Peruvian Adventure- Day 7 (Saqsayhuaman)

2 06 2009

This morning we woke up to a beautiful sky, dotted with small white plumes. And as the sun played behind the clouds, we went from being hot to cold, to hot again while we waited outside for our Sprinters. Forgetting to bring along a light jacket while day-tripping in Cusco is a mistake because as soon as you think it’s too hot, the sun (in keeping with Murphy’s Law) goes into brief hiding again and the mercury surrenders 15 degrees. This was simply a minor, tedious inconvenience given the marvel we were about to experience. And to me, anytime the sun is shining (albeit intermittent)…it’s a wonderful day!

We headed off to Saqsayhuaman (think…sexywoman) and some wondered how this ruin (which has several different spellings) could impress or offer anything more than we’d already seen. I mean, after Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu what’s really left? During the drive into Cusco the day before, we actually got a quick glimpse of the ruin and it certainly didn’t offer any major “wow” from the road. But (and I had to inform my guests of this at the time) at Saqsayhuaman, it’s all about the scale. “Just wait”, I told them. We had already seen some massive stones at Ollantaytambo but these were even more massive. And once we arrived at the ruin, a quick survey of the rolling hills that the Inca had to negotiate caused all mouths to be completely agape with awe as we stood beside them. These stones were 10-12 ft tall and we were informed that there was another 6 feet below the ground! One of the stones (the biggest in the ruin) was said to weigh as much as a 727!  And let’s not forget, the stones weren’t simply placed in some random order. They were, once again, all interlocking and beveled and smoothed to fit perfectly with all the surrounding stones! The whole experience was unbelievable and we all joked about the aliens again, coming down to offer their extra-terrestrial help in the stone transportation effort! But what an insult not to simply give the credit that these geniuses so deserve. And I had to make that point aloud. We still don’t know exactly how they did it…but they indeed accomplished, some 500 years ago, this monumental construction without any of the technology we would need today! And the mystery is what makes it so remarkable.

If Cusco was created in the shape of a puma, Saqsayhuaman comprised its head. And the ruin is shaped like a zig zag or lightening bolt. It turns out that for all the hoopla that the sun god, Inti receives in Peru, the lightening god, Illapa is more powerful. Why? Because the lightening god shows himself day and night! Ahhhh…riiiiight!

After moving on to explore the upper section of the ruin, we walked across the large, grassy promenade to some natural caves near an ancient aquifer. I handed out flashlights and we tiptoed through the tight turns of the caves. We then continued down and around to the street, Puma Curco which follows along the spine of the puma and the 20-minute walk provides amazing views of Cusco below with its red sea of tiled roof tops.

Upon arriving back at Casa Andina, I reflected a bit on what we’d all just seen. I couldn’t help but think about human history and how for all we think we know, we’re really just speculators when it comes to recreating the past. And while we pat ourselves on the back for all our technological advancements, we lose a connection to many of the innate tools and power bestowed on us by our “creator/s”.

All that philosophising made me hungry and my great friend and guide extraordinaire Ernesto, from Ausangate suggested a local joint for lunch. Lima is known for it’s ceviche and I can personally attest to its deliciousness but I had to admit I was more than surprised with the ceviche at El Paisa. The food was fantastic! And to boot the serving of Leche de Tigre was 3 times larger than any I’d had in Lima. It was a great lunch!

We met again later for dancing- it was my last night in Cusco after all! We went to two different clubs: Both Mythology and Mama Africa are local clubs just off the Plaza de Armas. They’re both great places to hear cool, dance mixes of raggae, raegaton, dance and hip-hop. Both of these clubs are frequented by backpackers and locals alike and are open ’til the wee hours of the following morning (I’m told).

This trip overall was beautiful, inspiring, moving and even challenging at times. And you can’t help but be changed by a destination such as this. It makes one question so much about so many things- not the least of which are history, human achievement, progress and what it means to live a truly purposeful, appreciative life. Peru and its people offered so much more than anything I’d imagined prior to going. Together, they are an experience worth their weight in gold and should be enjoyed by all who desire an adventure most unforgettable. Thanks for joining me at TripsWithChris and get ready to come along on my next adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands!


Peruvian Adventure- Day 6 (Pisac Market/Cusco)

9 05 2009

This morning we headed south toward Cusco. We made two stops along the way and the first was the famous Pisac Market. Pisac is the destination where travelers needing to purchase local souvenirs, gifts or pretty much anything for their peeps back home, get their retail therapy on! Mostly, the goods at Pisac are ceramics, textiles, jewelry and carved gourds. The prices are great if you’re willing to bargain and vendors here are more friendly than at Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). If you’re savvy, you’ll plan on making this stop on a Sunday when the market is at its most colorful- showcasing farmers, butchers and fishmongers dressed in traditional mestiza garb, selling their products. It’s quite the sight to see women carving up goat, lamb, beef and fish right in front of you and in the middle of everything!  

By the time we got there, I was hungry and made a beeline for Ulrike’s Cafe while my guests were out shopping.  Ulrike, the restaurant’s proprietor, is a European transplant who now calls Pisac home. Her restaurant has a welcoming staff and more important…a clean restroom! This is the place where you’ll find travelers eating, reading and/or preparing for further travel around Peru. You can donate books you no longer want to carry around or purchase one for yourself for next to nothing. She is super nice and always at the cafe making her great food. Normally in my world, I’m not a quiche eater. It’s just one of those dishes that never occurs to me as something to order. But when I’m in Pisac, I crave only one thing to eat…Ulrike’s quiche! It’s so good that in an entire season, I never ordered anything else- although I’ve heard the menu offers a whole host of tasty selections! After eating and chatting with Ulrike a bit, I left to spend the remainder of our time there participating in Pisac’s best past times…people-watching and picture-taking!

From Pisac we continued south to Awana Kancha. This co-op was similar to the one in Chinchero where we had weaving demonstrations from the Center for Traditional Textile of Cusco. The difference at Awana Kancha was that we got to see all 4 camelids: Alpaca, Llama, Guanaco and the famed Vicuna with its super-fine wool. We were given a short presentation by Lucho who, with his two brothers created the idea of Awana Kancha (translated: Palace of the Master Weaver) back in 1989. He informed us of the history of the animals and their importance as a source of  food and clothing in Pre-Columbian culture and the current peoples of Peru. We also were allowed to feed the adult llamas and alpacas some fresh alfalfa (their main food staple).  How fun that was! Finally, Lucho handed several of us baby bottles filled with milk and allowed us to feed the baby alpacas.  Trust me when I tell you….you’ve never seen anything cuter than a baby alpaca! After the feeding frenzy, a different type of mayhem took place when we were escorted to the gift shop where some of the finest baby alpaca and vicuna garments in Peru were available for purchase. Everything from sweaters, to table runners, to slippers, to hats, scarves and socks were at the ready and each with their own patterns- indicating the village they were from. And Lucho can tell you all about every pattern and village as if he was born there. Awana Kancha was  so fun!

After we left the living museum, we wound our way through the mountains a bit and finally began our descent into the “navel of the world“- Cusco.  This beautiful city was once the capital of the Inca Empire with its sister capital up north in Ecuador. From the hills above, Cusco reminded me of many European cities like Florence, Italy with all the red-tiled rooftops.  And of course, this Catholic-influenced city wouldn’t be complete without the customary cathedral in the main plaza.  It’s worth visiting- especially for the painting of a black Jesus and a portrayal of the Last Supper where the biblical participants are shown feeding on Cusco’s gastronomic delicacy…the Cuy! (guinea pig) Cusco’s original architecture however, offers a different twist.  Over the centuries, the Spanish tried to destroy all Inca architecture but were mostly unsuccessful given the scale of the stone complexes in the capital. Where they could, the Spanish built on top of the original stone foundation and the result over time is an entire city with shops, restaurants and hotels built on beautiful, original stonework- compliments of the Inca! 

We ate lunch at Incanto and its decor is replete with Inca stonework throughout the restaurant! We all marveled at it immediately upon entering and then sat down for another great meal.  We also embibed on two of Peru’s favorite drinks: The Algarrobina, a drink similar to a Brandy Alexander or Kahlua (with milk) and the national drink- the Pisco Sour (similar to a Margarita or Whiskey Sour but better in my opinion). Both drinks are delicious but the Pisco Sour is my favorite for sure.

From the restaurant we walked down original Inca streets and stopped outside Korincancha. This “castle” if you will, was once the seat of power for the Inca culture during their reign. The King and his Coya or Queen would have ruled here at this epicenter (or navel) of the kingdom. In fact, housed therein are the thrones where they actually sat. Pizarro and his minions had their collective eye on Koricancha as they’d heard there was  a treasure of gold here.  History says the capitol had sheets of gold hanging from the walls and life-sized animals and corn stalks made entirely of this precious metal! Amazingly, you can still see where the Inca used sap to glue the golden sheets to the walls! This stop is a definite while here. Other must-see’s are the MAP (Museo Arqeologico Peruano), the San Blas neighborhood where all the artists and expats hang out and the famous 12-sided stone. I went out later that night to enjoy the city and its nightlife which was great. Cusco, as well as being beautiful at night, is also very safe at night. As much as I am able to get into and enjoy the familiar hub bub of a metropolitan area like Lima, Cusco was my favorite city in Peru for sure. Oh and I almost forgot….the entire city of nearly half a million is made in the shape of a puma!  Enjoy the pics and see ya on Day 7!

Peruvian Adventure- Day 5 (Machu Picchu)

18 04 2009

Well needless to say, visiting Machu Picchu was the impetus for our guests booking this trip in the first place. In one of my earlier blogs, Pointing to Peru, I mentioned that visits to the country had virtually sky-rocketed since it was vouchsafed a spot on the “Seven Wonder’s of the World” list! So everyone met this day with a ton of excitement as we headed north to the Urubamba train station. 

One of the best aspects about this day was the train ride to Machu Picchu. I’ve found that in general people just enjoy trains to begin with. There’s something about the multiple cars, connected by huge interlocking steel pieces-  all being pulled by the prodigious locomotive. They seem to bring out the spirit of fun in everyone in a way that no other form of long-distance travel does. And those air horns stir my sense of nostalgia every time! PeruRail’s  narrow-gauge train to Machu Picchu takes a serpentine route, following the Urubama all the way to the town of Aguas Calientes– so named for the natural hot springs there. Along the way we saw more Inca ruins outside the left windows and glaciers outside the right. The vegetation also changed as we transitioned from the highlands into the cloud forest! Everyone loved the idea of going into a cloud forest- also referred to as the  eybrow of the jungle. “What’s a cloud forest?” several people asked. Just the sound of it conjured something mystical in our imaginations! In many respects, prior to this day much of the flora resembled that of the American Southwest with its aridity, cacti and agave’s. So when we started seeing rich, deep greens, bromeliads, wild orchids, begonias and ferns covering the steep cloud-laced mountainsides, it felt like King Kong was coming  any minute to hurl our toy train into the oblivion of Skull Island! In fact there would be nothing to spoil our visit to this ancient city, down in the eyebrow of the jungle!

Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we spilled out of the train and headed through the town’s tented maze of vendors, toward the two private shuttles that waited to drive us up to Muchu Picchu or “old mountain.” The 20-minute shuttle offers 13 switchbacks and as both the Urubamba river and Aguas Calientes shrank below us, we all became a bit giddy- laughing with excitement! Just a little further now!  

Once the zigzagging road finally reached the top, we all got out and as directed, we lathered up with sunscreen and bug spray. Both are an absolute necessity here. It only takes a few minutes to get sunburned, which could really put a damper on a few days of your adventure! Also the “noseeums” (an extraordinarily voracious insect) are normally out in full force at Machu Picchu. These seemingly invisible (hence the name) insects feed on the shorts-wearing tourist like a buffet in Vegas! I literally saw a young backpacker with hundreds of bites on her legs and had to offer my Benadryl out of sheer compassion. Normally I don’t believe in using DEET as it is dangerous to both humans and the environment. But while at this location, I’d wear a DEET suit if it existed! But alas, the perfect invention was still in the wish stage and I simply wore long pants and long sleeves and DEETed everything else.

Within minutes we were at the entrance, wide-eyed and smiling. For authenticity, we hired a local expert to take us around and explain the ruins. We started with a short hike that took us on part of the famed Inca Trail. This is quite special since most people never get the chance to hike it on their own. After huffing and puffing up the trail for a few minutes we came out on a ridge that looked down on the Machu Picchu citadel- giving us that incredible imagery that most had only seen in photos and film. WOW! The awe-inspiring ruins sprawled out just below us and the beautiful Wayna Picchu or “young mountain” in the background with the Urubamba River snaking around much further down. Like all the beautiful places of the world, mere words and pictures could never fully capture the  grand magic of this place. The experience of being where the Inca walked and prayed and toiled and contemplated for hundreds and hundreds of years is somewhat overwhelming- at least it was for me. Though it didn’t happen to me on this trip, it was this same view that brought me to tears as I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion the first time I saw it. I felt some strange and deep connection to my fellow human beings in a way I never had before. The sheer beauty and unique power of the site “wowed” everyone and a frenzy of pictures ensued before we adventured further into the ruin.  

With our imaginations and curiosity wide open, we explored all over Machu Picchu. We saw the Guardhouse, the sacred time-keeper Intiwatana and the Temple of the Sun where the Winter Solstice  is still precisely calculated when at dawn (June 21st) sun rays shine through its window to announce the planting season! Oh yeah…it had more of that cool Indiana Jones, archeoastrology stuff! We shook our heads in disbelief as the beautiful method the Inca used to bring water in to the Royal Residence section via Fountains was explained to us. And again, realizing that these Inca people, at barely five feet tall, engineered and carried out the laborious construction with no written language or “wheel” …absolutely mind boggling!

After filling up on the wonder of the Inca and Machu Picchu, our bodies also needed some food. We marched back to the exit, each of us carrying a load of hunger pangs directly to the Tinkuy Buffet at Sanctuary Lodge!  Mmmm! We had spit roasted pig, pasta salad, rice, exotic fruit salads, fish dishes, desserts and anything else we could get down our gullets!

Once we had a little digestion time, I offered to take a few guests on a hike to Intipunku or the “Sun gate”. Although this hike is only a little over a mile (one-way)- at just under 8ooo ft, most people get their lungs working on the way up the 1000 ft elevation gain. It took us about an hour to get to the “gate” which was used as traffic control in and out of Machu Picchu. It also is the point where hikers coming from the famous Inca Trail get their first view of the estate in all its splendor! And what views! The entire area was visible from here and we all sat and took in the sights and made conversation with the hikers seeing it all for the first time. After all, we were all of us,  so happy to be alive today.

Tired from a day full of wonder, we headed back down to Aguas Calientes train station but not before stopping at the exit to get our passports stamped with a cool Machu Picchu stamp! Just when I thought the day could get no more interesting, we were all treated to one of the most surreal experiences of our lives – the train ride back to Ollantaytambo.

About 30 minutes in to our ride home and right about the time we were drifting off into la-la land, “Dancing Queen” began to play loudly over the train’s speakers. And if that wasn’t odd and shocking enough, the rail attendants came out of the rear restroom, dressed in beautiful alpaca clothing, modeling down the “cat-walk” between the aisles! So the guy who punched my ticket and the girl who showed me to my seat were now modeling, on the train from Machu Picchu to Abba’s, “Dancing Queen!” It was too much to take and several of us erupted in uncontrollable laughter! After a few more costume changes from our super models, I finally composed myself and realized what a genius idea it was. They had a ready-made, captive audience of tourists and of course they sold a ton of the beautiful garments. And like so many experiences on this trip, this was yet another thing to marvel at and find beautiful. We reached Ollantaytambo completely full from an unforgettable day.  “What are we doing tomorrow Chris?” one of my younger travelers asked. “Going on another awesome adventure of course.” I replied.

Enjoy the pics from this day and stay tuned for Day 6!

Peruvian Adventure- Day 4 (Moray/Maras)

13 04 2009

Day 4 began with a beautiful drive heading southwest, winding up and out of Urubamba toward the towns of Moray and Maras. This special drive certainly did not include the phrase, “Are we there yet?” It was beautiful. At one turn we saw the Andes flexing their adolescent peaks, draped in rich, fluffy clouds. At the next turn there were more of the purple and white blooms from the myriad potato crops and so much yellow from the mustard. We bounced along the dirt road and passed a young shepherd leading his goats, sheep and mules to pasture- hitting the closest animals with a stick for not getting out of our way quickly enough! We also saw farmers tilling the land barefoot, riding behind their oxen. The scenery transported all of us to a time long gone in our own countries. To see these farmers working in the steep Andean slopes was remarkable. (Most people are not aware that only 3% of the Andes has flat land to work) The methods of crop cultivation we witnessed were really old. And hard. And yet so meaningful to the lives of Andean people. We definitely got a feel of  authentic Andean culture during that hour drive. Once we arrived, there was a mad dash to the restroom and then it was off to see the sights. Our reason for being in Moray was to see the concentric circles. Really, each site didn’t much resemble circles as much as they did a guitar body in their entirety. But their purpose was to test how certain crops grew at different climates. The Inca brought various types of soil from all over the country and even sand to this laboratory in order to experiment. Clearly they were looking for ways to sufficiently feed future generations of Inca people. Beyond being an amazing feat of construction, these bio labs were also really cool to look at with their curvy, flowing Picasso-esque lines. Each ring or “circle” got smaller as we climbed lower and lower via “flying steps” which protrude outwards from the circles at various locations. Many guests claimed they could feel a variance in temperature as they descended the different levels. I only noticed that it was more windy at the top and therefore obviously warmer at the bottom. But I’m convinced these geniuses knew exactly what they were doing! After an hour hiking around and learning all about Moray, we boarded our vehicles and headed for lunch where we all enjoyed a great meal and traditional dancing from a local troop.  Next, we headed to the salineras of Maras.

Getting down to the salineras or salt pans of Maras is an adventure all its own. The pans rest in the side of a small valley cut by a natural salt water spring that feeds them. And the road down to them is narrow and tight and you can see allllll the way down! It’s nearly impossible to keep the thought of going over completely out of your head. We had a few guests who had acrophobic tendencies and control issues and the look on their faces went white as they struggled to “let it go” here. But our drivers were awesome as usual and knew those roads like the back of their hands. Once at the pans we marveled at just how many there were- over 3000 of them! The many families that work theses pans (passed on to them by their ancestors) produce 4 grades of salt. The highest grade is for human consumption and the lowest for chemical or industrial uses. The salt has provided income here for hundreds and hundreds of years. Essentially, the natural salt spring flows out of the mountainside and is then crudely channeled in a straight line made of  dirt and salt) just above the pans. Subsequent perpendicular channels are made out of this main channel allowing the saline water to pour down into the various pans. And whenever a miner wants the flow to stop, he or she simply blocks the channel with a rock….brilliant! As the sun evaporates the water in the pans, pure white salt is left which the miners then haul out in sacks on their shoulders.  Again…back-breaking toil. There was something quite moving about seeing these farmers with their weathered faces and salty, white feet as they brought the sacks up to the storage houses.

From Maras, we all took a hike down a nearby trail back to Urubamba. Along the way, we picked shells from the hillside- evidence that, like all places on earth, this place too was once under the sea. Along the banks of the Urubamba river, we passed a few houses where children were playing. Several pigs, sheep, dogs and cats laid here and there also enjoying the warmth of the sun. What a day! And we still had another stop to make before dinner!

Our final activity before dinner was a trip to an artists workshop called Seminario.  Pablo Seminario and his wife, Marilu have an amazing studio where they produce ceramics in the styles of Pre-Colombian peoples of Peru. Influences from cultures like the Nazca, Moche, Chimu, Paracas and others are used in the iconography of their works.  Their ceramics are so unique and interesting, they have been featured at places like the U.N. in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago and they have been studied by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Their works are now all over the world and yet both Pablo and Marilu remain as grounded and kind as ever.  Both Pablo and Marilu took our group for a tour of the studio and explained everything we wanted to know about their wonderful operation.  Afterwards, Pablo asked me if I wanted to see the projects he was currently working on. What? Of course I accepted this private invitation. WOW!  He showed me two figurines that were maybe a foot tall. Based on the eyebrows on one, I knew instantly this was Pablo’s interpretation of Frida Kahlo. And the other of course was Diego Rivera. Pablo was comissioned privately for this project and I opined that I was certain his client would be pleased.  What an absolute treat!  Thanks Pablo!

When the sun finally said its goodbye, we were were further treated to a cooking demonstration by master-chef Nacho at the Sol y Luna. His Lomo Saltado (a Peruvian/Asain stir-fry dish) is the best on the planet! As I like to quip…he’s Nacho average chef! And for the cherry on top we all got Salsa lessons and danced under the stars until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer!  What a great day! But we all realized we needed at least some rest…for the great Machu Picchu loomed on the ‘morrow!  Stay tuned for Day 5 and enjoy the pics.

Peruvian Adventure- Day 3 (Urubamba R./Ollantaytambo)

7 04 2009

After a long Day 2,  an exciting rafting trip down the Urubamba river was the perfect activity to start our 3rd day.  We met the staff of Apu Mayo  Expeditions at the put-in location around 9:00 a.m. rearing to go.  After spending some time going over safety, the basic rafting commands, struggling into our full length wet suits and lathering up with sun-tan lotion we were ready to load up and hit the water! Rafting the Urubamba river is a ton of fun. From the beautiful views of Inca ruins on its banks, to the Nevado Veronica glacier in the distance, it was sensory overload as we tried to take in the sights and navigate class III rapids!  What a blast!  And I always say, anytime on the water is time well spent!

After a few snacks at the take-out point, we headed north for lunch and to spend time at my favorite Inca ruin – Ollantaytambo. The “tambo” in Ollantaytambo means “outpost.”  And this amazing place has erroneously been called a military fortress by more than one travel guide.  According to the local experts, a place of such beauty, religious positioning and the fact that several valleys converge on the area (making it easy to shut off  by would-be attackers) would not have been used or chosen as a military fortress. The construction was never finished as the Spanish Conquistadors did their conquering prior to completion. But this actually allowed all future visitors to view some of the mind-blowing construction of the huge interlocking boulders mid-finish. Without any mortar and after roughly 500 hundred years in the tectonically active Pacific Ring of Fire, the gaps between these monolithic stones are still literally impossible to get a sheet of paper between.  If there ever was a site that could muster the creation of an Indiana Jones-type character, this is it.  I don’t want to spoil all the surprise but….I have to here! The entire ruin of Ollantaytambo is shaped like the sacred llama.  The head (which takes many steps to get to) is where all of the ceremonies and celebrations would occur; and more specifically in the eye-region of the head. At first light on the Winter Solstice (June 21st- which is an extremely important date for farming civilizations) a ray of sunshine hits directly on the eye of the llama! That…is very Raiders of the Lost Arc!  It is also worth noting that the adjacent town of Ollanta which is named after a famous general in the Inca army, is a super-charming Inca town, replete with original stone streets, houses and aqueducts. 

After such a full day of activities, my taste buds and my stomach were ready go deep into some local dishes.  The best place to go for food near the Plaza de Armas or main square in Urubamba is El Huacatay.  I joined some friends for lamb and quinoa soup.  We enjoyed a great meal while we reminisced about the days activities.  As we walked back to our hotel rooms, we all gazed at the Milky Way spilling across the sky with the Southern Cross hovering just above the mountains…what a magical place!  On this day, I was pretty much living in the moment and took few photos.  Enjoy the pic of Nevado Veronica and a few from Ollantaytambo! Stay tuned for Day 4!

Peruvian Adventure- Day2 (Chinchero/Sacred Valley)

3 04 2009

On Day 2 we headed for the airport on our way south to Cuzco. Shortly after take-off I wondered when I’d be able to show my guests the view out the windows for their first glimpse of the majestic Andes. Normally, I would wait until there was a break in the clouds and then point them out and go right into Tour Guide mode, explaining how the Andes are an extension of the Rockies and that they stretch on for more than 4000 miles, etc. As I stared out at the thick, vast expanse of white carpet below however, I realized that seeing the Andes through the fog was not going to be a possibility. I wondered if this was some sort of ominous for-telling. Once on the ground however, I was delighted to see the landscape putting on real show for us with bright color everywhere!

As we wound our way out of Cuzco and towards the Sacred Valley, I was awestruck at just how vibrant everything was. The landscape was a spectacle of agricultural patchwork. I was just as excited to be experiencing it myself as I was to be sharing it with my guests! The hour drive to Chinchero was comprised of one amazing vista followed by another, with Andean glaciers poking through the clouds every now and then like little surprises for us all to open simply by looking.

Chinchero is a small, friendly town about 1/2 hour from our hotel in Urubamba and perched at roughly 12,000 ft. Traders from the jungle still come here to sell and trade their goods with the locals just like their pre-Columbian ancestors before them. Once we arrived, we had an amazing feast catered by Chicciolina. I love the staff and the food never disappoints. Afterwards we watched a weaving demonstration by master weavers from the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco, a co-op founded in 1996 by Nilda Callañaupa. Nilda, besides being a wonderful person, is pretty much single-handedly responsible for reviving the traditional native art form that was virtually on life support by the 1970’s. Prior to her insisting that this ancient art form be preserved as a rich, cultural treasure, many artificial materials and colors were being used by weavers from all over. A beautiful custom was nearly lost. Now, more than 30 weavers from different villages and their families and children are successfully returning their 2000 year-old tradition to its originality. We were all amazed as we watched the Andina women tossing colorful balls of hand-spun alpaca wool back and forth and mesmerized at their fingers as they seemingly danced on various looms! Just eight hours per day for 3-4 weeks is all the time it takes to create your average dining table runner! (although there’s nothing at all average about the product)

From Chinchero, we meandered through the valley on our way down to the town of Urubamba. This lovely city shares its name with the adjacent river that winds its way through the Sacred Valley, on to Machu Picchu and eventually marries with the Rio Amazon. Urubamba is full of charm and was our home base for the next several nights. The hotel Sol y Luna is a must if you ever plan to overnight in this town. And with it’s rounded, tiled bungalows, beautiful landscaping and wonderful staff, it’s like a little piece of heaven from the high altitude!

The long day concluded with a dinner and a show (although not in that order). The theater presentation was of Andean gods who have returned to remind the people to always believe in and respect the power and importance of  the Andean religion. It was quite “cirque” to see this theater of running, jumping, costumed gods…performed on stilts…in the grass…on very uneven terrain! Afterwards, we feasted in traditional fashion with a Pachamanca. This smorgasbord consisted of the marinated meats-parts of your top 4-5 domesticated farm animals, potatoes, fava beens and other local vegies – all of which were then placed in a hole in the ground with hot stones used to cook it all. The whole, hole was then covered with local herbs, the marinades, alfalfa and finally, burlap sacks (to keep the love in!) for roughly an hour. The end product sent everyone to bed full of great fun, food, wine and enough wonder to deliver sweet dreams until dawn. I popped off a few pics for you to enjoy!  Stay tuned for Day 3!


Peruvian Adventure- Day 1 (Lima)

31 03 2009

Well everyone, I’m back from another adventure down in the Incan Paradise and finally, after several subsequent trips, I’m able to share my experience with you! This was my first trip to Peru during the rainy season (Oct-March) and I must admit…I had my concerns. As someone who is responsible for all things “happy” while on tour, I was internally questioning: Would we be able to showcase the beauty of this country in the rain? Would it be difficult to get around? And most importantly, would our guests be able to have an amazing experience in this country during this time of year? Well let me tell you…Peru in the rainy season does not disappoint in the slightest! Andean people refer to all things related to water as sacred. Why? Because it is the sacred water that provides Pachamama or Mother Earth the nutrients she needs for growing Peru’s incredible bounty of corn, fava beans, quinoa and of course the ever-present tuber they introduced to the world millennia ago…the potato. And every one of these products has flowers that bloom which add a ton of color to the landscape! And if you’re someone like me, who loves to delight in nature’s wonder- be it food, flowers or whatever, than you too might want to seriously consider going during the wet season. It is during this spectacular season that you get to see these gifts of nature in all their splendor! For all the beauty I saw during my 7 or 8 trips to Peru last year during the dry season, the beauty I witnessed on this most recent visit was a veritable feast for the eyes. The following is from Day 1  in the Capital city of Lima (remaining 7 days to follow) during my latest adventure! Buckle up and let’s go to Peru! 

We started out as usual in Miraflores, one of the upscale districts of Lima. But being that the coastal portion of Peru is the desert, it stays fairly dry- even during the rainy season. This “Day 1” of our trip began on the 14th of February – the day for romance. I was sadly, 9 hours away from my wife which is sometimes the price paid for being in the guiding world. And to add insult to injury, I happened to be in a country where public displays of affection are as easy to find as it is easy to hear people speaking Spanish! Lovers kissing and hugging are everywhere and I have to admit it’s a nice change to see people openly and unabashedly letting their feelings unfurl to the world. What are we, in the U.S. so embarrassed about anyway? One of the places I like to direct people as part of a leisurely afternoon/evening is Larcomar. It’s a great place to eat, play, people-watch, shop and watch the sun dangle and eventually disappear into the Pacific. If you happen to be there late at night with a significant other (or not), you can even dance the night away with ocean waves crashing just below. But whether solo or not, Larcomar is one of those places that has something for everyone and is typically bustling with locals and tourists alike. Finally, since I am a total foodie, another recommendation I like to make before this first day is done is to part take in a truly unique dining experience. For the best food in all of Peru many argue, Miraflores is also home to Astrid y Gaston. The food here is sublime and it would just be a crime to miss this eatery if  Lima was anywhere on your itinerary! While I couldn’t bring myself to eat here on Valentine’s Day without my foodie wife in tow, I did manage to enjoy capturing a few slices of Peruvian life during the late afternoon.