Peru!! Part 1

I have returned from the most challenging and possibly most interesting trip of my life. I have read that no one returns from a trip exactly the same person that they were - and I believe this to be true. Peru was spectacularly beautiful, the people were absolutely lovely, and the food was amazing! The huge supply of granola bars I brought that I thought would be what sustained me were pretty much left totally intact - I think I ate one and half! And that was on the plane getting there! I want to give a BIG shout out to Mountain Lodges of Peru. That was the company we utilized not just for the 7 day hike - but to help us coordinate almost every aspect of our trip. I was referred to them by a number of people I know that gave them high praise - but they exceeded my expectations in every way. If there could be such a thing as a perfect trip - then this was it. Every detail went according to plan and most of it thanks to Mountain Lodges. They have a number of different options you can chose that ultimately will get you to Machu Picchu - and the 7 day hike we took was the longest and most challenging by far. By day 7 when we arrived at Machu Picchu I definitely felt like I had earned the right to visit - and it didn't disappoint. 

Julie and I at O'Hare leaving for Lima. Might be the last time I was clean for a week! Julie got us these awesome "Choose Adventure" shirts which was one of our hashtags for the trip. Love them!!! 

Julie and I at O'Hare leaving for Lima. Might be the last time I was clean for a week! Julie got us these awesome "Choose Adventure" shirts which was one of our hashtags for the trip. Love them!!! 

We flew to Lima and arrived late at night. We literally just walked across the street from the airport where we had a reservation at the Ramada for the night - so convenient. We got up the next morning - walked back over to the airport and boarded our flight to Cusco. Cusco is where everyone goes that is heading to Machu Picchu and/or the Sacred Valley to acclimate to the elevation and get entrenched into the Inca and Peruvian culture. Cusco dates back to the Inca's so pre-1500's. It sits at an elevation of 11,000 feet so quite a shock to the system in terms of oxygen. We were spending 2 days there prior to starting our hike, so arrived around noon and made our way over to our hotel. Mountain Lodges has a hotel in Cusco so we had booked a reservation there for the two nights, and it couldn't have worked out better. The location was excellent - very convenient to the main square and the historical district so we were able to do quite a bit of walking.

We got very accustomed to the throws laid over each bench around the fire pit. All made of 100% baby alpaca and so soft and warm. They are everywhere!

We got very accustomed to the throws laid over each bench around the fire pit. All made of 100% baby alpaca and so soft and warm. They are everywhere!

The hotel was wonderful - we even had a fireplace in our room that they came and lit for us at night. It's starting to be winter in Peru so the days are short and the nights are cold. The first day we took it pretty easy as we were acclimating to the elevation. We were a little short of breath and had a diminished appetite - but otherwise we felt good. No nausea or headaches which are common complaints. In no special order here are some of the things we saw and ate over the two days we spent there. 

Fountain in the main square of Pachacutec - the most famous Inca leader who built Machu Picchu and most of the Inca ruins that are still here today.  

Fountain in the main square of Pachacutec - the most famous Inca leader who built Machu Picchu and most of the Inca ruins that are still here today.  

Catedral de Cusco - baroque cathedral built atop a former Inca palace. We went inside and it is huge!!! All the statues were wearing real clothing which I had never seen before. I inquired why and was told there is a competition between various church groups to decorate the statues every 6 to 12 months and win bragging rights.  

Catedral de Cusco - baroque cathedral built atop a former Inca palace. We went inside and it is huge!!! All the statues were wearing real clothing which I had never seen before. I inquired why and was told there is a competition between various church groups to decorate the statues every 6 to 12 months and win bragging rights.  

Decorated crosses like this were everywhere - even at our hotel. I inquired and the month of May is dedicated to the cross. Each one was really unique and had different items around them or hanging on them. 

Decorated crosses like this were everywhere - even at our hotel. I inquired and the month of May is dedicated to the cross. Each one was really unique and had different items around them or hanging on them. 

There were lots of places to shop to buy 100% baby alpaca items. Beautiful scarfs, coats, throws, sweaters - you name it. We did quite a bit of browsing and just a little shopping. We only brought carry on's so I kept reminding myself that I had no room to bring anything home! Good thing as it was all tempting and pretty reasonable for such great quality. 

Alpaca hats to keep us warm!! And lots of artists on the street selling their paintings. There is a famous art school in Cusco that many of the artists attend. 

Alpaca hats to keep us warm!! And lots of artists on the street selling their paintings. There is a famous art school in Cusco that many of the artists attend. 

Peru is also well known for it's textiles and weaving. We visited the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco which not only sells Cusco's finest textiles but has a museum that demonstrates the techniques and heritage of the Peruvian dress. I admit I couldn't resist and bought a purse which I love. Just beautiful and has 3 traditional Peruvian pom poms on it - how could I not!!!! 

Top right is traditional Peruvian wedding attire, bottom left Fiesta Costumes.  

Top right is traditional Peruvian wedding attire, bottom left Fiesta Costumes.  

There are a huge amount of churches in Cusco - literally hundreds so we walked by many. This is one of my favorites - Coricancha - the sun temple. Built like so many on Inca ruins. 

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Another reminder of the Inca's are the narrow cobblestone streets. The traffic was really crazy - you had to be very careful when crossing the street. It seemed there were almost no traffic signals so it was every man for himself. This street was so narrow no traffic was even allowed - but it was pretty much all uphill. 

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We found the food to be wonderful - that was a big surprise to me. We were careful not to eat anything that wasn't cooked - steered clear of lettuce and things that weren't peeled and we did fine.

We shared the pasta with roasted vegetables in a pomodoro sauce, and tried the apple pie with ice cream and the quinoa cream brûlée- yumm! 

We shared the pasta with roasted vegetables in a pomodoro sauce, and tried the apple pie with ice cream and the quinoa cream brûlée- yumm! 

For dinner one night we went to Limo - a traditional Peruvian restaurant. Loved it! 

Instead of bread they brought us potatoes with 3 dipping sauces. Peru grows more then 3000 kinds of potatoes - so we ate a lot of them. We both had the beef tenderloin with sweet potatoes and asparagus for dinner. Delicious!

Instead of bread they brought us potatoes with 3 dipping sauces. Peru grows more then 3000 kinds of potatoes - so we ate a lot of them. We both had the beef tenderloin with sweet potatoes and asparagus for dinner. Delicious!

We saw a lot of children in Cusco, and they were so cute. We really got a kick out of seeing them all dancing. Both nights we were there we saw lots of different ages all practicing - many of them in costume. Turns out there is a big festival and competition in June that takes place over a number of days, and they are all getting ready to perform.  

They were practicing the whole time we were eating dinner at Limo - what a gorgeous sunset on the mountains around Cusco! 

They were practicing the whole time we were eating dinner at Limo - what a gorgeous sunset on the mountains around Cusco! 

We also had out first coca tea in Cusco - made from the coca leaf. And yes it is the leaf that they use for cocaine! But the tea does not get you high - it does help with the altitude adjustment. It is somewhat of a stimulant though so I quickly switched over to the Mountain Mist tea everyone offers you which is an herb tea and really delicious.  

There is lots more to see in and around Cusco, and many people base themselves in Cusco and take day trips out to some of the Inca archeological sites. Since we were leaving on our hike we focused our attention on the historical core and felt really comfortable walking the area. Many people don't speak English but they try really hard to communicate, or go get someone who has a better grasp. Just about everyplace will take US currency but they are extremely picky about the quality of the bill. The bills need to be in almost perfect condition - not even a slight tear or fold or they refuse it. We were in one shop trying to buy a scarf and they had no less then 6 employees examining each bill. Some they rejected and we had to keep pulling out other bills that were in better shape. It was actually kind of funny. Especially when I think about the quality of some of the bills we freely use here in the US. 

The night before we left on the hike we had a meeting with our head guide and the other hikers we would be with for the next 7 days. There were 12 hikers in total - a couple from Australia, a couple from England, a couple from Canada and 6 of us from the US. Our head guide Aly and our assistant Berto would complete the group.  

Next post - the Hike!!