Well here we are, first 3 weeks in Peru and they have flown on by. Sonia and I have done so much and we are excited to share some of our favorite stories with you from our travels.
We started our trip with a few days in Lima doing walking tours, eating some amazing food, checking out local markets, and doing a cooking class with a chef who has worked in a few Michelin Star restaurants. The food was our favorite part of this city by far. The octopus in the first picture below was one of the best foods I have tasted. The cooking class we did was very unique too. We met Diego at the market in town where he showed us around the the various vendors picking out fruits, veggies and fish for our meal. We asked about a few we had never seen before and he went ahead and bought them for us to try. We then went back to his house where we helped him cook and prepare a fruit salad, 9 different types of Peruvian potatoes, 4 different cheeses, fresh ceviche and Pisco sours. He actually graciously spent an extra couple hours with us because we were all having such a great time chatting and drinking piscos together. The whole experience was something we will never forget.
Our next stop was Cusco, known for being the gateway to Machu Picchu and the Incan capital until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. We were amazed by the architecture here, learning on our walking tour that most of the buildings are Spanish style because the Spanish conquered the Incan land centuries ago. They tore down many buildings, then reused the materials to rebuild in their sytle. For instance, the 3rd photo is of a church, built using Incan stones by the Spanish. In fact, it actually took about 70 years to be completed. There are still some Incan walls standing, which actually have lasted many earthquakes while the Spanish walls have crumbled and required rebuilding. Their technique was to use large stones and build up like a trapezoid (thicker at the Botton and slanted about 4 degrees inwards). This created a stronger base which could withstand the seismic activity of the country. We were in Cusco for 2 stints and both times it was breathtaking to walk around and enjoy the beautiful structures.
We ventured off from Cusco to a small mountain town called Ollantaytambo which is known for being a train stop to Machu Picchu. We left with the expectation of only staying 2 days or so and ended up staying for almost a week. The first night we arrived we went for a walk and ended up down an alleyway, where we found a eco-lodge much nicer than the hostel we were staying in. We met our new friend Calvin who invited us to go on a hike the next day which is where our fun began.
We hiked up to Intipunku ("Sun gate") which was some of the best views we have had on our trip. We learned about a couple different traditions and ceremonies which we have since practiced here multiple times whenever we are in nature. One of the most amazing ceremonies is for Mother Earth (Pachamama). You take 3 coca leaves and set your intentions for the day and give thanks to the Apus (mountain spirits). Then you bury the leaves in the ground, as well as leave any other offerings, like some fruit/nuts you may have brought for trail snacks, for the spirits as well. We found that each time we have done this, we were given great weather. There are stories of people who throw rocks in lakes or jump in the rivers and massive rains and floods follow suit. Generally, the Quechua people pay their respects to nature very regularly through ceremonies such as this, to ensure they are living in harmony with their surroundings and constantly giving thanks.
While in Ollantaytambo we also did a trip to Patacancha, which is a small mountain village. The family who hosted us cooked a meal with hot rocks under a pile of dirt which was unbelievably delicious. They also taught us the process of cleaning, dying, and spinning alpaca fur into yarn. They then helped us create our own alpaca fur bracelets. This was a very humbling experience as the weaving was not easy, even for a simple bracelet design. The people were so talented, happy, and giving.
There are a handful of different ways to get to Machu Picchu - by train, the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, and a few other treks. We opted for the 4 day Salkantay Trek as it is the most naturey trek of the few. We left at 5 am and started hiking uphill to our first base camp. Our basecamp for the first day was at the bottom of the mountain from Humantay Lake. This was a glacier lake at the base of the mountain. We stayed in the cute little huts with glass ceilings where we could see the mountains and stars from bed. The lake is also where we had our first experience of people disrespecting the lake and rain following. It was sunny the whole hike up until we got to the top, where we saw someone skipping rocks, and 2 people stripped down to go swimming in the lake. Right away, clouds swept over the mountains and it started to rain. When we got the the lake, we quickly pulled out the coca leaves and did the ceremony giving thanks for the opportunity to the Apus with a few other people. The rain subsided within a couple minutes. Again, others tried to jump in a while later only to have all the guides stop them. When getting ready, we had some rain start again then stop as soon as the people went back to their bags to put their clothes back on. At that moment I became a firm believer in the mountain spirits.
The next day we had our hardest day, hiking the Salkantay Pass (15,200 feet/4650 meters elevation). This trek was tough as we had never been close to this elevation before. I am so proud of Sonia and I for taking this hike on like champs. Salkantay translates to "I am savage" in the native tongue which we now see why. The mountain is massive, home to daily avalanches, and is seen as the protector of Cusco. The region is unique as one half is a very mountainous area and the other side fo the mountain is rainforest- all part of the natural diversity of the land here. After making the trek up, we headed down for 2 days through the rainforest until we reached the town outside the gates of Machu Picchu. After 3 days of hiking and 46+ miles, we were happy to take a bus to the top to view the sacred city. The tour was fun although we felt it was very touristy, not as much to our liking of travel.
Ausangate Mountain and the 7 Lagoons:
Right after the trek I only wanted to see more mountains. Giving myself one rest day, I left for the Ausangate mountain to do a solo hike to the 7 lagoons, while Sonia stayed back in Cusco and opted for a more laidback day catching up on some R&R. These were some of the most unreal glacier lakes I have ever seen. The hike went up to a new PR of 16,000 feet to the upper overlook. I will let the photos do the talking here.
Fun facts we have learned:
Machu Picchu is not the largest city, but is the one with the sacred temples and was home to ~500 people. Still to this day they do not know why or where the people left to when escaping. It is speculated that some of the people removed from society in the Brazilian rainforest could be distant descendants of the early Incan civilizations.
Coca leaves are rich in nutrients and have high quantities of calcium and potassium.
Chicha is a drink that many locals share, but it is relatively rare to find. When you see a stick with a red ball at the end outside of a house, you know chicha is nearby. The corn based homemade fermented drink is only 1 sol (~$0.25) and comes in glasses probably the size of 1.5 liters. It is quite delicious in my opinion - we were lucky enough to share some Chicha with the locals in Ollantaytambo.
There are over 4,000 different types of potatoes in Peru, compared to the USA which sells about 200 different types.
The terraces seen throughout the country are used to plant different types of crops. This was a sort of testing ground for the Incan people, where they got to grow different things at different elevations. The lower terraces are more humid so they get different crops than the upper ones.
Some of the things I liked/learned most from the first 3 weeks:
Some of the people in the most remote places do not care or sometimes even use money. Their happiness comes from the food on their plate and the people they share time with.
Giving thanks to the land and giving more than taking when outside to be in equilibrium with nature.
Sonia and I make a damn good team.
Altitude sickness is no joke but overcoming a big mountain is such a thrill.
Alpaca clothing is so warm and comfortable.
Until next time!
-Jason & Sonia