Peru: following the Inca Road

Peru has been so long on my list of countries to visit and when I finally went, I can tell you I loved it! I have always been fascinated by the ingenious cultures of Latin America and I was not disappointed. Even nature wise, Peru has everything to offer and I was in awe during the whole trip! 

I love traveling but what I struggle the most is the whole organizing part. So for this trip I decided to go with a company called travelbird, that organized everything for me. Obviously I knew what I wanted to visit and I made sure it was included and if it wasn’t, there was always a way to still do it on the free days that were planned. I liked it because we weren’t in a group so we were pretty free and able to explore the different cities the way we wanted.

First step was Lima and from all the cities, that’s the one I visited less. Like most of the Latin American cities you can find the same architecture due to the colonisation and the little parks that looked so much like those in El Salvador at least in the historical part of the city. Once you leave that part you see a lot of modern buildings and infrastructure. The one thing I was very eager to try was the food. I have been told so many times about their delicious food that I couldn’t wait to sit down and eat. I was not disappointed! If I would go back to Lima I would definitely enjoy the food more. The food was indeed delicious. Unfortunately we were already leaving The capital the next morning.

Next stop was Ica, Huacachina and Nazca. Those were 3 quick stops, but with lovely surprises. Between the oasis in the dessert, the good food (probably the best food I had in Peru), the Nazca lines and the nicest people! I was in admiration ALL THE TIME! This was so different from Lima. The tour on the dunes, sand board and the winery were definitely the highlight. Only thing that was missing was watching the sunset in the dessert. I must say, that the cities of Nazca and Ica weren’t that interesting, when you go there it’s more about what’s surrounds them.

Then up to the white city, Arequipa. Apparently the city of food. Let me tell you something… unless you were going to trendy, more high end restaurants, the food was good but not as fantastic as I expected. Might be because I didn’t really take the time to do some research, but when they tell you it’s the city of food I expect the food to be great everywhere… so yes note to self for next time: do some research beforehand. Other than that, what a city! The central place was gorgeous with the big cathedral and surrounded by all the arcades all in white stone with the beautiful view of the volcano (which I do not remember the name). Once you go into the little streets that surrounds the main square you would see tons of houses in different colours and with inside terrasses, so cute. It’s definitely very different from Lima. I also visited some sort of museum and textile house where they explain how the alpaca wool is cultivated and how they use it. You could see traditional women knitting the wool into beautiful pieces of clothing.

The downside of that part of the trip was that we were only staying there a night. which made it impossible for us to climb the volcano, go to the Colca mountains or to the rainbow mountain. I was bummed.

From Arequipa we took a bus to Puno, the city near Titicaca Lake! The highest lake in the world. I can still feel the excitement. I could also start feeling a headache. In Arequipa we were around 2300m above the sea level. Honestly, I didn’t feel a thing, no headache, wasn’t out of breath and sleeping was going well. But in Puno, I could certainly feel the 3800m of altitude. That night I couldn’t sleep. The headache was intense. I wasn’t out of breath though so I decided to go for a walk in the city, mainly looking for a pharmacy. My travel partner was sick and the altitude wasn’t helping. Main goal: let’s try to find probiotics and coca leafs! I was told that those leafs really helped but the only thing I could find were candy. That didn’t help. For dinner we had soup, it was important for the body to adapt to the height by eating so nerving might and drinking a lot of liquids. After a horrible night, it was time to visit the Lake! 2 main stops: the natural islands of the lake and the artificial islands. 

On the natural island, Taquile, the people living there were still living and keeping the old traditions. I loved it, so peaceful. No stress of the modern world and a real sense of community. They cultivate their own food, wedding would last days, a doctor would only come on the island if the traditional cures wouldn’t work and the spoken language is Quechua. They showed us how they would do a traditional meal, how they find a partner and how they dance. I loved every minute with them. And let’s not forget the beauty of the landscapes. ❤️

We took back the boat and ended on the next islands, the floating islands, Islas Flotantes de los Uros. The sensation I got there is difficult to put into words but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Let me try to explain. Those islands are made of a aquatic plant that floats on water. Each island has between 3 to 10 people living in the island and every I think 10-15 years they have to move to another island. Like the once in the Taquile island they live through old traditions, which was interesting. Nevertheless the only thing I could see was how dirty everything was. The kids and the family seemed happy and I liked seeing the girls playing, but I got that feeling were it just seemed fake, like a tourist trap. I was getting anxious, might have also been because of the horrible headache I was having because of the altitude. But I ended up going on the boat and waiting for the others to arrive. I was happy to have seen it, but I wouldn’t go back. No Señor.

El Valle Sagrado. This was the most beautiful road. The landscapes were breathtaking, the villages were unique, the culture was very present, the food was amazing and the architecture was incredibly beautiful. We did everything by bus with several stops to visit archeological sites such as Pisac with agricultural terraces and it’s handicrafts markets, the archaeological park of Ollantaytambo, the beautiful “Sistine Chapel of the Andes” in Andahuaylillas completely covered in gold, the amazing landscape with La Raya mountain. Of course you can’t miss out to tones of lamas you see across the roads and the fields. It felt so magical, so out of time. Unfortunately, such destinations are on everyone list when visiting Peru, so you will need to pay attention to all the tourist traps. They will make you buy anything and everything at any cost. But it’s so worth it.

After this long trip buy bus, we finally arrived in Cusco. and let me tell you, it was such a different city, such a different vibe. You can feel the inca culture throughout the whole city. I loved the little streets, and the view of the city at night with all the light surrounding it. The cathedral was gorgeous and has so much history. Handicraft is still very present and they do everything to keep it alive. I do have to admit is was not easy to walk around, a lot of hills and the evenings are very very cold. Thank god I bought a little hat on Taquile that kept me warm. The people were so nice and I loved seeing the people living outside. We saw a group of teenagers just practicing their dance moves and older couples sitting on a bench. The food was not bad at all. I do have to say if you don’t like quinoa you will find a hard time getting used to see most of the flower based food made with quinoa. It gave that extra interesting taste. I do have to say that, Cusco is where I had the best meat of the whole trip. We managed to get into a small restaurant, where their specialty is their grilled meet and they finish cooking it by putting on a warm volcano stone. it was DELICIOUS!!! I would have loved to stay there a day or two more. Unfortunately I think we ended up spending only a full 24h, before going to the place I was waiting for the whole time to go!

The Machu Pichu, the highlight of my trip. I can’t tell how excited I was to finally see it. The alarm rang pretty early in the morning, and if I remember correctly it was around 4 am and or train was leaving at 5am, something like that. But boy it was worth it. Ok, I was not the courageous one that did the whole trip by foot and a tent, I’m not sure I would have been able to do it, but it was still up to now the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Let me try to explain how I felt.

So everything went pretty smoothly up to arriving at Aguas Calientes, which is the city where the Machu Pichu is located. We were so many people. no wonder they limit the access to the site. Anyways, so we all get out of the train after having a lovely chat to a Uruguayan girl and her mother, and we were all redirected to shuttles that would bring us at the entrance of the ruins. We must have arrived around 8am, but we couldn’t go in immediately. We had to wait for the whole group to arrive. Let me tell you that after waiting for an hour the other tourists to gather at the meeting point, I started feeling annoyed. The Machu Pichu was just there, so close, and I couldn’t go see it nor get in. And knowing me, once I get annoyed it becomes very difficult to get out of that mood. Once the whole group was complete, our guide disappeared… I was ready to leave them all behind and go by myself. By the time she arrived, I was extremely annoyed but I decided to put that feeling aside, because I was minutes, seconds away of seeing one of the most beautiful wonders of the world. I don’t know if it was the excitement, the nervousness of being disappointed, but once we were inside and you start walking and you start seeing that famous shape of the city with the mountains, it’s like all the negative emotions left my body to only leave me with peace. The beauty of what my eyes saw, is still today difficult to describe. It was exactly like you see it on the pictures, but it has that atmosphere, that feeling that filled my whole body. it was so beautiful, so peaceful, so majestic. We were so lucky that it was winter time, and so the visitors were still pretty low compared to the high season. I managed to get pictures with almost no one and from all the possible angles you can imagine. The Latina in me, that was always fascinated by the indigenous culture was just leaving the best moment. You know that moment, when you sit down and you try to memories as much as you can all that you are seeing, all the little details and the feelings. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to go back, and I wish you can go too. Once we came out of the site, we could get a stamp on our passport, the proof of visiting the Machu Pichu. I can tell you I was happy the whole way back to cusco.

After that magical day, it was time to go back to Cusco for another day. You can’t imagine how many things there are to visit around Cusco. Eventhough I was exhausted of the pervious day I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to discover other parts of the regions. Our next stop were de Salineras de Maras and the agricultural terraces of Moray.

When visiting Krakow, I visited the salt mines, that were underground, but it was the first time I was going to see salt pool on the surface. You could see them from far away. All the white little pools on the hillside of the mountains dating back from the Incan times. It was so impressive, you could see the water coming from the mountain running down in between all the little pools, that’s how they get filled up. Also you were able to grab the salt in a jar and pay for it in the little shops. You know how expensive Himalayan salt can be right? Well let me tell you that the same natural pink salt in Maras, is way cheaper as as good as the Himalayan version. I ended up buying 3 bags of a kilo for 7 euros.

Visiting the salt mines is done pretty quickly, so after that we decided to go check out another type of agricultural terraces in Moray. There the terraces are made in circles. The guide explained that this used to be where the Incas would experiment with the different micro climates, and different agricultural methods and see if they could grow more and faster. When you think about it, those Incas had a pretty goof life. Good food, nice office views, nice weather. No wonder they are considered as very peaceful people. After the visit of Moray, I realized that it was the last visit before going back to Belgium. It was time to go home now.

The next day we flew directly back to Lima. there we spend the afternoon chilling and walking around the city before flying back to Belgium the next day. This was such a beautiful trip, I loved every minute of it. Nonetheless, there is something I want to mention. I’m describing beautiful places and beautiful nature, but what I didn’t say is how much trash there was on the side of the road. You had those beautiful views and then at your feet so much plastic bottles, cigarette packages, household trash,… it honestly broke my heart to come to the realization that we are the ones destroying so much beauty. From that trip, I decided that I would change some bad habits that we considered as normal. My idea, was to move away from plastic and mainly single use plastic items. I had to go a long way to change those habits, but this trip made me take the jump. I know that, this is a whole other topic, but I had to mention it. Traveling can bring and teach you so much about others, yourself and the world. This is probably the reason why this trip is still to important to me. It made me realize how lucky we are to be on this planet with all its imperfections and beauties.

I hope I made you travel a bit, by reading this article.

With Love,

Brenda

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