Peru: Part 1 – Cusco Region

I know, I know.  I’ve been a slacker.  Like a HUGE slacker.  I dropped off the face of the planet for a few weeks.  Frankly, I’ve been super duper busy with just life stuff. Between traveling, tons and tons of email inquires, siblings in from out of state, a workshop in Upstate NY (there will eventually be a blog post for that too) and sick doggies.. I’ve been a busy bee.  Not so much in the photography or blog sense, but more in the, ‘there is soo much going on in life right now and I’m like a chicken with my head cut off.’

But PERU!  Whew, what a trip.  And with sooo many details, experiences, and photos, I’m breaking this up into three different posts!  If I tried to fit it all in one, this might be the longest post in history or qualify as a novella.  I’m also going to share some Peruvian inspired recipes too!  Hopefully bringing together some of our favorite flavors from our journey, stay tuned for more of that deliciousness!

This trip, we had some close calls, wonderful tour guides, three different climates, a BIG mishap by the travel agency we booked with (which caused us to get stranded) and many, many beautiful sights and sounds! There was just sooo much experiences crammed into eight days. Not to mention food!  We seriously ate like kings and queens!  And hey, if you want to skip to the photos feel free, you’re about to hear all the good, the bad and the ugly of this trip.  In my mind, we start with the worst and go to the best of our experiences!

Now hey, HEY YOU!  The one reading this who is sitting behind their computer screen saying to themselves, wow, what an adventure.. but I could never to something like that.  Let me say, if my curvy girl self and my 6’5″ hubby can cram ourselves in planes seats for 13+ hours, climb all over Manchu Picchu and survive at 13,000+ feet…. let me tell you, YOU can too.  And with places like Peru and much of the Central/South America’s where the dollar is far superior with ratios of 3 and 5 local currency to a dollar, you can travel very very cheaply!

We ironically chose to do it all our bookings through a travel agent to take the stress out of planning.  Hopefully to ensure that everything taken care of and we didn’t have to think about all those details.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Half way through our travels, while waiting at the check in airline counter, we were told we didn’t have tickets on this flight.  The travel agent had booked our tickets on the wrong day.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, we’d just find another flight… freak out later.. and catch our next transfer.  However, this wasn’t the case.  We were stuck in a tiny airport, in a solely Spanish speaking area, with no more flights leaving that day. Thankfully, we were able to get a hold of our last guide who came to try and help us to no avail.  We caught a taxi back to a crappy hotel and literally spent the rest of the day by the phone waiting for the travel agency to figure out what was going on and if we were even able to get to the Amazon.  It sucked.  There wasn’t even a lot of worry or apologizes on the agency’s part that day either.  They didn’t help us find better accommodations, or get us dinner, or even have someone there to help us translate. The whole thing sucked.

For once, I took the travel out of my hands and gave it to a company who was supposed to take care of everything and they didn’t.  They failed miserably.  And I can’t lie and say this didn’t put a damper on our trip.  We missed going to the clay picks (which I was most looking forward to) where we would have gotten to see tons of parrots and other birds in the Amazon, i.e. literally a photographer’s dream.  With very limited bags too the jumbo lens I lugged around this whole trip just for that opportunity wasn’t used as much as it should have been.  We missed a once in a lifetime sight of a Giant River Otter family attacking a Cayman on the lake we were supposed to stay at.  Not to mention missing more then 30+ hours in the Amazon, as well as our nice hotel, guided tours, and pre-arranged meals.  It sucked.  Like bad.  But let me tell you, it could have been worse if we didn’t keep our heads together.  It would have sucked more if there weren’t any flights the following days. And the final icing on that cake would have been if the strikes in the Sacred Valley (that started while we were there) made it impossible to get out of the area we were in.  There were lots of obstacles thrown at us throughout this trip.  But thankfully, our travel smarts, ability to separate ourselves from the situation until we got back on our home turf, and resilience definitely helped us out here.

But whew, that’s my angry spiel about the whole thing.  Now onto Peru, the good, great and awesome parts!  Day 1, we started our journey in BWI arriving in Lima, only to catch our connecting flight to Cusco.  Ladies and gents, that’s like going from sea level to 13k+ feet.  I would not advise this as altitude sickness will kick you in the ass, but hey, it’s how our journey began.  We arrived and were immediately given coca tea (a remedy to altitude sickness as well as nausea) as well as advice on eating habits and physical activities.  What is altitude sickness you might ask?  To me, it’s like being a drunk hungover baby.  Dizzy, headache, shortness of breath and your balance is all wonky.  But for a more ‘clinical definition’ it’s defined by google as, “illness caused by ascent to a high altitude and the resulting shortage of oxygen, characterized chiefly by hyperventilation, nausea, exhaustion, and cerebral edema.”  And yes, it happens to just about EVERYONE who doesn’t live up that high.

We met up with our guide who took us on a tour of some of the ancient terraces in Cusco. Cusco, literally translated means, “navel of the world.” This was once the holy city which was the nexus of the Inca Empire.  Our first stop was Sacsayhuaman, built by the Incas starting around 1200BC and it overlooked the whole city. Followed by Korikancha, known as the Temple of the Sun during Inca Empire, now the site of the Santo Domingo Convent. The Cathedral, which faces the Plaza de Armas in the heart of downtown Cuzco. As well as many different Inca stone ruins including Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay.

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At one of the many stops we made with locals selling their wares.  How lovely are the colors and backdrop?

Looking out from one of the ruins where they preserved the bodies of royalty.  The dry cool air up in the Andes greatly helped this process.

Couldn’t escape the weddings, even at 13,000 feet haha!

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Now Peruvian food is now seriously in my top three favorite foods!  So many fusions of so many different cultures.  It was awesome to try to figure out different influences in each dish.  This foodie was in heaven. Did you know they have over 5,000 varieties of corn and potatoes in Peru?!  How nutty is that? By far, one of our favorite places we ate the whole trip was Morena Peruvian Kitchen.  Asian Peruvian Fusion with to-die-for drinks (frozen lemonades, actually confusingly enough made with lime.. were one of our favs) as well as one of the best salads I’ve ever had in my life.  Sean fell in love with their rice bowls.  We loved it so much this is where we ended up again after we got stranded here.  Seriously, check out all this goodness.

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Walking up from the city center to our hotel after dinner.  This is where altitude sickness hit me the hardest.  Every like 20 steps, I had to stop and breathe.  I hadn’t adjusted to the air yet.  A very odd feeling to be that weak, when you normally aren’t.

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Day 2 was followed up Chinchero, Maras, and Moray. Our first stop was a local artisan who showed us how they harvested and dyed llama and alpaca wool as well as how they made the blankets and textiles Peru is known for.  Our next stop was a local market where we learned about local wares, produce, and various local specialties.  Sooo many colors,  it was a photog’s heaven. Following a beautiful country drive, our guide took us to Maras, a village set on a plateau, famous for its salt mines or pans. The salt is drained into separated shallow pools built into the hills, where it then dries in the sun before it is harvested. It’s fed by a natural salt water spring running down the mountain.  The salt has been extracted this way for hundreds of years, even during the reign of the Inca Empire.

Funny story, as some might know, almost every place I visit, I bring back fun little souvenirs for my creative team coworkers.  Nothing ever too big because we travel very light.  At the salt mines, you could buy little flavored salt bags which seemed to me to be a perfect gift!  That is, until we tried getting through security back in the states.  Where they thought we were packing cocaine.  Yes, cocaine. Not only was my hub’s bag searched but they also took some of the salts out and chemically tested them.  Lesson learned.  Small bags of salts make you look like a drug mule.  

Our next stop was Moray, which is one of Peru’s most popular tourist stops. Here we learned how the terraces were used to produce different types of crops and cover a range of microclimates.  We ended at a Peruvian buffet, Tunupa, where we were able to try local favorites like ceviche, alpaca, and dulce de leche cake. They also had llamas in the back with a stunning garden, wildlife, view of the mountains and river running through the property. The whole trip was breathtaking as well driving from location to location with the Andes in the backdrop.  We ended our day in the heart of the Sacred Valley at a beautiful hotel with an Andes sunset in the background and surprisingly enough, even sported a brick oven for pizza for dinner.

This was actually one of the craziest naturally found dyes.  Here our host was pulling a parasite from the cactus (it’s that small white critter in her hand).  Once harvested, it’s smashed and produces that BRIGHT red color. Below, is how it looks once dyed into wool.

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The sheep blocking our path on the way down to the salt mines.

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The quinoa.  The freaking QUINOA pretty much harvested in the backyard.  I was in heaven.

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And that’s all for this post!  Stay tuned for TWO more this week. Until then ta ta for now!

Photography and writing by:

Alysha Yoder Photography

(b) www.alyshayoderphotoblog.com (w) www.alyshayoderphoto.com

(e) alyshayoderphoto@yahoo.com (p) 610.762.7810

 

 

 

 

 

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