|The breathtaking view of Machu Picchu|
On my recent 4-month volunteer trip to Peru I decided to spend 6 days backpacking the country's beautiful Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley lies in the mists of the Andes mountains, starts from the Incan capital of Cusco and includes everything between Calca and Lamay, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo. The ancient ruins of Machu Picchu top off the valley and keep a watchful eye over the sacred land.
Surprisingly, I had never been backpacking before. I camp, hike, get lost in the jungle, etc, but have never taken my 10 most essential items, stuck them in a bag, and walked off into the mountains with only ideas to guide me. Well, that's exactly what I did, because I figured, what the hey, I'm in Peru and I tend to be braver in South America than I am in the states. That doesn't make a lot of sense but it's worked for me so far.
Into a tiny school-grade backpack (hey, big ones are expensive), I packed a toothbrush, one change of clothes, some bug spray and sunblock, toilet paper (it's scarce in South America!) and a towel and went on my merry way. Luckily, a friend carried a huge backpack with the tent, sleeping pads, blankets and extra food we would need.
I never lived on so little for so long. This was an eye-opening experience and made me realize just how little I really need to live. We started out from Calca where we had been doing volunteer work on a WWOOF farm. It was difficult to leave this beautiful place, but I knew even more wonder was in store. It helped that many of the volunteers were getting giardia (including myself) from the tainted water there and flea bites from the tainted dogs!
|Casa Girasol, the WWOOF farm in Calca|
|Lares hot springs|
|Hidden ruins in the hills of Urubumba|
|Following a mountain stream|
|Secret gardens and beautiful views|
|The way back down|
After enjoying a night in Urubumba and a banana pancake breakfast at our favorite tourist restaurant, Misky Sona's, we set off for the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. This city has kept its Incan foundations, and is
built inside rock walls with streets made of stone. It's my favorite city in the Sacred Valley, and is home to many ruins - both free and pay ones. I had paid to see the ruins on a previous trip to Ollantaytambo, so after walking through the city a bit and finding the cheapest hostel to stay in for the night (which still boasted a lovely view of a mountain full of ruins), we planned our trip for the next day up that mountain to see the free-standing ruins available to anyone who can make it there.
|hostel with mountain ruins view|
|View of the Andes from an old Incan cave|
|Mountain of ruins|
|Mountain with the face of the Quetchua God|
|View from mid-mountain ruins|
|I want to get to the tippy top!|
|A closer-up view of the topmost towers|
|Made it! Hangin out on the top of the towers|
After a trip down the mountain and a totally random fight between a baby goat and my friend, we returned to the hostel to change and shower. We found a bar called Gonso's with great reggae music, good cocktails, swings on the second floor, couches, a fire pole, and an adobe stove with which to stay warm on those cold sacred valley nights. The next morning, after stopping into La Esquena again for breakfast and tea and another PB n J, we set off to find the elusive and majestic ruins of Pumamarka. I didn't know much about them, but had heard through the grapevine that they were a must-see. These ruins can be reached via a day-hike through the Andes. I had never hiked a full day before, but I braved the mountain pass and the confusing mish-mash of trails, hoping that I would somehow come out at the right spot.
|On our merry way through the Andes|
The Andes are beautiful. High, misty, very green that time of year (mid-April), and endless. It was a breathtaking walk, and walk, and walk. I loved every minute of it. About 4 hours into the hike, we came upon an ancient Incan gravesite. Something like a mausoleum, but inside the mountain. These sites are dug
|Ancient Incan mausoleum|
|Pumamarka lookout view|
|Misty morning ruins|
|Campsite at Pumamarka|
|Flowers and mist, flowers and mist|
Later that day we walked down the mountain to the small town under the ruins and hitched a ride back to Ollantaytambo.
|Ollantaytambo's mountain ruins|
I wanted to visit the famous handicraft and textile markets of Chinchero, so on Sunday morning we made our way there. The sellers wear traditional Andean gear, and boast an array of gorgeous hand-made textiles, clothing, blankets, purses, scarves, antiques, and lots of other stuff. I tried not to look as I marched quickly past the roasting guinea pigs that are a delicacy in Peru and other parts of South America. One thing the Peruvians do know how to do well is use natural plant products to heal different kinds of ailments. At most markets and Peruvian towns you can find a number of different mates, or tea-like mixtures of different herbs, roots, veggies and plants, to heal stomach problems, headaches, period pains, and many other ailments. Although Peruvians will tell you that the best way to heal yourself is by drinking your own urine (a fact that is actually backed up by recent studies here in the US), I'm not quite ready to take that step.
|Meditating at the ruins of Pisac|
Pisac is another city in the sacred valley that I had visited before my backpacking trip. I signed up for a 3-city tour through a local travel agency in Cusco (there are many of them all offering slight variations on the
Since I usually like to live in a country's culture and experience what the locals experience, I wasn't planning on being all touristy and visiting Machu Picchu. But at the last minute I did decide to take this trip, and boy am I glad I did! Machu Picchu is perhaps the most beautiful and awe-inspiring place I've ever been. It's only about $150 total for the trip, which can either include a 4-day hike up the old Inca trail, or a simple bus ride up the mountain. Since I was short on time and didn't have my own tent, I opted for the bus ride up. I walked a couple of hours down the Inca trail on the way back, however, and it was worth getting a glimpse of how the Incas used to do it.
Machu Picchu sits on the tippy top of a series of forested mountains surrounded by clouds and mist, so that it felt as if I was in what the Incas referred to as the "higher world". They believed in 3 worlds; the lower world, located within the earth's surface, the world in which we live, and the higher world, which is the world above us where the sun and moon live. Machu Picchu is like being in a whole different world than the one here on earth, and everyone should experience it.
|Best place to do yoga, ever|
Cusco offers many tours to Machu Picchu, which include guides. Guides are great because they describe what went on in each structure, how the Incans lived, and interesting facts about the forms and buildings within the ruins. If you do not travel with a guide, make sure to step in with another group that is being guided and listen in on what the guide is saying. The guides speak both spanish and english.
|Resting at the top of the world|