As a girl who wakes up way too early every morning to put makeup on, curl or straighten my hair and use Pinterest for some daily outfit inspiration – I wondered how I was going to survive ten days in Peru with an Osprey backpack and a pink carry-on suitcase from Target.

Yes, Peru – a bucket list, dream destination I had thought about for years, but never really pondered if I would actually make it there.

Why Peru?

Early in 2019, after months of waiting, I finally received an email offer for a job that I had interviewed for. I could not contain my excitement – I was finally going to leave a work environment that had become quite toxic and start fresh! I wanted to reward myself and take a trip to Hawaii before I started my new career. I had never been to any of the islands and I have a friend who lives on Kauai who was willing to be my tour guide – so I thought, why not start there?

I asked a couple of very close friends if they wanted to come with me and both ended up being unable. Then I asked a relatively newer friend, Suzanne, whom I had just met earlier in the year. She was fun and I thought she would be a hoot to go to the islands with. Her response would end up ultimately changing the course of my life.

“I can’t go to Hawaii in May, but I am going to Peru with Conquer Peru in September with a group of ladies from The Power of SHE. Do you want to join us?”

Yes. Yes I did.

I don’t know why, but within an hour of Suzanne asking me that, I became Facebook friends with the tour operator of Conquer Peru, Matilde, and had Venmo’d her my $500 deposit. I then walked over to my co-worker who was and still is one of my closest friends, Mishana, and said, “Hey, since you can’t go to Hawaii, do you want to go to Peru in September?” Her jaw dropped and she had her deposit to Matilde within 24 hours.

It was happening.

Why I felt the call to drop everything and just go for it – I wouldn’t know until after I came back from Peru. That trip literally changed the trajectory of my life.

Some of the ladies from our Power of SHE tour group, meeting before our trip to get to know each other.

Preparing for Peru – The Medical Side

Blog life and the universe that manifests itself around my blog fascinates me.

I’ve been to multiple European countries but never to South America and with Peru came lots of internet medical advice.  I kid you not, a day after I gave my deposit for the trip, I received an email from a PR firm asking me if I was planning any summer travel adventures and if I would be interested in having a medical consultation with a doctor from one of Pacific Medical Center’s travel clinics (PacMed).  And what does a PacMed travel clinic offer? Oh, I don’t know – every single thing I was looking for in regards to traveling to Peru maybe?!? Instead of rehashing all the shots and medical requirements for Peru, you can read about my PacMed experience and what Dr. Gilmore suggested here. I will say an addendum to that blog post – I never ended up getting the yellow fever vaccination.

PacMed’s Dr. Ari Gilmore and I discussing what shots and medication I needed for Peru. (Photo Credit: Andrew Varyu)

Preparing for Peru – The Packing Side

 As my first paragraph mentioned, I over-pack, I love makeup and I was wondering how I would survive this trip without all my “stuff.” In 2016, I traveled through Berlin, Prague and Denmark with nothing but a backpack in the wintertime – surely I could survive Peru with just the same amount of gear. I’m still wondering how I did that, but I digress (let’s just say I brought a lot of leggings, one jacket and did laundry in hotels).

I managed to spend almost ten days in Europe with just this backpack – and this was in December 2016!

I ended up taking the same Osprey backpack I had taken to Europe but went ahead and bought a small American Tourister suitcase from Target, in my favorite color, pink. Since most suitcases are black, why not stand out, right? And the suitcase I purchased was a perfect carry-on size for future trips (which I have used countless times since Peru!).

Here’s my exact suitcase from Target. It’s weathered multiple countries! Click on the photo for a direct link to it.

If you haven’t used packing cubes – I highly suggest you start! I used them for my trip to Europe and for this Peru trip. I had purchased some from REI years ago but seemed to have lost them since, so I had to borrow my boyfriend’s packing cubes for this trip – he travels the world all the time. The organization and space-saving aspects of packing everything into small cubes is worth it. They are so cheap, you can find them anywhere (here’s an Amazon link to some – not affiliated). I packed all my undergarments into one, all my socks into another, shirts/tanks in one and shorts/pants in another. All of those went into my suitcase along with my one pair of hiking boots, two pairs of slip-on sneakers and one pair of flip flops. All of my 3 ounce-or-less toiletries when into Ziploc bags in my backpack. I also brought my passport and other important personal items in a small Eddie Bauer Crossbody Bag (I bought the bag in 2016 for my Europe trip and I can’t seem to find it on Eddie Bauer’s website now, unfortunately).

Screenshot of some of the packing cubes available on Amazon. Click on the photo for a direct link.

Another very important item I packed with me to Peru was a LifeStraw Go water bottle. Everyone I spoke to that has been to Peru said almost in unison, “Do not drink the water.”  This meant no ice in any of the drinks you order and either using plastic water bottles or saving the environment just a little and purchasing a LifeStraw.  The LifeStraw is an award-winning ultralight personal “straw” filter that can be used for outdoor sports, survival and emergencies. The “straw” removes bacteria, parasites and microplastics and only weighs 2 ounces. It’s long lasting and filters approximately 1,000 gallons of water. Click on the photo below for a direct link to the water bottle (not affiliated).

The LifeStraw Go water bottle.

I was ready to get on the plane with all the ladies – it was time for a life changing adventure!

Traveling to Peru

A few of us flying out of Seattle!

Our Conquer Peru tour group flew from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska Airlines (my favorite airlines and this is NOT a sponsored shout out) and then from Los Angeles to Lima on LATAM Airlines. Having never traveled out of the Bradley International Terminal in Los Angeles, I loved how the terminal reminded me of different airports in Europe that I have been to, especially when you have to wait for your flight to pop up on the board so you know which gate to go to. I will say, while I’m not 100% positive if it’s just LATAM Airlines that does this or if I should know this for all international flights, but LATAM boarded an hour early versus the standard US 30 minutes prior to take-off.  All of us girls, who had been casually dining before our long red eye flight, almost missed boarding! We had a bit of a panic there for a second – so just be warned – or if you already knew that, then I just shake my head at myself for not being aware. I can’t remember if my boarding pass said what time boarding was – I probably didn’t even pay attention and just assumed. I have even flown in and our of airports in Europe, and sadly, I can’t remember how early we boarded! It’s clearly been too long since I’ve been to Europe! That’s a whole other blog post.

Myself with the founder of The Power of SHE, Tracy and the owner of Conquer Peru, Matilde. Still bright-eyed on flight number one of the day!

I paid a little extra for the bulkhead seat on our Boeing 787 flight down to Lima and it was worth the extra $60. I made some new Peruvian friends on either side of me, practicing my Spanish with them as much as I could. A small, random thing I took notice of, all my Peruvian seatmates took their shoes off before the flight took off. I asked them about that since pretty much everyone in my row had their shoes off. I always keep mine on for various reasons like hygiene or if the plane encounters a problem, I wanted to be able to run off quickly and not have to scramble to put my shoes on for safety.  My seatmate Cecilia asked why many Americans didn’t remove their shoes. When you fly, your feet swell and it’s just that much more comfortable to not wear them. At risk of being put on Passenger Shaming’s Instagram page, I took mine off and let me say, I slept very comfortably most of the flight! When in Rome, right? I have flown domestic flights since this trip and I don’t take my shoes off — FYI. And again, this isn’t a sponsored post but LATAM Airlines also has some really delicious airplane food on their menu.

Cecilia helped me practice my Spanish between naps from Los Angeles to Lima!

Peru Days 1-2: Lima

We landed in Peru’s capital city of Lima around 8:00 a.m. and I remember going through Customs to be a fairly easy process.

The city of Lima is both captivating and fascinating. Everyone will tell you it’s dangerous, keep your belongings with you at all times, be aware of your surroundings, walk in groups, don’t go out alone at night, etc. While all of that is very sound advice and should always be practiced, take your American glasses off for just a moment.  Right before I left Seattle, I was watching the news and multiple people had been murdered in the city the night before. America doesn’t exactly have the safest cities either, with downtown Seattle being no exception.  While I must put here you always need to be vigilant, don’t be stupid and always trust your instincts, I also don’t find it wise to not go somewhere because you are fearful of what may happen. On that same token, I don’t have any desire to go to Afghanistan or Syria, but  unlike those examples, Lima is not a war zone. I did practice safe traveling in Lima, always staying with my tour group (Matilde, our tour operator, is from Lima so that also made me feel very much at ease), I kept my Eddie Bauer Crossbody Bag secure with me at all times and I stayed aware of my surroundings.

Enough of the safety talk – hopefully you all get it! Back to the beauty of Lima. Lima is on the Peruvian coast, almost right in the middle of the country. From what I had read, and experienced first hand, it’s always overcast in Lima. It was also quite chilly, but we were there mid-September, which is about their late winter/early springtime.

(Photo Credit: Google Maps)

After we arrived in Lima, we checked into the Del Pilar Mira Flores Hotel in the gorgeous Miraflores neighborhood. Mishana and our new friend and travel-mate, Pam, walked the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The views were breathtaking. Those cliffs – you have to see them for yourself, no pictures I saw prior or that I could take on my phone were able to capture how majestic they were.

The Miraflores neighborhood of Lima. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)
The cliffs of Lima. (Photo Credit: Nizam Ergil)
Mishana, Pam and I walking around in Lima just after landing in the city. We did not smell very good after all of that traveling!
Mishana and I didn’t stink enough to take silly Lima photos! I also almost fell off the scooter when she jumped on my back!

After finally being able to take a shower and get ready for our first night in Lima (after traveling all day – we all smelled a little aromatic to say the least), our group walked around the Miraflores neighborhood. The artwork, the architecture, the cats – cats everywhere!! And clearly they rule the hood. There were street dogs all over Peru, which I first noticed in Lima. My heart broke with every dog I saw. I have two boxer dogs and I wanted nothing more than to take all the dogs home. However, we later learned that many of the dogs had owners, but Peruvians let the dogs out during the day and they roam the streets in their packs. I didn’t believe it at first but while there were many very emaciated dogs, there were many more who looked very well-fed and cared for, and I also noticed collars on quite a few of them. This was just one of many times where I needed to take my American glasses off and put on Peruvian ones.

Little did I know the end of this trip would have me soaring to change my life path!
Scenes from Lima.
The Power of SHE in Lima!
Lima at night!

That first night we ate at Damajuana and it was by far, one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had dining! The food was delectable and the Barranco stage show was incredibly entertaining! I also happened to be called on stage to dance and got to play with fire. I don’t think Damajuana would be OSHA approved in the United States! I highly recommend eating here and experiencing the show if you find yourself in Miraflores!

The ladies at Damajuana.
The ladies at Damajuana.
Called on stage! (Photo Credit: Tracy Klinkroth)
My meal at Damajuana, Chicha Morada (purple corn drink), Pisco Sour and all the potatoes.

The next day we were up bright and early for our tour of the city itself! The architecture in Lima is exquisite. Our tour guide took us all over the downtown area where we explored the catacombs, saw Presidential Palace and a monastery. Even the policia were kind enough for an obligatory photo with us! My friends Tracy, Mishana and I were also interviewed and filmed by a group of students who were learning English. We ate lunch at an incredible the Mi Barrunto in the Victoria neighborhood of Lima, where I had the best ceviche I have ever had in my entire life! Trust me when I say you must eat there!!

Our tour of downtown Lima.

Thank you Policia!
Tracy, Mishana and I with the group of students who interviewed us!

Eating at Mi Barrunto with the owner.
Best ceviche ever at Mi Barrunto!
The Victoria neighborhood firefighters, and yes, one is female! #PowerofSHE

Part of this trip included visiting different non-profits throughout Peru. We ended our second day in Lima meeting with Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong, 2018’s CNN Heroes award winner. Through his non-profit, Inspira, Dr. Pun helps families who live in the Amazon and the Andes.

“Mission: That no child suspend their treatments for lack of financial resources, providing a temporary shelter for children (cancer patients, burned or with other diseases) who come from the interior of the country accompanied by a family member (mom) to attend the capital at the National Institute of Neoplastic Diseases (INEN) or at the National Institute of Child Health San Borja (INSN-SB).

Vision: Ensure that the mortality of children with cancer in the interior of the country decreases, being able to have a shelter that provides them with accommodation and quality of stay, so that they can continue the treatment for as long as necessary.

Our Essence: Inspira wants children to remain children. Creative, playful, restless and full of energy. To face the disease with a smile. The institution encourages conversation and community life. It also focuses on the formation of motor and cognitive skills. It also focuses on the formation of healthy eating habits, which allow them to cope better with diseases.”

Dr. Pun with Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa.
Some of our group with Dr. Pun and some of the children.
These two little heroes are fighting cancer!

I highly HIGHLY recommend reading this article about Dr. Pun and his work – https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/31/health/cnnheroes-ricardo-pun-chong-inspira/index.html.

After an incredible first full day in Peru, a night of sleep awaited and then it was off to the Amazon Rainforest!

Peru Days 3-5: Amazon Rainforest, Madre de Dios

The next morning, it was back to the Lima Airport and onto another LATAM plane headed east to Puerto Maldonado – the gateway to the Amazon! It was here that Mishana and I put that LifeStraw Go water bottle to the test, we filled it up with sink water from the Lima Airport bathroom! We also did pull-ups on the airport bus because why not?

The non-stop flight takes about an hour and forty minutes to the little town about 35 miles from the Bolivian border on the Rio Madre de Dios (which I thought was the Amazon for a minute, but the Amazon River is about 700 miles NORTH of Puerto Maldonado – shows how much I know, Amazon Rainforest does not equate to every single river you see being the Amazon River – I swear I feel so uneducated sometimes).

Puerto Maldonado in relation to Lima. (Photo Credit; Google Maps)
To the Amazon we go!

Upon arriving in Puerto Maldonado, we met up with our Amazon guides from the non-profit Hoja NuevaSamantha Zwicker and Ava Holmes. We had lunch at the Cacao Center, a conservation center, chocolate cafe and gift shop above the Shamans Bar & Restaurant. I ordered a delicious acai bowl with fruit and granola.  Our chef, Ava Holmes, is originally from Seattle (and was featured on the reality TV wilderness survivalist show, Naked and Afraid), and we all had a great time chatting with her about the cacao center and what brought her there and to Hoja Nueva. After lunch, we walked around the Puerto Maldonado waterfront before it was time to pile into a van and headed deep into the Amazon Rainforest.

Location of Shamans in Puerto Maldonado.
Ava making all of our lunch orders.
My delicious acai bowl.
Lunch and learn with Samantha Zwicker.
Mishana and I enjoying the views and the heat!
Turned my REI hiking pants into shorts with two quick unzips!

Another little interjection here – the temperature difference between Lima and Puerto Maldonado was insane. I had to dress in layers in Lima while in Puerto Maldonado, it felt like it was 100 degrees with 90% humidity (which is about what the temperature was).  If you think New Orleans in August is bad, try the Amazon in September!

And now we were off to Hoja Nueva! If you plan to stay at Hoja Nueva (which I recommend if you enjoy rugged outdoor and adventure travel) – be prepared for the journey. From Puerto Maldonado, you hop into a van and the trek to the river is a good 2+ hours on the bumpiest roads you’ll ever encounter. The van takes you through the Amazon Rainforest, where you encounter some of the most beautiful landscapes, but also you see first hand what logging has done to the forest. Samantha Zwicker, the founder of the Hoja Nueva (also a native to Seattle), was with us in the van and told us about all the work they have done educating locals about the severe effects of deforestation. The amount of illegal tree cutting is rampant and it will break your heart to see huge swaths of the forest completely gone. I will be honest, the ride in the van (I was also sitting in the back) was not a fun ride. I did take Dramamine prior and I actually kept dozing off (which by the way – Mishana filmed me dozing off, she isn’t nice), which I would also recommend doing.

After the very long van ride, you then board a boat on the Las Piedras River, but not before hanging out with the locals that live in the small village near the boat launch. I will reiterate again, one has to take off their American glasses and put on a different mindset. It’s from this point on that you come across toilets you may not be used to. In the village, there are basically just holes in the ground or very dirty, very open toilets. They get the job done but fair warning, if you need a real toilet facility, this may not be the type of adventure for you! I would also suggest bringing your own toilet paper.

Yes folks, this is a toilet!
Boarding our next ride. (Photo Credit: Suzanne Kitzmiller)
Deeper into the Amazon we go. (Photo Credit: Suzanne Kitzmiller)
The local children helping us on our journey. (Photo Credit: Suzanne Kitzmiller)

Samantha and her crew then take you for a boat ride down the river headed for Hoja Nueva and I can’t tell you how nice it felt to be on the river and not in a bumpy van. The nature that surrounds you is surreal – you realize you are deep in the Amazon Rainforest. This was also the first time I had ever seen macaws in the wild – it was the coolest thing ever.

Madre de Dios Reserve (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

After about a 30-minute boat ride, we then docked and began our one mile trek through the Amazon to the Hoja Nueva lodge. And it’s a trek! There is a trail, you have your Hoja Nueva guides with you – but there are no words to describe the feelings you get going from the river to the lodge. There I was with just my backpack (we all left our suitcases back at the  boat house in Puerto Maldonado – they were safe there), holding a bag of rum and coke, trudging through the freaking Amazon Rainforest. There is ZERO cell service and no Wi-Fi anywhere near you. You are cut off from the world. Colorful macaws fly overhead, you hear all the sounds, all the bugs, you wonder what’s looking at you from the top of the trees, and you are surrounded by green. There is so much going on in that jungle, its a true sensory overload and your imagination goes wild. How many people have done what you are doing? I get a little teary-eyed thinking about this experience. It was that incredible.

The circle in the top left corner is the approximate location of Hoja Nueva. As you can see, it’s deep into the Amazon Rainforest.
Carrying a ripped bag of rum and Coke through the Amazon.
Amazon selfie!
Why not take another selfie?
Mishana’s photo game is strong.

Once you reach Hoja Nueva Lodge….you come out of the forest and lo and behold, this architecturally stunning, open-air masterpiece sits in front of you. It’s a sight to be seen. So what is this place exactly, and why is it a must-see? Here’s some info from their website – their mission says it all.

“Hoja Nueva is a dynamic 501(C)(3) non-profit (EIN: 47-4323459) working in the remote Piedras region of Madre de Dios, Peru. Our research centers in the jungle serve as a local knowledge base led by novel, on-the-ground research, the majority of which involves conservation, wildlife, permaculture, and sustainable community development. Our base is a home to our staff and local community members, as well as volunteers, interns, researchers, and tourists that share a collective mission to make rainforest conservation a collaborative success in the Piedras – and all remote rainforest environments like it.

 Hoja Nueva as a Peruvian nonprofit association confronts deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon by conserving rainforest and building capacity within remote and indigenous communities by developing micro-finance programs and empowering women; strategically acquiring rainforest habitat; implementing rigorous scientific research in waste management, water and wildlife; and creating alternative income opportunities that protect indigenous culture and wildlife habitat. Hoja Nueva also works with migrant communities that practice large-scale slash and burn agriculture to implement sustainable cacao agroforestry methods that increase yield and decrease environmental impact, helping farmers to transition sustainable by obtaining fair wages.

 Our newest endeavor is called Project ReWild. On our 5,000 acres of protected rainforest located far up the Piedras River, we are developing a rescue center working in partnership with Amazon Shelter and local officials that intercept wildlife from the black market. Project ReWild is a safe place where wild animals become wild again, led by our most experienced wildlife technicians and volunteers. We are a safe haven for wildlife, and a source of education for anyone willing to learn about or support the conservation of wildlife and habitat.”

 Check out Hoja Nueva for yourself here: https://hojanueva.org/

We spent two nights at Hoja Nueva, and the experience I had is something I will never forget. For one, it was my first time using a compostable toilet. Walking to it from our rooms late at night knowing that monkeys were in the trees above watching me was definitely eerie. I’m pretty sure my one 4 a.m. bathroom run had them throwing some sort of tree nuts at me. I admit, it’s unnerving walking 100 feet in the dark, all alone with just a small flashlight to an open air toilet, knowing that some sort of creatures are watching you.

Side view of the lodge on the right with the shower area on the left side of the photo. The bathroom is about a 100 foot walk past the showers. (Photo Credit: Suzanne Kitzmiller)
Side view of the lodge. (Photo Credit: Suzanne Kitzmiller)
That rum and coke going to good use in the Amazon!
The boys of Hoja Nueva making our lunch meal before an excursion.

I left having befriended the most adorable wild boars who aren’t really wild anymore as Billy Bob comes to you when you call his name and loves being scratched with sticks. I still miss Billy Bob to this day.

Billy Bob. (Photo Credit: Mishana Egan)
The baby boar was adorable, but sounded like a child screaming half the time! (Photo Credit: Mishana Egan)

I left the Amazon having spent our first night with Mishana and two of our guides (shockingly nobody else in our group wanted to come with us) on a late night reptile hunt searching for cayman. All we saw were mostly spiders and poisonous frogs – but how cool was it to don rainboots and headlamps, trudging through the Amazon in absolute darkness looking for wild beasts?

Lots of giant spiders in the Amazon!
And lots of frogs!

I left with memories of hiking to lookouts with the most show-stopping views, playing in waterfalls, touring a cacao farm, taking cold showers which were refreshing in the heat (but still, taking a cold shower is never that much fun in my opinion), having drank my share of Nescafe instant coffee – you just experience a little bit of everything in the Amazon. It’s indescribable how it makes you feel because you feel EVERYTHING. You feel vulnerable, excited, awe-inspired, sadness, sheer joy, exhaustion – the Amazon will.change.your.life. GO!

With our morning Nescafe instant coffee.
On the boat again in search of adventure!
Waterfalls in stifling heat are so refreshing!
Tracy, Mishana and Matilde enjoying the waterfall.
Lesley, the Amazon rope climbing explorer.
A nice hike through the Amazon leads to incredible views.
Touring a cacao farm.
Fresh cacao!
Can you see the monkeys on the shoreline?

I also left with many mosquito bites. Even though you sleep in bunks surrounded by incredibly thick mosquito netting (which was a bit stifling in the intense heat and humidity), you really should take your malaria pills and buy some sort of bug spray with DEET. REI has a nice selection (not sponsored!).   Another quick insertion – one of the medications I received from PacMed was Malarone (read my previous article for all the details). The medication that causes severe side effects is called Mefloquine and I would stay away from that if at all possible. I was very thankful that the ones prescribed to me only caused mildly disturbing dreams, like watching a cow get electrocuted one night and then another dream of me petting a cat whose entire intestinal tract I could see from a giant hole in its body.

Bunk beds with the mosquito netting at Hoja Nueva.

Soon it was time to leave Billy Bob, the monkeys in the trees, the macaws in the air and the dense, humid jungle for more rugged terrain. Time to get back on the boat, sit myself down in the van again and endure the bumpy old forest logging road from hell. When my phone found a signal again  upon our return to Puerto Maldonado and started vibrating with all the texts and social media notifications, I was borderline sad. There really is something to be said for being completely cut off from the world and truly out in nature.

Peru Days 6-8: Sacred Valley of the Incas

Back to Cusco we flew – a city that sits nestled in the Andes Mountains at 11,152 feet. And once again, another interjection – I want to introduce you to Acetazolamide. This medication helps combat altitude sickness by decreasing headaches, tiredness, nausea, dizziness and the shortness of breath that come with altitudes over 10,000 feet. It does take a few days to get acclimated to cities like Cusco that are 2.1 miles into the sky – but I feel like the combination of Acetazolamide that Dr. Gilmore prescribed me and my incline running gym workouts I had been doing a couple months prior to my trip helped me acclimate to the elevation. That being said, going up a flight of stairs at our hotels still made me feel winded!

If medication isn’t really your thing, Peruvians (and so many others) swear by the Coca Leaf. Offering the same benefits as medication like Acetazolamide, the coca leaf can be rolled into a ball and kept in the mouth or steeped in tea. I drank coca leaf tea a few times a day at the higher elevations.

Cusco (Photo Credit: Google Maps)
Coca Leaf Tea with every meal!

We landed in Cusco to a group of women from Peruvian Hearts greeting us at the airport. Talk about feeling like a celebrity in a foreign country – there were signs, tears, confetti and so many hugs!! Peruvian Hearts is a 501(c)(3) charity organization based in Golden, Colorado that encourages social, economic, and political change in Peru through the education and empowerment of young women.

Our welcoming committee.

“Our programs are designed to help women of all ages to reach their potential through education, mentorship, and community leadership. Our girls’ education and empowerment program, empowers Peruvian young women to break the cycle of poverty through secondary-school graduation and continued education at the post-secondary level in vocational institutes, colleges, and universities. We support three different girls’ homes, or hogares, in the Cusco and Sacred Valley of Peru through volunteers and in-kind donations.”

You can read more about Peruvian Hearts here: http://www.peruvianhearts.org/

I’m still finding random confetti in my belongings!
These women have such beautiful souls!

After all the amazing hugs from the women of Peruvian Hearts, we headed to the Hotel Ruinas to relax and enjoyed more pisco sours and potatoes. Keep reading, I promise you’ll learn more about the Peruvian pisco sours and potatoes!

The following day was spent on a private guided tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. While the Amazon was spectacular for all that nature can produce, the Incan man-made architecture is truly astounding to see in person. We started the morning asking our tour guide to please stop at the Awana Kancha Interpretation Center to feed Peru’s sacred animals. It was worth the stop, those faces make me laugh! Beyond a fun Instagram photo, these camelids provide so much for the people of Peru, with their fur to make textiles that are sold on the market to help support families and for their meat to keep everyone fed!

The Sacred Valley – Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, Cusco on the right. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)
Couldn’t have paid for better photo timing!

After our visit with all the animals, we drove through the valley, along the Urubamba River as it snaked its way through the landscape to the small village of Pisac, where we visited one of Peru’s most famous, colorful and traditional markets. It was here I ran across a guitar maker and found the perfect birthday gift for my boyfriend, Kyle. He loves playing guitar and I figured adding a small guitar from Peru to his collection would be a pretty cool gift (note – I was correct in my assumption – however, he had a hard time re-tuning it, what sounds amazing at 11,000 feet in the Andes Mountains doesn’t sound as good at an elevation of 300 feet!).

In the Sacred Valley.
Ruining the ruins.

We also took a crash course in learning how to spot fake alpaca wool. If you see “alpaca” wool at a store, stick your hand in between the fabric. If it’s warm to the touch, it’s fake and most likely a cotton derivative. If its cold to the touch, it’s most likely real alpaca and you should buy it!

Our tour guide, Jaime, also took us to his childhood home in Urubamba, where his mother, Mercedes, has been brewing chicha (corn beer) for decades at the Aqha Wasi Inka Bar. I also learned that being good at beer pong means I am fairly decent at the Peruvian game, Sapo. I highly recommend trying chicha while you are in Peru and finding a game of Sapo to play – whoever loses at Sapo has to buy all the chicha!

We got here just in time as a huge busload of tourists showed up as we were leaving!
Give us all the chicha!
Jaime and his mother, Mercedes.
Why are Mishana and I holding all the chicha?
The competitive game of Sapo!

Our final stop for the day was the city of Ollantaytambo, which is known as the living Inca city as the people have kept the original traditions and customs of the Incan lifestyle alive. The impressive archaeological park was incredible to see at sunset and we learned so much about the history of the Incan culture here.

Again, ruining the ruins.

Side story of what happened to me while visiting the park – and you should learn from me.  I ended up leaving my ticket to get into the park in the van and I had to go back and get it, but couldn’t find our van in a sea of vans and buses. Thankfully our driver found me, but it took at least 10 minutes and I started to get a little panicked that I wouldn’t be able to join the ladies on the tour. Always bring your stuff with you!!

After another evening of delicious Peruvian food, pisco sours and a night of sleep at the Pakaritampu Hotel, a new day had dawned in Peru and it was time to visit another non-profit, Awamaki!

“Awamaki creates lasting impact in the remote mountains of Peru by helping rural Andean women’s associations launch successful small businesses creating authentic, high-quality products and experiences. Awamaki invests in women’s skills, connects them to market access and supports their leadership so they can increase their income and transform their communities.

Awamaki is comprised of a Peruvian asociación civil and a U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working closely together to empower women’s associations, connect them to markets and enable them to lead their communities out of poverty. Though a non-profit, Awamaki uses market strategies to accomplish its charitable goals of increasing women’s income and business leadership.

Awamaki was formed in early 2009 to support a cooperative of 10 women weavers from Patacancha, a rural Quechua community in the Andes of Peru. Awamaki’s founders, Kennedy Leavens, from the U.S., and Miguel Galdo, from Peru, had worked together at Awamaki’s predecessor organization with the weaving cooperative for two years. When the predecessor organization floundered and finally collapsed, Miguel and Kennedy formed Awamaki to continue their work with the weavers. The organization grew rapidly to include programs in health and education, as well as other artisan cooperatives and a sustainable tourism program. In 2011, Awamaki spun its health program off into an independent sister organization, and made the strategic decision to focus on income improvement and market access through fair trade artisan cooperatives and sustainable tourism.”

You can learn more about Awamaki here: https://awamaki.org/

Our journey to visit the women of Awamaki took over an hour as our van drove deep into the heart of the Quechua community of Huilloc. My latest interjection since this is the first time I’ve mentioned it – Quechuan is the native language of Peru and the Quechua people are part of the indigenous ethnic groups of Peru. I learned a few words in Quechuan while I was there. Did you know Machu Picchu is Quechuan for “Ancient Mountain?”

Huilloc location in comparison to Cusco. (Photo Credit: Map Carta)

Once we arrived at Awamaki, we learned all about weaving and its significance in the Andean culture. We watched a demonstration of the entire weaving process, from the beginning as to how alpaca and/or sheep wool is hand spun into yarn, how local plants are used as natural dyes, and how yarn is woven into a finished product that you would see at the market! We also each had the unique chance to partner with one of the Awamaki women and learned how to weave a bracelet! My weaving partner, Susanna, was very kind and patient with me as I tried to weave as she did so effortlessly. It was clear that I had received a C in my 7th grade home economics class as I struggled almost every step of the way. I was also thankful at this point for my years of junior high, high school and one year of college Spanish classes – I was able to carry on a very basic conversation with Susanna and she taught me some Quechuan as well. My Spanish was much better than my weaving skills!

Learning about weaving and wearing their traditional garments.
Feeling the difference real alpaca makes.

The yarn is dyed from plants or insects.
They dressed all of us in native Andean clothing and of course they made me the dude. 😒
A simple bracelet takes some work!
Susanna and I after the weaving struggle.

After our bracelets were finished, the ladies made us a home cooked meal that we all enjoyed immensely. Peruvian food is some of the most filling and satisfying food you’ll ever have! Before we left, we all had the chance to purchase products made by the women, I bought alpaca socks from Susanna – and they are the warmest and coziest socks I own!

This soup and coca leaf tea was just the beginning.
Let’s just say we were well fed by the women of Awamaki!

Saying goodbyes, we returned to Ollantaytambo. We had some free time before we had to board a train, so Mishana and I went for a walk around the city to look for gifts to purchase and we proceeded to get lost in the sea of alleyways. We finally figured out to look at where the archaeological site was as our reference point since it was such a prominent backdrop and it helped guide us back to our group. Thank you to the Inca civilization for helping us find our way, so to speak! We had a train to board!

Peru Day 9 – Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

This section will bleed slightly into the previous day because I have to describe to you how unbelievable our train ride was from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes was. Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu. The two hour train ride takes you through some of the most beautiful Peruvian countryside, hugging the Urubamba River and is incredibly relaxing.

(Photo Credit: Google Maps)
Boarding the Inca Rail train.
On our way!
The amber tea served on the train was delicious!

It was pretty dark when we arrived at Aguas Calientes so there wasn’t much to see at first (and we were all so exhausted anyways). We had hotel guides from Tierra Viva Machu Picchu Hotel meet us at the train station and they escorted us to our hotel – and by that I mean we walked the whole way. It wasn’t a very long walk, but Aguas Calientes was definitely very crowded! After a night of much needed rest, we woke up the next morning to the views that surround Aguas Calientes – and they were spectacular. I was so excited as this was the day I would be marking Machu Picchu off my bucket list!

Getting ready to board the bus in Aguas Calientes!

Here is your reality check time. Machu Picchu is visited by 5,000 people per day. And most of those tourists take buses to the top. There are people and there are lines everywhere! It was SO crowded everywhere we went – I can’t stress to you enough that there are people everywhere. If you are lucky enough to get a picture where it looks like you are all alone – you’ve won at life, my friend!

Lines everywhere!
Bus selfie!

That being said, the bus ride up to Machu Picchu has you going up on switchbacks for what seemed like an hour. And there are buses going both ways on the side of the cliff! You have got to hand it to these Peruvian bus drivers, they know what they are doing – and they are some of the most skilled drivers I have ever seen! But those views….be sure to get yourself a window seat on that bus – you will just sit there with your mouth open going, “wow.”

Just a small taste of those spectacular views.

When you finally arrive at Machu Picchu, be prepared for more lines and more people! I’m going to emphasize again: 5,000 people a day and it will feel like all 5,000 are there at once. Take your pictures and move on so the next person can take your spot for their picture. You are not alone at all.

We took a two-hour tour with our guide and learned all about the discovery of the location by Hiram Bingham and the different theories as to why the ancient ruins were abandoned. Overall, Machu Picchu did not disappoint, it’s everything you think it will be and I left that mountain with all of the feels. There is a reason why this area is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. You must experience it if you can!

I am the only one at Machu Picchu! Just kidding!
One of the most incredible sights you will ever see.
Someday, Mishana and I will have our own travel show!
This adorable French couple stole our hearts.

After spending many hours among the ruins and meeting an adorable French couple whose spirits could put light into anyone’s life, it was time to go all the way back to Cusco. We took our bus back down to Aguas Calientes and from there it was back into a van for the long drive to Cusco. Mishana and I had another long day ahead of us on Day 10. We were going to break our own personal bucket list record.

Peru Day 10: Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)

Vinicunca, also known as Rainbow Mountain, is all over Instagram. From social media, the mountain looks like this vibrantly colorful, remote mountain landscape, where individuals who climb to the lookout take their beautiful photos like they just discovered something no one has seen before.

(Photo Credit: David Ionut)

Well my friends, I will tell you, most of the photos you see on social media are Photoshopped (shocking) – even the in-country advertising has the colors of the mountain oversaturated in color. Stay with me on this because Vinicunca added to an incredible chapter of my life story – but if you are going there just for the Instagrammable photo, you won’t be too happy. If you go to Rainbow Mountain to climb to the top of the lookout and know you just accomplished something so personally incredible and there happens to be amazing views – then you will not be sorry!

Our oversaturated ticket to glory!

Mishana and I had been eager to see Vinicunca since we first paid our deposit for the Peru trip. The views looked spectacular and getting up to those views would be half the fun (and half the battle). We started training at the gym a few months prior (as I had mentioned before) by adding incline running to our workouts. I would run up to a 15% incline for at least half a mile in a 1-2 mile warm-up 3 to 4 times a week.The training paid off in dividends (along with that altitude medication and coca leaves I told you about!).

Mishana and I were the only two in our group who were going to hike Vinicunca. Our hiking guides, Franklin and Abraham, picked us up from our hotel in Cusco at 5:00 a.m. and the three hour drive to the South Valley began. We stopped for breakfast in a small village somewhere off the roadway and I mentioned to Mishana about how cool it was that we were in the middle of the Andes Mountains, drinking cafe con leche with two Peruvian guys we didn’t really know and it was totally fine. God, I love traveling.

(Photo Credit: Google Maps)
Waking up at 4:00 a.m. for a 5:00 a.m. pick-up followed by a 3 hour car ride to hike a mountain? No problem!

Upon our arrival to Vinicunca, I will just warn you now, while it’s not as bad as Machu Picchu, Instagram has made the mountain a very popular tourist destination. Again, people everywhere!  It was very cold, but the sun was out and we thought it was about to burn off the clouds. While we had been warned multiple times that the weather changed quickly, we didn’t expect it to change as fast the way it did! Within 15 minutes of our hike, the sun was gone and it started snowing. Hard. It continued to snow from base camp all the way up to the summit at 16,522 feet. The walking was slow, the snow was blinding at times, but I am proud to say Mishana and I persevered and made it.

Stop at Phullawasi Pata at an altitude of 4,626 meters or 15,177 feet.
With our guides, Franklin and Abraham.
Just trotting along on our hike before the snow began!
Snow selfie before my hand froze off!
Can you see us?
Snow won’t stop us!

Once we got to the summit, the coveted Rainbow Mountain was shrouded in clouds. We were admittedly disappointed to have come all this way for clouds, but it was truly an accomplishment to hit the summit. Neither Mishana nor I had ever hiked to almost 17,000 feet before.

The very real life muted colors of Vinicunca, shrouded in clouds.
The fog is so pretty.
Our destination complete at 5,036 meters of 16,522 feet!

As it was still very cold with snow flurries, I was pretty sure frostbite was about to set in on my fingers, even with gloves on. I started my walk down from the lookout and lo and behold, right then, the clouds lifted and there she was in all her glory. It was magnificent. The bands of colors are due to weather and mineralogy, with different layers of sediment that were compacted.

Quick! Take pictures before the clouds come back!
When you see this mountain in person, I don’t care if it’s not as vibrant as social media says it is – it’s so beautiful.
Don’t forget your Vinicunca passport stamp! Apparently there is one at Machu Picchu also but I didn’t know that!

As I stared in awe, Mishana called down to me for a photo and we took as many as we could before the clouds rolled back in. Hopping and skipping all the way back down to base camp, Mishana and I were filled with joy and glee. I still cannot describe to you all how hiking to that summit felt. It was our last full day in Peru and to end it like that…..no words.

There is also another Rainbow Mountain to see…..Palccoyo – an entire range of rainbow mountains! I guess I need to go to Peru again. Shucks.

Palccoyo (Photo Credit: Luigi Farrauto)

Peru Day 11: Cusco and Goodbye

This was it. Our last day. Our trip was ending. I was so incredibly sad to be leaving this beautiful part of the world. While we had much of the day to explore the city of Cusco before we had to jump back onto airplanes, I was slightly solemn as I knew it was back to reality soon.  We walked around the gorgeous city of Cusco, encountered a very unkind American at a local Starbucks who was yelling at the Peruvian barista and making a scene (and to be honest, an ass of herself) for not giving her a one sole (Peruvian dollar) discount on her coffee and we visited the delicious Choco Museo! I definitely want to take more time exploring Cusco next time I go to Peru, not during a time where I’m sad and just trying to kill time before I have to board an aircraft!

Our last few hours in Peru. Sad day.

On a Happy Note – The Food and those Pisco Sours

Instead of ending this blog post on a sad note, I am ending it on a delicious note. Peruvian cuisine is truly some of the best food you will ever have. Fair warning – potatoes are in almost everything. According to all of our guides, Peru has over 3,000 (I have read even up to 4,000) different varieties of potatoes. How is that even possible – I couldn’t tell you and I still can’t fathom this.

When you visit Peru, you have to try as many different potato entrees as you can. Along with potatoes, I highly suggest trying their ceviche, go ahead and try some Cuy (sorry folks, its guinea pig!) and order some Alpaca. Cuy is the second most popular meat dish in Peru, behind Alpaca – while I don’t think I ever tried cuy (I plan to next time I am in the country), I did try some Alpaca and it’s delicious!

A sampling of appetizers during our last meal in Cusco.

Another dish you won’t be able to get away from in Peru is cancha – dry roasted corn kernels. I think every restaurant we went to, we were given cancha as a pre-meal snack. And once you have one, you won’t stop and soon your little bowl will be empty. But don’t worry, it will be filled again!

Last but not least – Pisco Sours. I like to say they are the official drink of Peru and I’d fight you on it (not really because Chile claims them as well), but seriously – I ordered a pisco sour at every single place we dined. The concoction is so simple. Pisco (the liquor base), lemon juice, egg white and simple syrup, shaken with ice cubes, garnished with bitters and a sprinkle of cinnamon (there are plenty of variations of course, but that is the basic premise). They are so good, both sweet and tart, a little earthy, all Peruvian. Now that I typed all this, I want another one right now.

Our last dinner drinks in Cusco (right one is a Pisco Sour)

There you have it folks. My life changing trip to Peru. I came, I saw, I went, and I’m going back in July 2020 to hike the 26-mile Inca trail to Machu Picchu, but bringing the boyfriend and some of my friends from around the States with me this time. I want nothing more than for everyone to experience all that Peru has to offer. And I barely touched the surface of that country. There is still so much more to see: the actual Amazon River, Iquitos, Mancora, the Nazca Lines, Huanchaco, Chachapoyas, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, and the desert oasis of Huacachina – and even all those choices are just a few of many. Mishana suggests everyone visit the Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve in Peru – any ideas why? 🙂

And one final note – LifeStraw works. 🙂

We laugh in the face of being ill!

It’s a big world out there folks, get your passport and GO!

I traveled Peru with Conquer Peru. Learn more about all the travel packages they offer at www.ConquerPeru.com.

 

 

 

 

About Lesley Kilp

Lesley is the founder and editor of What's Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events.  She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.

View all posts by Lesley Kilp

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