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a long trek home to Iowa from Cusco Peru

As I watched the choir I normally sing with perform this afternoon in Iowa, I knew I’d made the right choice NOT to join them so soon after a long series of plane rides to get from Cusco to Des Moines. (Not direct, as you might imagine.) We left Cusco yesterday at 1:30 p.m. under overcast skies – one hour after we were scheduled to depart and technically on a flight that the agent rebooked us on that was one hour before our original flight. Much as we would have loved to stay in Cusco longer – especially since our flight from Lima to the U.S. didn’t leave until 1:25 a.m. (yes a.m.) – I think we made the right call to leave (or try to leave) Cusco by midday because the weather was getting worse and we’re told that flight problems often ensue. (The guy who checked us in at the front desk said just a day or two earlier a bunch of tourists got stuck in Cusco due to flight cancellations.)

And we made the most of our last afternoon in Peru by exploring the arty Barranco neighborhood on a gorgeous, refreshingly sunny Saturday afternoon. We finally found some of the lovely old mansions and interesting galleries and shops we’d heard are in Barranco. And it was fun to join the couples on the high overlooks watching the sun drop behind the ocean and fill the sky with pink and purple.We were bowled over in particular by a crafts gallery, Dedalo, in an old casona on one of the prettiest streets in Barrano, Saenz Pena, a boulevard with a pretty park that leads down to a gardened overlook above the Pacific. Each room is filled with different contemporary crafts, most it appears by Peruvians, with a great selection of jewelry, ceramics, textiles, sculpture. There’s also a lovely cafe in the rear. Glad I bought a cloth tote bag in the market in Cusco to handle all the gifts I couldn’t cram into my regular bag.

We also went to an interesting photography exhibit of high fashion portraits for mags like Vogue and Vanity Fair  by Mario Testino of famous models and actresses (Giselle,  Kate, Christy, Naomi, Reese, Jennifer, Gwyneth, et al.) , some but not all clothed, at MATE, a new cultural center/cafe created by the Testino and housed in a chic restored old mansion in Barranco. (I was familiar with his work, especially his famous portraits of Princess Diana, see photo below, but didn’t know he was from Lima. I thought he was Italian. He also went to the same university my son is attending in Lima…Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru). Guess it pays to read your inflight magazine (I learned about MATE while leaving through Lan Airlines magazine during our Cusco-Lima flight.) We ate dinner at a fun Italian-Peruvian place called La 73 in Barranco, although the pasta was too rich for me and the churros too sweet (they were not only covered in sugar but filled with a carmely-creme. Then you were supposed to dip them in hot chocolate the consistency of pudding. I liked the cebiche best – which was an interesting mix not only of raw fish but avocado, pieces of toasted corn and the thick Peruvian corn, red onions and a little sweet potato. And D reports they had an excellent Pisco Sour. The service was also good and it was fun to eat outside on the patio on a busy street next to a television studio where a crow of people were waiting for the stars to leave for the night (and cheered when they spotted one after another.)

We arrived at the airport, as advised, three hours before our 1:25 a.m. flight and it was wise. It took a little while to get our bags out of left luggage and then we had to wait in some long lines that fortunately moved quickly. The flight left a little late but we arrived on time which was good since we had only a 1.5 hour connection in Atlanta which can be tricky when you’ve got to jump through so many hoops to make the next flight (immigration, customs, retrieve luggage from the international flight then check luggage for the domestic flight and go through security again and race to another terminal to another gate.) Our taxi ride to the airport in Lima last night also was an adventure. Not only was our driver the usual kamikaze driver but he stopped not once but twice to try to fill up with gas – in this case natural gas that somehow goes into the front of the car and fills up a tank in the rear of the car right behind where we were sitting. The gas station attendant kindly opened up both of the doors where we sitting in the back so we didn’t faint from the fumes. All this at about 10:30 p.m. in a dimly lit neighborhood after our drive had already warned us to keep our bags out of view  so someone wouldn’t try to reach into the car and grab them (or at least we think that’s what he was trying to tell us.) Anyway, we made it and so ended a wonderful two week South American adventure. Hope we can explore more in years to come!

Testino in September 2007.

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