Escapes: Where to find the soul of Peru


Shopping done? Mine neither. But you know that holiday sales have gotten out of hand when you get an email from the Richard Nixon Foundation offering you 15% off in its museum store. I am not making that up.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Today’s newsletter is a veritable shopping arcade of great ideas for vacations and information on how to make those trips easier.

We have lovely suggestions from two Times staff writers who will direct you to lesser-known places in Peru, and we offer a weekend getaway that takes you to San Francisco where you surely will see the light.


At the other end of the climatological spectrum, we give you desert oases and a dreamy Tahitian vacation that opened one man’s eyes to what’s important. Plus we’ll open your eyes to how a seemingly innocent act can make you vulnerable to identity theft, then scold you (mildly) over something else you’re doing that’s making you vulnerable to regular old theft.

The good news: This newsletter’s a steal, even at twice the price. More on that below.

Different parts and visions of Peru

Times staff writer Thomas Curwen and his wife, Margie, visited Peru and left with a deeper, if incomplete, understanding of the day-to-day existence, because “everywhere we turned, we were challenged to see beyond the surface of everyday life,” he said in an email.

He recalled how, on their last day in Peru, guide Edgar Frisancho explained his understanding of Incan and Andean cosmology.

“Well before the Inca, the people of this region honored their dead with a burial rite that included entire households with presumably many of their prized possessions. These tombs played a symbolic role in the journey to afterlife,” Frisancho said. “Who were these people,” he asked, “with perceptions of life and death so different from ours?

“We lead our lives based on our perception of death, but Andean culture was not afraid of death,” he continued. “We are. We are worried about death because we love life. But here, we can be reminded that eternity is in the present moment. Ancient cultures teach us to be alive in our lives.”

Curwen’s note to me ended this way: “If eternity could ever exist in the present moment, surely it was here at 12,500 feet, somewhere between heaven and earth.”

Read his fascinating piece about the constant balancing act that is life in Peru.


Where real life dwells in the Andes

Times staff writer Maya Lau found her authentic piece of Peru in the Sacred Valley. Her gateway was a pair of culinary experiences — one that was almost performance art and another that held with tradition to create a masterpiece of a meal. Her prose just as delicious as her meals.

A more perfect Union

We speak, of course, of San Francisco’s Union Square, which is already pretty perfect but “ups its game,” Dorothy O’Donnell writes, around the holidays. It’s a good starting point for a weekend getaway that lets you live the fairy tale, complete with ice skating, gingerbread houses and kittens and puppies.

A refresher course

Desert oases just don’t make sense. You’re in a very hot place and suddenly, there is life, there is water, there are plants and there is relief. Mike Morris writes about five places in California where you can find these unexpected, lush spots.

Life lessons about what matters most

We are privileged to run a column called Departure Points, a personal essay about how travel has changed you. There have been some dandies — a poignant one about a daughter visiting France with her veteran father, a hilarious one about the humiliation of travel. But my new favorite is Jim Payne’s tale of how a trip to Tahiti, celebrating his triumph over cancer, taught him a lesson that took a lifetime to learn.


The perils of USB ports

Who knew a free charging station could threaten your personal data? I certainly didn’t, until I was awakened to the practice of so-called juice jacking, which, by the malevolent magic of malware, can steal your phone or tablet’s data. If you’re like most people, you have a lot of info on your device that thieves are only too happy to share with the world. On the Spot delves into that danger.

What we’re reading

The movie “Harriet,” about Harriet Tubman’s fight to free hundreds of slaves, is but one story of courage; Nancy Adams’ is another. Writing for Atlas Obscura, Sabrina Imbler details the history of Uxbridge, Mass., where Adams lived out her 93 years and is buried. Her grave, which had been forgotten, has now been accepted for inclusion in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

I laughed when I read “Nine Secrets I Never Knew About Airports Until I Worked at LAX” by Brandon Presser, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek. He worked with the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection and got a first-hand look at human behavior, which seems to change in an airport. Celebrities and snakes, dead people and discarded items, bomb scares and bottles of water that cost $6 — he details all of it. (Prepare to spend some time on this one: It also will direct you to a list of other “Things I Never Knew” stories about being a flight attendant, a personal shopper, manager of the high-roller suite in Vegas and more.)

One airline thinks people will love its food so much that they’ll pay for it on the ground too. What’s on the menu? Peanuts and Biscoff cookies? No, Jordan Valinsky reports for CNN Business. AirAsia’s restaurant in a mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, offers such meals as chicken rice and the airline’s signature dish, Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak, Valinsky writes. The airline is betting big on its menus, planning 100 such eateries in the next five years.

And in your other reading spare time ...

You’re already reading this newsletter, so we can’t really nag you about that. But if you like it, tell others to go to our newsletter center and check out other L.A. Times newsletters.

If you don’t like what you’re reading, tell me. Write a note to Or if you do like it, tell us that. If you think I blather on too much, tell us that too. All feedback is good.


If you were looking out the window as I am at the moment (touch-typing is a wonderful thing), you’re probably a little downcast. Weather can do that. But the Los Angeles Times is a great antidote. Yes, it tells about the world’s issues, but you’ll also find our Food staff’s 12 days of holiday cookies (please, someone make me those salted butterscotch thumbprints!), our holiday gift guide (I know what to buy the cats now) and an article by Alejandro Maciel about a woman intent on making sure the children of asylum seekers at the border have a school to attend. Do yourself a favor and lift your own spirits by subscribing. We thank you.

End paper

A reader recently described part of my style in this newsletter as “mother finger-wagging,” which wasn’t meant as a criticism but more of an observation. So, dear readers, you are warned: I’m bringing out that wagging finger once again. As my mom used to tell me before she’d swat me, “It’s for your own good.” (Fortunately for me, my mom was petite, and her hand stung about as much as a piece of tissue paper.)

The last newsletter went out on Thanksgiving, and all of the out-of-office messages bounced back to Judging from the number received, the good news is that you’re traveling. We applaud that.

The bad news: Some of you are sending up a digital flare that you’re not home. You might as well keep a sign on your house that says, “Come on in. We’re not home. Take what you need. We’re happy to share.”

One bounceback noted that the subscriber was traveling internationally. Another said the person was currently out of town.

Bring on the crowbars.

I like to call the times we live in the Age of Information Leakage. Actually, I don’t like to call it that, but that’s what it is. Looking for a friend’s address online the other day (too lazy to dig out my address book — do people have those anymore?), I found it in about a nanosecond in several places — alarmingly, because she is very security-conscious.


As we prepare for the year-end holidays, please be conscious of what your out-of-office (or OOO) message says. I did chuckle at one that said the person was “out of the officer” and another’s that said the person was on vacation through July 2 — that’s a heckuva break, and I want to work where that person works. (Old OOOs are certainly the result of pre-trip brain scramble; I know from embarrassing experience.)

Please be aware that you are broadcasting your whereabouts to the world. Most of the world is nice, but there’s a certain percentage that will profit from your honesty. You don’t have to lie. You just don’t have to tell the whole truth.

And remember, wherever you are, travel safely and well and know that we’ll be here to welcome you home.