Tag Archives: Peru

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.

A Misty Morning : Machu Picchu Peru

Although you can’t drive all the way to Machu Picchu, you can get pretty close.

The drive from Cusco took us through some amazing scenery, from the open farmland of the Sacred Valley, up through the alpine meadows and down again into the jungle.

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Towards late afternoon we left the tarmac and took the sketchy dirt road to Santa Teresa. We could hardly see the road through the dust and were relieved to make it to Santa Teresa before sundown, without being thrown off the sheer cliffs by speeding taxi drivers.

Machu Pucchu 32 Machu Pucchu 33 Dust banditos

The next morning, we parked the van near the Hydroelectric station and walked the line to the town of Aguas Calientes. This is the cheapo way to get to Machu Picchu.

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We were up nice and early in the morning to climb the steep trail to Machu Picchu. We had planned to get there for the famed magical sunrise, but the weather did not cooperate. We hiked for an hour through thick fog and arrived at the gates drenched with a mixture of sweat and rain.

Visibility was about 10 metres, which gave the site a peaceful but eerie atmosphere. The thick fog enclosed us so that we felt like the only people there. When we could see other people they were just silhouettes. With the bright coloured gore-tex and sneakers hidden, we could almost imagine them to be the original residents going about their daily tasks.

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Since it was high season, we had bought our tickets a few days earlier in Cusco. The coveted permits for climbing Huayna Picchu were already taken, but we were able to get passes to climb the even higher Montaña Machu Picchu for some of the most spectacular views possible. We started the climb in a white out and joined the thirty or so people at the top as we all waited hopefully for the skies to clear.

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The sun finally broke through and lit up the mountains and the ruins site in all their splendour. We sat at the top for quite a while just soaking it all in.

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It was about lunchtime by the time we made our way back down to the ruins, so we found a spot on the terraced slopes to kick off the boots and have a lunch break before exploring a little more.

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The place really is pretty massive, you can wander around for hours and keep finding new places you haven’t yet visited.

Machu Picchu 19The Inca Bridge, this crazy trail runs along a sheer cliff

Despite how much we had read and how many amazing photos we had seen before arriving here, we were still impressed and awed. There’s just a really great vibe, and so many mysteries to ponder. You can spend all day wandering the ruins imagining all sorts of stories about the people that lived there.

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Also, the stone masonry is truly impressive. The stones fit together with such precision that mortar wasn’t necessary.

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Anyone who has visited Machu Picchu will tell you how overpriced the snack bar. We didn’t care, we were really ready for a beer after a few hours inside. But, we did bring our own snacks.

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Rested and refreshed we went back in for a few more hours of wandering as the sunlight waned. The crowds slowly thinned throughout the afternoon and as the light turned golden the place was feeling quite empty. Except for the maintenance staff and a few llamas.

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We had been looking forward to Machu Picchu since before we started our trip. It had become a bit of a milestone in our journey, but as the time came closer we had become quite apathetic about it. All our research on how to get there and how much it would cost made it seem like a logistical nightmare and an overpriced tourist trap. We’re so glad that those impressions were wrong.

We loved every minute… from the beautiful drive, walking the train lines and catching our first glimpse of the ruins way above us, to the bustling village of Aguas Calientes and the awesome street food vendors there (I especially liked the old ladies selling slices of their home made pineapple cake). And of course, the ruins themselves were absolutely stunning.

We both agree that our expectations were far exceeded.

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.