Slave to the Needle

Speaking of my sweater, a friend recommended the web community to me. It’s a free knitting/crochet website sort of set up like the myspace thing but not as annoying, seizure inducing or “friend-based coolness factored.” You basically have access to free patterns, ideas and are linked in with a bunch of other fiber nerds. There’s forums for questions, groups to join to go do real life knitting/crochet with other humans in your area (good for when we make that upcoming move), and your own little profile, complete with your list of projects and photos.

I’m not addicted to it, but I’m enjoying it so far and it makes me feel a bit more motivated to work on my projects since it is announced and listed. I also have a queue based on other people’s projects that I’d like to do one day. The neat part it that it’s all linked. My current sweater is using yarn I got in Peru. By entering my yarn type, I can see who else is making projects with the same brand of yarn and what the projects are. The sweater I made years ago (and never finished) from the SnB book is on my list, meaning I can now see who else is making that sweater (and see fotos of their work). It’s really fun to see how one pattern can look so different.

So it’s nice to be back at the knitting needles and even nicer to be linked into a community since I am far from home or friends to knit/crochet with. Especially since this new sweater is designed by me and I’m playing it all by ear. I’m trying to use Elizabeth Zimmerman’s techniques for a raglan sweater and am very roughly looking at a sweater pattern book I got from the library. We’ll see how much I get done in early summer Florida!

Back to coastal Peru: Máncora

We stayed an extra day in Tarapoto, enjoying woodfired pizzas while Matt fought whatever flu virus attacked him. We took the Sol Peruano night bus to Mancora. It was not a good busride. We were told it was pretty direct and was a semicama, and the bus made a LOT of stops and the seats barely reclined. I think my karma lately has been to attract bratty kids to sit behind me and kick my seat, pull my hair and have parents with no sense of discipline or consideration. I don’t know how to make right my karma, but I’m trying to be patient. Anyways, I do NOT recommend anyone taking Sol Peruano bus. The only good thing is that they didn’t play any movies and barely any music (if you don’t count the mother singing and stomping her feet behind me). Oh, just so you know, after 8 hours of listening to them (it was a 20 hr busride), I asked them nicely to hush up so I could sleep, they were the ONLY ones talking and they laughed at me and said lovely things in Spanish like who am I to prohibit them from laughing and singing in their own country. ohhhhhhhhh…

But onto other things, we arrived in Mancora, on the coast, via Sullana (note to travellers: avoid transferring in Sullana if you can help it. Stay in Piura, there’s food and other buses to choose from and they don’t charge you a transfer fee.) Mancora is known as the year-round sunny spot in Peru, on the northern coast. Unlike the rest of the coast, which is desert, this area is less deserty. There are palm trees and some green and it is HOT.

It is also very touristy and the most expensive town we have been to in regards to lodging and food. But the food’s good, we found a breakfast place called Green Eggs and Ham that has genuine waffles, hashbrowns (cooked perfectly), homefries and french toast. It’s a little pricey but it’s worth it with a view of the ocean. We also found our first vegetarian restaurant (Angela’s Place) that has an emphasis on whole grains, legumes and vegetables. She has gluten free bread, cookies and all vegan items are marked on her menu. That’s a first! Most veggie places here are peruvian food with carne de soya replacing the meat, or really high on the starch and really low on green veggies and protein. It’s run by an Austrian woman and yesterday Matt had a bean and veggie burrito and I had a spinach pie and stewed quinoa.

We rented some surf boards yesterday and attempted to remember what we learned in October. We both got thoroughly thrashed. I almost made it past the wave breaks and spent all my energy fighting the monster waves. The surf was strong and hard, I think I’ll wait until we go back to Huanchaco for another lesson from Juan Carlos. Matt eventually made it behind the wave break and sort of caught a wave, which means he didn’t get tossed like a rag doll. Neither of us were able to stand up on the boards, but it was fun to try again. And since it’s so warm, we just surfed in our bathing suits. I almost lost my bottoms each time the wave broke on me, though. I don’t know how those surfer girls keep their clothes on while surfing; there’s a challenge that never occurred to me.

We also got sunburned while surfing. We have nice waterproof sunblock, but we should’ve reapplied every hour or so since the sun here is STRONG. We’re at 4 degrees from the Equator and it feels like it. It cools down a little at night and there’s more mosquitos here than we saw in the jungle town of Tarapoto.

It’s nice to back on the coast, although I am already missing the mountains, clean air, somewhat drinkable water and friendly people there. I forgot how badly the locals on the coast take advantage of the tourists. They double the prices and you have to call them out on everything from a simple moto ride to a bottle of water. It’s frustrating and the taxi drivers are angry at you if you would rather walk. I’ve had a few guys yell and make the kissy sounds at me when I walk down the street without Matt. Laundry is a bit more expensive than Trujillo but a lot cheaper than the jungle (they tried to charge us sl.42 in Tarapoto, here it’s sl.23, but we paid sl. 12 ($4) in Huanchaco), but another traveller warning, don’t go to Encuentro for laundry, they lost one of my nice rei breathable tank tops and refuse to take responsibility for it. I’ll have to readjust to noisy, dusty, coastal Peru again, but at least it’s warmer than in October. We feel like swimming because it’s so hot. And it’s so nice to swim in the ocean. There are mud baths outside of town that we may go to later today, but it’s so hot the prospect of a hot springs seems a little counter productive.

Review of Lodging/Dining/Massages in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Vilcabamba is famous for it’s handful of local residents who not only live over 100 years old, but these people will easily hike a mountain for 3 hours to get to their farm to milk their cow and carry back the milk themselves. The people are friendly but the town is changing as the tourism industry continually grows. I see it as good and bad. A LOT of foreigners are buying up land in the valley and building houses, which employs the locals but at the same time raises the value of the land and most locals can’t afford to buy land or houses. Regardless, it’s a beautiful town with friendly locals and ex-pats. There IS an ATM in the main plaza, but it’s picky with credit cards, especially if you are from Switzerland. I don’t know why.

Madre Tierra
This “hostal” was a bit strange. The land is beautiful, the rooms are rustic yet modern and they offer a wide variety of spa services. We arrived on foot (2 km north of town) to find that the one receptionist that worked there was in Loja (1 hr by bus) and they weren’t sure when she would come back. No one else was there to fill in; no one would tell us how much the rooms cost when asked. A man called the receptionist on her cell phone and he told us it would be $30 US for a room, which seemed normal according to our guidebook. He brought us to a beautiful cabin with a view and porch and then told us it was $30 a person. Who charges by the number of people? Most places in Vilcabamba. I think it’s strange. We were not going to get taken advantage of and went back to the front desk. My guidebook says there are dorms at this place, so we asked about them and he told us quite adamately, “You don’t want to stay there. It’s very dirty and above the kitchen and rats run around at night.” Are they trying to keep our business? Rats above the kitchen…that doesn’t make me say, let’s take the penthouse then. I don’t think Matt or I look wealthy, covered in dirt and sweat from our hike with our backpacks. We said we’d take the rat room and asked the price and he wouldn’t tell us the price and kept telling us we didn’t want it…so we waited about an hour for the receptionist to return, but she didn’t. Finally the same guy said he could do $25 per person and we said no, we wanted a price list. Are they used to business traveller’s who don’t look at prices or rich people who don’t care? What about the rest of us. It’s such bad business, even their website won’t list prices, but you can make a reservation. Finally, we bargained on $20 a person (which I still think is a rip off, but we didn’t want to waste our day and needed a shower) for a room and dinner and breakfast. The grounds are beautiful, the pool is small and there is a pool table and little tv to watch next to the bar, which was dead all night. Dinner was a multi-course affair, elegantly set but the meal was definitely for the western meat eater. Course one was hummus, aji and homemade bread (yum). Course 2 was an okay tomato soup. Course 3 was mashed potatoes, a handful of boiled carrots and a hunk of beef (for us, 3 spoonfuls of eggplant parmesan…) Not impressive, but we were full.
Your room price also includes 15 minutes a day in the lukewarm jacuzzi, which you must make an appointment for. We induldged in the Spa Special, which is a 3 hour ordeal of 3 face masks, hair treatment, body scrub, mud bath, foot massage and a steam vapor treatment which made me almost pass out (but still wonderful). The treatments use all natural ingredients (honey, salt, mud from the area, oats, aloe, egg whites). The body scrub was okay; the room was cold and it was a bit short. The face masks and hair treatment were standard. The mud bath was wonderful. They bring you a pot of burning hot mud and you get to rub it all over yourself and lay in a tiled tub (with as much water as you want). It’s like being a child again. The steam vapor treatment is intense. There is a wooden box that you sit in with your head outside of the box and steam is pumped in to simulate a fever (detoxification). After a period of time you come out of the box and the attendant rubs you down with a cold, wet towel. Back in the box. Then you immerse your bottom in a cold pool and splash water everywhere and back to the box you go. The final time out you stand in a shower and get hosed down with high-pressure ice cold water. That’s what got me; I had to sit down and I felt horrible. I was assisted to a chair and layed down, drank water and had a spoonful of honey. In about 5 minutes I was better. Matt felt fine during the whole vapor treatment; definitely drink a lot of water before if you can. They told us the treatment would last 3 hours, but it was closer to 5 hours and we almost missed our bus out of town…overall staying at the hostal seemed like a rip off, the service is horrible and the food was not very exciting, but the spa experience was fun (we paid $45 for all the services together, the normal price was $90 but guests get half off the prices. So at the discounted price, it was still a little more expensive than services in town).

Jardin Escondido
$11 per person for a private room with bathroom. $9 for the dorm.
These rooms are clean and unique, with curvy walls and tiled bathrooms. Pool use is free. The jacuzzi has a fee and the water doesn’t get that hot. Free dvds in the tv room and friendly service. Breakfast is included (2 eggs, homemade bread, jam, juice and tea). They also have a restaurant with Mexican food that’s good. It’s also for sale if anyone is interested. Beware of the noisy roosters who do not understand the concept of dawn. I didn’t sleep very well but enjoyed the amenities and proximity to the plaza.

$9 per person for a room with private bathroom. Includes the usual breakfast.
A hammock outside each room and a little table to enjoy breakfast outside your room, this place has lots of nice touches. A big utility sink to hand wash clothes, boots, etc. You can rent a dvd player and movies from them along with a lot of other services. It’s a few blocks from the plaza, a good location and no roosters screaming, although the walls are VERY thin and I had to listen to our neighbor sing christmas songs at 6am while she was packing. No pool but lovely gardens and hummingbirds everywhere.

Hostal Mandago
The budget pick in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We didn’t make it there at the advice of a local: they slaughter pigs at dawn on the weekends…so if you don’t want to hear Porkey screaming his last words, avoid it.

Valle Sagrado
$5 per person.
Ragged rooms, no screens on the windows, peeling wallpaper and no breakfast or pool. It’s clean though and if you can find the receptionist (it took us a half an hour) you can get a cheap room without the frills and a decent bed to pass the night. Surprisingly, our room had a tv and hot water. Located next to the internet cafe west of the plaza.

Hosteria Izhcayluma
$9 per person for the dorm; $13 pp for a private room. $30 for a cabin.
My favorite place to stay in terms of price, amenities and service. Great views, 2 km outside of town (the local bus from Loja goes right by it). Run by Germans and staffed by travellers taking a break, this is the place to feel at home and comfortable. Everyone is friendly (except the waitress who doesn’t seem to enjoy her job), the pool is pure rainwater, the buildings are dispersed enough for that tranquil vibe, and the dorms consist of 5 beds in a room with a loft. The bathrooms are tiled with stones, the water pressure could be better, and the best birdwatching is outside the dorms in a hammock. They have it set: just far enough away from town so they can charge a little more at the restaurant and in the bar, but it’s worth it for meeting travellers for conversation or hiking partners, watching a movie if it rains, shoot some pool, play ping-pong or enjoy a game on a life-size chess table. Maybe the receptionist or bartender is continuing their travels and you could be lucky enough to spend a few months at this Hosteria.

A bit more expensive than in town, but huge portions. Mostly peruvian dishes, german dishes and some pizza and pasta. The bar opens at 7pm with some strong cocktails. Interesting the first night, but once you’ve tried the vegetarian options there isn’t much excitement. (The spaetzle is good, the other vegetarian german dish is disgusting).

Vegetarian Restaurant
About a block east of the plaza, this friendly Belgium-Ecuadorian couple cook up some good vegetarian food that is a nice break from the carne de soya Peruvian joints. She makes nice quiches, a mild curry, big beautiful salads and more. The menu (soup and entree) is $3.50 US.

East of town, across the river, this place has CHARACTER. Shanta is from Cuenca but he’s a snake-owning moonshining cowboy with a big ole’ mustache. His papas fritas are the best, you have about 7 bowls of stuff to dip them in. The pizza’s decent, the spaghetti with mushrooms is good and beware of the snake juice, it’s strong. His wife is one of the best massuses in town. The only real bar in town and a fun place to hang out.

Jardin Escondido
Mexican food. Comforting and delicious. The quesadilla and nachos are small portions and a bit disappointing, though the burrito is delicious. Watch out, their cat is the most loving cat in the world and will jump on your lap and demand petting while you are eating.

La Terraza
In the plaza, this place is touted as having Italian, Thai and Mexican plates. There is NO thai food in this joint, there’s a lo-mein dish that is gigantic and okay. The quesadillas are cheesy with a side of beans and the burrito is also delicious. Don’t order the hummus, it’s not hummus.

Natural Yogurt
Tempeh burgers for a dollar! Don’t order the potato spinach dish, it’s strange and disgusting (at least to my palate). In the plaza.

THE place for yummy chocolate, muffins, granola and whole grain bread. On the weekends he’s offering pizza, pasta and lasagna. Sadly, my craving for lasagna was unfulfilled since it was full of meat. The cookies are all shortbread cookies (sesame good, chocolate chip strange). I’m glad they are there to fill the unique niche. Located south of the plaza past the church.


Piedad has the best deal in town. She works out of Jardin Escondido or out of her house (Agua de Hierro, east of the plaza) for the same price. $10 per hour for a full body massage. It’s Shiatsu style and her hands are strong. Worth every penny. If you get the massage at the Jardin, it may be a bit chilly and no music. Out of her house she burns incense, candles and has music, but her daughter will barge in and she may stop the massage to answer the door. Shanta’s wife operates out of Shanta’s in her own little round massage house. Also incense, soft lighting and music, she is a small woman and uses her entire body when she gives a full body massage. Trained in Shiatsu and Physical Therapy, she will rip your arms out of socket, twist your neck and climb on top of you to put all her body weight for the best back massage ever. I never felt so good after a massage, and having it be $11 for 75 minutes, I wish I had more time to return everyday. At Madre Tierra, it’s VERY expensive if you are not a guest, but if you are a guest, you get 50% off the prices (which makes it still pricier than town). The combo deal of 5 treatments is great and worth it if you get the discount. Steam vapor and mud baths are the most intense and fun and cleansing of the bunch.

Short Review of Lodging/Food in Cajamarca, Peru

Complejo Turistico Banos del IncaThis place has expensive bungalows (sl. 120). We rented in the un-gated alburgue (sl.60 for a 6 bed room (bunks!) with private bath). The beds were comfortable, the staff was a bit manic (upon checking in at 6am, the front desk person told us the night is based on 24 hours…meaning we’d have to check out at 6am the next day. Luckily, the woman working the next morning told us we had until 1pm). It was quiet except for the rowdy baptism party that was happening in the banquet hall. Our window overlooked a beautiful garden and they let us use the kitchen to make our own dinner. Nice location if you want to wake up and have a baño first thing in the morning (4:30am-8pm); and it only costs sl. 0.50 to ride the combi into the center of Cajamarca or one hour by foot.

Hostal Plaza (located in the Plaza de Armas in town)
sl. 25 for a “double” room with a shared bathroom and frigidly cold showers.
This old, rickety wooden building has two internal courtyards filled with artisan shops. The beds are decent, the room is clean. The only strange thing is that we asked for a doble and we got a room with 4 beds. There was a doble available the following night that had 2 beds…same price. The front desk was friendly and will hold the room key for you while you explore the town. They will also hold your baggage in a locked room after the 1pm check out time.

Hostal Las Tejas (Amazonas 700 block)
When most of the rooms were filled in the budget hostals, we found this hostal (sl. 38, hot water) and upon asking for a double, we got a room with 3 beds..all of them painfully uncomfortable. If you want to know what it’s like to sleep on sheet metal and have dead spiderwebs in every corner of the room, this is your place. It’s clean on the surface, though (no cockroaches) and it’s set back from the road so there isn’t too much street noise. (Although our room was against the parking lot behind the building and we heard the cars coming and going).

Heladeria Holanda
Yum! This ice cream puts the D’Anfria on every corner to shame. It’s locally made ice cream with local highland fruit. My favorites were pushgay (just like huckleberries) and poroporo (a tart orange creamsicle flavor). There’s one on the plaza de armas and one across from the Banos del Inca (and another one, but I forgot where it was). sl. 3 for a sugar cone with two scoops for the perfect tummyache.

Vegetarian Restaurant (400 or 300 block of Puga)
This place has almost the same carta as most of the veggie restaurants in Lima. Most things are with the soya de carne or the flat fillet of soya (but it tastes like wheat gluten). The best deal is the menu, sl. 2.50 for breakfast and dinner and sl. 3.50 for lunch. My dinner was a vegetable soup and locro de zapallo (a nice orange stew of squash and potatoes on rice). The burger is strange, the lomo del jugo is delicious, the special juice is amazing and tastes like peanut butter.

Don Paco (Puga 726)
This place was crowded with Peruvians and gringos. The carta was a bit on the pricey side but the food was delicious and the presentation was pretty. Order the caldo verde (sl. 6), which is a green soup with potatoes and local cajamarca cheese. The greens are unclear: cilantro, parsley, and perhaps huacatay (a mint like herb). The lentil burger is hearty and on good bread (ask for aji to kick it up). Don’t get the chicha morada, it’s grossly overpriced and not worth it. Spend sl. 0.50 on the street for a pint instead of sl.3 at Don Paco.

New York Pizza (Puga 1045)
A medium to thin crust, lots of toppings and plenty of cheese to make you miss pizza back home. They even understand the concept of large pizzas. (In Huanchaco the large pizza was a 12″). There’s a guy who tosses the dough in the air to stretch it and it’s all made right in front of you. Good prices, yummy pizza.

Market (North of the Plaza de Armas, across the river).
Don’t stop when you first see the fruit and veggie vendors, keep heading straight and left until you reach the tarp covered, dense market with vendors on both sides. The people before don’t post their prices, won’t weigh your produce for you and basically rip you off without a smile. At the covered market, the people are friendlier, nicer and you can easily get everything you need for a packed lunch or simple breakfast.

Portland, OR: city of vegan sin

Husband and I recently spent a weekend in Portland to visit a friend and experience a new city. Portland has been touted as the “old Seattle” or what Seattle used be like before everyone got dependent on cars and yuppified and decided they didn’t want to make friends with outsiders. I’m not bitter :) There’s plenty wonderful about Seattle, but this post is about Portland. It seems the average age is more mid-20′s in Portland. It may just be my view, but Seattle seems very early-mid-30s.

Portland is the second greenest city in the WORLD, just behind Iceland. It’s got parks, trees, light rail, buses that are numerous and used, bike lanes and it’s pretty flat compared to Seattle. Which means more people could handle the bike riding. I saw a lot more people out on bikes for joy rides at all times of the day, which seemed like fun. I guess you can always feel like a 12 year old on a bicycle in Portland. We didn’t ride bikes on our trip, but walked a lot, checked out all the mini-neighborhoods and played frisbee and took a nap in Washington Park (which has an amazing Arboretum, hiking trails etc. And it’s on top of a big hill with views of the city).

Portland is also the #1 vegetarian large-city in the US, and I believe it. FoodFight Grocery has a vegan foodie’s guide to Portland, which I printed out and we visited a bunch on the list. We ate at Blossoming Lotus (which has it’s main restaurant on Kauai, HI and I’ve been cooking from their cookbook lately) and I had an all-raw dinner there. My body felt the difference eating raw in just one meal; but I’m not ready to go all Woody Harrelson on ya. I’m still excited and learning about the vegan cuisines. It’s amazing. I’ve always said that by becoming vegetarian I’ve never felt like I’ve been denying myself food. In fact, I feel I eat a greater variety of grains, protein sources and produce while being a vegetarian. Back when I was ignorant and had not been introduced to Vegan with a Vengeance, I thought vegans were the ones denying themselves food, oh those extremists! But the more I learn about the dairy industry directly connecting to the veal/hamburger etc etc and the more I cook vegan somehow, someway, even MORE doors have opened for me that I didn’t think possible. I’m really enjoying cooking my way through VWAV and husband agrees that vegan food is tasty. Enough of that rant, we ate WELL. I was very surprised to find 99% of the restaurants we went into proudly stated on their menus they can make most items vegan on their menus. We sampled some amazing biscuits and almond gravy, microbrews galore and vegan soft serve ice cream. If you want a rundown on the food experiences in detail, come to the foodblog.

Our friend had a dodgeball tournament that weekend as well, so we checked out a few games. Apparently dodgeball is HUGE in Portland, but not as big as kickball. There’s more than one division. Being 12 is really where it’s at.

We considered joining the mondo croquet party but we didn’t have any wonderland clothing nor a sledgehammer nor bowling balls. It was a giant croquet party in the Pearl District and we stopped by and checked it out, but I enjoyed more than anything just walking around the city, through the Saturday market, people watching, and just getting a vibe of the city.

And the vibe seems good and friendly. I estimate that 50% of the people have dogs and walk them a lot–we saw a lot of dogs in restaurant cafes, especially in Alberta. There’s doggie water dishes everywhere. I love all the unique buildings converted into bars, restaurants, movie houses (thank you McMennamins!). It was definitely strange having most buildings one story tall and all the large victorian houses (mmm, turrets!). I’ve gotten used to Seattle’s bungalows and high-rise condos. It still felt big to me because I didn’t really get a lay of the land, but it is smaller than Seattle, which is nice. I definitely am ready for something smaller than Seattle–4 years in the Emerald City has worn me out from city-living, especially all the driving. I look forward to the change of being in a rural place without all the noise, crowds, and intensity that pulses in cities.

Portland also touted as the most breweries in a city in the US, at 28. I have visited 2. I think I shall return there to drink more beer and enjoy their vegan fare another day. And another random fact: Portland has possibly the most strip clubs per capita of any us city. How does such a little city have soo many “mosts”?

To sum it up: if you are a dog-owning, beer-drinking vegan stripper, you better head to Portland!