The Ruins of Ancient Peru (9/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Peru is incredibly famous for its ancient ruins that are scattered throughout the country. While the Incas are the primary group that comes to mind, there are certainly ruins from other groups; the Incas were merely the last group before Spanish discovery. Buildings from the Huari, the Lima, and many other groups exist. I wish I could have seen them all, but I will give some details of the ones we did come across.

Huaca Pucllana was the first pyramid I have ever seen and one of my first sights in Peru. It was built by the Limas in 230 BCE, and later controlled by the Huari. But thousands of years later, it was buried under a motocross ring until people realized its existence. It is still in the process of being uncovered, which will be completed in another twenty or thirty years. There are numerous platforms for sacrifices and many tombs scattered throughout. A guide will direct you around the place, explaining how it was built, the lifestyle of the people, and the purpose of each area.

Huaca Pucllana

While these are certainly less exciting, you will find terraces everywhere from pre-conquistador times. They are all still used for farming and are a very common method of agriculture in the mountains. I recall when I was on a safari in Tanzania, I was told that I would get bored of zebras because there are just so many. This can also be applied to terraces in Peru, as they are so commonplace. Nevertheless, they are still fascinating and impressive.

A terrace

Of course, Machu Picchu is the most famous of ruins in Peru. Discovered in 1911, this lost city inspired many other explorations for hidden ruins such as the City of Z, Shambhala, and El Dorado. It sits deep within the Andes and is massive and untouched from colonization due to the high elevation. There’s so much to tell about this place that I have an entire article on my Machu Picchu experience.

Machu Picchu

Nestled in the mountains surrounding Ollantaytambo is Pinkuylluna, a small fortress hovering over the colonial town. The footpath is tricky to find, but there is no charge to visit this archaeological site. Please be careful on the way up, its a testing hike!


The Raqch’i Temple on the way from Cuzco to Puno (a solid 8 hour drive, although scenic) is one of the last Incan sites you will see as you continue towards Bolivia and Lake Titicaca. There is a cute little market square with little trinkets to buy (I got sucked in once again) and the towering walls left over from the gateway. It also shows the style of Incan agriculture through aqueducts and water ways. It is a good opportunity to stretch your legs on the drive.

Raqch’i Temple

Lastly, we got to check out Sillustani, an Incan burial ground. Here they used their awesome architectural skills and built cylindrical tombs that were seal shut. Here were the people of importance buried, such as Incan kings. It certainly has a quiet and eery feel to it, similar to Machu Picchu. Behind it was a huge lake with no waves or ripples. The entire place was very still.

The lake

Overall, Peru and its ruins have a lot of history and sightseeing to offer, making it an awesome experience.

A Summary of Cuzco, Peru (8/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Cuzco is one of the largest cities in Peru, along with Lima. However, unlike the capital, this city is much higher in elevation- a striking 12,000 feet. Even for those who live in the mountains, like myself, the difference in oxygen supply is noticeable. Cuzco is known as the Incan capital and is home to 348,000 people. It holds many ruins and is known as the Incan Capital, giving it plenty of history to explore.

It is also a safe city to visit, much like Lima. We did meet some edgy people but none of them were dangerous or threatening in any way. They did stereotype Americans for party people but there was no intensive pressure by any means. In fact, it was pretty funny.

My group flew into Cuzco to travel to Machu Picchu. At first glance, the city is packed and every space of it is used. At the same time it feels small, especially compared to Lima.

A view of Cuzco from a restaurant

The food in Cuzco was exceptional. Here is where the famous cuy, or guinea pig works itself into the meal plans. It is typically roasted over a fire with herbs and spices inside. It has a very distinct taste and a texture similar to chicken. Along with that, we also had plenty of the classic Peruvian meals (quinoa soup, chicken, potatoes). One night we also had this appetizer of dried corn and cheese. It was super chalky in terms of texture, but it tasted so good. I definitely ate more than I should have.

Me with my funky pants and cuy

Corn and cheese thing

There are many things to do just outside of Cuzco, but the city itself holds many historical and exciting features as well. Some of my favorites include the Cuzco Cathedral, the Chocolate Museum, and the large markets.

The Cathedral is directly in the middle of Plaza de Armas, the main square. It is divided in several portions of which were built during the colonial era. The towering pillars are enough to gawk at alone, with their enormous size and detail. The mantles are similar to those in Europe and often plated in gold. However, what really takes the cake for the coolest feature is the paintings, which were done by Incas unwillingly. While the slavery-made aspect is incredibly disheartening and sad, noticing the way the Incas retaliated helps, as it models how strongly the Incas held onto their culture and survived. Throughout the paintings, there is hints of the Incas’ own gods and beliefs, such as Pachamama, the goddess of earth. There will be references in paintings and carvings scattered throughout. This is certainly one place that you should get a guide even though its a single building because there is so much hidden detail.

Tip: Make sure to check out the rendition of the last supper, which has Jesus and the 12 disciples feasting on the local delicacy, guinea pig!

Cuzco Cathedral with Incan flag peeking over the top

The Choco Museo is less local but still very interesting. This company is spread throughout South America, but there are many stands and shops within the towns of Peru. I visited the shop in Cuzco, which is a brief walk away from the Cathedral. Here, you can sample chocolates (try the white chocolate with cardamom!) and learn about the history of cocoa. Its very fun and free, unless you walk out with loads of chocolate!

White chocolate with cardamom with the outline of Machu Picchu

Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed the markets. There are the tiny little ones scattered throughout, but there was also one close to the Cathedral that was by far the biggest market I have ever laid my eyes on. It was chock full of souvenirs, spices, meat, flowers, and plants. I loved all the smells and sights. There were also plenty of good deals. I bought a bag and a bunch of llama keychains for all my family back home and they were all super cheap. I loved this place, even though it was a danger to my wallet.

The big indoor market

I totally wish I could have spent more time here, although maybe I will in the future! Cuzco is extraordinary! It has so much history as it was known as the capital of the Incas and experienced colonial rule, but also still has modern ways of life and a strong culture.

Service Project in Peru (7/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Service projects are always my favorite trips. I love being outdoors helping someone and breathing in culture at the same time. Service projects allow you to meet people up close and personal, developing a connections stronger than one would just passing by in the streets or a neighboring seat on a train. During our trip to Peru, we were able to help out a school for two of our days there.

View from the school

This particular school was settled within the Andes mountains and was mostly for the younger grades (Kindergarten, I would say). We got to meet some of the teachers and the principal, which was awesome. All of them were particularly fantastic women who were kind and brilliant at their job. Our group of just over twenty would be divided throughout the days on four or five different jobs, each helping the environment and the school.


Behind the shed was a lean-to being built to hold construction and gardening supplies. It still needed a roof, which was done by most of the strong men on our team. One of them was actually in the construction field, where he builds sets for movie studios in Hollywood. If any of you are CSI fans, he is to thank for many of the scenes you see in the series. While there were a few difficulties, they got this done in no time.


One great thing about Peru is how eco friendly they are. There is recycling bins everywhere and the whole place is fairly clean. In order to do something with the trash, a group of us was used to tear all the paper products, such as cardboard, newspaper, or old art projects into tiny pieces.

From there, the pieces would be dumped in a 50 gallon barrel and be left to soak. The water would be changed occasionally until all the paper was a big, brown, and somewhat stinky mush. From there they would mix it with glue and set it in a mold to create boxes and bins to hold numerous school items. It was sort of like papier-mâché, but on a larger scale.


This little school could very well be self sustained. There was little pastures of animals everywhere from pigs to ducks that could provide food or profit. There was also a few gardens, of which one of them was our task to build. One group was responsible for digging a path to the garden and pulling the roots out of the soil to start it fresh for the following year. This group was awesome, and we managed to till it by the second day.

Two of my gardening buddies


One other project that we had was to make eco bricks. Essentially, these are little plastic bottles that are crammed with plastic and cardboard as densely as possible. Our job was to stuff them full, using sticks to push the trash down. These could be used later for small infrastructures, with mortar piled around them.

Even though this project wasn’t nearly as big as my service project in Tanzania, it was still meaningful and fun! We listened to 80s music along the way, making it even better! I would highly recommend doing a service project if possible and I’m sure I’ll be doing more in the future!

An Address to Celebrate Life

NOTE: This speech was given at the 15th and final Celebrate Life fun run/walk at Dog Beach, Sandpoint, Idaho. While Celebrate Life is not going anywhere, this was the last walk and in response I prepared an address to the crowd, which is written out below. I do want to thank my Aunt Julie and Grandma Carrie, as well as the countless supporters and volunteers to making this dream come true.

Celebrate Life’s wonderful leaders: Aunt Julie and Grama Carrie

For those of you who don’t know, I went to Peru this year. When I did, I only brought a backpack. For a total of three weeks, I brought this backpack with me and nothing else.

My expanded backpack after too many souvenirs in Cuzco

As you can imagine, I had to prioritize. Bugspray. Sunscreen. Underwear. Toothbrush. Pants. However, the first thing I brought was not even the camera or my passport. It was my 2017 Celebrate Life shirt. Look around you. Everyone here is partaking in an event so meaningful that a teenager specifically brings their shirt around the globe to support its team, its people, and its cause.

On Machu Picchu with my CL shirt

It is life changing to lose a mother, regardless of your age. More broadly, it is hard to lose such an admirable and grand person to such a terrible disease. From my experience, cancer plays on your weaknesses, and withers even the strongest person to ruins at times. It removes your status as invincible. Cancer is ruthless. Cancer is heartless. Cancer is selfish. But cancer is not victorious.

Mom and I

It draws out the best of all those around you, creating a coalition of overwhelming support, whether it be hospital staff, loved ones, or the community. This support is a grandiose light in the darkness. This morning, you are taking part in just that.

Family, friends, and I celebrating life in August 2017

Even if you don’t know who you are affecting, you are helping someone just by being here. Thank you for that. Thank you for these wonderful 15 years. Thank you for helping others. And to top it all off, thank you for making my mom’s dream come true.

Celebrate Life 2018


A Brief Glimpse Into the Greatest Generation

Those born in the Great Depression era have been dubbed the Greatest Generation for appropriate reasons. Living through a complete economic flop, not one but two mass global conflicts, disagreements in our own society, and many more wars abroad can and will define a person, let alone a society.

Over the course of these massive world issues, my great grandma has experienced all of them. She was born in the midst of World War One, a teen in the Great Depression, a wife during World War Two, and a mom, grandma, and great grandma for all the rest.

Throughout the time I have known her, she has always been as sharp as a tack and such an amazing and strong person. She has constantly been an inspiration to me.

She grew up in a small town with a few siblings and lived on a farm. She met her husband at a dance she was attending with her little sister and their father was kind enough to let my grandpa to take my grandma home after the dance. From there, they started an extraordinary life together.

In World War Two, he fought in the European Theater, specifically in Italy as a runner. She stayed home and worked to support herself and those she cared about.  When he returned, they continued to live in the town they met and grew up in.

Unfortunately, he was the only great grandparent I didn’t get to meet. However, I spent time with my grandma growing up, whether it was in her apartment, the house that we eventually lived in, or the nursing home she is at.

Through my numerous visits during my life, I have been able to see what is truly valuable in life based on what she has told me. To me, that has become family and friends, the people I greatly care about.

When asked what she would impose among younger generations if she could,  she had the greatest response. She did not mention the obsession over technology or the lack of respect that is all so common. She merely said:

“Patience. Patience is very important for everyone, no matter the age.”

This thought has lasted with me ever since. Thank you Grandma Great!

Pieces of Peru (6/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Peru is a place of vast amounts of detail. From towering ruins, to pebbles on the ocean, to the unique culture, there are so many little pieces of Peru that can easily go unnoticed. There so are many little details and things that are often overlooked for larger features, such as Machu Picchu or the Nazca Lines, and I have hoped to cover details in my typical posts, but here are some odds and ends I would like to highlight on.


Huaca Pucllana, mentioned in my summary of Lima, Peru, is a towering pyramid that was hiding beneath a motocross pit. It was built in 230 BCE and it is easy to see all the hard labor that was put into effect. The bricks alone are a perfect example of all the effort it must have taken. Each brick was handmade and left in the sun to dry. From there, the builders would pick it up and bring it to where it would need to be. Imagining the people behind each of these is hard to conceive, but a very interesting thought. Throughout traveling, try to expand your mind and think about these individuals. They crossed my mind a few times throughout this trip.

Bricks at Huaca Pucllana

Only half of the entire pyramid


Peru’s art is easy to overlook because there is simply so much of it. Handwoven textiles and murals are everywhere. I would certainly advise bringing at least one thing home (or many, like myself). Many of the woven materials are made from alpaca and some are created by hand. Blankets are easily available in markets, which are found all over Peru, along with other trinkets. Another popular item is the torito, which is a little ceramic bull used to bring good luck upon a family by placing it on top of a roof. These come in many colors and sizes, and are quite cheap.

Peruvian Textiles




Peruvian food is also incredibly amazing. Not only is it wholesome and filling, but it is also quite delicious. Because of so many different elevations with different levels of oxygen, the variations in corn and potatoes alone is incredible. Most of their food is very fresh and not GMO or treated with chemicals, unlike the US. I ate so much there. In almost every dinner, you will have a bowl of soup, typically quinoa or squash. For the main course, trout, chicken, and alpaca are all popular, with sides of veggies and potatoes. Also considered a delicacy is the guinea pig, which is usually cooked rotisserie style. In the bigger cities, anticuchos, or beef heart, and churros (my favorite), are found in the streets. If you are looking to try some new beverages, Pisco sours are the national drink (egg white, lemon, syrup, and Pisco brandy), and chicha morada, is also very popular. It is a purple drink from the juice of purple corn in the Andes. It is very sweet and helps with lowering blood pressure.

Peruvian Corn

 A typical meal: trout, rice, veggies, and fries.


Lastly, I would like to bring attention to Peru’s ability to hold onto their traditions and culture. Growing up in the US, there has never been much of a set culture due to the melting pot of immigrants. But in Peru, there is a distinctive and vibrant culture. People are very hospitable and proud to be Peruvian (very evident by the time we spent watching the men’s soccer team in the World Cup 2018). Many people choose to wear traditional clothing as well, and typically for more than just a tourist profit. I loved how true to themselves the people were, even in the most touristy attractions. This alone makes Peru a beautiful place.

Tin Tin (our guide) and I dressed in typical women’s attire on Uros

One of Peru’s many artists


Ollantaytambo, the Hidden Gem of Peru (5/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

During the twelve days I spent in Peru, my group travelled to so many places. We started in Lima, moving to Cusco to access the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where we found this beautiful little hole-in-the-wall places named Ollantaytambo. Here the population is just under ten thousand and is nested in the Andes Mountains. It is about two hours from Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu by train. Here we stayed for three days, working with the children in a nearby school and preparing for our trip to Machu Picchu. I would love to live here, it is very quiet, settled below the ruins of Pinkuylluna, and full of Peruvian colonial history.


Ollantaytambo was an Incan city up until the conquistadors arrived from Spain. Here, they built colonial style buildings that still exist today with their terra-cotta roofing. Our hotel, the Rumi Wasi gave great views of this and the streets offered history in it of themselves with the numerous aqueducts and cobblestone streets. This architecture has lasted for centuries and remains popular today.

Rumi Wasi Hotel

The hotel itself was ok, but not the greatest. The people were exceptional, although I feel that they were too understaffed to manage all the bookings and maintain the rooms, especially as the many Education First tour groups come through here. However, their rooms are clean and are within walking distance to everything. They offer the typical Peruvian breakfast as well.

Additionally, there is a cheap market nearby that is perfect for picking up the typical Peruvian souvenirs. Make sure to barter on price because the vendors will typically lower. Try just starting to walk away, asking for the price cut in half, or group discounts such as buying three of something but at a cheaper price. This worked many times with us.

Market in Ollantaytambo

While the history here is often overshadowed by Machu Picchu, make sure to check out the ruins nearby, as well as the huge Incan stone near the main square. It was left there from when the conquistadors came and it gives an up-close idea of how much strength and  power it must have taken to build their buildings and cities.

Of course it is also important to check out Pinkuylluna, the main ruins that show up in all the pictures of Ollantaytambo. They overlook the city and require a bit of a hike to get there. Its quite steep and tiring, but the good new is its free! There are numerous wonderful views and all can be accessed from walking around the buildings and up onto the hill.

Hiking to Pinkuylluna

Looking down to Ollantaytambo

Josh taking pictures in the ruins

If you are in Peru, make sure to consider stopping in this beautiful town, as it is worth the time and a nice break from all the hubbub and noise in the bigger cities. It was certainly one of my favorites!

My Machu Picchu Experience (4/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

People always mention how places take their breath away. I thought this was complete bogus until traveling to Peru and spending time in the Andes. Maybe it was because of elevation but I complete lost my breath and was in awe of the area around me. To see such detailed architecture made with such primitive tools and the sheer beauty of the isolated area was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

The breathtaking view of Machu Picchu


My group took a fairly simple route to get to Machu Picchu, which was great. We were based in Ollantaytambo, my favorite little town in Peru. From there, we took the train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. This mountain town is awesome and completely safe. From there, we took a bus to the bottom of the park, which was a route involving many switchbacks and tight turns. At the entrance, we used the bathrooms (cost 2 soles, or 66 US Cents) and entered through the gate and met with our tour guides. The path to the postcard like view is crowded but for the most part, the park seems quiet and not near as busy as it actually is. My advise is to skip taking pictures at the first opening, but to wait and move up higher. From there, you can decide where to go.

Josh on Peru Rail’s train to Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu was created around 1450 by the Incas. It took many years to build and was created with no machines that we have today, but purely by human and llama strength. The large stones were split by filling natural cracks in the rock with wood and then filling the wood with water, causing it to swell. The rock would fall and would be brought up to the necessary place by the people. In 1532, the conquistadors from Europe ventured into the Andes. The Inca people survived due to their bodies being acclimated to the altitude, but Machu Picchu was then isolated for many years until 1911 when Hiram Bingham, an American explorer followed the local myths into the mountains, where he discovered that Machu Picchu existed.

Incan masonry lacked mortar, only stone on stone, often with no room between

Quite impressively, the buildings had remained intact despite earthquakes and time, all due to Incan masonry and today, Machu Picchu is open to the world and remains one of the New Wonders of the World.

This slightly angled shape helped support the building walls and windows.


Unbeknownst to me, Machu Picchu has many hidden secrets. For starters, the main mountain that it is built on, is actually the face of a sleeping Inca. All this time of gazing at photos and I never realized it! Try tilting your head to the right to see it!

The sleeping Inca and the Incan Trinity. The painting is done by Santos Castilla.

Additionally, there are many different features about it. For example, if you look upon the ruins from the peak in the middle, they look like the outline of a condor, which was the Incan symbol for the afterlife. The snake, which is the guardian of the past world and the puma, the guardian of the present world, along with the condor represent the Incan trinity.

Also, the Incas were heavily interested in astrology and incorporated this into their buildings. There is a stone that recognized both of the solstices during the year and also a sundial. The most peculiar feature is a rock that gives the exact directions of North, South, East, and West. If you don’t believe it, try aligning your compass on your phone!

This rock reflects the cardinal directions

The Incan sundial

Also, make sure to take note of the impressive terraces everywhere. There are so many across Peru in general and many are still active, using Incan methods of agriculture. Peru is famous for its many types of potatoes, which were created by planting the same plant and the different levels of terraces got more oxygen than others, creating different kinds of potatoes.

Steep terraces on the side of Machu Picchu


The hike to the Sun Gate is a good option to consider adding into seeing the main ruins. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the top, but is mostly stairs, which can be tiring, but its worth it! It is almost a 1,000 foot gain but offers a fantastic view and more ruins to explore. One can also continue to the Incan path, which can  be dangerous and time consuming, but rewarding. It takes about 15 minutes to get down.

The more level part of the trail

Part of the view from the top


I would highly recommend visiting Machu Picchu to anyone and everyone. It is a safe and clean experience offering some of the world’s best sites and some of the most rewarding views. If you ever get the chance to go, take it!

PS. Don’t forget to stamp your passport!

Getting my passport stamped at the station

Conquering Elevation (3/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

For people that live up high in the clouds, it is easy to reach a lower elevation and breathe with ease. However, for those of us who live lower down, going upwards a few thousand feet can make a difference. This was especially true on my trip to Peru, where we went from living at 8,000 feet to hiking, sleeping, and eating at up to 13,000 feet.

In brief, adjusting to high altitude can harm your body because it does not receive as much oxygen as usual because there is lower air pressure and less oxygen. Because of this, your entire body shifts to be able to be creating more blood cells, readjusting placement of fluids, and breathing more. All of these adjustments take a toll on your body and can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, motion sickness, and dehydration (given this is for elevations similar to places in Peru, not extremely high elevation such as Everest, where symptoms are more severe).

Taquile Island, around 13,000 ft

Hence, there were a couple nights that I was a bit sick. The first night I was sick was with an intense headache that made me feel dizzy any time I stood. The second and third nights of being sick were intense stomach cramps, a bit of a fever, and a complete loss of appetite (a pity really, the squash soup was so good that night). I was miserable but happy because I was with some of the best people in my life. However, I could have done a bit more to help my body to be at its best. Here are three important methods to keeping the altitude sickness at bay:

1. Altitude Pills:

There are many variations of these but the ones I used were an all natural way (good for people with allergies to food dye, like me) to help your system retrieve the nutrients it needs to create more blood at that high up. I had no side effects from these, and quite frankly, I don’t think I would have been as sick if I had remembered to take them (oops). However, the days I did remember, I was able to travel without any issue, even if we had a solid hike that day. There are many ways to get these, but I would recommend some from Amazon for the convenience.

2. Coca Leaves

These leaves are awesome for helping with the altitude and not half bad. There is some stigma around them in the States because, yes, these leaves can be the source of cocaine. However, simply chewing them is not even close to the same as using cocaine and will merely act as a stimulant, prevent dehydration, hunger, and headaches. I used these on several days and it was a nice added boost to the altitude sickness pills. They taste alike to hay or alfalfa, but many people make tea out of the leaves too. You can easily get them anywhere in Cuzco, Aguas Calientes, or other high elevation towns in shops, hotel, or even the airport.

The dried Coca leaf, which is chewed to help with elevation

3. Water

Staying hydrated is the easiest way to stay safe from altitude sickness. As your body needs more air, you breath more which can quickly dehydrate you, which is easy to fix with water. Keeping a water bottle with you is key, especially on hikes such as Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate or to the top of Taquile. You won’t regret it. However, do keep in mind that while Peru’s water is clean, it is heavily chlorinated and might be hard on your stomach depending on where you are from. If you are from the US, I would strongly advise drinking bottled water, although tap water is totally fine for showers and brushing your teeth.


Taking water breaks is key to preventing altitude sickness!

Hopefully these tips can help you conquer elevation gain! Making sure you are prepared is important and taking care of your body is necessary to having a great experience!