Country Count from the beginning of the trip: 6 = Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, The Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Chile, and Peru
We left the rainforest with a lot of wet, dirty clothes so we were glad to get somewhere dry with laundry facilities. Nothing dries in the rainforest so I can’t imagine how they delivered dry towels to our rooms every day—they must have baked them in the oven. We arrived in Cuzco, Peru which is at 11,000 feet—very high altitude and very dry—so almost opposite of where we had just spent the last four days. We were met by Carlos and Miguel, our guide and driver for the next few days. They whisked us into the van, loaded our bags, presented us with lunchboxes and gifts, and we were on our way. We were pretty hungry with not having eaten since our morning departure at the rainforest so we were glad to have the lunches—the empanadas (which we ate a lot of while in Peru) hit the spot! We all received cool stocking caps woven with local wool and personal water bottle carriers—useful gifts that are easy to carry and pack. We drove to a cooperative project called Awanacancha where we saw native indigenous people weaving bright, colorful blankets and clothing. Fourteen communities have pooled resources together to create handmade goods to sell and much of their profits benefit the communities they represent. The girls were thrilled to see all off the cameloids that lived there—llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas—which were all VERY well fed by the time we left because Lilli and Isabella made sure of it—feeding each animal by hand.
As we were driving through the beautiful countryside and valley you couldn’t help but notice how little people had—very little land, tiny houses without windows, sometimes without doors, and sometimes no roof. Animals roamed freely and some appeared to be strays while others appeared to be cared for and had collars with tags. When I say animals I mean dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, etc…. Most horses we saw were tethered by a rope and were pretty skinny. It didn’t look like anyone was eating much there and made me sad. It was mainly an agricultural community so everything really revolved around farming—which is still done by most in the old methods—by hand or sometimes with the help of animals for things like plowing. The soil looked fertile but also had a lot of rocks in it. The crops were mainly different types of potatoes, maize, and other vegetables. They also ate some different things than we generally do—like alpaca and guinea pig. In traditional indigenous households—the floors were made of dirt—and the guinea pigs ran around the floor and lived with the family—until they were invited to dinner—as the main course! Since the area seemed really poor I was mentally prepping myself for what I thought our hotel must look like and where we would be staying the next couple of nights. Imagine my shock when we pulled into the gates of Sol Y Luna—a Chateau & Relais Luxury Hotel—which looks like it belongs in Napa Valley. Our room was a lofted villa with a king bed on the main floor and a winding staircase leading to two beds in the loft for Lilli and Bella and we didn’t have the nicest room in the hotel—there were many that looked like large homes. My emotions were mixed—I have to admit I felt relieved that we were staying somewhere so comfortable after I had set my expectations a lot lower—but I also felt really guilty. Just outside the gates were people who had so little and there we were living in the lap of luxury—a few steps away. While staying in the hotel, I read about the school that Sol Y Luna has on the grounds for local children—providing the opportunity for education. It seemed like a great program and a wonderful way to give back to the community and help build for their future.
The next day we went to Ollantaytambo. We climbed up to the top of the Incan fort. The village is considered a living Incan Village because many of its residents still live by the old customs. We then bought some bread and fruit to share with the children at Willoq Village, a native Quechua community. Many of the men in the community make their living by being porters on the Incan Trail (they are guides, carry bags, and cook for the hikers on the trail). This is an indigenous village and we happened to be there on Sunday so they had a market where many brought their vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and weaving/crafts to sell and trade. We spread the word with the children that we had brought bread and fruit for them and to go get all of their siblings and friends. Soon there were at least 40 girls and boys lined up for our gifts. Lilli and Isabella passed out bread and fruit to each of the children and received shy smiles and quiet “gracias”.
Next we traveled to Wayra, Sol Y Luna’s ranch, for a Paso Fino horse show. The girls were thrilled to find out the horses were so close to where we were staying. After the demonstration with the horses they let anyone who wanted to ride the horses for a bit. Lilli and Isabella took as many turns as they could and rode the beautiful horses round and round the lawn. After that, we headed back to our hotel and the girls swam in the pool. It started to lightly sprinkle but the sun was still out so we were blessed with a beautiful full rainbow set against the beautiful lush mountains. We went to dinner shortly thereafter and then returned to our room. The air temperature dropped with the sun so the hot water bottles delivered each night at bedtime kept us warm.
We got up early the next morning and headed to Ollantaytambo to catch the Vistadome train to Macchu Picchu. The Vistadome is a luxurious way to travel—each train car is set up as a dining car and had roof to table windows. We were served coffee/tea and pastries–the chocolate croissants were muy delicioso! We rode through the beautiful countryside which turned more tropical as we got closer to Macchu Picchu. We arrived in Aguas Calientes and walked through the bustling market where every type of good you can imagine was being sold—mostly tourist gifts. We then caught the bus up to the entrance of Macchu Picchu which are luxury coaches that speed up and down the 2000 ft. climb. The ride is not for the weak of heart—it was a hair-raising experience and even after doing it two days in a row—I found myself hanging on for dear life every trip including the final time down the mountain.
The tour of the “Lost City” of Macchu Picchu was amazing and we were so lucky to have Carlos with us because he really knows so much about Peru and especially Incan history — so we learned a lot during our time with him. He gave us a privately guided tour of Macchu Picchu in the blazing sun and we climbed up and down through the village and learned how the Incans lived back in the 1400s in this beautiful and very functional mountainside village. The village was never found by the Spanish Conquistadors and was controversially rediscovered by Hiram Bingham (American explorer) in 1911. It was a stunning find because it was the only known Incan site that escaped the looting and destruction experienced by the other major Incan sites—it was controversial because Mr. Bingham and his crew discounted the people living in the village at the time as “squatters” and spread the belief that all of the native Incans of Macchu Picchu had perished in some mysterious manner. Many of the natives believe the people found living in the village at the time were actual direct descendants of the original inhabitants of Macchu Picchu but were run off by Bingham and his crew. The Incans were amazing architects and everything was planned out carefully—the project management that must have gone into the building of the lost city was intricate and sophisticated and clearly has stood the test of time. The walls were built with stone and fitted together perfectly—with no mortar and no fillers. They still stand today–despite earthquakes and the weather—truly an amazing feat. The areas of the village were built with precision and in such a way where during certain times of the year the sun shines through to hit a specific point—like the equinoxes. The Incans were amazing astronomers and their building reflected that knowledge and were in harmony with the movement of the earth and stars. The Incans also understood that the earth was round and revolved around the sun—definitely very intelligent people and way ahead of their time. While Jared and I were engrossed in learning more about the Incans and Macchu Picchu …the girls were enamored with the llamas that climb around the terraces and we followed a mother and its’ baby around for quite a while to a regular chorus of “aaaahhh—-ohhhhhh” from Lilli and Bella—because they were just SOOO CUTE!
That night we stayed at the Sumaq Hotel which was in Aguas Calientes (yes there are hot springs there but no we didn’t see them) and set next to a raging river (it’s rainy season) and the sound of rushing water lulled us all to sleep that night. The next day we rose early to head back up to the ruins and hiked an hour or so to the Incan Bridge. The night before we hiked I was researching the hikes around Macchu Picchu on the web. Imagine my surprise (and dismay) to see the hike we were planning to do up Waynu Picchu listed as one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Hikes in the World by Outdoor Magazine. I am definitely afraid of heights but can generally push through it for most hikes—but that fear combined with the fear of something happening to my children made it a heart pumping and mind over matter experience. Only 400 people per day are allowed to hike Waynu Picchu as it is a difficult hike that takes time—they want to prevent overcrowding and keep the area pristine. Our window was from 10-11am and we made it to the gate with 5 minutes to spare (the Incan Bridge and a bathroom stop took a little longer than we had accounted for). We headed up the trail and the beginning of it didn’t seem so bad—but the light drizzle that began coming down didn’t help the conditions of the trail and it started to get slick. Isabella had no fear and headed up the trail with vigor. Lilli required a little more coaxing and took a while to warm up to the climbing but once she got going she was steady and sure. I saw a notice somewhere that said the trail took about 45 minutes to climb—uh ya—that must have been the Incas who did this every day and were in better shape and used to the altitude and didn’t have fear—it took us 2 hours and we really weren’t taking many breaks. At some points we also had to wait for those coming down—it was definitely a one person path in many places—especially the areas with cables anchored into the sides to hang onto. To get to the next section of the trail once you get to the top—you have climb through a very small cave-like passage between the rocks and then climb up a wooden ladder so you can scramble across the boulders to get to the another section of ruins. It had been drizzling much of the hike and the boulders were slick so I stopped us all there. We basked in the views for a few minutes while Jared took a ton of pictures and then headed back down the trail. Heading down the trail was actually harder for me—I.was,petrified! It was so high and I felt like I was going to fall off the mountain. The first few steps down were incredibly hard and took a lot of mind over matter coaching to keep me moving. Once we were down a little further it got easier because there was more vegetation—definitely a false sense of security because it was just as steep and just as far down if you fell—but it was mentally easier for me. Isabella skipped, hopped, jumped, stood on one foot, and was entirely too unconcerned and too close to the edge for me most of the hike. I am pretty sure my hair was standing on end by the time we reached the bottom and I was never so happy to get to the end of a trail.
We headed back to Aguas Calientes and boarded the Vistadome Train to head back to Ollantaytambo and onto Cuzco. Cuzco is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the capital of the ancient Incan Empire and considered to be a holy city. Founded around 1100 AD, it is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere. We stayed at the JW Marriott which is probably the nicest hotel we have stayed at so far on the trip—it was a former Convent and a historical site all on its own—it was gorgeous and the service was outstanding. We toured around the city for a day and stumbled across an expat restaurant called Jacks—everyone in there was either American, British, or some other English-speaking transplant. The food was great and it was a little taste of home in South America.
Stay tuned for our next blog on Ecuador and the AMAZING Galapagos. It is the top of our lists as our favorite place……..so far.