Category Archives: local culture

Inca Life: The Sacred Valley Peru

We had already gone over our ‘time budget’ for Peru, but we couldn’t resist the pull of the Sacred Valley, framed by it’s magnificent snow capped peaks.

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It would be impossible to take a bad photo of the Salineras de Maras, as we wandered through in the fading light of the day. Salt has been farmed here since pre Incan times, and it all starts with a salty water spring nearby. The water flows through narrow channels down into hundreds of handmade drying ponds. The colour of the salt varies once it has been collected. Apparently it takes more time and skill to get the pure white salt. Despite this, I thought that the salt stained pink by the red dirt from the valley was the prettiest.

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And if this place wasn’t already cool enough, they also let us camp in the carpark without batting an eyelid. “Si, es normal“. They just locked the bathroom, telling us it was fine to water the garden.

Sacred Valley 08Sacred Valley 09Mornings with THIS guy, and THAT hair.

Another visual delight in the Sacred Valley is the agricultural ruins of Moray. These massive circular depressions are thought to be the site of agricultural experimentation during Incan times. The different levels would have provided different growing conditions. Walking around, it definitely felt hotter down the bottom, which was also much more sheltered from the wind.

So pretty much, it was a big Incan veggie garden. Although it looked stunning covered in grass, we couldn’t help but wish that it was still packed with fruit and veggies.

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If it isn’t already blatantly obvious, we have loved the food in Peru. This lady, with her delicious road side treats, made our morning. Street food hasn’t been this good since Mexico, and unlike Mexico, we haven’t been sick once.

Sacred Valley 15Sacred Valley 16Rocoto Relleno and our favourite…aji salsa. Aji might be the best flavoured chilli pepper of all time.

On the recommendation of my mum and dad, i.e. “if you go there we’ll shout you something”, we visited one of the weaving cooperatives in Chinchero. It was so much nicer than going to the markets, which are amazing, but are a complete sensory overload. We were able to see the ancient process the ladies still use to naturally dye the wool, and chat to them about their amazing work. They have a judging system, where they grade each others finished products before sale.

Sacred Valley 17 Sacred Valley 18 Sacred Valley 19 Sacred Valley 20 Sacred Valley 21The lady on Mark’s right made this one. Judged to be first class work.

It was time to finally leave Peru. What an amazing time we have had here. They really have it all. Amazing desert landscapes, magnificent mountain ranges and mystical cloud forests. Old and new exist together here, creating a rich and interesting culture. Most importantly though, the food has been a revelation. From the fancy restaurants to roadside stands, Peru has delighted our tastebuds every step of the way.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia.

Feeding Frenzy : Cusco Peru

Ever since we left the hiking trail we have been concerned with two things only.

One: get to Cusco.

Two: eat as much food as possible.

We have been taking this second one pretty seriously and wasted no time getting started. We both lost a lot of weight on our 10 day trek, my pants were falling down and I had to add another hole on my belt. As soon as we left the trail we started looking for a restaurant and found a lady in the village who agreed to cook dinner and breakfast for us for a few soles. The food was simple, but oh so good.

Cusco 01Cusco 02 Breakfast soup at Simeona’s house

To make things easy on us, the four-day drive to Cusco has been packed with great roadside treats, all fresh and natural. We have been stopping at almost every fruit, milk, yogurt, honey and cheese stand that we see and have not been disappointed.  We haven’t visited a supermarket for weeks.

Cusco 04Cusco 05Cusco 03Sunday beer’s at the gas station. We weren’t allowed to fill up until we had a few birthday beers with the owner. 

We also passed through Ica, Peru’s wine region. Although we were too late in the day to visit the two major wineries, we still jumped at the chance to test out a few home made wines and piscos. We ended up buying a bottle and camping in the wine store carpark. A little further on we came upon a town and noticed red flags outside a few houses. This means “The Chicha is ready! Come in for a taste. Stay a while and chat.” Chicha is the fermented corn beer that has been brewed in Peru since Inca times. Of course we stopped for a taste and a chat before merrily hitting the road again.

The really serious eating didn’t start until we got to Cusco, which has been a culinary playground. We found ourselves having lunch twice a day, and still wishing that we could fit more in. Not only were the restaurants and street food vendors amazing, but the San Pedro market is also incredible. We stocked up with plenty of fresh goodies for a home cooked meal.

There was more to Cusco than the food though. The whole place has a vibe and character unmatched by most other cities we have visited. Every day there seemed to be a festival or parade with brass bands and ornate costumed dancers to celebrate one thing or another. It is also steeped in history, both pre- and post-Colombian. The city is built on top of the old Incan city, the incredible Inca stone foundations are still visible all over the place. And while it’s a real shame that the old Incan city was destroyed to build anew, the Spanish sure put up some nice buildings.

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Somehow we found some time between meals to visit the Machu Picchu museum, to prepare our minds for that excursion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1911 Yale Expedition. Well dressed. 

There is a great campsite way up the hill outside of town where we stayed for a few nights. We used the bikes to get around town, bumping over cobblestones and dodging parades.  After dinner and drinks each night, the ride home was gruelling, and it didn’t really help much toward achieving my weight gain goals.

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The campsite was a great spot to relax and meet up with some other road trippers.  Joost and Liliana are heading the other way in their kombi, so we had lots of stories and information to share with each other. It was really great to hang out with some like minded travellers for a few days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADinner at Pachamama (Thanks Sal & Shauno)

We really had no idea how charming Cusco would be and were really impressed, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia.

Mountain Porn : Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Peru

Most people who hike in the Cordillera Huayhuash have a guide, a cook and a donkey train to carry their gear. We decided to do it self-guided, which is generally our preference and better suits our budget.

Initially we thought our packs felt pretty good loaded up with 10 days worth of food and gear, that is, until we started to climb. The first day began with a hot and sweaty, up-mountain slog. A local man kindly directed us off course onto a less traveled route. We soon lost the trail, got stabbed by cactuses and eaten alive by massive flies. The morning was not going well, but there is nothing quite like snow covered mountains and phenomenal glaciers to brighten my mood. Laguna Jahuacocha was a beautiful, although crowded, place to spend our first night.

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Every day we hiked for between 5-9hrs, roughly 150 km in total and over 11 mountain passes between 4,000 and 5,000 m in elevation. The circuit passes through picturesque pastural land, dotted with beautiful alpine lakes and follows one of the most magnificent mountain ranges I’ve ever seen. My lasting impression of these mountains is their incredible size and just how close we were able to get to them. I felt completely insignificant, but in a good way.

The farmland is governed by local communities, who we had to pay at intervals throughout the hike. Our fees totalled 145 soles each, but we heard of people paying more. It seems to be a fairly mismanaged system, and unfortunately if you are not on the ball you might get ripped off, like we did once. In one community we were sold two tickets for the price of one, so they were able to pocket half. The worst part is, that these individuals end up short changing their communities.  Overall though, the locals were very welcoming, friendly and happy to help. Coming from hiking in the National Parks of North America, there is an obvious lack of wildlife which we found a bit sad. The land has been well and truly taken over by domesticated animals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuayhuash 06 IMG_2201 newSearching for Cuartelhuain campground, where we spent our second night. 

Huayhuash 10 The stone fences in the background could have been built a week ago, or hundreds of years ago.

Huayhuash 11 Huayhuash 12 Huayhuash 13 The view on our third night. At Laguna Carhuacocha

Domingo writes mountain poetry. We gave him way too much money for his book, and thought we might run out of cash before the end of the hike. A lovely fellow hiker kindly lent us some money, just to make sure that we made it. Huayhuash 15

Living in Canada for nearly five years has left us with pretty high standards when it comes to mountain lakes. The Cordillera Huayhuash however, has produced some serious beauties. One of the reasons we love to hike is the amazing views at the top. In that moment it’s possible to forget our heavy bags and aching bodies, if only for a while.

Huayhuash 16 Huayhuash 17 Huayhuash 18Huayhuash 20The weather cleared momentarily on the pass (Siula Punta). Also, which end of this dog is which? 

This the longest hike that either of us have ever done, and we definitely experienced all the moods of the mountain. We got it all… rain, hail, snow, wind and sun. Still, there is nothing quite like mornings in the mountains, even when it’s miserably cold and everything has frozen. We tried to hit the trail early each day and would celebrate when the shadows finally receded and we could thaw out in the sun.

Huayhuash 22 Huayhuash 21Huayhuash 23Huayhuash 34Huayhuash 24 Huayhuash 25 Huayhuash 26 Shaking the ice off at Huayhuash campground, after night 4.

Our morning at the Huayhuash campground was brightened by a group of Canadians, who coincidently live in Edmonton. They warmed us up with hot milo, jam rolls and friendly conversation.

That day we pushed on quickly, arrived at our campsite for lunch and then had plenty of time to relax and soak in the hot springs.

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Finally the hard miles and altitude started to take a toll and by day six we were absolutely wiped. We made seriously slow progress, and finally set up camp in the Cuyoc Valley late in the afternoon. The stars were phenomenal that night. All we wanted to do was lie on our backs on the grass and stare at the sky, but it was way too cold and the grass was frozen.

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Now for my favourite couple of days on the hike. We hiked up to the San Antonio pass to be confronted once again by Siula Grande, the mountain made famous by Joe Simpson’s harrowing mountaineering story “Touching the Void”.

Huayhuash 35 Huayhuash 36 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We loved having a detailed topographical map, purchased in Huaraz before the hike.

We thought that if we went around the the other side of the San Antonio peak, we’d get a better look at Lake Jurau. We’d also spoken to a guide who said that the descent from that side would be easier. Unfortunately we lost a lot of elevation and then had to climb AGAIN to make it back. I was not a happy camper, but the view was worth it when we finally made it back to the top. It was a long way down to the lake, which just looked so inviting in the warm sunshine. We braved the chilly glacial water for a quick dip and once the shock wore off, definitely felt better for it.

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We saw a bunch of tents and set up nearby thinking and that it must be the official campground. Lucky for us it wasn’t, but rather the base camp for a group of five Italian mountain climbers. They were on a three week trip attempting a number of climbs in the area, including Siula Grande. They were super nice guys and kept inviting us over for tea in their nice warm cook tent and gave us lots of tips for the remainder of our hike.

Huayhuash 42 Base camp.

Huayhuash 43 Quinoa curry, with fresh peas and soy protein. One of our staple dinners using supplies from the Huaraz markets.

Huayhuash 44 Sunset – day 7.

On the advice of the Italians, we hiked without our packs up to Laguna Sarapococha, the “Touching the Void” base camp. It really was an idyllic morning. The lake was sheltered from the howling wind, and we watched as the early morning sun gradually illuminated the magnificent colour of the water.

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From this point on, it was all about getting out. It was home time, but we still had two and a half days to go. Arrrgggh! We had a long valley walk to get to the little village of Huayllapa, where we caved and booked into a cute little hostal, Bodega de Yerupajá, also recommended by the Italian climbers. We had warm beds, almost hot showers and the Peruvian classic lomo saltado (stir fried beef) for dinner. It was just what we needed.

Huayhuash 48 Huayhuash 49Jack Kerouac was right. Salami, cheese and crackers is the only hiking lunch. After 10 days, we weren’t sick of it.

Huayhuash 50 Huayhuash 51 Rest stop on the long valley walk.  

Huayhuash 52Luxury.

We saw a lot of different birds on the hike, and also Viscachas, which look like a cross between a rabbit and a possum. On our second last day we saw lots of these guys bounding around the rocks, however for the most part, everything was just a blur of changing colours and landscapes.

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On our last day we were pretty down and out. That is, until Berta and her sons invited us over to their casa for some fresh milk (warm and straight from the cow) and some of the best fresh cheese that we’ve had since Mexico.

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We rolled into Llamac late on the final day, toes screaming from the last brutal descent. The family who has the secure parking lot in town were still out in the cornfields, and we couldn’t bare the thought of walking any further to find them. So we just collapsed at their door, cracked a celebratory beer and waited for them to return. In case there were any doubts, I carried my pack the entire way, even resisting the offers of a very nice German man who wanted to carry it for me.

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