Our time in Peru was a whirlwind twelve days, packed with activities and adventures and I just couldn’t fit some of my favorite pictures into the other blogs so this blog is a hodgepodge of favorite memories and random thoughts. We all loved Cusco and every part of the the Sacred Valley that we were able to experience. Peru has now become our favorite country explored so far this year for many reasons; kind people, good food, history, culture, spirituality, and natural beauty abound. There is a building reemergence of pride in the Andean culture in the younger people and you feel a current of energy spanning the past, tied to the present with momentum for the future. Cusco is the perfect place to visit if you want to feel adventurous, like you are someplace foreign and yet feel safe, eat good food and have lots to do and see. The only thing I didn’t like was being a pedestrian and getting used to crossing streets without lights. The drivers will run you over (although I didn’t see any bodies on the ground).
I wish we would have built in a day or two to wander around Cusco or any of the other towns in the area and explore on foot. We saw a lot from the van window driving in and out of Cusco for our various activities. That’s another thing I might have changed. We spent a lot of time in the van driving to different ruins and areas of the Sacred Valley. I’m fairly certain we could have stayed in Cusco a few days and then stayed in the Sacred Valley a few days and spent less time in the van.
There were stray dogs everywhere in Cusco or at least what appeared to be stray dogs. Like most of my city pictures, I took this photo from the van and did not even see the man until I was looking through the pictures. You see dogs everywhere, in trash piles, on doorsteps, wandering the streets in groups or alone, playing and fighting. I asked two different guides about the dogs and received two very different answers. One guide sadly admitted that the dogs were a big problem in Cusco and she had adopted one but really the problem was big and not a lot was being done to help the dogs of Cusco. Another guide I asked replied casually that all of the dogs had owners and those owners opened their doors in the morning and the dogs were let out to enjoy their own agendas all day long until they were shut in again at night. I told Scott the differing stories and his wise observation was that the truth was probably somewhere in between.
So I did a little research and discovered that the truth did lie somewhere in the middle and it was surrounded by some very differing and interesting opinions. Mostly foreigners believe that dogs are a problem and need help so there are some grassroots organizations attempting to make life better for the pooches of Peru. Locals are more of the mindset that dogs are happy living their own lives and this is just the way the dog biscuit crumbles. The lesson that I took away was something I have experienced a few times this year, people do things differently in different places for all kinds of reasons and that’s why you travel. You travel to see a different life than your own, not to change the world to be like your own neighborhood. The dogs made Scott nervous, he was afraid that they would be hit by the frantic traffic, but I did see many cars yield and the dogs seemed traffic savvy. The thing that made me nervous were the toddlers playing seemingly unsupervised near busy roads, but again I just assumed that Peruvians do things differently and everything was under control.
Many buildings of all shapes and sizes remain unfinished all over Cusco and the Sacred Valley. This is because owners of the structures are not required to pay taxes on the buildings until they are finished.
There is a street full of shops like this one, stores selling large quantities of related things, like a section of Costco. Smaller shop owners stock their stores from this street.
Moving on from the hardware store section above, a little farther down the street, you’ll find the cleaning products and toilet paper.
This was a large local food market that we passed early one Saturday morning on the way out of town.
Inside a market in a village near Cusco.
We saw a lot of these motorcycle powered cabs especially in Ollantaytambo, a town in the Sacred Valley, about 90 minutes from Cusco.
Welcome to our Cusco apartment. We like to stay in apartments on our travels; we feel a little more connected with the community, Scott can cook and we all get more privacy and room and usually for a much lower price. Each place we stay has its own personality, special little quirks included and comfort level. This one was no different and here for the first time we all learned how to prime the hot water heater, located in the kitchen and powered by gas, before turning the shower on. What happens when you run out of gas you might ask? Well, the instructions were to knock on the owners door and they’d have a new tank delivered in twenty minutes. This was convenient since the owners lived next door and had obviously reduced their own apartment size to create an investment property. They were kind and helpful and had a very energetic four year old who would run into the apartment and look for Grant to discuss video games (in Spanish).
Most people visiting Cusco stay in the very beautiful and old part of town where there are all kinds of lodging options. Our apartment was near the university in Cusco, about a ten minute drive to the old part of town and the area where the locals live. We felt like locals, lost in Cusco. We loved the fact that there were no chain stores and it wasn’t easy to find all the supplies that are usually so readily available. For a week we wandered around, poking our heads into little rooms that were “convenience stores” selling snacks, soda and maybe shelf stable milk and cereal. Scott barely cooked. We had been to one grocery store, twenty minutes away from our apartment on our first night and since then we survived on random items we procured from the dusty little shops dotting the blocks around our apartment. We also went out for food occasionally which was never a disappointment. Besides, we were so busy with all of our planned activities and then trying to fit in school as well, there wasn’t time to cook and our kitchen was tiny and lacking some helpful items.
We marveled at how unspoiled Cusco was until the night before we left for the Salkantay Trek. Scott and the kids had spent the day on a crazy river adventure, one that I had chosen to skip (Wonder and Just Plain Fun blog by Scott). I stayed at our apartment and wrote my first and favorite Peru blog. They returned home and Scott and I went out on a very important errand. We had been planning to purchase simple wedding bands in Cusco and renew our vows at Machu Picchu ( Salkantay Trek Saga…Day 5…Machu Picchu). In all of our activity we had not had a chance to find rings so we adventurously hailed a cab (they are everywhere, cheap at $1.50 and easy to use, we never had a problem).
We found simple bands in tiny little shop and had a nice conversation with the owner and her friend before catching another cab and zipping back to the apartment for our pre-trek briefing.
At our briefing we met with Jeremy, our guide for the next five days, and learned that we needed some items for our trip. One of the representatives from the travel agency offered to walk us to the “mall” for those last minute items like towels and trash bags. This surprised us as we had assumed we’d need to take a cab back downtown for more shopping options. Scott and I set off with the sweet and helpful Lisette for the “mall.”
Ten minutes on foot and we arrived at the mall and although we found everything we could possibly need, our hearts were a little bit broken. Turns out, Cusco has a brand new, giant mall. The shopping far exceeds what we are used to at home, in our medium sized and very hip town. In fact, it was reminiscent of malls I have visited in Los Angeles or Dallas.
Inca Cola was created in Peru in 1935 and is still the leading soft drink there. This sign we saw near the beginning of the Salkantay Trek, but on the advice of “Opa” the kids had already tried the bright yellow soda and liked it. It’s not bad and tastes of bubble gum or cream soda and is a national icon and source of pride in Peru.
This picture is random, but I loved it. We were hiking along the Salkantay trail and it made me laugh. I will let you think your own thoughts about it, but the thing that inspired me to turn around and hike back to take the picture was the thought that I would never see something like this again.
If you asked me at this point in time to recommend one place to visit, it would have to be Cusco and the Sacred Valley. There is just so much to experience, no matter what your interest and the people are so nice and the food is amazing…no cooking needed in Peru!