Higher Ground: A Run for the Hills
February 22, 2018
Traveling is pure excitement! The planning, the execution, the idea of a new and unexplored destination, the mystery of the unknown, the unfolding of an experience that is forever ingrained in your heart and mind; never to be taken away or erased. From Lima to Cusco, Peru through Civa bus lines, leaving on Thursday, December 21, 2017 had us all but bored (which is an understatement). It was time for higher ground and we were ready and well prepared to move on to our next destination. Choosing Civa because of its great reputation for a luxury coach experience did not disappoint. We were treated like Queens and the ride was the most comfortable bus ride we’ve experienced throughout our travel around South America thus far.
Life after AirBnB
After our first AirBnB experience and prior to our departure from Lima, we spent two and a half weeks providing English lessons, photography and web translations services for the owner of a local family hostel. Our days were also spent with us trying to get back on track with our workout regime. The reality of the experience with the owner was not the worst, but it certainly could have been better. For starters, the direction he rendered was sporadic, inconsistent and ill guided. He was, however, kind; which was in dark contrast to his mother, who was a ‘mean-spirited’ woman. When it came time for us to leave, we gladly welcomed the transition.
Panoramic and 360 degree views of immense hills in the distance with snow capped covered fields below and colossal, but glorious clouds of smoke enveloping the magical mountains around us; the scene was reminiscent of a Vincent van Gogh painting! The air was unlike anything we’d experienced in recent memory. It was the Thursday before Christmas Day and the landscape was absolutely breathtaking! Our run for the hills, exceeded all expectations.
Pisac is a small village in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, about 11 miles away from the bigger and higher elevated city of Cusco. Is it a touristic place? Yes, indeed, but on a much smaller level than most. Pisac is mostly known for its ruins, but Sundays in this small town are special. The main square is filled with many indigenous women who sell their handmade textiles and crafts as well as their homegrown fruits and vegetables. For the first five nights we stayed at Casona Apu Linli Hotel . Cozy, clean and comfortable, we literally had the hotel all to ourselves for Christmas. With a welcoming and pleasant staff, who was more than accommodating, we were able to use the kitchen to cook our meals and the owner allowed us the use of his gym (even after moving on to our next in town lodging location). Offering to pay, he refused. He said it was his gift to us. This random act of kindness was refreshing and later became a quiet reminder that harmony and good will always triumph over dissonance and evil.
The altitude in the Sacred Valley of Pisac, Cusco, Peru is around 9,500 feet. Breathing was difficult at first and acclimation to the area took a bit of time to settle into. To avoid elevation sickness, we decided to lay low and take all things easy.
When traveling we assume every country does not celebrate the traditional holidays we are accustomed to celebrating or they either celebrate them differently. For example, Thanksgiving, is not celebrated in Peru; but with being here during the Christmas season, we soaked up the experience like sponges. Witnessing the customs and traditions and learning about its derivative influences, two days after our arrival, Christmas Eve found us entering the main Cathedral in Pisac for its worship service. Nativity scenes are a big deal in South America and they truly are a display of art! Rather than Christmas lights and Christmas trees, the birth of Jesus is on full display through the homes of the Peruvian people and all around town with replicas of Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, animals, and more. As a result of its past and the colonization that came with it, the influence of Spanish and Portuguese Europeans are alive and well throughout Perú.
Mass was interesting. The language of the priest, parishioners and attendees fluctuated between Quechua and Spanish. A specialized language for a specialized group of people, which makes it quite difficult to learn, understand and decipher; Quechua is the primary tongue of the indigenous community throughout the Andes or highlands of Peru. Our bodies were planted in pews, but we couldn’t understand a word uttered. What we did feel, however, was a sense of community. A special blessing was bestowed upon a family from the village during the service and a select few of the men were dressed in their traditional indigenous garb. Capturing a few photos of them as they walked in a ceremonious line through the streets of Pisac headed to the cathedral and from the entire day had my heart rushing.
After the service, we walked through and around the village, stopping in on a few of the vendors and their shops, checking out the farm animals, the artists and the art work, finally making the decision to get food and drinks at a local restaurant in the main square. It was my first time trying a Pisco Sour and it was certainly the best cocktail I’ve had in South America thus far. For the food, the ‘eating out’ experience in Pisac is less than stellar. To get good food, Cusco is a better bet. This is exactly why why we cooked our food most of the time. However, if there is one place that is consistent and decently good, it’s Ulrikie’s Cafe. The great thing about Ulrikie’s besides the consistency; is the good Pizza (which is hard to find in Peru), the fact that the food comes to you fresh and hot out of the oven, and their honesty, because they do not put out false advertisements like some of the other restaurants in the area.
If you make plans to visit, take note that 99% of the restaurants and the vendors take cash only (even though they advertise they take credit cards – DO NOT BELIEVE THEM). We ran into incidents on more than one occasion where the establishments advertised that they take American Express, Mastercard and Visa, but when it came time to pay, we were given excuses that their credit card machines were not working properly and of course, they happily pointed to their in-house ATM machine for us to withdraw cash. How convenient I thought. The next place we ate at, after seeing Visa, AMEX and Mastercard signs all around the building, I purposely asked the owner/manager before we settled in to dine, if American Express was accepted. He said yes, but when it came time to pay, the same excuse that the machine was not working properly was given. We never ate at those restaurants again. If you want to avoid having to withdraw cash from their ATMs, bring cash with you and if you have a credit card, just know that Visa will alway trump American Express and Mastercard in this region.
Still struggling with acclimation, when Christmas came around, we stayed in and we had a nice and quiet relaxing day. When midnight came around the atmosphere outside became festive with fireworks and horn honking. We opened our balcony and watched the fireworks. It was different in many ways, but it was the best Christmas I’ve had in a very long time.
New Year Eve
Our first day as volunteers in Pisac (which we will share more info on in another blog post) was December 31, 2017. After the work day concluded, we quickly packed up a few things and headed to Cusco to bring in the new year.
After arriving, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Papachos. We’d heard about the famous Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio, opening the place in 2014 and wanted to give it a try. The burgers are the best burgers in all of Peru and the wings are perhaps the best wings I’ve ever had in my life!
Later, checking into our hostel and putting our bags away, we opted to stroll through town up to the main square, Plaza de Armas, rather than taking a taxi. This is where things got interesting. The elevation in Cusco is higher than in Pisac and the streets were extremely hilly. Taking deeper and longer breaths as we walked, we slowly walked through town.
After making it to the square we took a dip into one of the local spots for a drink. Later coming out, we found the perfect spot for watching the fireworks. Sitting on the square steps, cuddled up in each other’s arms, reminiscing over what transpired in 2017 and what 2018 might bring; we began to notice that the crowd around us had grown exponentially. It was then that we were primed and ready to usher in 2018.