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Published: February 9th 2020
We left Colombia on Monday afternoon on ViVa Airlines, which we have now renamed “Nickel and Dime” Airlines. Fares were reasonable, but upon checking in we had to pay for our carry-on luggage as they were 2 centimeters (less than an inch) too tall but under weight limit. That cost us $40. Then they charged us $12 for not using electronic boarding passes! Then we flew in the smallest, tightest seats imaginable to Bogota, where we had to spend the night because they changed flight to Lima, Peru departure time to the following morning. Not too big of a deal, until we learned that the flight was scheduled to depart at 6AM, and since it was an international one we had to check in at 4 AM, which then meant we had to be up at 2:30 AM to get driver to airport!
Airport was crazy busy and it took us 40 minutes of hauling luggage through airport to find Viva Air check in counter. (We are traveling for just under 3 months, to cold and hot climates so our suitcases weigh 50 lbs! And yes, we had to pay extra on Viva Air for that as well). After waiting for our departure gate to be posted, we discovered it was #56, the absolute furthest one in the terminal and we had to run to make the flight, the last ones to board. And then we sat on the run way for 2 hours and 20 minutes due to fog. We were totally exhausted before we even took off!
To add a bit of salt in the wound, a baggage handler got on the plane and called out several peoples names, Walter’s being of them. She asked if he had luggage, to which he said yes. She left plane and we finally took off... only to discover in Lima that Walter’s luggage was not on the plane!!!
After putting in Lost Baggage claim and explaining we were not staying in Lima but flying on to Cusco (an hour flight) and then driving another 2 hours to Ollantaytambo. And...we had booked private tour the next morning to Machu Picchu, that was not cancellable! Walter was not a happy camper as he didn’t have correct clothes or shoes, but at last minute had stuffed his sweatshirt into carry-on. The only nice part of this debacle was we were met at the airport by our driver, Victor Hugo, who spoke good English and kept us engaged with stories as we made the 2 hour trip. We arrived to our LOVELY hotel, El Ambergue, around 8 PM, grabbed a quick bite (I had salad as I was starting to feel altitude sickness and Walter ordered the Alpaca burger, saying it was one of the best burgers he had ever eaten!). We craaaaawled into bed at 10 PM after a very long -19 hour - travel day!
One highlight of our trip was El Ambergue, a quaint hotel surrounded by the most amazing gardens right next to the train station. And Freddy, the Peruvian hotel manager with the most elegant and formal British accent (what???), who made it his mission to ensure Walter’s luggage would be delivered to the hotel from Lima! Unfortunately, it was delivered after we had already departed for Machu Picchu the following morning, but it was waiting for us in the room upon our return from one of the most AMAZING experience we have ever had!
After our wonderful breakfast of organic yoghurt, granola, eggs and coffee (grown and roasted on the property - which was rich, flavorful and STRONG!), we picked up our pre-ordered lunches (packed in parchment paper and placed in cotton bags that were gifted to us), we boarded the train to Machu Picchu which was right outside the hotel ‘s door. Train had comfortable reclining seats and skylights so you can get full view of jutting mountains and as it traveled alongside a rushing river. Flowers were everywhere! The 1.5 hour gently rocking train managed to put just about everyone either asleep or in a stupor filled with visual wonders. When we finally disembarked at Aguas Caliente, it was pouring down rain and we had to slog through the streets to find our bus for the 40 minute ride up the mountain to the park entrance. The drive was frightening, rain coming down, muddy roads switching back and forth with oncoming buses passing within inches, sheer cliffs one one side and 1,000 ft. + drop, with no guardrails, on the other side. And in typical Peruvian fashion, going about 45 miles per hour the entire time!
But, once we arrive at the entrance of Machu Picchu, the rain stopped...for the entire visit!...and only started again when we got back on the train. To say that Machu Picchu was MIND-BLOWING is an understatement! We had a booked a private tour guide, Esteban, who was a wealth of information about the history and building site, but we also connected on a spiritual/ cosmic woo-woo level, taking about things like aliens (pre-Inca’s?...his theory, saying that the Inca’s were taught civilization by “tall white men with long flowing grey beards” who disappeared suddenly) where as I postulated that perhaps they were from the Lost Continent of Atlantas! He loved that idea but refuted it by saying that they have an Alien skeleton with three loooong fingers and toes on each extremity, just like what is depicted on the Nazca lines in Southern Peru! Honestly, there were so many things that were totally unexplainable, like how they were able to move 200 ton rocks into place for foundations, with extreme precision of no mortar and no chisel marks...with no air between! Our heads almost exploded!
We finally descended back to Aguas Caliente, said good-by to Esteban and caught the train back to our hotel. We crawled, totally exhausted, into the restaurant for another fabulous meal before heading to bed. Wish I could say we slept like babies but one of the symptoms of altitude sickness is not being able to get into a deep sleep...Ugh!
The next morning, we were met again by our driver, Victor Hugo, and another tour guide, Edison, for a 5 hour trip through the Sacred Valley. And again, our minds were BLOWN! We stopped first at the weaving village were the local ladies welcomed us with warm Alpaca blankets, hot coco (cocaine leaves) tea (great for altitude sickness) and demonstrations on how they spin the Alpaca wool, colored in organic vegetable or beetle dye and then how they hand weave beautiful garments and table runners. They also sang us some traditional songs in their native Quechua language. The head lady showed how they would crush a cactus beetle, which was bright red. If they added salt, it turned orange, adding lime made the color of bright pink. She then colored her lips with it, saying it was organic lipstick and would “last for 100 kisses”. She was a great showman, seller (yes, we bought too much) and a true comedian!
After leaving the weaving village of Chinchero, we toured several historical sites (most notably the summer home of the king, where his Priests wore white clothes and solid gold jewelry, to honor the Sun God and the Priestesses wore white and silver jewelry, in honor of the Moon Goddess). And several local villages of typical Peruvian farmers who still use oxen to plow their fields and are 100% organic. Beautiful rich red-brown earth with every color of green imaginable carpeting the land. Beautiful children with the whitest teeth EVER chased dogs, pigs and llama’s (pronounced Yama’s) through the fields and then following our van down the road.
We finally arrived at Moray, where the Inca’s had built 3 concentric circles of 7 tired, irrigated growing areas. Only one has been fully restored, thanks to donations from UNISCO. These circles were of immense importance in the Inca’s religious ceremonies, the 7 levels representing the 7 colors of the rainbow and the 3 separate areas line up perfectly with the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt on June 21st. The Inca’s were master astronomers and all their religious ceremonies centered around the movement of the stars. (They called the planets “the wandering stars”).
After Moray we headed over to the Maras Salt Mines which have been in operation, without any modernization, since early Incan Times, around 1100AC. Hot, salty water flows out of a stream and is directed to over 4000 “flats” covering a huge hillside. There, the salty water sits as the sun evaporates the water over several weeks, and then the first layer of pink salt ( premium) is carefully skimmed off. A week or so later, the next level is scrapped off, the flats are then meticulously cleaned and the entire process starts all over again. The salt season lasts 6 months with the other 6 months of the villagers bagging the warehoused salt and getting it to market. Simply amazingly!
Upon returning to Ollantaytambo, Edison pointed out a carved face in the mountainside that was in the likeness of the “tall white men with long grey beards”, and said it had been there for as long as the Inca’s...pretty trippy stuff, all in all!
We went into the village of Ollantaytambo before dinner, wandered the street and local market before heading into local pizza joint...which, surprisingly enough, had decent pizza and killer Pisco sours! Said our goodbyes to this amazing place, went back to the hotel, packed up and got ready to head up to Cusco (at a mere 11,150 ft above sea level!!!🤢).
Driving into Cusco was not fun, it’s a big, sprawling city with shacks and small houses clinging to the hillside, giving off a claustrophobic atmosphere to add to the onset of serious altitude sickness. Reaching the bottom of the valley, it opened up into a large flat area of immense cathedrals and tree filled squares, very colonial in it feel with lots of traffic winding through the very narrow streets off the squares.
We checked into our very old hotel, a former convent called the Monestario San Pedro. It’s now a home for orphaned girls and hotel guests. Our room was large, albeit scarcely furnished, but it had a huge king size bed which I immediately crawled into. The altitude sickness had really come on strong. Walter was only mildly affected, mainly shortness of breath, so while I slept he went out in search of a bank or ATM. Two hours later he came back, just as I was waking up, but feeling A LOT better! We went back out, it was really cold and raining, but we wandered around until we found CHICHA, owned by a famous chef, Gaston Acuario, where we had the most amazing fresh, organic salad. Our tummy’s were quizzy, another side affect of altitude sickness, so it was a light but delicious meal.
The next day we went across the street to the famous San Pedro Market, where it has every fruit, flower, vegetable, fish, meat, breads, grains (and more) grown in Peru. It’s was Saturday and the market was filled with people, vendors, food stalls and dogs! Peru has 100’s of dogs everywhere, all seeming to roam free. But, surprisingly, they all look healthy and the streets are impeccably clean!
We purchased some dried fruit, and Walter bought me a round green rock that I was magnetically drawn to, which turned out to come from Machu Picchu! We decided to eat at one of the food stalls, we were a bit concerned at first, but the stall we liked had great looking food and it was packed with both locals and backpackers alike. And, it was awesome!
We wandered around a bit more and then decided to hit the shower before going back out for dinner later that evening. On the way back to the hotel we noticed they were building a couple of stick like contraptions in the square. We asked what they were and were told they were firework displays that would be lit at 8 PM in celebration of the Virgin of CANDELAREA, one of the most important holidays in both Mexico and Latin America. How sweet, we thought and made a point of being back from dinner by 8 PM to watch the festivities.
We had dinner at a highly recommended Italian Peruvian fusion restaurant called Ciciolinna, Upon arriving at the restaurant, we were met by two darling Peruvian girls with the cutest baby Alpaca, which they immediately placed in my arms the minute I coo’d at it. Poor little thing was really distressed and wanting it’s Mom. Turns out, as I handed it back after a few photos, they wanted to be paid. Walter gave one girl 20 Soles ($3.75 USA) and the other girl said she wanted to get paid too! Ahhh, they‘ve got the system figured out!
Dinner was truly amazing and filled with people from almost every country in the world. We splurged on a glass of wine each, but I drank only 1/2 before I started to feel sickish again ( we’d been told that alcohol and altitude do not mix well, and they were right! Opps!). Made it back to the hotel just in time to see the home-made fireworks, which was really charming, as the children were filled with wonder. The local band started up as we headed into our room...AND DIDN'T STOP UNTIL 4AM IN THE MORNING... OMG! Thought I was going to go mad, even with earplugs the thump-thump-thumpty- thump-thump was like Chinese water torture!!! And, of course, Walter was sleeping like a baby through it all!
Sunday morning, with me dragging big time, we caught our next flight to Lima...and we were both never so happy to get back to sea level! Checked into our darling 8th floor apartment in the BoHo neighborhood of Barranco, ate a fabulous meal and slept the sleep of the dead!
I know this post is really long, but our experience in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu was truly magical. I promise to write again very soon and to keep it a short and sweet. Our week in Lima is next, and we are leaving for Chile in the morning. Until then...
Hope every one is doing well, and loving life.
PS... Internet is not allowing me to upload photos ( and I’ve tried 6 times!). So will send Machu Picchu photo’s with Lima posting!
Walter and Cindy
PS. If you want to keep in touch, we are available via e-mail. We’d love to hear from you🌺
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