“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float
To gain all while you give.
To roam the roads of land remote,
To travel is to live.”
-Hans Christian Andersen
Those of you who know me know that travel is one of my greatest passions in life. I’ve experienced no greater feeling in life than standing in a new place, clearing my mind, and looking at the newness around me. The sight of a woman carrying a baby on her back while pushing a cart full of handmade bracelets and scarves, the smell of freshly baked bread combined with the earthiness of the dusty city, the sound of bustling city streets or perhaps the soft rustle of grass while standing in the middle of an empty field surrounded by mountains. These are the things that breathe life into me, make me feel small and large, all at once.
I’ve been so lucky to have traveled to many different parts of the world – I’ve been to 5 continents, 40 states, and 18 countries. I’ve met hundreds of people with thousands of stories. But, the one place that has tugged at me the longest is Peru. Peru was the very first thing on my Bucket List, taking the number one spot since Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman introduced me to the concept back in 2007. But, even before that, it was a place I longed to visit. I have vivid memories of sitting in Latin American history class in college, learning about Peru, the Incas, and Machu Picchu, and thinking, “damn…I WILL go there someday.” It only took me approximately 12 years to get there, but I did it!
Sam and I did things a little differently on this trip – we stayed in a tiny little French hostel instead of a nice hotel, we hiked the Salkantay trail rather than the Inca trail, we hiked unguided and carried our own packs rather than hiring a guide and a muleteer to carry our packs (that may not have been the best idea, but I digress), we roamed freely without a plan rather than planning out every detail of our trip, we climbed Mt. Huyanna Picchu instead of making our way to the back part of Machu Picchu that is known as a photographer’s paradise. We ate alpaca and many other questionable things (we don’t even know – nor want to know – what was in some of the food we ate!). We pet street dogs, followed random strangers into alleyways, got lost in markets, bought souvenirs from pushy locals, got massages in a sketchy massage parlor, got attacked by moths the size of bats (and got laughed at by the locals), rode in the back of pickup trucks (which was one of the happiest moments of my life), walked for miles with blistered and bloody feet (hence the bad decision to not hire a muleteer to carry our packs), we lived like locals in the mountain villages (no electricity or running water, no heat, walls made of stacked wood and tarps).
(1. The view from the front door of our hostel – blue doors represent peace and prosperity, which is perfect since the tattoos on my wrists mean peace and prosperity; 2. The sign for our hostel; 3 & 4. The alleys near our hostel)
View from lunch one day in Cusco – it was lunch time for everyone.
Cusco is a city of hills and stairs….and local artisans. I bought a wool hat from this woman. In exchange, she allowed me to take a photo of her.
We took a taxi to Sacred Valley, home of the Pisaq ruins and market. We spent the day exploring the ruins, then walking through the mountains to the market, which was located at the base of the mountain.
I love these terraces. View of the Pisaq ruins from the entrance.
The sky was amazing. Huge clouds, dark skies, and sun peeking through to light up the mountains.
This is the trail we walked along through the mountains to get down to the market. It ran along the edge of the mountain for miles.
More terraces. I can’t express how much I love those things.
Meet Abel. A 9-year-old boy who we met on the terraces (you can see his family in the background of the image above). Abel’s family makes jewelry in their home, then they walk 13 miles every day to the terraces in hopes that they will see a tourist or two who will buy their jewelry. This day, there were only two other people who came through here, so Abel decided to join us on our walk down. We talked (in Spanish) about his life, his school, what he likes to do for fun. He showed us some things we would have missed without him – carvings in rocks, special plants, etc. Oh, and we enjoyed the most beautiful sunlight as he guided us through the twists and turns of the mountains.
I fell in love with him.
At the base of the mountain, we said goodbye to Abel and headed to the Pisaq market, where we bought wall hangings, scarves, and delicious street donuts.
Mercado San Pedro
Mercado San Francisco
Religious festival and celebrations in the city square
Basilica de la Catedral
And the trek begins…
After acclimating to the altitude in Cusco for 5 days, we began our expedition to Machu Picchu. Our first adventure was an early morning taxi ride through the mountains to the little mountain village of Mollepata where we met up with Flor, the woman who helped us organize our home stays during our trek. After a briefing at her family’s small restaurant, Flor drove us in her pickup truck to our first lodging in Soraypampa.
We rode in the back of this truck along dusty mountain roads, got stuck in a horse traffic jam, breathed in dirt, bounced all around the back of the truck, and loved every second of it.
This is what I said was one of the happiest experiences of my life.
Eventually, Flor kicked us out of the truck so that we could enjoy the scenery while walking the last 20 minutes or so (really, she just needed time to get our lunches made haha). We saw our first glimpse of Mt. Salkantay, found waterfalls, and got passed by a herd of stampeding horses.
After dropping off our bags and eating a quick lunch, we began our climb to la laguna. It was our first climb in the mountains, and the elevation/lack of oxygen was NO JOKE. But, we saw a full rainbow on the way up, so it was totally worth it.
After feeling like we were on top of the world, we finally made it to la laguna.
Words can’t do this place justice.
Stacked rocks are a sign of respect and an offering to the gods. We found stacks of rocks everywhere during our trek, but this one was definitely the coolest.
We were alone at la laguna for quite awhile, but just as we were getting ready to leave, a group of tourists showed up and offered to take our picture 🙂
Sunset as we were hiking back down from la laguna.
Our lodging in Soraypampa. No electricity, no heat, makeshift walls. Pure happiness.
The following morning was the start of our ascent of Mt. Salkantay. We ended up taking horses for the first half of the trek because this day was a full day of hiking and we wanted to conserve our energy as much as possible. The horses were a great choice, but they were also terrifying because the paths that wind up the mountain are basically at a 90 degree incline and are approximately 2 feet wide. Annnnnnnd, the horses like to walk right. on. the. edge.
My life may or may not have flashed before my eyes once or twice.
(No photos were taken on those trails because there was no way I was letting go of that saddle to grab my camera.)
Fortunately, we survived and made it to Mt. Salkantay.
After chilling on the Salkantay Pass for a bit to catch our breath and reenergize, we began the descent to the next village. What followed was 8 hours of beautiful landscapes, several falls, difficulty breathing, aching backs, blistered feet, cussing, and thoughts of suicide (kidding, mom!).
This was the most difficult day of my life. BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.
We finally made it to our lodging in Collpapampa (it was after dark when we got there, which was both dumb and terrifying), where we found our host family who made us some mystery meat for dinner. We spent the rest of the evening bandaging our wounds and applying pain relief gel to our achy legs, knees, and backs.
The following day, was the jungle day. It consisted of 6 hours of hiking through the Amazon rainforest. We were still in so much pain from the day before, so much of the day was spent in silence and without our cameras. The hike was BEAUTIFUL, though. Once we made it out of the rainforest, we entered the small village of La Playa where we shared candy with kids, chatted with women sitting on porches, and ate a delicious meal of rice, green beans, potatoes, and beef.
After eating, we made our way to Santa Theresa, a very interesting little town that was literally developing under our noses. New, modern buildings were being built next to run down shacks. The sound of jackhammers filled the air while kids played in the streets with toys made out of trash. It was a literal dichotomy of old and new.
After resting up in Santa Theresa, we made our way to the train station and hopped on a train to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). Because of our blistered feet and aching bodies, we chose to enjoy the luxury of the train rather than walk the last 5 miles.
Best. Decision. Ever. 😉
Aguas Calientes is a weird place. A definite tourist town full of fast food restaurants, Americanized food, cheap souvenirs, and annoying tourists. While it was nice to have consistent WiFi and a hot shower, it definitely didn’t feel like the Peru we’d fallen in love with.
The following day was the day I’d been dreaming of for SO LONG. It was Machu Picchu day!
I’ll let the photos do the talking on this one.
Huyanna Picchu – the mountain we climbed.
The view of Machu Picchu from the climb up Huyanna Picchu.
It felt like I was on the top of the world. It was unreal.
Back down in the Machu Picchu ruins.
After Machu Picchu, I kind of stopped taking photos. With the exception of a couple of random shots here and there, I decided I wanted to step out from behind my camera and soak up the remaining 6 days of my trip without my camera blocking my view. The last 6 days were wonderful – we relaxed, got massages, rode on a luxury train, watched the entire Twilight series while laying in bed, worked on our travel business, and made plans for our return trip to Peru (more info will come soon about how you can join us in this incredible place).
I took the below photo from the plane on my way home from Peru. We were somewhere over the ocean and I just happened to wake up from a nap to this gorgeous view. Now, looking back on the trip, I’ve realized that this image is the best visual representation of my trip. It was dark and stormy at points, but it was surrounded by beauty and wonder. And, at the center of it all was the light that I’d been yearning for for so long…