Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Trip To Peru

Brace up for what may be the longest blog post this year as I’ll squeeze as much information as I can on my trip to Peru (including all the work and play stuff) into one post before the yearender post tomorrow.

So, what was the trip about? I was assigned by the Female Boss #3 (heretofore will be called as FB#3) to participate in UNFCCC COP 20 in Lima, Peru. The event is an annual conference on climate change negotiation, organized by the UN. Since my office is under the Ministry of National Development Planning, we were part of the Indonesian delegation.

I received the confirmation on my participation in just a few weeks prior to the departure date. Unlike FB#3 who was scheduled to deliver presentation and was a Party member, I was just a Party Overflow person, a part of the supporting team, so my tickets were arranged in the last days. There were two Party members (FB3# and MZM), three Party Overflow (me, JHP and TK) and four Press members (MCK, EAR, SM and AM) going from the Planning Ministry. The Press members were the winners of a media award that my office organized this year.

We used KLM for our flights from Jakarta, Indonesia to Lima, Peru and back. In total, the one-way flight would take about 35 hours (including transits and time differences). The other team members departed for Lima on Nov. 29, and I had to go the next day because tickets on Nov. 29 were already sold out. It was a bit scary to think about the 35-hour flight I had to endure all by myself. Fortunately, TK had yet to bought the tickets too, so we both secured the tickets on Nov. 30. 

Our flight with KLM has two transits: the first is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (only about one hour to take passengers) and the second is in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Indonesians do not need transit visa for Malaysia and the Netherlands (for the latter, it’s as long as we don’t leave the airport/immigration control). Indonesia and Peru have a free visa policy for 90 days, so we do not need to apply for visa to enter Peru. This trip may be the longest I’ve ever taken but it will be the easiest as I don’t need to apply for visa. I wish Indonesia would have more of this free visa policy with more countries in the future because applying visa is really time and energy consuming.

Here’s the travel story.

Nov. 30 – Dec. 1 : The Beginning of A Long Haul Flight

It was both a good decision and bad decision to take the latter flight than going with the other team members. It was good because TK and I had to wait for the completion of printed materials for COP 20 because there were last-minute printed materials (as predicted). But it was bad because it meant TK and I had to cope with the extra baggages without the help of the other team members. Have I told you that TK is a girl? So, there we were, two slim girls with very bulky, very heavy baggages and boxes trying to check in for the flight.

KLM has the “23 kg checked-in baggage and 1 cabin luggage+1 accessories” regulation. So any kg beyond that would be considered as excess baggage. The penalty for excess baggage is US$100 for the second 23 kg and US$200 for the third 23 kg.

Guess how many kilograms our baggages are in total?

I brought one 21-kg checked-in baggage, one 9-kg cabin luggage and two excess baggages (20-kg and 22-kg). TK brought one 20-kg checked-in baggage, one 7-kg cabin luggage and one excess baggage (15-kg). So for the excess baggage, I had to pay US$300 and TK only paid US$100.

The fee would be reimbursed to the office, but the trouble was more about checking those baggages in the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and then taking them out from the Jorge Chavez International Airport. I think I get a little bit toned up due to the heavy lifting. Good thing it’s a direct flight on the same airline, so we don’t have to get the baggages in Schiphol and check them in again.

I couldn’t sit next to TK on the Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur-Amsterdam leg because it was a packed flight. We only sat side by side on the Amsterdam-Lima leg. One thing about a long haul flight: it’s best done with your colleague/friends. I considered myself lucky for going with TK, not FB#3 J.

Here are some tips for a long haul flight:
1.    Wear comfortable clothings and shoes as you’ll be wearing those for more than 10 hours
2.    Check the weather on the countries where you’re transiting. I forgot that the Netherlands was in the beginning of the winter, it was 6 degree Celsius when I touched down in Amsterdam and my feet only wore socks and sandals. Brrr.
3.    Prepare a set of fresh clothing and toiletries inside the cabin luggage for you to change and refresh during transit.
4.    Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water.
5.   Bring a neck pillow/eye mask/ear plug, anything that would make sitting and sleeping comfortable for you
6.    Bring some reading material if you’re on your own.
7.    Take a walk along the aisle every once in a while to maintain good blood circulation.
8.    Choose your seat wisely, depending on whether you’re a light sleeper or a toilet runner. Since I’m the latter, I prefer the aisle. Also, if you like snacking, pick a seat on the back side of the plane, near the pantry (read: major food source of the plane, hahaha).
9.   Optimize the entertainment onboard. I managed to watch few movies and even learn some Spanish words during the flight.
10. Try to sleep and eat according to the solar cycle. When it’s day outside the plane, wake up and do stuffs. When it’s night, go to sleep. I think it can help reducing the jet lag later on. 

Things you can do during a transit
1.  Check the airport’s facility and locate the toilets and showers (preferably free ones). Unfortunately, the shower in Schiphol International Airport would cost you 15 Euros because it was managed by a hotel (Hmmfft, capitalist!). Upon learning the cost, TK and I looked at each other and said,”You brought deodorant, right?”
2.   If the transit is more than 6 hours and you can go out of the airport (you have the visa), then just go. But since the Netherlands was in the beginning of winter with 6 degree Celsius outside, this tropical animal preferred to stay warm inside the airport.
3.  Log in to the airport’s WiFi as most international airport now has WiFi connection and check emails (or update status in social media)
4.    Charge all electronic gadgets (very crucial!)
5.  Eat and buy souvenirs, if you have the budget

One of the highlights of my transit in Schiphol was to find a Meditation Room. I went there to pray and found the room to be completely equipped for all religions. It’s so nice to just sit there and chill. 

Anyway, long story short, we reached Lima safe and sound, alhamdulillah. Due to the COP 20, there was an officer that helped delegation members in choosing taxis to reach the hotels. We chose Airport Shuttle taxi (yep, that’s the name, very literal eh?), which charged US$20 per person. There are other options, such as Green Taxi (a recommended taxi in Lima), which usually charge US$50 for one taxi. If you go with your friends, you can share the fare (hey, it rhymes!).

The taxis in Lima (and Peru, in general) do not use meter, so the fare should be settled and negotiated before we boarded them. Here’s where some Spanish words come handy because most of the taxi drivers do not speak English.

We stayed in a four-bedroom apartment in the Miraflores district. I shared a bedroom with TK, JHP with MZM and FB#3 with a woman from the Environment Ministry, and one bedroom was unoccupied. The apartment was a fully furnished accomodation, complete with a washing machine, a dryer, an ironing board+iron, a stove, a microwave, a refrigerator, a coffee maker and a food processor. There is a supermarket and money exchange units across our apartment. We are one happy family!

My luggage is 20 kg, my cabin luggage is 12 kg and the excess baggages are 20 kg+22 kg. That is not a happy smile, it's a grin signifying back pain. 

Dec. 2-Dec. 6: Coping with Jet Lag during COP 20

The first day in COP 20 started with us taking the shuttle bus and me getting the ID card. The venue is located at El Pentagonito, a military base in San Borja district (perhaps to ensure all delegation’s safety). COP 20 is my first, and probably the last, COP I would ever attend. So although FB#3 said it’s the worst COP ever, I’d always have fond memories of COP 20.

My first COP event. Yay :)

We held two parallel events at the Indonesian Pavillion and we also attended several other events. I couldn’t enter the high level meetings, but I got the background information and learned about the politics behind the meetings. It was all very exciting and tiring. We would left the apartment at 9 a.m. and returned at 6 or 7 p.m. Sometimes I fell asleep on the shuttle bus ride back to the apartment.

One of the events we held at the Indonesian Pavillion. Speaking in this picture is Megan Rowling from Thomson Reuters Foundation (I was responsible to contact her for the event).

Tangent: In 2011, I got a fellowship to cover COP 17 in Durban, South Africa. But due to situations at the former workplace, I couldn’t go and another colleague replaced my position. I was disappointed at that time, but then I remembered the saying,”What was meant for me would never miss me and what misses me was never meant for me”, and so I let it pass. Never in my wildest dream I ever think about getting another chance to go to a COP event again. I accepted the work offer from my current office, without knowing that I might be assigned to a COP event, I just wanted to learn more about climate change, mitigation and adaptation activities in Indonesia. I think it was better this way, I could learn more by becoming a delegation member, instead of a journo. This is simply a work of God, all praises be...

Since we had a kitchen, we cooked everyday. In the morning, we prepared breakfast and then brought the left over for lunch (because food was so damn expensive at the COP venue and sometimes we just didn’t have the time and energy to walk to the cafetaria). In the evening, upon our return, we cooked dinner.

One thing about living together under the same roof: you learn and accept about each other’s eccentric habit. Now I know that the two gentlemen, JHP and MZM, loved cooking and shopping and then they know that for a girl, I eat a lot, but I like cleaning and washing the dishes. So we picked the chores. Here are some funny/weird occurences in the apartment:

Who’s Hungry?
Situation: after a long tiring day, we came back to the apartment. MZM was still out for meetings.
JHP: Why don’t you cook some rice?
Me: I think it’s enough for just us. MZM is having dinner outside, right?
JHP: MZM eats a lot. Just cook the rice.
Me: Ok, ok *cooks rice*
After the rice cooker was on...
JHP: I’m cooking some instant noodles. Would you like to have it too?
Me: Yes, please. Thank you!
A few minutes later, JHP and I were having instant noodle for dinner. And he added rice to the noodle. Ah, so that’s why he was so persistent about the rice.

Jet Lag Leads To Sleepcooking?
Situation: I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn’t fall asleep again. So I worked on the reports in the livingroom. FB#3 joined me 30 minutes later.
FB#3: Why are you still up?
Me: Jet lag. Couldn’t sleep.
JHP suddenly came out of his bedroom, walked to the kitchen, cooked rice and returned to the his room to sleep again. FB#3 and I looked at each other in awe. He woke up again at 6 a.m. and cooked fried rice for breakfast. Whoa! Is he the ideal husband or what? :D

The Ideal Husband
Situation: it was 9 a.m., we’re in the middle of doing reports, everyone was passing their information.
JHP: Here’s my SD card
Me: I’m hungry *sad and hungry face*
JHP: What? Hasn’t anyone make breakfast?
Me: Not yet
JHP went to kitchen, cooked rice and made fried rice with sunny side up and sliced tomatoes.
MZM: Here’s my SD card.
Me: I’m hungry
MZM: There’s instant noodle if you’re hungry

Dear Husband is cooking for Dear Wife :D

The Price Controller
Situation: MZM, as the family head, assigned JHP and I to shop groceries.
Me: We need to buy detergent. Here it is *taking a 150-gram detergent, priced at 1.5 Soles*
JHP: Wait a minute, why don’t we buy this one? *picking a 650-gram detergent, priced at 4 Soles*
Me: Ok
Later on...
Me: FB#3 wants to have chocolate milk for breakfast. So here are for her and this one for me *taking a 6-pack UHT milk and one-liter milk*
JHP: She said she only wants two packs, so you can have the rest. Put the one-liter back on the shelves.
Me: Jeez, you’re like the husband that controls his wife’s expenditure *put the one-liter back anyway*
And then, just to annoy him, I called him Dear Husband for the rest of our shopping session...
Me: Dear Husband, we need to buy vegetables. Do you think this one is good enough? *showing him a pack of vegetables, priced at 3.99 Soles*
JHP: *looking annoyed at the term of endearment but checks the price* Ok, this one is good, it has lettuce, carrot and other green stuffs and the price is also good.
Me: Wow, I got approval from my Dear Husband, I’m so happy
JHP: Why are we buying this? It’s not even in the shopping list *pointing to a pack of potato chip*
Me: Dear Husband, this is important for our sanity. I know it’s not in the list, but everyone needs this, even FB#3. Trust me. *putting on a serious face*
JHP: Ok, ok *sighs*

The Girl Who Eats A Lot
Situation: we went to a nearby restaurant to have dinner as we’d like to sample some Peruvian cuisines. We went with a German guy (HvL). By concidence, HvL and I ordered the same dish (Lomo Saltado/Beef steak with fries and rice), TK had Pollo Saltado (Chicken steak with fries and rice), MZM had Arroz Mariscos (seafood fried rice) and JHP had Pasta and Beef Steak. TK, MZM and JHP didn’t like the dishes they had picked and didn’t finish their dish. Being the girl who is always responsible for the dish she orders, I finished mine. I asked the waiter to pack JHP’s dish to take home because he didn’t really eat it. I ate the pasta the next morning, despite everyone’s aversion to eat it. After breakfast, as usual, we all packed our lunch boxes. MZM had yet to pack his.
FB#3: You know what? I’ll never trust a food review from you because I think you consider all food as delicious or very delicious. If you said a dish is so-so, then it must taste very horrible.
Me: Oh look, there is still food left here. I’ll just pack it for my lunch *innocently*.
FB#3: Wait, MZM has yet to pack his lunch. MZM, hurry pack your lunch before this girl takes it.
MZM: TK, may I borrow your other lunch box?
TK: Sure, here it is. I just bought this yesterday. Perhaps you should wash it first.
MZM: No time for that. She’ll take my lunch if I do so.
Since it was a newly purchased lunch box, it still had paper lining and MZM just found out when we all opened our lunch box. We all laughed about it.

Dec. 7: Easy Sunday

It’s a day off, so we went to Plaza de Armas, Lima. MCK, one of the four journos, decided to join us. We hailed two taxis and tried to explain our destination in broken Spanish. It seemed that only MCK, JHP, TK and I who managed to communicate in Spanish, although poorly. So we had to ensure that FB#3 and MZM were in different taxis. MZM, TK and I were in one taxi and MCK, JHP and FB#3 were in the other taxi. As I had feared, the taxis dropped us in different places. Luckily, my hawk eyes could spot the other group.

Cathedral of Lima

 Panorama of Plaza de Armas, Lima

The Palace

After we’ve finished snapping photos in the plaza, we saw a seating arrangement in front of the Governor Palace (or was it Presidential Palace?). We sat down and waited for any occurences. And then something interesting took place just when the clock strikes 11.30 a.m.

A group of musical players on horses took their place in front of the palace and started to play songs. They also performed some equestrian parade around the palace frontyard. The event lasted for about one hour. We headed to the nearest Dunkin Donut to have a glass of iced chocolate and cool down.

Posing as a model for Inka Plaza :D 

Then we headed to Inka Market to shop souvenirs. Well, actually the others were shopping souvenirs, I was just tagging along as I don’t really enjoy shopping. On this second occasion, MZM, MCK and I were in one taxi and JHP, TK and FB#3 were in the other taxi. And again, the taxi dropped us in different places, it’s Inka Plaza not Inka Market. Instead of panicking, MZM and MCK enjoyed their time perusing the shops. Suddenly MCK and MZM stopped at one shop and didn’t come out for some time. When I came to check if they needed help, I saw the pretty girl behind the cashier. Aha, so this is the reason.

Me: I thought you guys needed help. But now I know why *grins*
MZM: MCK, please continue whatever you’re doing. I love staying here for a while. She’s friendly and lovely to look at
Ah, boys will be boys :D.

Look at those happy faces of my boys :D

After they had completed the shopping (and window shopping, for me), we went to the back door and saw Indian Market, Indian Plaza and Inka Market. We quickly went to Inka Market and found the other group there. When we checked the prices, the Inka Market had slightly higher prices, so our taxi driver’s mishap was actually a blessing for my group.

Dec.8-Dec.11: Cusco, A City That Takes My Breath Away And A Trip to Machu Picchu

The second week of COP 20 was mostly high level meetings and all of us were not able to join those meetings anyway, we decided to take a break and headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I had booked the Lima-Cusco return trips with Star Peru and arranged for a four days-three nights tour. All was completed from Indonesia.

At first, I was a bit afraid to do the transaction because we had yet to meet the travel agent in person. Think about all the scam stories out there. But FB#3 said that it’s better to arrange the trip in advance because it would be too risky to arrange the tour after we arrived in Lima as the travel agents may be too overwhelm with the COP 20 delegations. It turned out to be one of the best decisions because this Peruvian travel agent is a trustworthy one.

The trip from Lima to Cusco takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. We passed the snow-capped mountains, the desert and the long and winding rivers. It’s beautiful and surreal at the same time. I kept slapping myself to make sure I was not dreaming.

Located on 3,500 meters above sea level, Cusco is colder than Lima. The first thing that hit me was the thin air. I felt that it was more difficult to breathe. That, my friends, is the early signs of altitude sickness or also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Seriously guys, it’s a combination of migraine and vertigo (the worst headache I’ve ever had), with short breath and fatigue. Every time I moved/walk/simply stood on both feet, I felt so tired and dizzy. But when I sat/laid myself down, I could hear my heartbeat racing. It’s like an alien illness. I’ve read about it before, but to experience it firsthand, now that’s a different story.

We had a half day tour in Cusco on Dec. 8 just a few hours after our arrival in the city. I couldn’t enjoy the tour due to the headache. In the end, I decided to stay in the bus and slept (or try to sleep, that is).

 Wearing Tupac Amaru with a journo friend at a shop in Cusco

What can you do to stop AMS?
1.    Drink a lot of water
2.    Eat a lot of food
3.    Sleep

4.    Try coca tea 

Before going back to hostel, the tour bus made a stop at a souvenir shop. I hopped off the bus gingerly and sat down on a chair. The shop owner, seeing how pale I was, offered me a cup of coca tea for free. Hearing the ‘free’ word, the rest of the team made a bee line for the tea.

Coca tea is made by submerging coca leaf into a cup of hot water. The taste is bitter, similar to green tea. Coca leaves contain alkaloid which, when extracted chemically, are the source of cocaine. Drinking a cup of coca tea can cause positive result in drug test for cocaine.

Coca tea

I was hesitant to drink it at first, but with the nagging headache and the full schedule for tour ahead, I gave it a shot (well, two cups actually). Believe it or not, I slept better that night and woke up without the headache.

We checked out the next day as we’re heading to Aguas Calientes after the one-day tour to Ollantaytambo. When we’re waiting for the rest of the tour group, a man approached me and my group and asked in Bahasa,”Hello, you’re from Indonesia, right?”

It was like hearing a classical music in a heavy metal concert. Ok, this is a weird metaphor, what I’m trying to say is it’s like hearing something familiar amidst the foreign sounds. The man who asked the question is also an Indonesian. He recognized us from the headscarf style I’m wearing.

He worked as a volunteer at a nearby chocolate shop. He invited us to come to the shop and offered a cup of chocolate tea for free. Chocolate tea? What is that? He said it’s tea that was made from cacao shell.

Just when we’re about to take his offer, our tour bus arrived. We regretfully told him that we couldn’t come. But after we boarded the bus, the tour guide told our group that it’s the last spot we visited for the day as we should be boarding the train to Aguas Calientes to reach Machu Picchu. The train station was just a 10-minute walk, the tour guide said.

Our group hopped off the bus and split into two teams: Team 1 (JHP and the journos) went straight to the station, while Team 2 (Me and the bosses) decided to return to the chocolate shop. We sampled the choco tea that he offered for free and then tried the other chocolate drink at the shop. We shared our stories: how we got to Ollantaytambo and how they started volunteering and traveling. After the work shift was over, one of them accompanied us for dinner and walked with us to the station.

The chocolate drink we ordered at Choco Museo 

The train ride from Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes takes about 2 hours. We took the 9 p.m. train, and it was late for about 30 minutes. So we reached Aguas Calientes around midnight. Someone from the travel agent picked us up and showed us the way to our hostel, which was located just along the railway track. I woke up once that night due to the sounds of trains passing through the station.

In the morning, we marched to the bus stop and waited for the tour guide at the gate of Machu Picchu. We had two hours of guided tour from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and afterwards we’re free to roam the site. Machu Picchu has this mystical fog blanket that comes and goes every once in a while. We waited patiently for the fog to dissipate to take pictures. The air is so clean and fresh. 

Resting on a rock during the walk in Machu Picchu

It's raining, so I put on my waterproof anorak on top of the poncho. Voila, it's Machu Picchu :)

To be honest, Borobudur Temple in Indonesia is far more beautiful as it has intricate carving and bas-relief. But located amidst the mountain tops, the simple rock houses complex of Machu Picchu has spectacular view and background.

We left the complex and prepared for our train ride back to Poroy, where we were picked up and delivered to our accomodation for the night, back to Hostel Carlos V.

Dec.12: Packing and Last Minute Shopping Day
Everyone had a blast shopping at Inka Plaza (again, hahaha). 

Dec.13-Dec.15: Tripping to Trujillo (Yay!)
TK and I decided to extend our stay for two more days and we booked a trip to Trujillo, a city located around 10-hour bus ride from Lima. We took a bus, Cruz Del Sur, to get to Trujillo. It's almost like boarding an airplane: it has a toilet, reclining seats and TVs on each seat and we get food. It's very comfortable and the most expensive bus, of course, but we only went to Trujillo once in our lives.

Inside Cruz Del Sur bus

The menu

 At Chan Chan

Also in Chan Chan

 With sisters of different faith

 Chilling at Huanchaco Beach

Traditional boats at Huanchaco Beach

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