Peru Wrap Up

The trip is on hold, but the blog catch up goes on…

We left you last in the heartland of Peru. Caleb wrote about the amazing time we had volunteering in the Amazon Rainforest and Kieran wrote about our day in Machu Picchu.

Our final week in Peru was spent between Cusco and the Sacred Valley (similar to the week Wendy and Kieran spent while Caleb and I were in the Amazon). We had experiences on both ends of the spectrum here.

Our days in Cusco were among the most challenging on the trip – I got sick (parasite infection!) for a couple of days which kept me from being able to do much and we ended up in some accommodation that was difficult. Wendy has written a little more about this experience, but suffice it to say that between these two issues we had our first significant period of travelling stress.

After Cusco, however, we headed to a cabin in the Sacred Valley (near Calca) and this turned out to be a really terrific few days. The accomodation was extremely comfortable (really the best we stayed it at any point on the trip) and allowed for a few days of very pleasant relaxation. The valley itself is also very beautiful and steeped in history.

We did a little bit of touring around Cusco during our time there, including some impressive Incan sites in the city, but the highlight was definitely the day spent enjoying Carnaval. Carnaval is a week long celebration enjoyed all over South America, a final blowout before Lent comes around. Participating in this was one of our Top 100 Activities.

Given the more conservative culture and cooler weather of Cusco (due to the high altitude) the celebrations are not nearly as flamboyant as the pictures you will have seen from Rio – but it was nonetheless an impressive sight. The most visible part of the celebrations were the long parade of marchers in traditional Andean costumes and the children of Cusco who engaged in a huge, all day water/foam fight that played out all over the city.

No one, local or visitor, was safe from the foam – we got sprayed at on the streets from cars, from passers-by and at some point the kids bought some spray cans (being sold on the streets everywhere) and joined right in the middle of the fun. Wendy was not impressed at getting foam in her hair, but the boys had a blast. We posted some of the resulting pictures earlier on Instagram.

The centrepiece of our four days in the Sacred Valley was our day in Machu Picchu. The boys and I also got to visit the very impressive Inkariy museum which Wendy had seen the previous week and I got to enjoy the massive Incan ruins at Pisac. Outside of these cultural sites, we mostly enjoyed just a few quiet days before heading off to Bolivia.

 

A Few Thoughts on Food and Cooking

There were three entries on our Top 100 Foods list that we enjoyed during our 3 weeks in Peru. Peru does have a grape-growing region (where we visited Ica and Nazca) but they don’t produce well-known wines. Much of the grape harvest goes instead to producing Pisco, a clear, brandy like liqueur. While we enjoyed a few very tasty glasses of straight up Pisco it’s most famous use is the foundation of the Pisco Sour cocktail (#57 on our list) – together with egg-white, lemon juice and simple syrup – and we tried them in many spots and the best we tasted came from the Sacred Valley.

For the boys, our beverage of choice in Peru was Inka Kola (#18 on our list). Inka Kola is a bright yellow (or gold coloured – for the Incans) pop, that tastes like bubblegum. The boys drank A LOT of Inka Kola over the three weeks we were there, so much so that I think they’ve lost their taste for it now – too much of a good thing.

The last of our targeted foods for Peru was Cuy (#47). Guinea Pig, served in a variety of ways, can be found on the menu in both Ecuador and Peru – and it is a celebrated dish. The small town of Lamay, not far from where we stayed in the Sacred Valley is famous for its Cuy Al Palo (Roasted Guinea Pig on a Stick). I was the only one brave/interested enough to enjoy this delicacy – and I am happy to report it was quite nice, rich like roasted pig and not at all gamey.

There were other dishes we enjoyed in Peru and some of which we tried our hand at preparing at home. Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef with tomatoes and onions, served with potato fries) and Aji de Galina (similar to a chicken curry) stand out as the best of these – Wendy makes a mean Aji de Galina.

Peru Highlights

Peru was our most challenging destination so far, the altitude, the level of sanitation and the living conditions in the cities mostly kept us from feeling fully comfortable a lot of the time.

Working through these challenges, however, gave us an opportunity to enjoy a significant number of amazing sights and experiences. The rich cultural history of Peru, most prominently from the Incan period, are on gorgeous display in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Machu Picchu lives up to its billing as a Wonder of the World. Having the chance to contribute to a conservation project in the mighty Amazon Jungle was a great opportunity. And the list goes on (Nazca lines, Sandboarding, Carnaval)…

These kinds of challenging experiences with great rewards are among the things I find most satisfying about long term travel. I hope the kids especially will remember the ups and downs of the time we spent here – there’s no doubt it’s been an adventure.

 

 

Until next time….

(Wendy's) Perspective on Peru

I did not entirely enjoy our time in Peru. For the most part, I found it dirty and smelly in the most offensive way possible and having to worry constantly about the quality of food and drink really stressed me out. People are somewhat friendly but mostly because they are trying to sell food or a tour or souvenirs, with noted exceptions of course. I found myself particularly uncomfortable in Cusco. The second place we stayed, where all 4 of us were together, was particularly offensive. It was in a neighbourhood about a 15 minute walk away (in the wrong direction) from the Plaza des Armes in a small, traditional quinta. From the dirty street that stank overwhelmingly of dog feces and urine, we entered a nondescript door that lead to a series of little alleys with doors, all leading to stairwells and apartments. Our apartment was in the back (past even more more dog crap and who knows what else) and had absolutely no ventilation to the outside, smelled horribly and had quite a bit of mould, especially on the ceiling and walls in the main bedroom. It was noisy at night because of the rain on the roof and we could hear everything from our upstairs neighbours, who were thankfully pretty quiet.

We do most of our own cooking, but I’ve worried constantly about the quality of the food that’s available and even more so on the occasions when we’ve needed or chosen to eat out. You can’t do anything with the water from the tap here and boiling the water isn’t sufficient because of the high altitude. I don’t do very well with illness, especially gastro related illness, so having this concern in the back of my head constantly was really stressful for me.

In the end, on the last night in Cusco I was feeling so stressed and uncomfortable that I booked a hotel in the San Blas neighborhood and Caleb and I left. Robin opted to stay in our original accommodations with Kieran as he wasn’t feeling well and felt that staying put would be easier than packing everything up and moving. It was such a relief to take a nice, hot shower in a clean bathroom and sleep in a clean room with nice beds. The morning found both Caleb and I in much better moods, after enjoying the breakfast that was included with our room. I’m not a high maintenance traveler and don’t mind a bit of discomfort but when I’ve reached my limit, I put my foot down. I’m grateful for Robin’s understanding and accommodating me when this happens. It’s comforting knowing that when enough is enough, I will be able to do what I need to do to keep going. It’s pretty normal for me when we are traveling to get uncomfortable at some point and we were chatting about this in hindsight yesterday (it happened a few days ago now) and Robin pointed out that so far in a month and a half of travel, I haven’t freaked out on him or had a meltdown. In the past, when I get uncomfortable or stressed I have tended to freak out and pick a fight, rather than actually talking about what’s bothering me and problem solving. This has been a big area of personal growth for me on this trip!

Thankfully moving back to the Sacred Valley has been great and we are staying in an awesome cottage in Calca on the Urubamba river. I’m glad that I’ll be able to comfortably enjoy the last few days of our visit to Peru and that the discomfort of our time in Cusco hasn’t tainted the entire experience for me.

I think the things I’ve learned through this experience are to research the area where we are planning to stay more thoroughly and be sure that it’s the kind of place we’ll be comfortable – a safe neighbourhood, relatively close to the things we want to see and do and probably an area that attracts other tourists. For other travelers visiting Cusco, I don’t there’s any reason to be deterred from visiting but if I were doing it again, I would book a hotel or hostel rather than an Airbnb and I would book at least one tour that would give an overview of all the highlights in Cusco. Then I’d go back and visit any that we were really interested in more thoroughly. The way it worked out, I ended up feeling like we missed some things that would have been interesting and wasted time on other things that we could have easily skipped.

I know that not all of us are going to love every place that we visit and that’s natural given that we’re going to 46 countries! There are so many things that have influenced my experience in Peru and I truly believe that under different circumstances, I may have loved it as much as others do and have. Perhaps one day we will return with open minds and hearts and I will find a different perspective.