Really….this trip has to end?!


Most of us woke up well rested after such a comfortable night’s sleep in this hotel.  We gathered for a great breakfast and then went in different directions for the day.  Lucas, DJ and Lance opted for staying close by for a laid back day, the rest of us took taxis to Central Lima to explore.  Our main motivation for going there was the the San Francisco Monastery with its gorgeous Colonial Church and very eery Catacombs which we got to explore.  How a propos for Halloween.  Thousands of people are buried down there and we got to see at least a couple of hundred of them!  It was even more fitting that our tour guide looked just like a James Bond movie villain complete with the accent.  No photos allowed in the Catacombs, you will just have to use your imagination….it wasn’t exactly a place where you would want to hang out for longer than we did!  When we had finished our tour, we caught up with Nadia, Mario, their friend Eduardo, and they produced gifts….for all of us!  So very thoughtful and we were so touched.  Yet another wonderful example of Peruvian hospitality and generosity.

We then made our way to the main square and saw the tail end if the changing of the guard at the President’s palace.  Once again, there is no lack of color anywhere…

After heading to a market to browse for last minute gifts, we headed for a cafe on the pedestrianized street just off the main plaza.  We picked the place because of the promise of a free Pisco Sour!  We are so easy to please….except that it was essentially a shot glass size drink!  I switched things up by picking duck with apples and risotto, delightful!  Heather had a lovely salad, Cherry and Silvia had Causa and Chris had a huge bowl of delicious looking soup with an order of tequenos too.  Cindy sat at a separate table with Nadia, Mario and Eduardo and their choices looked equally delicious.

After lunch, we decided it was time to head back to Miraflores to ready ourselves for the journey home.  Cherry, Silvia and I took the first taxi and what a ride it was!  You know how it is when in the movies, the main characters speed through a city accompanied by very loud music…??  Well cue that, because we had our very own soundtrack.  However, as I was sitting upfront, I soon realized that the driver was not blasting it for our benefit but for the fact that he was falling asleep…..yikes.  We did make it back in tact, seeing some great things and of course dangerously weaving in and out of the traffic.

Once back there was a bit of time to have one or two more Pisco Sours before leaving for the airport.  While doing so, it was fun to watch kids passing by in costume, trick or treating in the shops.  Apparently it’s a relatively new tradition. Lucas went and spent his last few soles on some candy to give out.

The bus arrived just as we had ordered our final Pisco Sours.  The drinks fortified us for the crazy journey, in rush hour traffic, to the airport.  I will never forget the traffic!!  When we arrived at the airport, Nadia was waiting with more relatives!!  Cindy was once again thrilled.  It was lovely to be waved off by our new friends, a fitting conclusion to this trip of a lifetime in such a warm and hospitable country.  A delight, from start to finish.

Time for teary goodbyes and our return to Lima

Staying in the Sacred Valley has been simply magical.  Our villa was so lovely, the views of the mountains were spectacular, but surely it was Margarita who stole our hearts.  Every morning she came and laid a beautiful breakfast table, cooked us eggs, made super strong coffee, fresh bread with delicious jams and the best juices you can imagine… not to mention taking care of Derek when he had to miss out on a couple of our excursions and also coming to build a fire for us each evening.  She is so very caring and kind and when it was time to leave I translated to our group that she told us to travel safely, to go with God and that we had her heart.  Instant tears and hugs.  A very special woman.

After waving everyone good bye from our van, we made our way back up to Cusco to catch our flight back to Lima.  Thankfully we had all adjusted to the altitude so there were no major setbacks this time.  The flight took us over the Andes and it’s amazing how closely they hug the coast.  Upon our arrival in Lima, just an hour flight from Cusco, we were greeted by a HUGE bus, one that could fit about 40 people….good thing really as our luggage has increased by about 50% and being in such a big vehicule makes us a lot less vulnerable amongst the crazy traffic in Lima!

It seemed fitting somehow that we stayed in a very modern Courtyard Marriott in Miraflores for our last night, a good way to transition back to US life?   Except, happily, they made the BEST Pisco Sours!  While DJ, Lance and Lucas caught up with the Saints game, we girls sipped on the aforementioned delicious drinks while our luggage was taken up to our rooms.  Cindy was super excited because a former employee of her company, Appomattox Tile Art, who had moved back to Lima six years ago, was coming to spend the evening with us.  MORE tears!!!!  A very emotional reunion with lots of chatter catching up and gifts, a joy to watch as outsiders.  It was great also to have local tour guides for the evening.  We followed their lead for dinner which took us to the big cliff top shopping complex overlooking the water, specifically to the restaurant Tanto, a chain that serves typical Peruvian food.  With a round of Pisco Sours and beers, we perused the menu and I finally ordered beef heart.  It was a good place to do so, they were delicious, served with roasted potatoes and a great sauce.  I picked a fabulous seafood stew for my main course and was one happy diner.  Other dishes included beef stew, paella, past with steak and lomo saltado.

We were grateful for the 1o+ minute walk back to the hotel through the streets of Lima, a city that was nowhere near ready for bed, with the exception of all of us.

A day in and around Urubamba

After our long day of sightseeing yesterday, we decided to stay local for the day and explore the town of Urubamba where we are staying.  Our villa is nestled in a lush green gated complex on the edge of the town, with amazing views of the surrounding mountains.  We are so lucky to be staying here!  Margarita has been taking care of us and could not be more lovely.  She doesn’t speak much English so it’s been up to me to communicate with her on behalf of us all…hard work!  She and her husband Raul live next door to the villa with their 4 daughters, aged approximately 12, 10, 8 years old then their 8 month old baby.  Her husband takes care of the grounds and maintenance and her older girls attend the local Catholic school where they are taught by nuns.

Unfortunately, Derek has been stricken by some sort of bug along with the altitude sickness, but Margarita has gone out of her way to make special tea remedies and has dispensed dietary advice.  Our own Dr. Chris happily deferred to her for expertise and she jokingly called him the “big doctor” and herself, the “little doctor”.


Our first order of business in town was to figure out where to buy duffle bags for transporting all our purchases back home!  We figured it out pretty quickly then stopped in at the market, opting to go upstairs so that we had a somewhat birds-eye view.  I don’t think I could ever tire of looking at the food markets in this country, a veritable explosion of color, variety and activity.  Love it.  We should aspire to be more like this in our part of the world….

Our group split up at some point and we all went off on our own little adventures!  Some of us opted to wander around the streets.  Derek and Chris were thrilled to find a place to drink Chica beer again, this time in what appeared to be someone’s very basic home.  They paid just one Soles for a large glass and were thrilled to bits.  Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, DJ, Lance and Silvia found a local bar hidden behind a building where they enjoyed beer and Pisco Sours with the locals.  They too had a blast!  While all this time was going on, I took some pictures while wandering around town…

We had decided to meet up around 2:00 for a big lunch with the idea that we could enjoy a light dinner at the villa for our last night there.  We picked Margarita’s recommendation, a place I don’t think she had ever been to, but where guests before us had really enjoyed their meals.  Q’anela is evidently popular with tourists such as ourselves, tucked down a side street from the main square.  We enjoyed our obligatory Pisco Sours, this time changing things up a bit by getting a different flavor.  I picked ginger, Heather tried Passion Fruit.  Delicious!  We shared tequenos for an appetizer as well as a chopped fresh salad and then I had Pork Chichurron, delicious pork belly with a creole sauce, onion salad and roasted potatoes.  Really, really good.  Cherry had Trout with shrimp sauce, Cindy had beef, Heather had lasagne and there were various bowls of soup and other delicacies on the table.  One of the highlights of the meal was a visit under the table from a little black puppy which Silvia took an immediate liking to, so much so that the little boy who had apparently just acquired it yesterday, started to cry as he thought she was going to take him!  She felt awful and we naturally gave her a hard time about it…. she ended up showing him a picture of her dog whom she had recently very sadly put to sleep.  She told him that he was sleeping, which the rest of us interpreted as her telling him in a nice way that he was no longer alive, which caused some of US to cry!  In actual fact, he was simply sleeping in the photo and Silvia had no intention of upsetting this poor boy anymore!

After lunch, we once again split up, with the guys heading for more chica and local watering holes.  Cherry, Cindy, Silvia, Heather and I headed to the Seminario Ceramic Studio on the other side of town, a somewhat posher part on a tree lined street.  Heather had read about this studio where in fact the husband and wife artists actually live too.  Pablo Seminario and Marilou Behar founded the studio back in 1979.  Their work is exhibited globally including museums in Chicago and New York.  They have since trained local artisans in the techniques and designs from ancient Peruvian cultures and have thus been able to produce a lot more pieces.  It was fascinating to see their beautiful complex and witness the creativity throughout.  We happily purchased several items in the shop at the conclusion of our tour.

Our final stop in town was at the local bar where the others were gathered, playing a game of sapo, drinking beer and….wait for it….ugh…..watching Guinean pigs being prepped for dinner time.  I didn’t witness them being alive, I arrived at the gutting part.  Definitely not a fun spectacle but kind of morbidly fascinating at the same time. I’m debating whether or not to post the pictures and have decided not to for now… We opted to take moto taxis back to the villa, which are essentially like Asian Tuk tuks.  A fun ride through town which brought most of us back in good time, except for DJ and Heather who were taken somewhere completely different much to their amusement!

When everyone had finally made it back, Lucas, having bought a bunch of different vegetables and peppers, proceeded to make a stir fry with quinoa.  A delicious but very spicy dish that some could handle, some could not!  Time to pack….our magical adventure is coming to a conclusion.  Back to Lima tomorrow for one last night.



Moray, Maras, Salineras and Chinchero

After yet another delicious breakfast prepared by Margarita, our driver picked us up for a big day of touring.  Rather than stay in the valley, we made our way up the mountainside, first stopping at a viewing point looking down over the town of Urubamba.  As soon as we got out of the van, I made a little friend.  She grabbed me by the hand and took me up to the viewing point where she insisted on sitting on my lap, hugging me and, I do believe following instructions from her mother, putting my sunglasses on.  Her brother soon enjoyed the fun.  Dressed in traditional clothing, they could not have been more adorable….

We continued up the mountain and into spectacular countryside whichever way we looked.  Our first stop, after a rather dramatic descent on a steep and windy dirt road, was to Salineras, the terraced Inca salt pans which are still in use.  A fascinating place that was unlike anything most of us had ever seen.  Afterwards, we had the opportunity to buy salt and delicious salted chocolate.  We also got our first taste of Chicha beer, a homemade fermented corn concoction that tastes fruity.  There was a lady at a stand with a big pot of it.  It won’t sway me away from the Pisco Sour, my drink of choice here, but it was interesting to try it!  When you drive through towns, places that sell it have a red flag outside indicating that it is available.  It’s cheap, and it’s strong!

After leaving here, we drove through the nearby town of Maras, a charming place.  At one point we had to stop to allow a funeral procession to pass us.  Not wanting to be disrespectful, we decided not to take photos, however I did manage a somewhat blurry shot after the procession had passed us.  Everyone was on foot, dressed in black, the coffin was carried by on the shoulders of men and the playing of brass instruments accompanied the proceedings.  A fascinating spectacle to witness and somewhat reminiscent of the tradition of funerals in New Orleans.

Our second stop was to Moray where we saw the concentric crop terracing, started by the Incas as a way of growing multiple types of crops that require different temperatures to grow.  The lower the terrace, the cooler the temperature.  It’s a dramatic and interesting sight.  The surrounding scenery was breathtaking.

After our volunteer photo taker got us in a somewhat buoyant mood, we declared loudly that it was time for a Pisco Sour and lunch.  Apparently we proved to be too rambunctious for an English tour group, as one of the women came over to ask us to be quiet because they couldn’t hear their guide, at which point Cherry muttered to DJ, much to his amusement, “Oh f@&$ ’em”.  It was definitely Pisco Sour and lunchtime.

We headed up to the small town of Chinchero, the birthplace of our driver and a place famous for its market, weaving and textile centers and the 400 year old church at the top of the hill, built on an ancient foundation of an Incan temple.  We stopped first at a restaurant which was empty and despite slow service, produced a delicious lunch complete with the desired Pisco Sours and beers.  The trout Ceviche was one of the best I’ve tasted so far.


It turned out that the lady waiting on us was our driver’s sister and she also worked at the weaving center just behind the restaurant.  After lunch we were invited to a presentation on how the wool is treated, turned into yarn and dyed using natural substances to include vegetables and the insect, the cochinelle, the blood of which can be combined with things such as limes to produce different colors.  It was fascinating and the ladies were delightful and naturally invited us to shop afterwards.  I bought one of the lovely table runners which evidently takes many days to complete.  I just love all the color here, everywhere, in clothing, food, the contrasting colors in the scenery, and of course the markets.

After our weaving education, we headed up to the church.  Some of us made the steep trek up there, others were happy to rest or shop.  Those of us who went up to the church were glad we did.  No photos allowed but it was stunning inside.  You could see the Incan base of the wall then all around, beautiful painted walls, ceilings, wood carvings, art work and gold leaf at the altar.  It seems unbelievable that a place this opulent exists in such a small rural town.  We were both moved and in awe of the such a special place.  Outside, a number of vendors were on the lawn selling yet more textiles.  Had I had an unlimited budget and unlimited luggage space, I probably would have bought half of it.  The colors are so vibrant and the textures so very rich.  I’m still going to have to buy an extra bag for all the goods I’ve already purchased!  As we made our way back, the sun was setting and we enjoyed the beautiful light that it cast on this little mountain town.

Our big day out exhausted us and we were happy to be “home”.  It all led to a bit of a meltdown moment for me, quickly remedied by DJ (thank you!) who decided I needed wine and refilled my glass the minute it emptied, more than once…we then shared restaurant stories which was of course highly entertaining and it wasn’t long before laughter and good cheer filled the room.  It was an amazing day!


Pisac Market Day

Ever since we started planning this trip, we all agreed that a trip to a great artisan market was most definitely a priority.  We picked one of the biggest in the Sacred Valley, in Pisac, about an hour from Urubamba.  The drive there took us through various towns including one famous for their guinea pigs or “cuy”, the roasted kind.  There are statues dedicated to this specialty and we passed by many vendors holding up whole roasted guinea pigs on sticks.  We resisted the temptation to try it, although I felt like we probably should have… thoughts of my childhood pet strengthened the case to skip the experience.

Despite wanting just a full on market day, our driver made the steep winding drive up to the ruins of Pisac and we are glad he did.  The views were spectacular and we enjoyed about an hour soaking in the atmosphere and views before heading back down to the town for the main event.

When we got back to town, we fueled up with a quick Pisco Sour and an empanada and then got down to the serious business of shopping.  After about 3 hours of bargaining and spending, we collapsed exhausted into the bus, cramming our goods on laps and every spare square inch of the van.  There are plans for the purchase of extra bags to carry it all home.

It was also Lucas’s birthday!  We started with drinks on the terrace and gave Lucas his gifts, the group one being a poncho that he now rarely takes off.  We can’t wait to see him wearing it out and about in Old Towne Petersburg…  A surprise presentation of aprons and thank you cards also took place by a teary eyed Silvia for Cindy, Heather and I, for organizing the details of the trip.

Heather had done some research into restaurants and picked a terrific one.  For starters, our ride there was hysterically funny and at times death defying.  The restaurant was only a mile from the villa however it took us half an hour to get there!  Our driver is quite stubborn and aggressive and when we came across another van coming in the other direction of the single lane dirt road that leads from our villa to the town he, as usual, stood his ground and wouldn’t move.  The stand-off resulted in Cindy, ever the organizer and problem solver, jumping out of the van and directing the other to reverse to a safe place and while doing so, causing us to have hysterics.  Once successfully on our way (yay Cindy!), we began the next drama of trying to find the restaurant.  At one point we reversed down a one way street with a car following us driving the right way, to include reversing over crossroads without stopping to see if anything was coming.  Luckily we were somewhat relaxed from our predinner cocktails so it became quite the comedy of errors.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, upon entering through the wooden gates that didn’t seem to indicate what was on the other side, we found ourselves in a lovely, beautifully lit garden and were directed to our terrace table complete with comfy cushioned furniture with a lower than normal table.  After ordering Pisco Sours and beers we looked at the fabulous menu and began the difficult process of trying to decide what to order.  For me, the Alpaca Carpaccio was a no brainer as an appetizer.  One of the best appetizers I’ve ever had.  Topped with a citrus sauce with sesame seeds and fried wonton strips.  So so delicious.  Unfortunately, having ordered the trout, it never came.  Our server, already overwhelmed looking after our party of 10, was visibly upset but I assured her all was well and a small plate was produced and I passed it round so ultimately had a tasting plate of everyone’s entrees, a win-win!  It was fun to taste everything and we now know why El Huacatay is considered Urubamba’s best restaurant, if not the best in the Sacred Valley.  A truly delightful and fabulous experience.