Reflections on Peru (12/12)

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.

I am crying while typing this post.

Why?

Because this is the final article. I have been back from Peru for two months as of yesterday. Even though I returned to my small mountain town, I have channeled all my love for this country every week into tiny snippets of publications, but alas, they are over. I have to move on from this trip, it is finally over and the real world (aka school), begins yet again.

When I arrived in Albuquerque airport after flying from Lima, the first thing my dad asked me was if this trip was better than my trip to Tanzania. In short, this is not a simple answer. Tanzania turned my world upside down, throwing me into a mindset of wanderlust and ambition. I saw sickness, starvation, dehydration. I saw the world outside of the little bubble of North Idaho. It changed me entirely. But was Peru able to meet the standard Tanzania set?

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Trekking in the Andes

Let’s examine.

Peru was easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Many spots quite literally took my breath away, although altitude already did that to begin with. More often than not, I was setting down my camera to take in the view rather than snapping shots from different angles. Even though Peru is home to many people, it felt open and untouched; there was some sort of a free feeling associated with it. I’m not sure how many places there are like this, but I’m positive they are few and far between.

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Machu Picchu

Additionally, the group of people I went with was just plain incredible. This was my second Education First (EF) tour, and I will never have such a good crew ever again. Our guide, Tin Tin, was outstanding. Not only was he super smart and an excellent resource for information, but was also so personable, kind, and flat out funny.

Also, Stephanie, our EF supervisor (not sure what the actual term is, she basically comes along and makes sure the trip is running smoothly) was awesome too. She is super spunky and down for adventure, but also loves helping people out too. I loved getting to know her.

Last but not least, my group was incredible. I loved everyone on the trip and there was absolutely no drama (a miracle for 17 high school students). I will never forget the nights of playing card games and determining places based on who got out first (1st: President, 2nd: Stormy Daniels, 3rd: Vice President, 4th: Secretary, 5th: Intern, 6th: Depressed Stay at Home Dad…. and so on), adventuring in the mountains, helping the school children, swimming in underwear in the Pacific, and all the other adventures we had. These people are family and I will never travel with a better group. I will never have better advisors; thank you Erica and Tyler!

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All of us at Plaza de Armas in Lima

Then of course, there are the little things, like the scenery. Gorgeous plants galore, as well as lots of new animals. Of course there’s the llamas and guinea pigs, but also the macaws, the vicuñas, and flamingoes. Many of these I have never seen in the wild, which I loved to do. Also part of me always believed birds can’t speak. That part of me was proven wrong on this trip.

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This bird told us ‘hola‘ many times

The adventures we had were superb and full of excitement. We had many exciting hikes up and around the mountains, times spent on the beach, late night campfires, and history lessons. I loved every moment, even when I felt awful from the low oxygen, and never wanted to go back home. I loved how we got to expand our creativity and seek facts and information at the same time.

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Being creative in a Pablo Seminario workshop

So was it better?

I still don’t know because I won’t ever be able to compare the two. My EF experience with Tanzania was much different than the one in Peru. Tanzania traumatized me at first and then built me into a better and more worldly person, but Peru did something else entirely, but at the same time, of a similar nature.

During our last few moments before the airport, we went to the Pacific one more time. The red sun settled into the horizon and my friends chased the waves as they rolled back and forth on the shore. As I sat there on the beach, with the salty air in my face, all the thoughts in my mind slowed to one:

This is me.

Peru gave me a self realization that no other place had. As I gazed into the distance, in one split second, I realized that this freedom that traveling brings is what I want to chase after until I am old and grey. This is what I want to do.

I don’t know when I’ll get this feeling again, but as for now, as poet Francois Rabelais once said:

“I go to seek a great perhaps.”

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Thank you to all those who gave me so much love and support after this trip! You all are the reason and drive behind this blog. Special thanks to Annette Orton for her continued support as well!

Taquile, Peru (11/12)

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.

Taquile is the largest natural island in the waters of Lake Titicaca. From here you can see the shores of two countries, Peru and Bolivia. It is off the beaten path of most of the tourist destinations in Peru, the closest being Uros and the other floating reed islands, but nonetheless is still a gorgeous and cultural place to visit. This was also one of the highest elevation places we traveled to, making it a bit difficult to breath, but it was the bluest sky I had ever seen.

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The main arch upon arriving to the dock

The main source of profit in Taquile is the handwoven products. Being famous for their knitted goods, weaving is instilled into many aspects of daily life. Men begin learning how to knit in early childhood, as do women learning how to spin and dye the wool. Nearly everyone wears wide woven belts, or chumpis, which are woven by some of the women. Chuyos, a type of hat are also frequently worn by the men to denote their marital status. Depending on which side the top of the hat is placed, it will note on whether the man is single or married. Women also have a similar system, with the pom moms on their skirt marking their availability.

However, marriage is not the same as most of the West views it. In Taquile, couples will live together for years and possibly even have kids before getting married. This is to see if they truly want to live a life with one another before committing to. If they decide to split it off, the kids will typically go with a parent of the same sex, although its is becoming more frequent for them to live with both sides of the family. Because of this, divorce rates are exceptionally low.

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The hike up to the main square

We spent most of our time in the main square, browsing at the knitted goods and overlooking the massive lake (which was very cold by the way!). People meandered to and from, but it was a very quiet place. A few girls came to sell us handmade bracelets, of which I brought a few back for friends.

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The old colonial square

Before we left we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. Here we were easily amused by the owners who launched the tops off of soda bottles (more altitude equaled more pressure) and explained more about their life. They have continued using the terraces for centuries and still speak the Inca languages, Quechua. In addition, they create nearly everything from hand, including shampoo, which is made from a local plant. Watching them complete these talented actions was incredibly fascinating. I also loved the food, which was the typical Peruvian cuisine, plus local fish.

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Trout from Lake Titicaca

From there our adventures ended and we boated back to the hotel where we played pingpong until we couldn’t stay up any longer and prepared to depart the next day. Puno was a great place to end the trip and relax before the big flight home.

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The ever so interesting boat docking method in Puno

Uros, the Floating Island (10/12)

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.

Our last days in Peru were spent on the beautiful shores and islands of Lake Titicaca, the a high elevation lake (13,000 ft) in the south of Peru. Here modern culture clashes with older ways of living, making for a unique atmosphere with tons of exciting aspects to explore.

To begin, we took a long drive from Cuzco to Puno, where we would be staying for the next and last two days. This is about eight hours, but theres plenty to see and do along the way, including many old cathedrals (pay attention to the paintings!) and if you are lucky, you might see some flamingoes off in the distance.

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Flamingoes!

Once in Puno, there is lots to see on the lake. One of the most interesting is easily the floating reed islands. People have been creating and living on these islands for a long time, despite difficulty and weather issues. The base of the islands is created by roots from the reeds that then make the ‘carpet’ of the island. Houses are then built from the reeds as well as other buildings and features.

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Reeds that provide material for islands
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Uros Islands

This was all detailed to us by the people of the island. In addition to how the islands are built, they also gave us information on their way of life. Tourism is easily their main source of income, however the islands used for tourism are switched frequently as this is their daily life and visitors can also be a privacy invasion. This idea of community is spread throughout every piece of their life. Families often join islands and a trade system is used rather than currency between people on the island. There is certainly a level of trust that doesn’t seem to be found in many other communities I have spent time with.

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Our wonderful hostesses

In recent years, their economy has been boosted by the crafts that are made by the people of their island. Men weave replicas of their large reed boats that look akin to cats (see a few photos above) and women embroider large pieces of fabric with Incan symbolism and bright colors. I couldn’t resist and bought a black one with flaming red and orange colors. Currently don’t know where to hang it, but it was too gorgeous to resist.

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Hand embroidered artwork 

One of the women that helped us understand their way of life was exceptionally gracious and even allowed us into her house. It was a tiny reed building, filled with her traditional clothing and her son, Alex, was curled up at the foot of the bed. She had us try on her clothes, but spent the time telling me to eat more because I was too thin (may I add this was after my issues with altitude so I was a bit peaky). Tin Tin, our guide, also tried on the clothes, leading to quite comical photos.

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Tin Tin being scandalous in his bright skirt
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Alex on his first birthday

Lastly, before we departed, we had the opportunity to ride on one of the reed boats. Called Mercedes Benz boats by the locals, these have been the traditional methods of movement for the people on Uros for many decades. I was impressed with their size; about 20 people could fit on it with ease. Out boat was guided by an abuelo (grandpa), and his son in law. Even the two children hopped aboard with their dog. This was one of the sweetest families I met throughout the whole trip.

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The niños and their dog
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Our sailors

While we saw many beautiful places in Peru, these people on the island captured my heart more than anything else and I loved getting to know their way of life. I was so impressed by their graciousness and hospitality and just the sheer beauty of their lifestyle on the little floating islands.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Pinkuylluna

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.

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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.

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Sillustani
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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.

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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.

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Me with my funky pants and cuy

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

ROOF

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.

PAPER TEARING AND SOAKING

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.

GARDENING

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.

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Two of my gardening buddies

ECO BRICKS

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!

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.

ARCHITECTURE

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.

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Bricks at Huaca Pucllana

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Only half of the entire pyramid

ART

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.

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Peruvian Textiles

 

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Toritos

FOOD

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.

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Peruvian Corn

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

PEOPLE

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.

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

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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.

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Ollantaytambo

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.

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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.

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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.

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Hiking to Pinkuylluna

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Looking down to Ollantaytambo

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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.

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The breathtaking view of Machu Picchu

GETTING THERE:

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.

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Josh on Peru Rail’s train to Machu Picchu

HISTORY:

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.

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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.

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

ODD FACTS ABOUT MACHU PICCHU:

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!

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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!

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This rock reflects the cardinal directions

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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.

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Steep terraces on the side of Machu Picchu

THE SUN GATE:

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.

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The more level part of the trail

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Part of the view from the top

SUMMARY:

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!

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Getting my passport stamped at the station