Sacred Sights and Water Fights

After a good time in Chile it was off to Peru. I had high expectations of our time in Peru, especially around our planned visit to Machu Picchu. Mach Picchu had been on my bucket list for a very long time and so I was worried it wouldn’t meet up to the vision I had in my head.

Before we headed inland to Machu Picchu we had a few days in the capital, Lima, it ss an interesting city. As we were informed by Charlotte, it’s the worlds largest desert capital, after Cairo. It’s a gritty city but we stayed in a nice Airbnb in Miraflores, a relatively upmarket area based on the shops etc. and proximity to nice parks etc. We didn’t have a ton of time so we were relatively selective about what we got up to. A highlight for St.John and I (Charlotte survived it!) was going a walking tour of the Centro Historica (Historical Centre -see my Spanish is improving! J). We caught up with a tour guide with one

of the walking tour companies, Tours 4 Tips who do walking tours for tips only. As a reference, the major tour companies charge about USD25 per head for the same info. We had a great guide, a young chap but he knew his stuff and was interesting and passionate about his city. It was interesting that this was the first (but not the last) time we encountered a slight ‘push’ against history framed purely from the Spanish conquistador, colonisation perspective. There was a duality in our tour guide between the rich history of the Incan dynasty and then the Spanish colonialization of Peru.

We spent the last afternoon in Lima at the Chocolate Museum where they do a ‘hands on’ session from where the coco bean grows to us actually roasting and grinding the beans to a paste in a pestle and mortar that is the basis for making chocolate. It was a fun experience for all us and I have a new appreciation for the person who found the original chocolate process – it was hard work making those tart, sour beans into the delicious thing we now call chocolate!

The it was a quick flight up into the mountains to Cusco to meet our host, Juan Carlos. He drove us an hour drive from the original Incan Capital Cusco to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley where were staying at Juan Carlos’s Airbnb bungalow. This would form our base for a few days before we visited Machu Picchu It’s hard to explain exactly (particularly given that neither of us is known for our spiritual sensitivity) but both St.John and I agree the valley has such an amazing energy, not in a hyped up way but in a calming and nurturing way…or maybe we’d chewed too many cocoa leaves*!

Anyway we had such an amazing time in the Sacred Valley. Juan Carlos was a brilliant host and went out of his way to make out stay comfortable. When we arrived at his home we felt so welcome, beautiful flowers everywhere, he had some cheese and ham and bread for us in the fridge in our bungalow, he even had made some jelly for Charlotte. We spent a day with Juan Carlos as our guide and visited some Incan ruins in the valley. Charlotte finally met an

alpaca and promptly named him Jeff!

We ate lunch at Hacienda Huayoccari (they don't have a website Google them thought and you will find contact details etc) set high I the hills of the valley and home to not only a great restaurant but also to a very rare, private collection of Incan and Spanish Colonial art. If you are in the valley – try to find a way to visit.

The end of the day drew closer and we concluded with a visit to the Moray ruins. This is a feat of engineering and quite something to see up close. Perfect terraced circles in the hillside. There are a number of theories on the site and I won’t bore you with the details – Google “Moray Ruins Sacred Valley” for all the details including some rather out-there theories about aliens.

We enjoyed the tranquillity of the Sacred Valley and spent a morning wondering around the local food market amazed at the amazing variety of fresh produce, clearly picked that morning. Vegetarians beware amazing vegetables everywhere but also open meat counters (read - big chunks of meat of all types and parts on a big cement slab) so a visit to a local market not for the squeamish. We bought a few things and made a delicious dinner that evening with the freshest of ingredients.

Then the day arrived, train tickets in hand we were off to Machu Picchu. It’s about a 90 minute train ride with beautiful scenery (we went on Inca Rail) to the Machu Picchu village, Agilentes Callientes. From there it’s a bus ride up to the entrance of the actual site. We had a guide for the morning at Machu Picchu, Roberto (from Peru Sightseeing office in Agilentes Callientes) He was an incredible guide and made the experience of Machu Picchu even more special for us. He took time to explain everything and being a historian had all sorts of extra bits of information that helped us get to grips Peruvian history and the impact of the Spanish conquistadors on the path of history in Peru (and in most South American countries for that matter).

So, was the site as incredible as I hoped? Was the hype in the all the blogs and articles I’d read worth it? Yes, absolutely, even typing this I get a lump in my throat thinking about sitting on top of that mountain looking down over the ruins. Like the Sacred Valley I cannot explain the energy of the place, the sheer scale and feat of engineering achieved by the Incan people 2430 meters above sea level almost 600 years ago exudes a vibe that I cannot put in words. The magnificence of the place and the size of the rocks all meticulously placed together is mind blowing. Then add details like the temple of the sun that has a window that perfectly measured the seasons based on the position of the sun and a diamond shaped stone in what is assumed to be another temple that points to each point of the compass perfectly… huh? Being the beginning of the rainy season the site was not packed to capacity so we were lucky to explore the site without being too jostled and rushed by groups frantically following their guide carrying flag on a tall stick

Down the windy mountain pass we headed for lunch and a train ride home to be back at the bungalow at about 6pm to a yummy supper to round of a great day, well so we thought. To not make this blog any longer than it is already – suffice to say the rainy season happened in one afternoon and the train was delayed due to some glitches with an earlier train and we eventually got home at 11pm! The communication was less than ideal from the Inca Rail staff and sketchy information about when we’d be leaving was garnered from passengers who overheard conversations & translated for us. We realised very early in our adventure that getting stressed about anything out of our control is just a waste of energy and resolves nothing except get us all grumpy. Don’t be fooled the odd grump and foot stomp does still happen but our pack of playing cards has proved to be invaluable in times like these, so out came the playing cards to while the time away.

That was Machu Picchu and onto our last stop in Peru, Cusco. What a beautiful city, we stayed in a lovely apartment in one of the historical districts and spent 3 days exploring. When we arrived, lunch was high on the agenda, we found Pachapapa, a lovely spot with delicious food and awesome service, in fact we ate there on the day we left too it was so good. If you go to Cusco, eat there! Charlotte said it was one of her best pizzas ever. (Don’t worry Massimo, your pizzas are still rated the very best ever!)

Day 2 and we took another walking tour, Pedro from Inkan Milky Way Tours was fabulous, he grew up in Cusco and part from a short time in Germany has lived in Cusco his whole life. It was a drizzly morning, the guide books were right, February is really the rainy season in Peru, so not many tourists were out and about on walking tours so it was just the 3 of us with Pedro. We got lots of time for questions and extra insights with him. As an aside, we are really enjoying the walking tours when we find them and recommend them as a great way to really get to grips with a city and culture by exploring it with a local.

On our last full day in Cusco we took walk up to the ruins of an Incan Citadel, first populated it’s believed in about 900 and then expanded in the 13th century, with the very strange name, Sacsayhuamán (pronounced Sac-Sigh-Wha-Man) just outside Cusco. Again, the scale and precision of the placement of the huge rock is incredible, plus the view of the city of Cusco is fantastic!

It was carnival day in Peru and we’d seen lots of water balloons and cans of foam spray on sale everywhere. Wondering what this was all about was we took a stroll down to the centre of the city to get a bite to eat and watch what was going on. Well basically it is a huge water fight that everyone partakes in, there are some traditional roots to this huge water fight but it was not entirely clear to us exactly what these were except woman and girls were the main targets of said water and foam! We walked tentatively around the edges watching the fun ducking the foam spray and water balloons that came our way, then we bought Charlotte a can of foam and the games began! Next thing we were in to the fray and soaking wet! It was a lot of fun even though it was chilly when it was all over. Watch Charlotte’s YouTube video on Peru coming out soon at Narwhalgirl CT to see of the fun and games of that afternoon & other highlights of Peru though her eyes.

Out time in Peru had ended and it was time to head off to Costa Rica, not a destination we’d spoken about before we left but that is a story for the Costa Rica blog, it’s kind of funny.

*Cocoa leaves are a traditional way to combat altitude sickness but give you a little buzz at the same time