Adios South America

matt 120pxToday we’re leaving South America after four months traveling the continent. Looking back, I’d say we had five really spectacular experiences. Here they are in chronological order:


Although not like the other experiences mentioned, I enjoyed seeing the penguin colony at Punta Tombo, Argentina.



I enjoyed seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier and hiking for 4 days, both at Parque Nacional de los Glaciares in Argentine Patagonia


The drive up the Carretera Austral in Southern Chile was spectacular, especially the part than circumnavigates Lago General Carrera.

Salar de Uyuni at Sunrise

I cannot imagine a better way to spend four days in a jeep than touring Bolivia’s “Southwest Circuit” which culminates at the Salar de Uyuni.

Rainbow in the Sacred Valley

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous tourist attraction in South America for a reason.


matt 120pxBesides surviving bad food, I’d say our biggest accomplishment over the past few months is not having anything stolen. Although I haven’t witnessed any theft or violent crime while in South America, the amount of precautions that people take is witness to the fact that crime is a big problem. In the cities, there’s walls and fences everywhere. You must ring a doorbell at many places to get past locked gates and doors. I’ve been told in countless cities that its unsafe to go out at night. In Bolivia, there’s fake police with fake police cars and fake police stations! There’s fake police in Peru as well, but getting kidnapped or mugged by fake taxis is a bigger problem.The US State Department does not allow its employees to travel at night in Peru. We were wanded, searched, and video-taped while boarding buses numerous times in Peru. Now on a bus in Ecuador, we’ve already been stopped twice by police who pat down all the males and search everyone’s bags. The somewhat frequent bus-jackings in Peru and Ecuador are one of the many reasons that these two countries are considered the most dangerous in South America. But even in developed nations like Argentina and Chile, all baggage going under the bus is tagged and you’re given a baggage-claim-ticket. In Peru, you must check your bag with the bus company rather than putting it under yourself. Its great that so many precautions are taken, but its disconcerting to know the reasons that they’re taken. Tons of theft, armed robbery, and even kidnapping. Even though we’ve been extremely lucky and fortunate, I hate worrying about our belongings and not being sure of our safety. Like the food down here, I hate the prevalence of crime and am thankful that we’ve survived it.


Joylani Hanging Out at Our Mancora Hotel

matt 120pxAfter our bus-delay debacle of yesterday, today was extra sweet. Woke up from my deep slumber, threw on some shorts and t-shirts, walked down into town. Mancora is a touristy little beach town straddling the Panamericana. After getting some delicious bread from the bakery, Joylani and I headed down to the beach. A real beach, not like the few we visited recently. Sand as far down the coast as you could see. Early in the morning, there weren’t too many people out; some kids on horses, some fisherfolk, some surfers, and some families. Joylani and I walked down the beach for an hour. The waves were aqua, the sand light. As we walked, the beach became deserted- just us, the grassy dunes behind us, and some pelicans. The nicest beach I’ve been to in South America, although that’s not saying a whole lot. We didn’t do too much today. Just enjoy not being on a bus. Enjoy being just the two of us for the first time in awhile. Enjoy our last full day in Peru. Mancora’s not an unbelievable beach, but I think its just what we needed.

Farmers’ Strike

Waiting on a Farmers' Strike and Roadblock

matt 120pxAfter spending all afternoon and night on a bus, we were supposed to be at our destination of Mancora by 9am this morning. Instead, we were in Sullana, just a couple hours away from our destination. The Panamerican Highway, and the only highway in these parts as we were to learn, was being blocked. Apparently farmers were blocking the road to protest the government’s plan to privatize the water utilities. No other highways. No possible detours. The riot police were ill-equipped to handle the hundreds of protesting farmers. Eventually, the road was opened, but only when the farmers all went home at the end of the day. We arrived in Mancora around 9pm, 12 hours late and 30 hours after we’d left Lima.

Adios Lima

Joylani, Alex, and Juan shopping

matt 120pxWe began our final day in Lima at beautiful colonial mansion that’s been transformed into a mineral museum. We’ve seen our fair share of museums, but like the other museums we’ve visited in Lima, this one was both nice and unique. The museum showcased the collection of a Peruvian mining magnate, which was made all the more interesting with Juan’s commentary, since he has a lifetime’s knowledge of mining and minerals. There was a lot of huge pieces of pyrite and quartz, but a lot of interesting rare specimens like phosphorescent minerals. Afterwards, we headed to a market where Alex, Joylani, and Luisa did a bit of souvenir shopping. Then it was lunch and on to the bus station for Joylani and I who are heading to Mancora. Alex flies out tomorrow and the Proanos have a few more days left.

In review, we had an unforgettable time in Lima. It is an interesting city and far surpassed my expectations which had been beaten down by people who either had only visited the airport en route to Cusco or only stayed one-night in an airport hotel. But most of all, the Proanos made our experience. Their hospitality in flying down not only to meet us, but to host us. Introducing us to all their family and taking us around with them. We were the recipients of Juan and Luisa’s amazing generosity and kindness this week, making even us the Homeless Hapas feel at home.

Peruvian Potpourri

Fish cooked in Salt

matt 120pxWe’ve had a good past couple of days, but I’d venture to say today was the best yet. We started off by going to the Larco Herrera Museum, a collection of galleries showcasing Peruvian history across time and geography. While learning about the various societies of ancient Peru and seeing the artifacts they left was interesting, I thought the best part of the museum was the storehouse. We could actually walk into the storage area and see rooms and rooms of display cases lined up like library shelves, holding thousands of artifacts. I’d never seen anything like it. I now realize that theirs dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of specimens in existence for every one of its kind you see in a museum. Also interesting were the galleries of gold jewelry and erotic pottery, although neither probably needs explanation.

I feel that I’m writing about almost every meal, because we’ve been eating well, but today’s lunch was especially unique. We ate at a great seafood place (one of the best in Lima in fact, according to our guidebook) called Costanera 700. The octopus is great, as are the scallops, but the best was when the waiters brought out a huge plate with a big pile of burning salt. Careful not to burn themselves on the flames, they cracked the big rock of salt and knocked pieces off, exposing a fish inside. The fish had been cooked inside the burning salt and was now ready to eat. I’m not sure if the salt helps keep the fish moist and tender, but that fish had some of the best consistency I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we visited the Amano Museum, which houses a one-of-a-kind collection of Peruvian textile artifacts. It was built up by the late Yoshitaro Amano, who was a businessman who used his wealth to pursue his love of archaeology. It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that my family has some history with the Amano family. My great grandfather Eto (my paternal grandmother’s father) and Mr. Amano became friends while they were imprisoned together at the Crystal City internment camp during WWII. Mr. Amano was one of the few hundred people of Japanese descent who were extradited from Latin America to American internment camps during the war. After touring the museum, we had coffee with Mrs. Amano (she was quite a bit younger than her husband) who told us stories for over two hours. Really amazing stories. They won’t fit here, but ask me about them in person if you’re interested (and if you know me). It was very interesting to hear how her husband and my great grandfather met and became friends and about her late husband’s life and work. Who thought I’d find family history way down in Peru?

Amano, Proano, and Shibata families, Lima

(left to right) Mr. Amano’s son, Juan, me, Alex, Mrs. Amano, Luisa, Joylani

To cap off our night, we saw the unbelievable lightshow at Parque de la Reserva. It was really unlike anything I’ve seen before. Images projected onto water, lasers, crazy stuff. There’s really no way to describe it, so you’ll just have to youtube it. This was followed by an unbelievable great meal at Osaka’s, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant with some of the better salmon sashimi I’ve had. Erotic pottery, fish inside flaming salt, family connection from 3 generations ago, and a psychedelic light show- a pretty interesting day.

Lima by Day and Night

Catedral de Lima

matt 120pxI’m exhausted. Simply exhausted. After last night’s feast, we groggily woke up for a marathon tour day. Luisa lined up a mini-bus for us and at 9:30 we set off to see Lima. We had a tour guide for the first part of the day. The guide pointed out things like the pre-Hispanic pyramids and dates that various buildings were built, while Luisa pointed out things like where they got married and or where she spent her childhood days. Both commentaries interesting in their unique ways. We saw some cathedrals and the old city walls in the morning, but the most interesting pre-lunch activity was visiting the catacombs below the Monastery de San Francisco. Back in its heyday, the catacombs served as a burial place for any Lima resident, not just the upper class. Unfortunately no photos were allowed, but imagine thousands and thousands of bones stacked throughout an underground labyrinth. All the bones and skulls organized so neatly was pretty interesting to me.

After lunch, we headed to the Japanese Immigration Museum, which was on Joylani’s to-see list for Lima. It was an interesting history of Japanese immigrants and their contributions to Peru. I agree with Juan though, who mentioned that the museum should really at least mention Fujimori, despite his fall from grace. Otherwise, it was an okay museum. Afterwards, we checked out Larcomar, a commercial area on a cliff overlooking the sea. The place had a park, movie theaters, a gazillian stores and restaurants. Juan treated us to some tasty ice-cream, which was just what we all needed at the moment.

View of the Pacific from Larcomar, Lima

I licked my ice-cream, admired the view, admired the whole development, and thought about how Lima’s not as bad as everyone says it is. Actually, I believe it was bad. But so many neighborhoods and places we’ve seen have supposedly been cleaned up and developed in the past decade or two. Luisa has pointed out tons of places that used to be bad, but are now really nice places. Perhaps bad reputations are tough to change. We finished off our tour by seeing Lima at night. All the colonial buildings and architecture are even more impressive when illuminated at night.

Cathedral of Lima

It was a very interesting day and it disproved the bad things I’d heard about Lima. There’s nice places, cool things to see/do, the squares are nice and green, and we’ve had a lot of good food. Real quick on the food, I’m way too tired to write about the food, but the Proanos eat well. We ate lunch at Tanta, a delicious approach to Peruvian food, using foreign influences. And dinner at a great Swiss restaurant that’s been dishing it up since Juan was a kid. Thinking about it, the food that the Proanos are introducing us to is the best part of our Peruvian tour. Anyways, its been a long fun and food-filled day.

Meet the Proanos

Juan, Alex, Matt, Joylani, and Luisa

matt 120pxSome of my family’s oldest and best friends are Juan and Luisa Proano. My grandparents and the Proanos first met back in the 60s, when Juan attended Stanford. Our families friendship has a lot of history and even more good stories, which is continuing today. A few days ago we were surprised to learn that Juan and Luisa were coming from DC to their hometown of Lima to host us! As Juan joked with us later, “We hosted the Shibata’s the first time they visited Peru, so we’ve gotta host them the second time too.”

We arrived in Lima from Punta Hermosa around 10 and made our way to a hotel that Juan had picked out for us all. I was still amazed that they had actually come all this way, but there they were waiting for us at the hotel. Although they had just arrived from DC the night before, they were awake and ready to show us Lima. We first headed to Regatas, an old beach club which Juan’s belonged to since he was a teenager. Today, it’s really an entire campus, with numerous beaches, restaurants, bars, sports facilities, and so on. After a nice little tour, we ate at a chifa (Chinese Peruvian cuisine) restaurant at the club. We stuffed ourselves on the buffet and squeezed as much dessert as we could in, while we talked and caught up a bit. I was reminded of Juan’s ever-joking and humorous nature as we ate. The restaurant was on the 6th or 7th floor and we had awesome views of the ocean and cliffs.

On the way back into town, Juan kind of gave an overview of Lima’s geography, while Luisa told us some anecdotes about the city. It was interesting to see the city from a different perspective, getting local history and stories. We also learned that Luisa would be our tour coordinator for the week, as she’d arranged all sorts of stuff for us. Tonight was a big family BBQ at one of her nephews houses. We showed up around 8 and met tons of her family. Dozens. The topic of conversation was the rain. It had drizzled throughout the evening, which is unheard of in desert Lima. I found out that it simply NEVER rains in Lima. Luisa’s family also loves to travel, so it was interesting to talk to them about many of the places we’ve visited on this trip. We drank pisco cocktails and ate tons of food. I was stuffing myself on chicken wings, until I found out they and the chorizos were only appetizers. Appetizers?! We’ve been eating for an hour- who can eat more food? Then they brought out the steaks and I found more appetite. I ate myself sick. But then they brought out the desert and I found more room in my stomach. Needless to say, it was a happy ending to a happy day.

Punta Hermosa

Crowded Punta Hermosa Beach

matt 120pxPunta Hermosa. A picture is worth a thousand words. Enough said.

San Bartolo

San Bartolo

matt 120pxWe stopped for a couple nights at San Bartolo, one a few beach towns just south of Lima. To be honest, I didn’t care for the beach or the town. The only thing of note is that we stayed at a little guesthouse full of character run by a old hippy with grey beard and long  hair- he actually looked somewhat like Gandolf. We sat by the pool or Alex’s balcony and drank a lot of pisco cocktails. I ate ceviche for every meal. Every meal. Jenky beach, but we still had a good time.

Relaxing at a San Bartolo guesthouse

typical afternoon: cocktails on the table, Joylani reading, Alex tanning

Guesthouse in San Bartolo

nothing safer than wrestling by the pool