Monday, October 31, 2016

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I'm not talking about leaving Japan here, I'm talking about moving from my apartment.

I've heard of a 7 year itch, but I've got a 5.5 year itch to move somewhere a bit nicer. Nicer how? Well, my spot now is pretty legit, the size is good, and it is near a few stations. But there are a few things that suck.
  • The bathroom is ancient, a tiny thing meant for a little old lady at best. The tub just takes up space. It is impossible to keep clean.
  • There is no view. Not only that, the window is frosted, so during the cold months I get nothing to look at.
For reference, here is a video I took a long time ago:

I'd like to move toward the Shimokitazawa area, which isn't too far from here. A real estate guy at a bar I frequent is helping me out this time. We found a few places that fit my criteria. The first one looked great on paper. A modern building, designer style. The layout is a bit like my current place, without the separate kitchen room, something I don't really feel I need. Japanese kitchens are never nice, and an unventilated room with no windows that takes up 1/3 of the apartment is a waste of space. I'd rather have a smaller kitchen, counter style.

This one is on the 1st floor, but it is actually a sub basement. So no natural light. And the size is just small enough to not work. Not seen in the video was a walk-in closet, which was neat. Cost for this place is around 130,000 yen ($1240)


This one has a decent layout, but nothing inside was that special. The awesome point being the rooftop balcony. If I really put my mind to it, I could turn that into an amazing deck / chillout space. I don't really have parties out here, so the idea of hosting barbecues and what not would probably never see the light of day. Cost is 150,000 yen ($1430). It's also next to a major road, so noisy AF.

Keep lookin!

Vertical filming, ごめん!I'm digging this spot. Up on the 9th floor of a 15 story building. The view is nice, looking north. You can see a bit of the Shinjuku skyline, but I just like being able to see the sky for once. A bit concerned about the layout, as it has strange diagonal geometry going on. How to visualize a bed?

Lay down some paper! Hmmmm, this might work. I'll probably never close that door, so if I change my current dark sheets for something light it would blend in nicely. Cost is 153,000 yen ($1457).

But wait, there's more!

The same apartment up on the 14th floor. Baller! The price goes up 7000 yen ($66) a month, but you don't have to pay the reikin, which is essentially a gift to the landowner of 1 month rent. So if you do the math, it is almost the same cost over a 2-year period.

Of course, none of these spots have a place for my motorcycle, so that is an extra 5000 - 10,000 yen a month for a spot at a local parking garage.

Time to spend some of that hard-earned ramen money on a life upgrade?

Monday, October 03, 2016

Peru . . . Let's Do and Let's Don't

Peru - ペル

Welcome to another in the Japan Bash travel series, Let's DO and Let's DON'T. I'm in no way an accomplished travel writer, but I think a quick run-down of my experiences could be helpful to some. This time around . .  Peru!

I realize that no one reads this stuff (My Dos and Don't of Istanbul, for example, has a total of 74 page views). So thanks for reading, even though this post is super long and kind of TL;DR status.


You'll undoubtedly fly into Lima. I only spent one day here, so I can't say much. The city is super bipolar, as you'll see from the drive from the airport. Rundown slums become uber-luxurious oceanfront developments. So DO stay in the nice part of town.


The only activity I did was rent a bicycle and cycle along the waterfront. DO it! The cliff-side park stretches about five miles in any direction, with dedicated cycling lanes for your enjoyment. DON'T crash into any of the Pokemon Go players who, for some reason, tend to walk in the cycling lanes, eyes fixed to their phones.


You can rent a bike next to the big shopping mall in Miraflores. Ten bucks or so for a few hours.


Lima is considered South America's gourmet capitol. DO get involved with all the food. Above, Maido fuses Japanese and Peruvian. It's legit. I'll post some food shots at the end to the post.


The goal, like most goals in Peru, was Machu Picchu. So that takes us to Cusco, the gateway to the Incan heartland.


I wanted to hike the Inca Trail, a task that takes about 4 days. But, even with 9 month advance notice, the permits were all gone. Because of that, we had a lot of free time in the area. What is there to DO in Cusco?


There's a bit, but not as much as you would think.


We actually had a pretty good itinerary set out, an itinerary that was destroyed by a planned labor strike at the base of Machu Picchu. So instead of a gradual move towards the ancient Incan site, we had to backtrack, then go forward, then back again, followed by a 2am, 2-hour taxi to make it to the only train still left with any seats. Which brings me to another point. DON'T take private car tours. One of our drivers was the craziest dude I've seen in a while, a guy who insisted on driving on the wrong side of the cliff road around blind turns at high speeds, only moving out of oncoming traffic when lives depended on it. The other driver we were with drove below the speed limit (posted at 35 km/h) and tailgated a diesel bus for about 20 minutes at one point. I saw plenty of comfortable looking group tours whose drivers found a healthy medium of speed and safety.


How much time to spend in each place? I'd say 1 full day in Cusco to get used to the altitude, then a day of touring and sightseeing with a night spent in Ollantaytambo. Then take a late start for the train up to Machupicchu Pueblo, aka Aguas Calientes, which is the city at the base of Machu Picchu. Next day, up to the site at sunrise, then back to Cusco.


If you arrive on a day ending with "Y", someone will be celebrating Jesus. Enjoy.


Got a spare day in Cusco? DO rent a motorcycle. I saw a place somewhere online where you could rent KTM or BMW adventure bikes for around $200 a day. If you get a big bike like this, DON'T crash, I'm sure the deductible is huge. Or go with my pick.


A busted-up Honda NX4. Kind of a piece of shit, but lightweight, only $65 for the day, and the type of bike you could really thrash around. Top speed was only about 100 kilometers and hour, but that isn't important.


Here's my quick rundown of how to enjoy a day of motorcycle touring. I rented from a place called Cusco Moto Tour Peru. DO go with a rental place that is in their general area. If you look at a Google Map you might understand better, but you want to avoid anywhere in Cusco that isn't very close to the road to Pisac. DON'T get stuck in Cusco traffic. Take the 28G to Pisac, then go from there. DO return the same way you came. DON'T return along the 3S highway, it is full of trucks that will kill you. Driving habits aren't as bad as, say, China, but they aren't so safe for someone on two wheels.


North, and especially northeast, is super remote and full of fun roads. This bike cost me $65 for the day, and I spent about $5 for gas, which is like $12 a gallon out here. I probably could have haggled down to $50, but I don't really care for that nonsense.


DO stop for a photo now and then.


I'm a big fan of DON'T take medication for the altitude, but please DO take care. Anything above 3000 meters and you won't be able to catch your breath after walking a flight of stairs.


DON'T get stuck on this mountain after 5:00pm, they literally lock the gate on you. If you DO get stuck, they come by once an hour to let people out. FYI, this is in Ollantaytambo, a place you should stay a night.


Ollantaytambo from said mountain.


DO your shopping once and be done with it. Protip, most of the alpaca stuff at the markets is fake, wool at best woven with rayon to give a smooth texture. The boutique shops, like Kuna or Sol Alpaca all have shops at the Lima airport, so you can just buy it on your way home. Or just buy from their online store and pay an extra couple bucks; you're not getting any great deals that I know about by being at the source.


On your Cusco-Ollantaytambo journey, this salt farm was super rad.


As was Moray.


Chinchero has a neat church (cathedral?) built on top of an Incan temple. As an added bonus, there was some sort of Jesus festival going on. Fun!


After the salt farm and Jesus place, I suffered from a bit of heat exhaustion. Lack of sunscreen and hydration, or personal proximity to religious icons? DO stay super hydrated and out of the sun.


DO go to Machu Picchu, duh!


DON'T bother with the hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Take the bus like everyone else. It actually took the same amount of time as the $12 bus ride, because of the huge bus line wait, but the hike was essentially a boring stair climb.






I've got nothing to say about Machu Picchu. Just walk around and enjoy the shit out of it. Find some shade and take a nap. There are hella tourists, but you can find some spots up high to chill.


One more thing about Cusco, DON'T get a massage. What I'm about to write is kind of fucked. Trigger warnings include prostitution and child endangerment. Anyways, there are these massage girls all around the main square. My feet were royally jacked after a few weeks of walking 12 miles a day (according to my iPhone health monitor) in the dry altitude. I figured a pedicure would fix things up (I had some cracking on my heels that was getting painful). Sure enough, about $5 will get you a mediocre pedi. While my massage lady was doing her thing, her 3 year old daughter came in. Super cute, and while the industrial strength pumice stone was sanding away at my granite-like calluses, we played kitchen and "discussed" which Disney princess was the best. So far, so good. No problems. Then, at some point, another customer comes in, goes behind one of the curtains, and proceeds to get an obvious handjob. I don't want to tell people how to live their life, but maybe don't expose your toddler to that aspect of this cruel, cruel world. Anyways, kind of something I wish I hadn't seen.

DO drink.


Pisco, Peru's local drink, is everywhere. The ubiquitous Pisco Sour is often too sweet, so go with it in your cocktail of choice.


DO go to the Pisco Museum in Cusco, place was lit. After a night there I now have new friends in Columbia and Miami. Hangover was messed up though.




Central in Lima - DO!


Ranked the #1 restaurant in South America, and it fully lives up to the hype. Each course highlights a certain elevation in the country's diverse topography. Tubers from 4000 meters. Uni from -5 meters. Each elevation had at least two things I'd never heard of, like edible medicinal clay for desert.



Maido in Lima - DO!

Mix of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. A few of the dishes were solid 10s, while almost everything else was up there as well. They just got ranked #2 in South America for all you checklist people.


Cuy (guinea pig) - DON'T!

I couldn't figure out how to eat it, and there isn't much meat on that body. Said meat tasted like oily duck, which was actually kind of nice. This was at a shitty roadside spot in the middle of nowhere, so maybe I should have gone with a more respectable place.


Astrid y Gaston in Lima - DON'T!

Wow, one of the worst meals I've had in a while. The only part of the course I really enjoyed was the bread. Photo below.

I should justify my opinion, as this spot is very well regarded in the gastronomy community. Essentially, this was a course meal that couldn't be eaten without the wine pairing, which I didn't go for. Each dish was overly fatty or overly seasoned. Fine if you are washing it down with alcohol, not so much with water.


Another point, the service wasn't informed about the food at all. One dish, Cuy Pekinese (Peking guinea pig) caught my attention. I tried asking how it was cooked, and the waiter, annoyed at my bothersome inquiries, replies, "It is very good." Then he walked away. I was genuinely interested if they cook it in the way one would cook Peking Duck, which is a complicated process of blowing hot air, rinsing in water, braising, hanging, etc. When I asked again, all I got was a, "Yes, Peking."


One more along the same thread was this sea urchin dish. Uni on Japanese soba. Besides the uni being some of the worst I've had in my life (didn't know uni could have sinewy threads in it), once again the server dropped some gems. I asked about the urchin, if there was a particular part of Peru that harvests more of the stuff. He replied with, "Chinese spaghetti." Not even an answer to my question, but did he just call soba Chinese spaghetti?

A food photographer friend of mine in Japan was shocked that I didn't speak with the management after this, but I make a rule of never complaining about food in the presence of said food.


That bread course was really nice.

Gaston is a famous chef in Peru, credited with bringing Peruvian cuisine into the light. He now has an entire empire of branded shops and TV shows under his belt. From chocolate shops to ceviche shops to burgers. So my impression of him is an Emeril Lagasse or Guy Fieri sort of thing.

Anyways, the dude's burger shop was legit. DO go there.