid $500 total for our private tour here which included airport transfers and two days of touring- excluding all park entrance fees. Our tour guide, Ricardo, told us with tears in his eyes that we were his first group since March 2020 when the borders closed. His English was great, and he was knowledgeable and entertaining. We headed to the Brazilian side (considered one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature”) of the park straight from the airport- while the heat was stifling, the views were beautiful. We first settled in for lunch at a picnic area where there were these large (about 4ft lizards) running around.



The buildup of the views here are masterfully done- the walkway starts at the lesser falls and slowly gives you more to see.





 Our last stop in the park was on the walkway over Devil’s Throat, where getting drenched was a relief.



After the falls we headed to Itaipu Dam. This power plant powers all of Paraguay and some of Brazil and is located on the Brazil/Paraguay/Argentina border. I believe prior to covid the tours here were great, but when we were there, they weren’t showing tourists much so it was a bit of a bust. The tour consisted of an open-top bus around the plant with an English audio guide (Ricardo kept up a constant stream so we didn’t pay much attention to the audio), but not much of the actual power plant. There are a lot of capybaras roaming around here.

After Itaipu Dam we headed to our Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/42084307) in Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil). We had a bit of an issue with the showers (I guess we don’t know how to operate a Brazilian shower?)- for some reason the water ended up all over the house. The next morning, we slept in a bit and got some work done before heading to the falls on the Argentina side- this was only the second day that the border was open from Argentina to Brazil. The border from Brazil to Argentina was still officially closed, so we first stopped by the Brazilian border to get permission to come back later that day. Once that was done, we headed to the Argentinean crossing. The border here is a joke- we could’ve easily walked across without anyone noticing or caring. Being that we weren’t looking for trouble we did take the official route- our guide stood in line for us for 1.5 hours while we relaxed in the air-conditioned van (the first hour of waiting was because the border agents were taking their lunch hour, so crossings were suspended- it’s not like they can stagger lunch amongst the agents to keep things moving… inefficiency is a skill here). Once it was our turn we headed to the counter to clear border control, but one of us had accidentally completed the covid entry form with their birthdate off by one day, so we had to redo the whole thing (the agent was unable or unwilling to make the change on his end). This silliness went on for a good 30 minutes until we all cleared the checkpoint (just to give you an example at their level of security- I cleared first with no issues and had my passport stamped- being that I was waiting for the rest of my group, I went back to the van on the Brazilian side to wait. As each of our passports were stamped, we went back to the Brazilian parking lot to wait in the van until all of us cleared… and then we just walked by without anyone checking to see if we were stamped and covid cleared…). On the Argentinian side we met with our driver and van for the day (our tour guide crossed with us but for some reason they use a local van on each side).  We headed to the Argentinian park where the fun began all over again. We had attempted to book park entry tickets the day before online, but their credit card processor was down all day. When we got to the park, we explained that we had attempted to book tickets in advance, as per their instructions, but the system was down. They explained that we could not book tickets using a credit card on the spot because their system was down as well, but they could do it for us for a fee (huh? It's down if we don’t pay to use it but works if we pay to use it)? We offered to pay in USD cash instead (which is legally accepted tender at the entrance booth), but the clerk once again insisted that it would cost us double. Our guide, being fed up with the corruption (he had a lot to say about that throughout), offered to put up the pesos for us so that the clerk wouldn’t profit off us. Inflation in Argentina is crazy- the entrance fee was 800 pesos per person (which is about $18/USD). The Argentinian side of the park is a UNESCO site. There’s a train here that goes through the park to access most walkaways- unfortunately some walkways were closed that day (no signs posted in advance of course). Luckily the walkway over Devil’s Throat was open, and it’s incredible- the falls here are twice the height of Niagara, and the power is breathtaking.



We were able to see the Brazilian side of the falls, which we had visited the day before- it’s so close it makes you wish you could just hop over instead of having to head all the way back over the land border with its corrupt agents… We found some hechshered snacks from Buenos Aires in the park’s convenience shop, which was a real help as we were running low on food. We saw about a half a dozen cool birds here (I’m not an ornithologist so the names didn’t mean much to me, but the colors were nice…) Since we still had time to kill before we needed to head back to the Brazilian border for our flight to Sao Paulo, we headed into Puerto Iguazu (the Argentinian city of Iguazu) as we had heard a rumor of a Jewish-run hummus place. After a bum-aching ride (this is one crazy city- instead of bumps, each intersection slopes a nice few feet down and then back up, to prevent speeding. Streets outside the main thoroughfare are unpaved and potholed, and the houses are shacks at best) in a 1 hour, $8 cab ride, we came up empty- no one was home at the purported address. We then headed back across the border (no drama this time) to IGU airport. The check-in lines at the airport were almost til the door- normally we check-in online, but we held off here because we were hoping to get onto an earlier flight. Turns out the earlier flight was overbooked, the next flight was cancelled, and ours was the only one on time that day. After a long back and forth with a ticket agent to try to change our flight (unsuccessfully), we ended up checking in online. Thankfully both Priority Pass lounges in IGU airport were open so we got to rest comfortably. Due to the previous flight’s cancellation our flight took longer to board than expected, and apparently the captain didn’t want to have our flight head out even a minute late, so they started pushing back from the gate when passengers were still standing, and bins were still open- I’ve never seen this happen on a flight before.

Sao Paulo, Brazil
We landed in GRU airport late at night and headed to our hotel for the night (https://www.melia.com/pt/hoteis/brasil/sao-paulo/innside-sao-paulo-iguatemi), primarily chosen due to its proximity to Chabad. While the hotel didn’t have rooms available on a low floor during check-in, which we needed for Shabbos, they made low-floor rooms available to us the next morning. On Friday, after a late start, we ate brunch at Matok (their bakery stuff is heaven, especially the chocolate croissant). The waiter did not speak English (most people here don’t), and we had a lot of fun trying to order with hand gestures and google translate. Sometime during the previous week, we had heard back from the Chabad Rabbi in Cusco (our next stop) that he was out of the country and his kosher restaurants were not operational as it was low season plus covid. Since we had not purchased any Kosher food for the Peru leg of our trip, and had been relying on the Chabad restaurants, we cancelled our plans for the day and headed to Urbanic grocery to stock up on kosher food for the next two weeks. While the American-branded items were expensive here, the local stuff was cheap, and we filled up two carts. On Shabbos we davened and ate at Beit Chabad Itaim- the Shildkroits were amazing in opening their home to us and hosted us for a beautiful Friday night meal, replete with signing and some great alcohol😊. Shabbos morning we had kiddush in shul.
On Motzei Shabbos we had reservations for Miki’s, but somehow they forgot to tell us the that the kitchen closed before our reservation time, so we ended up heading straight to the airport for our flight to Peru, thereby missing our last chance for a catered kosher meal on this trip. The Priority Pass lounge in GRU on our international flight out to Peru was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen- a Safra lounge and an Amex lounge.

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Peru (Cusco/Sacred Valley, Amazon- Puerto Maldonado, Lima)
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2022, 09:05:44 PM »
Cusco and Sacred Valley, Peru
We landed in Lima Sunday morning at 7AM, as there were no direct international flights to the interior of Peru (Arequipa and Cusco are technically international airports but there were no international flights to Cusco directly). Peruvian Border Control does not stamp passports at entry or exit. We did not exit the airport in Lima, but rather headed straight to the Priority Pass lounge to wait for our 1PM flight. Originally, we had planned to eat brunch at Bobbe’s in Lima, a kosher eatery, during our stopover, but they had unfortunately closed down during covid. Once we found out that Bobbe’s was no longer operational, we hoped to catch an earlier flight from Lima to Cusco, but the customer service agents at the airport were atrocious, with everyone sending us to speak with someone else, and Latam’s (the airline we were flying with) customer service phone center telling us that the change must be done at the airport, so we eventually gave up on finding an earlier flight. While no covid test was required for entry (our group was fully vaccinated), Peru requires double masking in all public areas. Luckily the only place this was enforced was during boarding, and we were able to take off the second mask as soon as we were seated. After a short flight from Lima we landed in Cusco, which sits at an elevation of 11,000 feet. Everyone adjusts differently to elevation, but I highly recommend that you don’t plan on doing anything your first day- even just walking around the airport with a basic backpack was exhausting and had everyone in our party breathing hard. My doctor had prescribed elevation pills which I believe was a big help, in comparison to how the other group members handled the elevation during our stay in the region. My understanding is that OTC elevation pills do not help much, and prescription grade is the way to go. No one in our party was sick bh, but I did not have such a hard time hiking over the next few days as they did. I also believe that keeping a mask on helps, as the air doesn’t feel so thin when breathing, so there’s no constant unnecessary inhalation which adds to the discomfort. (Obviously some people have issues with their oxygen levels being affected by masks, which is a separate issue).

We opted to head to the Sacred Valley region for the first few days of our trip, as the elevation there is “just” 8,000 feet, and after a few days exploring the area, we headed back to Cusco. If you can, I suggest you stagger your trip so that you’re moving from lower to higher elevation over time, so that your body has time to adjust to the elevation change. Altitude adjustment aside, being based out of Sacred Valley is very convenient as most of the ruins are located in the area and returning each night to Cusco would have been a huge shlep.

A word about our tour guide setup in Peru: we hired Ivette, a local Jewish woman, to handle the logistics and transportation for us. We did not make specific choices about which towns or ruins to visit- Ivette handled that for us. Her family used to own a B&B in Sacred Valley but were forced to shut down when covid hit. We paid approximately $1,700 total for 5 adults (and the baby), which included all airport transfers, transportation between Cusco and Sacred Valley in both directions, a tour guide and transportation in Sacred Valley for 4 days (excluding the tour guide and train fare to Machu Picchu), our trip to Rainbow Mountain, as well as the 3 days/2 nights in the Amazon. All tours/transport were private. I highly recommend having a tour guide in the region, as most of the ruins and sites are meaningless without them.

Ivette met us at the airport with her religious sister, so that we could do some more food shopping. Her sister came equipped with the local kosher list, which was very helpful, although it is rather sparse. She also offered to babysit the baby on our planned high-elevation trips, but that didn’t end up materializing with the baby (more on that below). I also reached out to the Chabad shliach in Lima who was helpful in walking us through what was kosher and what wasn’t. At the airport the driver dumped our bags on the roof of the van, which had a small gate around it, and did not secure the bags in any way.



I expressed concern at this, as I was sure it would not make it through the multiple mountain switchbacks and the drop in 5,000 feet from Cusco to Sacred Valley, but the driver laughed my concerns away, and lo and behold every bag was present when we arrived to the town of Urubamba in Sacred Valley- approximately a 1.5 hour drive from Cusco, where we based out of for the next 4 days.



Some interesting notes about Cusco:
•   There are dogs everywhere. At first I assumed that they were strays, but our tour guide informed us that they all belong to a family somewhere- they fend for themselves during the day and forage for food, and return only at night to sleep.
•   Traffic lights have a countdown timer before the light changes from red to green- presumably because everyone drives manual. Cars will regularly start going when the timer hits 3 seconds to green.
•   There are a lot of Hebrew signs, and many cafes have Hebrew menus, being that a lot of Israeli’s visit the area. Those places are not kosher unless they’re run by Chabad.
•   Another weird thing that I couldn’t make sense of- locals here wear jackets all the time. I get that the nights are cool, but midday is hot, especially under the sun.

Some notes about Sacred Valley:
•   The towns in Sacred Valley are all picturesque, and prices for everything in the Cusco/Sacred Valley area are cheap. If you’re going during high season (when Chabad is open in Cusco and runs 3 restaurants) things will be more “expensive”. We did not visit during high season as it coincides with rainy season (how did that happen?).
•   We saw alpacas and llamas all over the countryside in Sacred Valley- they’re all domesticated and belong to the local families.
•   In general, I felt that all the ruins we toured were different, and I did not get the feeling that we were doing the same thing over and over again.
•   There’s generally no heating or a/c anywhere, including hotels (and it was not needed at any point, although it does get quite chilly at night).
•   The place is chock full of history, and since I enjoy history a lot the trip had a lot of meaning for me. There are remnants of the Incans everywhere in the region- aqueducts and gutters in the towns, and steppe plantations in the countryside.
•   There’s a local tourist pass for about $5/pp that provides access to most of the government-run archaeological sites, as well as some museums in Cusco (it does not include Machu Picchu though). It’s availble at all archaeological site entrance booths.
•   At most archaeological sites you need to pay 1-2 soles for bathroom privileges, which also gets you two pieces toilet paper.

The drive is beautiful amongst the Andes mountains, and we got into Urubamba just as night was falling. Our driver had no idea where the hotel was located and spent some time meandering through the alleyways where a car (and in our case van) is not meant to fit through, but the locals all do it anyway. Our van got a massive dent at one point when the driver was attempting to pass through an alley that he did not fit in- the driver wasn’t too perturbed by it- part of the cost of doing business. Pedestrians here yield to drivers, and the story of Rashi’s mother takes on new meaning when you see how everyone crams into doorways to escape flying cars.

Hotel Amaru Valle (http://www.amaruvalle.com/english/amaruvalleng.html), where we stayed during our time in Sacred Valley, is located at the edge of town in the most perfect location. We had originally debated between a more western-type hotel, but had opted to go for the local experience, and it was 100% the right choice. The place is very basic- no TV, no couch, etc, (although there is internet in all the villas), but the location makes up for the lack of amenities a million times over.





There was a torrential rainstorm one night (the only time it rained during our stay in the region, and it was at night) which caused a blackout, but thankfully it only lasted a few minutes (based on the horror stories we heard, towns in Sacred Valley could get washed out and wait weeks for help during strong storms). The staff were very accommodating and provided us with a fridge and hot water urn for our rooms, and each morning they set out a breakfast of tea, coffee, freshly squeezed juice, fruits, and vegetables. The first morning they set out flatware and dishes which we couldn’t use- there was some confusion about why it had to be disposable- but by the next morning they had sent someone to town for disposable goods, and the issue didn’t come up again.

After a good night’s sleep, we met our local tour guide for the day and headed to our first stop, Ollantaytambo. We did not head all the way to the top of the ruins as that required passing through a temple, which we weren’t sure is permitted (there is a direct route to the top, but it was closed due to covid).



Next, we headed to the Pisac Archaeological Park, and then the market at Pisac.





Tuesday morning, we headed to Machu Picchu. As advised by Ivette, we booked train and entry tickets in advance. They usually sell out weeks in advance, but interestingly that wasn’t the case when we were there. We opted for the 11:15 train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (the town right below Machu Picchu, where the train stops) and the 7PM train back- this gave us some time to work in the AM, and also allowed us to avoid the early morning crowds, when Machu Picchu is most popular. We booked our train tickets via IncaRail as their timetable fit our departure times better, but some people prefer the PeruRail train (I believe PuruRail has Wi-Fi onboard- IncaRail does not). The price of the train ticket will depend on the timing and availability- generally mornings (7AM-10AM) are most expensive. Machu Picchu was by far the most expensive item on our Peru trip. Train tickets were $85/pp RT (and we booked off-peak times in both directions), $40/pp for the government site entry ticket, and other $24/pp for the bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu. You’ll need to book the Machu Picchu entry ticket in tandem with your train ticket, as the entry ticket is timed. There’s no need to book the bus ticket in advance. We arrived to the Ollantaytambo train station a bit early, so we headed to the Inca Rail lounge for a bit. Face shields were required on the train, and there were a few vendors along the railway station that sold it for two soles. Thankfully they only require the face-shield to board the train, and we were able to take it off once seated (those things are tailor made to induce a migraine). The train ride takes approximately two hours- the first hour is spent passing through towns and villages, exiting civilization. The second hour the train follows the path of the Urubamba River passing through beautiful mountains on both sides.



Aguas Calientes is a quaint little town with shops and a market. Busses depart here every 10 minutes for the harrowing journey up to Machu Picchu. The bus drivers here consider the narrow mountain pass a two-lane road, and don’t even pull over to the side for oncoming traffic- both sides just make do as best they can with the speed they’re going at…



We didn’t reserve a tour guide here in advance, instead we picked up our guide, Pual Herrera, at the bus stop. After quizzing his English to make sure he was up to par, and a bit of negotiation, he agreed to $40 total for our group, for a 3-hour tour. Tours groups are generally comprised of 8 people, but he agreed to give us a private tour and not fill up the remaining 3 slots as it was already after 1PM, and the chances of filling up the group were dwindling. The absolute minimum I suggest you spend atop Machu Picchu is 3 hours. If you’re doing any additional hiking in the area, you’ll need more time of course.





Taking the 11AM late train ended up being a hit- Machu Picchu was close to deserted- even our tour guide was shocked by how few people there were. FYI the llamas atop Machu Picchu are not native to the area- they were brought up the mountain for the 1950 Ben Hur movie. After a great tour, we took the 5PM bus (the last of the day) down to Aguas Calientes and headed to a local police booth to get a stamp in our passport. It’s silly and takes up way too much room- almost a full page (I agreed to do it since Peru doesn’t stamp passports at entry/exit, but I regretted it about 5 minutes after getting the stamp done). Being that our train back to Ollantaytambo wasn’t until 7PM, we walked around Auguas Calientes a bit, and headed to a local bar for some drinks. Note that Peruvian brandy is made of grapes, which is a Yayin nesech, so after that blunder we stuck to whisky/tequila/beer. They have some great local mixes made with native fruits. The train back was really exhausting and boring, being that it was dark outside- 2 hours moving at snail’s pace, and no beautiful views due to the dark (really dark- I couldn’t tell if the train was outside or in a tunnel until we reached the outskirts of Ollantaytambo).

Originally, we had planned on exploring Humantay Lake (elevation 13,900 feet) on Wednesday (check out google images to see why), but on Tuesday evening we found out that the road to Humantay would be closing the next day at 6:30AM for construction (part of Peru’s covid plan to get things fixed when there are minimal tourists). Since a few in our group didn’t want to get up at 4AM to get past the Humantay checkpoint by 6:30AM, we scrapped this plan and decided to do some more Sacred Valley activities in a leisure fashion. Our guide found us a local ATV rental that offered a one-hour scenic route drive to Moray. The route was dotted with idyllic sites: snowcapped Andes mountains in the background, and sheep and cattle farmers along the way dressed in traditional Peruvian garb. After 4 weeks in the sun, I was pretty sure I was immune to sunburns- boy was I wrong. Due to the high elevation the atmosphere is very thin which makes the rays more powerful, and even with the sun behind the clouds a burn is possible.



On the way I passed a little kid- about 8 years old- riding his donkey. To my dismay he was holding a smartphone in his hand… I guess technology has really infiltrated every tribe on earth.

Moray is an old Incan farming site where they grew non-native plants by creating microclimates on each of the steppes.



We then headed to Salineras de Maras, a pre-Incan town with salt mines. There’s a small entrance fee here as it’s privately owned and not covered by the government pass.



On Thursday morning we headed to the Chinchero District. Chinchero is a fascinating town where the locals show off their traditional dying and weaving process, as they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. Starting from shearing llamas/alpacas, to dying with all sorts of natural flowers, vegetables, and minerals, to weaving it into a full garment. The items here are of high quality, and we all stocked up on gifts for family back home. For about $170 I purchased 3 pairs of gloves, a hat, a shawl, and 7 sweaters! This is all handmade alpaca or llama wool- dry clean only- and great quality. If anyone in the import line needs a business idea, visit Chinchero… The locals were crying with joy after our visit. Since covid they’ve barely had any tourists come by.



After Chinchero we started the drive back to Cusco, where we planned to spend Shabbos. We spent about an hour at the ChocoMuseo watching the chocolate-making process- it’s not a must do but it was pleasant enough.



We then spent some time walking around Plaza De Armas and the San Pedro Market. San Pedro market is a great place where you can find literally anything under the sun. They have about 30 booths selling fresh juices alone, and over the next few days I purchased countless drinks for 5 soles (about $1 for 16 oz). Once I learned that Peruvians were into fresh juices, I started asking for them everywhere, and it really spruced up my diet.

After San Pedro we head to Saqsaywaman, another ancient Inca ruin. We no longer had our tour guide at this point, just the driver, so we didn’t get much background on these ruins, but we did bump into a herd of free-range llamas which was fun.



After that we headed to our Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/28182501), which we originally booked with the assumption that Chabad would be in town, so it’s located close by. At first, I was sure we had been scammed, as the address the host had sent us did not seem to match what we expected at all. After waiting outside for a few minutes, the host came by to open the door and show us the place- turns out the door on the street led to a courtyard, which led to an alley, which lead to a modern building. The place is exactly as pictured, and while it has manual locks on the all the doors (which is still a problem since there’s no eiruv to carry the keys), the outdoor hallway has automatic motion-sensor lights at night which might be problematic on Shabbos.

On Friday morning, with Shabbos looming and no Chabad in town, we didn’t have much time to tour. I popped into the Museo Inka in the morning for about an hour- it’s not a professional museum by a long stretch, and has a high school project feel to it, although they do have a lot of artifacts and even mummies which made it worth it. The entry fee was 10 soles, and the guard at the door made me purchase a face shield for 2 soles before allowing admittance, even though the face shield was not required in the museum. I guess the peddler at the door selling face shields made a deal with the doorman… Halfway through the museum they got tired of translating the placards to English and my Spanish is non-existent, so I got bored quickly. After the museum I headed to Orion Supermarket- the “large” supermarket chain in Cusco, for some basics for Shabbos. On the way back to our Airbnb I stopped by San Pedro market, since I remembered that we’d forgotten enough candles for Shabbos. Being that I did not have a sim card, nor offline google translate, I was a bit lost. I started asking for “luminos” (blame Harry Potter) but I might as well have been asking for lecht because no one knew what I wanted… after a few minutes wandering around I finally came across an English-speaking vendor who understood me, but she was pretty sure that no one sold candles, even as a souvenir. She was nice enough to walk me through several booths to ask around if anyone knew of anyone selling and candles, and lo and behold one woman did remember a vendor that might have some- she walked me across the market and indicated that I wanted “velas”. The vendor started digging around in her multitude of shopping bags and voila! A whole bunch of tall white Ma Nishtana candles emerged!

By Sunday morning the rest of the group had headed home, and I was the only one completing the final week of the trip. Our tour operator, Ivette, joined me for the day’s trip to Rainbow Mountain. Originally, she had pushed me to head out at 5AM, being that it’s a 3+ hour drive to the mountain, and the weather tends to be better in the early hours, but I really wasn’t feeling it on a Sunday morning, so I pushed our departure to 6AM. It took about an hour for the driver to find Ivette’s apartment, so we weren’t on the road until after 7AM. The drive from Cusco to Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) is absolutely beautiful, passing through lakes, mountains, and valleys in the Andes. There’s a lot more greenery than I expected for the elevation.



There’s a 5 soles charge to pass the first community gate prior to Rainbow Mountain. It was amazing to see the locals running up and down the roads here for miles (the elevation here is over 16,000 feet) with their donkeys and horses in tow. After passing the first gate we had to pass the mountain entry gate- there’s community infighting here, hence the multiple entry points and charges. Our driver told me to expect to pay 10 soles for entry here, but the guy at the gate decided that it was a good day for 20 soles… The first half of the road past the mountain town is paved, but the second is not, so it's a bumpy ride. There are a lot of alpacas and llamas grazing along the mountainside here- nearly all llamas/alpacas/vicuñas in Peru are family or village owned.



At last, we finally made it to the parking lot, which lies about a 1 hour walk from the mountain. Don’t judge its beauty by what you see from the parking lot: you can’t see much from that angle, so no need to be disappointed at first, like I was. I started the walk confident in my abilities to make it to the mountain on foot- boy was I mistaken. Within 3 minutes I was huffing and puffing- Rainbow Mountain lies above 17,000 feet above sea level, and the air here is extremely thin (that’s almost the same elevation as Everest’s base camp). I pushed myself to keep going for about 30 minutes, but it was brutal. My guide had brought along hiking sticks, and while it helped, it didn’t make enough of a difference on the way up. My guide also gave me coca leaves to chew on (they get bad rep since they’re used to make cocaine, but while the locals swear by their medicinal benefits and chew them all the time and give them to all the tourists to help for altitude sickness, it really doesn’t help at all). They’re extremely bitter, and I spit it out after a few minutes of attempting to chew. At that point I decided to swallow my pride and hire a horse for 60 soles- they’re available alongside the trail throughout. The horse owners lead the horse up the trail til the foot of the mountain (they’re not allowed to go higher than that), and then run back down the trail to find their next customer. These are locals that are used to operating under these oxygen levels, but it was still incredible to watch how unaffected they are.



It was brutally cold whenever the sun was behind the clouds, but when it did deign to make an appearance, it became warm fast- temperatures and sunshine are very unpredictable at this elevation and region. At the foot of the mountain I had to disembark from the horse and climb the final stretch myself. This is the hardest part of the hike, and the trail here was full of people breathing hard, resting, and holding onto whatever support they can find. I myself had to take multiple rests along the way- I met a group of experienced hikers who expressed that they had never done a hike as difficult as this, due to the elevation.



The only ones who didn’t seem to have a problem were the locals- my guide was springing around like it was a dance floor. After scaling the first hill, we purchased some coca tea sold by the locals to warm up. Rainbow mountain itself is rather small, but the colors are otherworldly.



What I found to be the highlight here was the general area, more than Rainbow Mountain itself.



The surrounding mountains are all shaded with color, and the lookouts for those are a lot quieter than Rainbow Mountain. Since I wasn’t up for more uphill hiking our guide took me around the peak opposite rainbow mountain (which is packed with people), for some beautiful glacier views.



Note that depending on the sun and time of day the rays will fall differently, changing the shades of color on Rainbow Mountain and the surrounding areas.



The walk on the way down was worlds apart from the way up- I practically ran the whole way and didn’t lose my breath at all. I think the walking sticks made a big difference here, as well as spending some time in the area to acclimate. Some local offers a passport stamp here as well, but after regretting getting one on Machu Picchu I skipped the one here.

I’ve had many people question whether it was worth the 6-hour round-trip bumpy ride to Rainbow Mountain, and my answer is yes, absolutely.

The next morning my driver picked me up for my early flight to Puerto Maldonado- a gateway town the Amazon.

Puerto Maldonado (Amazon), Peru
The first thing that hit me when exiting the plane was the humidity- way worse than Iguazu- I could literally taste it. Puerto Maldonado is a third-world ramshackle town of concrete one-story structures and huts. The taxis here are motorcycles with yellow jackets- just hail one and jump on behind the driver. (That’s not me in the pic)



A word about my choice of lodge/expedition: We did not do a lot of research here. Originally we had planned to go with the Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion (https://www.inkaterra.com/inkaterra/inkaterra-hacienda-concepcion/the-experience/ they have a few locations which varies in price/luxury), but their management was very against bringing a baby along on the expeditions, and we didn’t think it a good idea to leave the baby with their babysitting service all day, so we dropped them. Ivette, the one in charge of our tour logistics in Peru, found us a place that was ok with the baby, for about half the price (and half the amenities) of the Inkaterra. Due to a change of plans the baby and his parents were already home and did not end up making it to the Amazon, but the reservation was non-refundable so I ended up sticking with the tour operator Ivette chose, Monte Amazonico Lodge via Carlos Expeditions (https://monteamazonico.com/monte-amazonico-lodge-sandoval/). While the amenities were severely lacking, the place was clean, and the tour expeditions were amazing. There’s no A/C or hot water here, and Wi-Fi is only available in the dining room.



The staff at the lodge was very accommodating with my kosher needs and provided heaps of raw fruits and vegetables at all meals. Expedition groups here are capped at 8 people maximum, and you stick with your group and guide for the duration of your visit. Thankfully I was assigned to a very fun and like-minded group, which probably added a lot to my enjoyable experience here. The tour company was great with timing the expeditions, and not overdoing it- we had plenty of rest between activities, especially on the day that we started early. The thing that I most enjoyed in the Amazon was the sound of the birds- so many different songs and all so beautiful. I didn’t sleep past 4AM on a single morning, and I wasn’t the least bit annoyed at being woken by these sounds. I suggest bringing along a decent pair of binoculars to the Amazon, as you’ll have a much easier time spotting wildlife- we only had two in our group, and it was constantly being passed around between 8 people. Warning: the mosquitoes here are vicious. I had bug spray and used it liberally, and by the time I left the Amazon I was more bite than human, and these were painful bites. It took about two weeks for them to clear up.

After being picked up by the lodge’s driver we headed to their office in town where I sorted through my bags for the basics I needed for the next three days, and checked in my remaining baggage in a locker. You can shlep all your baggage to the lodge if you prefer, but I found it easier to just take a small knapsack. We waited a few more minutes for some additional passengers to arrive, and then boarded a motorized canoe for the 1-hour boat ride to the lodge. Note: the lodges around Puerto Maldonado vary in distance, starting from a short 15-minute boat or truck ride, and as far as 3+ hours away. The farther away from the town you go the more wildlife you’ll see, but you’ll also need to spend more time in the area as you’ll lose a half a day just for transferring each way.

We arrived at the lodge around midday, and after being assigned to a group, guide, and private room,



 were given some time to rest before we headed out for our first activity: a jungle hike. We saw some cool trees such as “moving trees” (trees that grow roots down from their branches so that they can move to areas with better water supply/nutrients) as well as strangling trees (trees that choke neighboring trees and devour them).



After lunch we headed to Monkey Island- this was the only disappointing expedition for me in the Jungle. The island has a grand total of 13 monkeys, and they’re not even native to the island… they were very cooperative and fun to play with, but 13 monkeys is not my idea of Monkey Island fame…



After some downtime and dinner, we headed out for a night cruise on the river to spot caiman (a type of alligatorid). This was one fun and creepy ride.


(above: sunset prior to our night cruise)

We did not experience a drop of rain on day 1, which is extremely rare here.

On day 2 of our trip, we headed out at 5AM to the Tambopata Reserve where we saw lots of birds, including the beautiful macaw parrot, monkeys, otters, and more.



The expedition included hiking, canoeing, and some hammock-resting with a nearby local family.



The most dangerous creature here is the electric eel, which can microwave a human with one jolt- I stopped skimming my fingers on the side of the canoe after hearing this one... There are also Jaguars and Pumas in the Reserve, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot one. What you’ll see in Tambopata depends on the time of day (mornings are best for wildlife viewings), the temperature (the hotter it is the less chance you’ll see anything, as all creatures will be hiding from the heat) and the weather (if it’s raining you won’t see much either). A decent tour company should be able to calculate the best time for wildlife viewings, although we did see plenty of tour groups heading into Tambopata at about 11AM when we were heading back to our lodge, and it was starting to rain then as well, so maybe they’re not all as good with timing as expected… Thankfully we made it back before the rain really started coming down, and had a relaxing rest of the day until our night trek in the jungle. On this walk we saw various spiders (some really huge ones- as big as my face), scorpions, snakes, and frogs.



On day 3, my last day in the Amazon, I had a private canopy tour with my guide at 6AM to spot some birds at the canopy level (as mentioned I’m not an ornithologist but the birds in the Amazon are so beautiful that I enjoyed it anyway). The other group members were all staying until that evening or the next day, so they had a canopy tour later in the day with some ziplining, fishing, and kayaking scheduled. Amazingly we did not experience rain on a single one of my group’s expeditions- it only rained at night or when we had scheduled downtime.

While I got to the airport with enough time to spare for my late AM flight, the line at security was excruciatingly slow. The real pain here was that the airline insisted on charging me $70 for my 2 carryon bags (I was shlepping some kosher food and those llama sweaters I had purchased in Cusco), even though I technically had 4 extra seats on the flight since my companions had not joined for this leg. Thankfully I got $40 back from Maker’s Mark (https://www.dansdeals.com/more/free-stuff/apply-baggage-fee-rebate-makers-mark/ thanks @Dan) so that helped lessen the pain in retrospect. The PEM airport only has one departing gate, but thankfully there was a Priority Pass lounge that I was able to relax in.

Lima, Peru
I landed in Lima Wednesday midday with no real plans. Back at the Amazon lodge with its slow and unpredictable internet I had tried browsing for flights to Arequipa or Puno, but the only direct flights from PEM that day were to Lima or Cusco, and I was unable to find a flight from Lima to Arequipa or Puno that would still give me enough time to explore the area (in Puno I wanted to explore Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake in the world where Peruvian tribes have entire towns built on reefs on the lake. In Arequipa I wanted to see the famous Colca canyon) before my late Thursday (Friday AM really) flight back to NY. I tried finding a day tour from Lima to Huacachina/Ica (oasis and sand dunes) and Ballestas Islands/ Paracas (“poor mans” Galapagos), and while there are many options availble, all only make it back to Lima after 11PM, which wouldn’t give me enough time to make it to the airport for my 1AM flight (btw these tours start at 5AM so they’re a very long day trip). Lima gets a lot of bad rep for not being interesting, and while I wasn’t majorly impressed and wouldn’t say that you must spend time here, I managed to keep busy. I booked myself into the ibis budget hotel (https://all.accor.com/hotel/A8F5/index.en.shtml) for the night- hotels in Lima are fairly cheap throughout town, but I needed to stay in an area that was reputably safe as I was traveling alone, even if it wasn’t located near all the major tourist sites. I requested late checkout at the hotel since my flight the next night wasn’t til 1AM, and I didn’t want to be out on the town after 9PM. Standard late checkout is at 7PM for a half-day rate ($20)- I requested that they bump it up to 10PM for which they charged me $30 (a full night is about $40). They allowed me to pay in cash which was great since I still had a chunk of soles that I wanted to get rid of.

Some generals about Lima: I spent some time walking around Miraflores and San Isidore- it’s nicer than I expected but clearly crime ridden as is evidenced by the tall gates surrounding the houses (similar to Sao Paulo). Lots of intersections don’t have lights here, even the busier ones, and it’s a sort of free for all about who goes and who stops. Traffic in Lima in general is terrible- a few times I found myself sitting 20 minutes on a block without moving. Google maps and Uber have no concept of budgeting ETA’s correctly here. I used Uber to get around, which was consistently cheaper than local cabs by about half, although I did have two run ins with charges here. The first was at the airport- the driver asked me to come to the parking lot to meet him, then had me sit for 20 minutes in his cab while he paid for parking, and then added the parking charge to my Uber fare (about $5). The second was when a driver forgot to end the trip after dropping me off. I had to cancel it on my end since I needed to call another Uber to continue on to my next stop, and I was charged a cancellation fee (about $1). I tried fighting both with Uber but after a few nonsensical answers that totally didn’t address my issue, they stopped responding to the help ticket.

After checking in to my hotel and settling in a bit I headed to Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site of ancient ruins located in the city. I got a glimpse from the outside- looks very cool- but I wasn’t able to enter as they randomly change opening hours. I tried again the next day, but they decided not to open at all on Thursday. After walking around some neighborhoods I headed to the closest urgent care center for a covid antigen test which I needed for my flight back home. The process was quick and painless (at this point I was armed with my offline google translate app so even though no one spoke a lick of English, I was able to get by well). I then headed to the Inka and Indian Markets- nothing major going on at either of these places.

Around sunset I headed to a viewpoint overlooking Miraflores Beach- the beaches here aren’t beautiful in any way.



The next morning, after a few hours of work, I headed out to the Historic Center of Lima. I spent some time at Plaza De Armas, the Government Palace (no entry was permitted indoors), the Municipal Palace, and then walked down Jiron de la Union to Plaza San Martin.



Many streets were blocked off that day between Plaza De Armas and Plaza San Martin due to a large protest over the President (the guy is a left wing nut whose election has been contested since he won). It was cool to see a local protest, and to compare the views of the locals in Lima with that of the people we’d met in Cusco- they’re worlds apart.

After heading back to the hotel for some more work and a quick shower, I headed to Lima airport for my flight to MIA, and from there on to NYC.

Just a quick note about MIA- there was no Global Entry line, and I was forced to stand in a very long line for about 45 minutes to clear customs. After finally getting past customs, I found out that there’s no TSA pre-check in MIA when connecting, so I exited the airport and reentered, only to find out that there’s no dedicated pre-check line even at the regular security checkpoint. Instead, I was given a pre-check card which allowed me to keep my shoes on. Thankfully the Priority Pass lounge here was open which was a big help.

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2022, 09:24:31 PM »
I've added the reports to the relevant destination Master Threads, but I did not add them to the Master Thread Of Trip Reports chart as I've messed that up before. If anyone here is comfortable messing around with that thread, feel free to add.

Offline jj1000

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2022, 09:28:43 PM »
WOW!
See my 5 step program to your left <--

(Real signature under my location)

Offline srap

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2022, 09:49:06 PM »
WOW is understated.  A thorough masterpiece.  I guess we wouldn't expect anything less from @cgr.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2022, 10:15:26 PM by srap »

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2022, 09:54:01 PM »
Thank you:)
If anyone is looking to get hyped up for a trip to one of these locations I suggest viewing the TR pics on a desktop. Those tiny mobile thumbnails don't compare to the full images.

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2022, 09:59:03 PM »
What a wonderful TR. thank you.

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2022, 10:17:13 PM »
@cgr Thank you!

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #15 on: February 25, 2022, 01:42:10 AM »
Really amazing

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2022, 10:24:53 AM »
Great narrative ;D, fantastic pics, WHAT A TR!!

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2022, 04:55:11 AM »
Great TR and stunning pictures.
Love the level of details - thanks for taking the time

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Re: 5 Countries in 5 Weeks
« Reply #18 on: February 27, 2022, 10:54:59 AM »
Amazing tr!

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Re: Panama City, Panama
« Reply #19 on: February 27, 2022, 12:58:26 PM »

I had a good one at PTY. This was originally a border control issue and then a security issue...

When arriving in Panama at border control the agent- who looked to be about 16 years of age- first took my passport and assumed it was the hubby's (the pic is bad- I'll admit, but it clearly says Female on it...) and then when he got to the other passport he realized the issue and didn't know how to correct it. I don't remember if they fingerprint or take a pic, but it was something that had to match up with the passport presented. Eventually his supervisor decided to waive us through because he couldn't correct it either.

Fast forward a few days and we're in the airport again to head home. We get to security and they won't let us through- problem being that our passports don't match what was previously in the system- we then showed them that it's a simple mixup- our passports were switched in the system. Of course this agent had to go and get his supervisor, who didn't know what to do either and decided to just waive us through (thankfully). I wonder if it's a permanent switch in their system and what will happen if I travel there again.

What happened this time? Same issue or it was fixed?

Oh wow good memory! Totally forgot to include the latest harrowing experience in my new TR!
Was led away by border agents once they scanned my passport at entry. Had to explain the situation as to why the pic and fingerprints in their system didn't match to five different agents at three different desks (there weren't especially surprised at their previous incompetence). After waiting 30 minutes for a supervisor they did a manual system override and stamped my passport. I begged them to change the information so that I don't have this issue every time I enter Panama- the agent said he tried but no guarantees so I'll only known if it worked the next time I attempt entry. I didn't have any issues leaving this time so maybe it was finally cleared up...