Sacred Valley, our new home away from home

It’s tough to come back down from the high of Machu Picchu, however, we are now very happily situated in our beautiful villa in Urubamba.  It’s a gorgeous place and we are being taken care of by Margarita and her husband who live next door.  Apparently, whatever we need, they will take care of.  Breakfast, transportation, laundry, errands…we’re living the dream..for 5 nights!  Cherry, Heather and I had the “bright idea” of cooking “at home” for our first night.  So off we went in a taxi to what we thought would be a fairly conventional supermarket…not so much.  But I’m all up for a culinary adventure!  One and a half hours later and two real markets, a bakery, a wine shop and an epic Rotisserie Chicken hunt later, we were back at the villa with the makings of dinner.  Local Cheese as an appetizer, roasted chicken, Quinoa salad, Avocado, Tomato, Cucumber and Onion salad and….I’ll never live this down…blue corn.  It is soooo tough and the following morning we discovered that it is essentially pig feed.  Margarita’s reaction when she saw it was priceless.  We will likely laugh about this for years!

After a much needed good night’s sleep for almost everyone, we were treated to a lovely breakfast.

Having briefly seen the town of Ollataytambo when we caught the train there to Machu Picchu, we decided to head back there for the day.  Margarita sent for a van for us and we enjoyed a 30 minute drive to the little town that seems to have somehow kept its charm despite being the main kick-off place for either the train to Machu Picchu or the famous 4 day Inca Trail hike.  Some of us headed straight to the ruins that provide a steep backdrop to the town.  I must have had a moment of complete insanity as I chose to climb the steps.  When almost at the top, I looked back down and froze.  I am terrified of heights.  I told Lucas, Cherry, Lance and Chris to keep on going without me and then quietly sat and prepared myself for the descent down the uneven stone steps with only a very low wall.  It took me about 20 minutes to get back down, partly edging down on my butt.  Always good to do something that scares you occasionally, right?!  However, the views were spectacular.  The others saw snow capped mountains at the very top.

Once back down, we rejoined the rest of the group back at the main square.  They had explored the surrounding streets and had found a place for lunch which was essentially at someone’s home, and a centuries old Inca one at that!  We were able to go in the one room home which was fascinating.  Two beds, a little kitchen, the skulls of their ancestors displayed to watch over and protect them, and live guinea pigs living freely in one corner.  Just across the courtyard which they had made into a mini market, was a one room tiny restaurant, with guinea pig on the menu.  However, to order this Peruvian delicacy, you had to allow two hours.  We opted out of that choice having just met their supply and having limited time…  The menu offered was Soup of the day, followed by a choice of Chicken, Trout or Pork.  As we were a party of 10 we pretty much filled the room and were right by where they prepared the food, from scratch.  They literally had to run to the market for supplies so we watched them peeling the potatoes, filleting the fish, making the soup.  We watched all this while enjoying Pisco Sours and Beer.  Our soup was delicious, essentially Chicken Noodle which the added ingredients of cilantro, egg and lime juice.  Our main courses were simple but we agreed the experience had been the best thing.


We then headed back to the square and after buying a wall hanging for my hallway, we loaded up into the van and returned to our lovely villa.  Too full from our late lunch, we  snacked on cheese and wine this evening and just enjoyed the peaceful environment here, both on the terrace and by the fire in the sitting room.

Machu Picchu!

We got up at 4 so that we could get a head start in the line for the bus to Machu Picchu and apparently several hundred other people had the same idea!  Thankfully there are plenty of buses and after an ever so slightly scary winding ascent up the mountain, we arrived at the site.  I’m not going to write much as the pictures speak for themselves.  Lucas and Chris were the brave souls who climbed Waynapicchu (where you have to sign in and OUT).  For the rest of us, it was a short but fairly arduous climb to the Gate Keeper’s House but the reward was spectacular.  My mother has recently admitted almost bursting into tears (it’s been top of her bucket list forever).  Funnily enough, none of us had done massive historical research and when we got there, we spontaneously found a spot to sit, view and quietly contemplate.   It’s magical, mystical and perhaps even life-changing.  It’s a perfect combination of natural beauty and man made ingenuity.



And some one shots of us….

Heading back to the Sacred Valley on the Vistadome train after a breathtaking day at this most magical place…we were treated to dancing and a fashion show!


And the best picture of the day, taken by Derek…


Journey to Machu Picchu

We were not disappointed to leave Cusco for a couple of reasons.  The first being that our bus journey would allow us to descend about six thousand feet, the second being that we were just 24 hours from visiting Machu Picchu!  The following photos were taken on the road and we could already tell that we were going to fall in love with the Sacred Valley.

After dropping off our luggage at our villa (more on that in a future post), we headed to the station with small backpacks for our overnight adventure to Machu Picchu.  We caught the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes from Ollataytambo.  A 90 minute trip in a multi windowed train to maximize viewing the scenery, transitioning us to a whole new ecosystem, pretty much a tropical rain forest.


The weather was tropical upon our arrival at Aguas Calientes, a town apparently with a sole mission of accommodating visitors to Machu Picchu.  We checked into our hotel, went to buy our Machu Picchu bus tickets and then explored the markets amidst a complete downpour. Lesson of the day, don’t ever buy silver without Heather.  Cindy wanted to buy a silver spoon and Heather stepped right in, grabbing the vendor’s calculator and asking her how much she sells it by the gram.  A few minutes later, the price had been reduced by half.  We then enjoyed an early dinner of pizza, salad and Pisco Sours before retiring to bed early in anticipation of our 4am wake up call.

Cusco, wish I had the stomach for you…

You know there’s something not quite right when I have no desire to drink wine or any other alcohol for that matter.  Cusco’s altitude has been tough to manage.  The very second I got off the plane, I thought I would fall I was so dizzy, as did Heather.  After checking in to the hotel, I took one picture of the church outside our hotel, ate lunch with our group then took to my bed for pretty much the rest of the day.  Not fun at all.   Lunch consisted of water, Coca tea, papaya juice, salad and chicken soup.

We are very fortunate to have a Physician in our party and Dr. Chris has done an excellent job of running around our rooms taking care of us over the last 48 hrs, generously dispensing medication and advice.  I know I’m not super fit but when you are out of breath after climbing 1 flight of stairs, it’s not good!  I’ve never felt anything quite like it in my life.

At 7am we were awoken by what sounded like gunfire right outside our room…. was a coup taking place?!  Were people being shot?  Funnily enough in the 5 different hotel rooms being occupied by our party, unbeknownst to each other, we all declared it being just like home.  At 7.42 it happened again!  Turns out, it was fireworks (in the morning?!) that preempted a religious parade/festival in the square.  It’s Sunday after all…

We had plans to do a tour for the morning so we got in our private van and headed up the hill.  Aaagh, to a higher altitude.  Our first stop was to the archeological sight of Saqsayhuaman, that everyone likes to joke about it sounding like “sexy woman”, a beautiful sight that afforded us a stunning view of Cusco but also required us to chew on Coca leaves due to more altitude issues and my poor mother really felt it and had to keep sitting down.  Our British stoicism has been no match for the altitude.

So, in full disclosure, this blog is never going to be a history lesson.  I’m the type of person whose eyes glaze over when things get too historically detailed.  I may even bring in a guest blogger, Lucas, to add that dimension to the chronicling of this adventure.  However, our guide did a good job of pointing out interesting details and when I wasn’t too busy marveling at the cloud formations, mountains and amazing views of Cusco, I did pick up some fascinating facts.

At the site entrance, then a picture of Cindy finding out the hard way that alpacas spit when you get too close!  The last picture is of a map showing that the city of Cusco was laid out originally in the shape of a puma:

Exploring the site:

In the bottom two left photos, can you spot the layout of the stones in the shape of a llama and a guinea pig?

At the top!  Our view over Cusco…(it was Derek’s turn to take a rest)



Our next stop was an Alpaca factory/store where we learnt about the different types of wool.  I was too busy trying things on to take pictures and they were successful in their attempts to help me part ways with my money.  Enough said….except to say that my new Baby Alpaca poncho is quite lovely.

Our last stop was to another site, Q’uepa.  The one part of it that really stuck out for me was seeing the sacrificial altar where the Incans sacrificed llamas and virgins between the ages of 4 and 12, to help prevent “calamities”.


Back down in Cusco, we split up for lunch.  Whenever I’m planning a trip, the first thing I usually research is where I’m going to eat!  As I finally had a bit of an appetite we went to Morena Peruvian Kitchen and it did not disappoint.  A lovely fresh minimalist decor punctuated by vibrantly colored cushions and delicious Peruvian food served with a contemporary flair.  We enjoyed Ceviche, Nikkei kebabs, Fried shrimp Causa, Trout with Quinoa and Pork Belly with fried Rice.  We couldn’t resist dessert sharing fried banana fritters with honey caramel sauce and ice cream.

After this lovely lunch, which we declared very reasonably priced only to quickly remind ourselves that we had lemongrass lemonade instead of alcohol, we headed out to wander.  The sunny hot day had disappeared and rain had set in only to be interrupted by sunny spells again, particularly towards sunset.  We visited various shops and every time we came out of one the square looked different.  It was so beautiful!

Whilst browsing the shops, I channeled my late grandmother Apple and picked out a “statement” ring as my birthday present from my mother.  Apple would have got a kick out of that as she typically did the same thing on her travels around the world.

Dinner took us to La Manka and unfortunately our too brisk walk there rendered me nauseous and breathless once again.  Dr. Chris to the rescue again!  A pill for that was produced and I was able to eat a quinoa salad despite wanting something more than that.  I was a bit too out of it to take pictures but simply have to include some of the entertainment including Lucas joining in the dancing as well as Dr. Chris having a well earned local cocktail and DJ celebrating Rajun Cajun being named as one of the top new restaurants in Virginia!

Walk back to the hotel after a busy day!


I was so busy eating, cooking and socializing yesterday that there was no time to write!    We have just arrived in Cusco and I’ve already taken to my bed after a lunch of salad, Coca Tea, a papaya juice and chicken noodle soup.  Apparently my body does not appreciate me being up at 11,000 feet.  So while everyone else has gone off to explore, I’m enjoying some quiet time and hoping the dizzy, weak feeling will wear off soon.

Yesterday, our second full day in Lima, was all about food.   We had booked a 5 hour cooking class at the home of Chef Hector, who arranged for us to be picked up and taken to meet him at the market he frequents.  The first thing we learned is that Peru experiences all of the seasons at any given point in time in different areas of the country.  What this means is that they can pretty much grow anything as they have an incredible number of different microclimates and this was abundantly clear upon our arrival at the market.  I’m just not sure how I’m going to handle returning to my regular supermarkets back home….

I have never seen such a variety of fruits and vegetables, just fabulous.  While there, Chef Hector purchased a side of Mahi-mahi for our Ceviche making lesson, as well as a whole octopus.  When we had finished touring and purchasing, we were driven to his house where our cooking class was set up in his back courtyard.  We learnt to make three traditional Peruvian dishes as well as their signature drink, the Pisco Sour.  It was an interesting and entertaining afternoon to say the least and it was a delicious education in the gorgeous flavors that are typically incorporated in the national cuisine.  It became apparant after a while that our charming host, a lawyer turned Chef and world traveler, was completely exhausted and running on empty but he made it through and survived.

No visit to Peru is complete without trying Ceviche, a dish that has many interpretations here.  Chef Hector prepares his with a garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili infused lime juice from key limes which we dutifully squeezed without creating friction with the skin, just firmly squeezing them without allowing the pith to taint the taste.  After muddling the ingredients, it was strained so that only the liquid remained.  This was then tossed with the Mahi-mahi, sprinkled with some red chili and cilantro and allowed to sit for ten minutes.  It was served with sweet potato wedges lightly coated with a passion fruit simple syrup.  Amazing.

Squeezing the key limes and blending the passion fruit and the finished dish:

The second dish was Papa a la Huancaina which consists of sliced potatoes with a spicy cheese sauce topped with hard boiled egg:

Finally, the most labor intensive one was Causa, made with Octopus.  Essentially Octopus salad layered between potatoes laced with lime juice and puréed yellow peppers.  We even made our own olive mayonnaise.  There are literally hundreds of varieties of potatoes here.  We all made our own blend after trying Chef’s as an example, Silvia provided the entertainment when she ate most of his example while he wasn’t looking, declaring it “so good and so much better than mine”, then got busted!  After a couple of rounds of Pisco Sours, we were ravenous.


It was fun afternoon and after quickly eating a sample of our creations, Cherry and I had to hop into a taxi to get ready for our evening invitation for dinner at the Deputy British Ambassador’s home.  Dominic, Nilma and Josha Dole were our lovely hosts and we enjoyed a fabulous Peruvian Indian fusion dinner that included spicy stuffed pepper, chicken and rice, a cheese curry dish and we finished up with homemade pistachio ice cream laced with cardamom and accompanying a carrot and coconut cake.  The Peruvian wine they served with it was also excellent.  A delightful evening with such a lovely family connected to us by my godmother, Margaret, who met them at a wedding in Vermont this summer!  So very kind of them to host us. A bonus was getting to meet our fellow dinner guest, Martha Galdos a singer from Lima who is celebrating the launch of her first album. She is delightful, thoughtful, intelligent,  clearly dedicated to her art and multilingual too!  I’m looking forward to listening to her album which I now proudly own.


A fabulous day!

Artists, Artisans and Burritos in Barranco

First day in Lima after a less than satisfying night of sleep but, hey, I woke up in Peru!  Daylight allowed us to truly appreciate the wonder of Second Home Peru which I will feature heavily in today’s post.  We are staying in the Inn which is also the home of Victor Delfin, the Artist.  His daughter, Lilian, gave us a tour of his gallery and studio which was an amazing experience and he was busily working away there while we toured.  Eighty-eight years old and still waking up every day and living his passion and dream.

Our group split up for the day after breakfast and the tour and our half headed to the Museo de Pedro Osama, a former family summer home that now houses an amazing collection of religious art with a fascinating history.  We also meandered through Barranco, stopped for lunch and shopped at Las Pallas….

Our day ended with drinks on the patio followed by dinner all together at Isolina, just 2 blocks away, upstairs by open terrace doors overlooking the busy street.  Starting off with our first round of Pisco Sours, we then enjoyed local delights such as the famous Juicy brain omelet, Stuffed Potato, incredible Ceviche, Beef kidneys, short ribs…amongst other things!  Quite the culinary adventure and a great end to our first full day.

Touch down in Lima

There are few things I find more exhilarating than arriving in foreign country for the first time.  Today, it’s also a new continent for me.  Our party of 10 has arrived in Lima and after a crazy midnight taxi ride from the airport, we are happily settled in our fabulous home for the next 3 nights.  What a view….and with our windows wide open, we fall asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean waves.