Tag Archives: Holiday

Inca Trail – To Do Or Not To Do? – Journey In Peru

Deciding to travel to Peru from Ireland or Europe can be a big deal especially as the price of the flight is often quite staggering and especially so during peak season. The lure of Machu Picchu, now a World Wonder and famous UNESCO heritage site of the lost Inca civilisation, captures the imagination to the extent that travellers often sign up for the Inca Trail that leads there without ever having done this type of thing before.

There are some important factors to consider before signing up to undertake some days of trekking in Peru. Firstly, I will outline, I have been to Peru twice and have even lived quite close to the Inca Trail but have not done the hike itself. I had my own reasons for this.

Two important factors to consider are, your fitness level and your adjustment to being at higher altitude than usual.

If you excersise a lot, have good stamina, are used to hiking, especially for long durations then possibly you will be more equipped for spending a couple of days of hiking the Inca Trail. If you have not experienced the thrill of hiking in hills and mountains why not join a group in your local area, who are skilled in guiding you and see if you enjoy the experience. Your expensive holiday should definitely be one that you fully enjoy.

If you have already lived in high altitude environments then you will know your bodies adjustment and reaction to this. If you have not experienced being at high altitude it is very important to educate yourself on the symptoms and effects that can occur. You really don’t know until you go, how this will effect you. It has no bearing on age or fitness level.

Machu Picchu (2430m asl) is actually at a much lower altitude level than cities such as Cuzco and Puno for example. It is best to acclimatise slowly by spending a few days in high altitude before attempting hiking treks that take you further away from access to medical care.

Always heed the signs of altitude sickness and report to your guide if travelling in a group. Guides should be trained in health and safety. Tour companies usually have these saftey guidelines well out-lined for their clients.

Peru is an amazing country with so much to offer. Machu Picchu may be its crowning glory for tourists but there is so much more to discover such as the Amazon area, Lake Titicaca and its floating reed islands and Uros civilisation, Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, Cuzco City once the capital of the Incas and Arequipa’s volcanoes and architecture.

Floating Reed Islands and Uros People on Lake Titicaca

Floating Reed Islands and Uros People on Lake Titicaca

Many people travel solo and do the back-packer thing which can be less luxurious and less expensive, while many others take advantage of an organised tour which take you much more quickly around the vast circuit of treasures in a shorter space of time.

Arequipa Peru Volcano

Arequipa Peru Volcano

Trekking and hiking can be a lot of fun and brings a sense of achievement and opportunity for bonding with fellow trekkers. Whatever you decide, be safe, be well and choose the option that will make your travel experience the most enjoyable for you.

If you do consider trekking the Inca Trail have some consideration for the ones dedicated to carrying your back-pack. This is a service that is provided for travellers within tour groups. I have spoken with one young man who did this work for a while before he studied for the hospitality industry. His recollection of carrying the heavy back-packs of travellers was not the most joyous. So put yourself in the shoes of others and pack as lightly as possible.

Enjoy your trip. If you have enjoyed my blog and this post and found it particularly useful why not repay me by sharing the post or leaving a comment.

© Caroline Cunningham – Author of Wild Star Landing and Journey In Peru

 

Tree Top Getaway – Cloud Forest Jungle Peru

Santa Teresa beguiled my senses of the risky road that delivered me to its leafy sleepy tropical surrounds. I welcomed the melting temperatures that embraced my body parts inside and out. According to my booking details Eco Quechua Lodge was not far from the centre of the village. I was at a loss as to which road to take however, so a taxi was required. Another traveler had prompted me to stay here. ‘A tree house in the tree tops,’ was how she described it. It sounded heavenly.

Eco Quechua Lodge Peru - Wild Star Landing

Eco Quechua Lodge Peru – Wild Star Landing

Heaven was well disguised. A narrow sandy path lined with coffee trees led the taxi car to a simple hut proposing to be a shop, one that was quite bare and lacking in change (coins). To the left, a series of stepping stones led steeply to a wooden terrace amongst the tree tops. Like a curious child I hopped giddily from stone to stone arriving at the wooden sheltered platform. Bowls of ripe avocados and bananas greeted me. From the balcony I absorbed the beauty of the tree top canopy of the jungle cloud forest. Exotic flowers bloomed effortlessly from pots and transported earth. The air was sweet and exotic with so many new scents. The sun beamed serenely for this time of afternoon. I was at once at ease and surrendering to a blissful feeling.

Tree Top Paradise Peru - Wild Star Landing

Tree Top Paradise Peru – Wild Star Landing

The owner ‘Kiki’ appeared and gave me a warm welcome. He had a few rooms available and offered me a choice. I was sold on the first he presented, a makeshift space of almost three surrounding walls consisting of thin branches, loosely bound planks and a roof of matted twigs and nest-like vegetation with an open balcony providing glimpses of the Urubamba (Vilcanota) river below. A simple mesh net proposed to protect the sleeper from the jungles tiny creatures in the twilight hours. I was not leaving this room. It was mine for the next two nights.

Glimpsing the Urubamba River beneath the trees

Glimpsing the Urubamba River beneath the trees

A romantic location it surely was and it was especially the place for lovers. Beneath the eaves of the main reception platform I savoured a simple meal of rice and chicken and sampled a Pisco Sour. Couples quietly ate their meals before retiring to their tree top quarters which were intimately spaced together.

Tree House Style - Peru Cloud Forest

Tree House Style – Peru Cloud Forest

This would certainly be the place that my novel heroine Kitty Clinch would have chosen to bring her Peruvian lover. What of this Kitty Clinch of my creation? Would she really go through with her plans to settle and end her days hitched in Peru? What would it take to make such a move? I had to find out so as to write more authentically about this woman who was compelled to radically change her life.

Eco Quechua Lodge Peru

Eco Quechua Lodge Peru

In the night time bodies enveloped each other, some more noisily than others. The Urubamba sighed heavily at the feet of the trees that jostled at the edge of my open balcony. Water cleaved the rocks below at a steady breathy pace. An outrageous giggle from the other side of the partition to my left gave an uncanny feeling of being part of some voyeuristic party. It was not the place for loneliness but I considered it momentarily. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be in this special place. To come alone or with another, did it really matter? Yes it mattered entirely. I would rather be alone than to have a watered down memory of a touch that was not filled with the heart-depth of another.

I could take the river and the trees and the jungle night time air in this paradise destination and they could take all of me. A soul filled with beauty eventually tires itself to sleep. I slept soundly.

© Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing

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Baby Steps Out Of The Corner – A Story of Peru

Imagine not one but three pairs of eyes shining their loving rays of sunshine back at you. I stood in the doorway of the Coffee Tree Cafe soaking up this splendid wave of energy. Without effort or invitation I was reflecting three smiling faces, beaming from ear to ear. I stepped through the doorway to greet my new friends. Nabila, whom I had met for the first time just a few hours ago in Casa Della Abuelo Hotel, introduced me to her travelling companion, Liz. ‘And this is Steve,’ she added. The three had got talking to each other while having coffee. Steve, also from the States of USA, was travelling solo and had just arrived in Ollantaytambo from Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

After three weeks of grappling with a new language, my Spanish was slowly improving but not enough to convey much detail. My new Peruvian friends in this Sacred Valley town, were patient with me, but I was very much a baby amongst them and definitely ‘in the corner’ in many ways.
This was ‘baby’ stepping out of the corner into centre stage. English gushed from me, so much to say and to appreciative listeners. If you know that bond that exists between friends from an earlier part of your life, which ignites instantly once you are together again, this was the feeling I had in that moment of meeting these wonderful souls, except we had never been connected previously in this lifetime of my earth existence.
A plan was set in place without hesitation. Pizza and Pisco were involved in the plot. Off we set and since I was considered by my new friends to be the ‘local’ amongst them, I got to choose the venues. Tonight I was going to be a real tourist, so we ate our ‘stone-oven-fired’ pizza while listening to Pan Pipe music and sampling Peruvian ‘Tacama’ Red Wine and Pisco Sour.

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

We were abuzz with conversation. My new friends were such interesting people. Liz and Nabila both worked in education, researching the ways in which children learn in order to develop better strategies for teaching them. They both seemed highly motivated and passionate about their work, we discussed the ways the world could benefit from such advancements. I was intrigued by Nabila’s story of how her family had moved to America when she was little, leaving her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan behind.

Steve, who also had Peruvian background, told us about his work as an orthopaedic doctor. He had journeyed to Peru with a team of doctors from America for the purpose of providing voluntary medical assistance and surgery in areas where people cannot afford medical care. Having spent some weeks in this role, he was spending his final week enjoying a vacation before return home to U.S.A.
I was in awe of my new friends, inspired and feeling grateful to have the company of such

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

magnificent minds and hearts. Naturally they asked me about my story. ‘What brought you to this place?’ Nabila asked. The answer I had rehearsed for the inquisitive café customers came tripping out more shyly this time. ‘I wrote a novel,’ I replied as the three of them listened attentively. ‘I visited Peru last year on a holiday,’ I added, explaining how this first visit had inspired a story. ‘I wrote continuously, morning to night for five months until I had completed it, my first novel.’

I looked at them, wondering what they might think of this. I half apologised for not having made more effort to do ‘worldly-good’ deeds as they had been doing. Steve was the first to reassure me, ‘I wish I could write a novel!’ he remarked.

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

The laughter and fun continued and our next stop was the Quechua Bar in the direction of the craft market and Fortaleza. You will know this bar if you visit Ollantaytambo. It’s the one that is playing the Bob Marley music and the Spanish version of U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ The dogs in the deserted streets followed us home. Since my accommodation was on the far side of town, the guys walked me there first. Steve was leaving early in the morning so I wished him well on his journey. Liz and Nabila were toying with the idea of staying an extra day, so we had swapped mobile numbers in order to make plans.

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

That was my ‘wildest’ party night in Ollantaytambo town during my nine weeks there and the best friendships formed with any touristic visitors to the town during my stay. Only in more recent times did I discover that Steve’s trip to Peru that July was even more significant than he had revealed that night. He had been responsible for making a miracle happen. At least it was a miracle for the young Peruvian boy who received a prosthetic limb. Steve had responded to a plea for help which could have gone unheard. It seemed impossible to him at first but he got support of his colleagues and arranged for the artificial limb to be made especially for the boy, whose family could never have afforded this. During this trip to Peru, Steve had personally delivered and fitted the limb to the young boy, transforming his life forever.

Salutations to you Steve! And to Liz and Nabila, thank you for being there!

© Caroline Cunningham Wild Star Landing Author

 

This Day Was Waiting For My Arrival – Life In A Peruvian Town

I can’t remember if I felt any different that Sunday morning as I dressed in the amber-hued sunlight which warmed my rustic bedroom but a significant day and night lay ahead of me. I had spent three weeks now in Ollantaytambo, a rural country town in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley.

Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Irish Womans Journey in Peru

A humble neighbour of the magnificent Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is, in its own right, a world heritage site which has earned the title of ‘Living Inca Museum’. Hence folk the world over gather here, mostly on a short stay en route to Machu Picchu. I had decided to claim it for longer, if the locals would have me. So far, so good, I was learning Spanish and making some improvement and now my new friends at Coffee Tree Restaurant were also teaching me Quechua (the language of the Incas, which is a first language of many people in this area)
It was one of those extra special days as I was about to find out. I had no conscious plan of my own but over in the square waiting for my arrival was a sequence of events that would play out perfectly. I would never forget the moments that were about to unfold nor the people I was about to befriend.

Plaza De Armas Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Plaza De Armas Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Crossing Plaza De Armas (main square) I spotted my friend Alex waving to me from the bench outside his Coffee Tree Restaurant. I went to say hello. He introduced me to his friend sitting next to him. ‘Hola Henry!’ I understood from Alex that Henry was the owner of a new Hostel/Hotel in town. To be honest I didn’t understand every single word but Henry seemed like a friendly fellow and most polite. There and then he invited me to come to see his new hotel.

Casa Del Abuelo, Ollantaytambo, PeruAt Hostal La Casa Del Abuelo I met Catty, Henry’s wife and their new born baby, little Michaela, the sweetest thing you ever saw bundled in soft pink clothing. ‘Caroline, you want tea?’ Catty enquired. Henry already had the tea prepared. Catty carried on attending to her baby girl while Henry busied himself about the place. We chatted as best we could with our broken languages. Both Catty and Henry were keen to learn English and they offered that we might help each other with this exchange. I was invited to visit any time.

 

 
Just then a guest came from the stairway into the reception area where we were seated. She was speaking Spanish but her accent was unusual and her voice quite distinctive. She wanted to find out about the area, having just arrived by bus from Machu Picchu. It didn’t take long to figure out that we were both English speaking. As Nabila and I introduced ourselves it seemed certain that we were headed for adventure. Invisible threads had been woven into this scene, drawing like minds and hearts together for the purpose of merriment and good cheer. I drew a map on the back of a napkin indicating the highlights of the town and making sure to advise her of my Ollantaytambo friends whom she should visit and give custom to.
Nabila and I arranged to meet at the Coffee Tree after 5pm and Liz her companion would also be joining us. Meanwhile, Catty had decided that I should join her and Henry for lunch along with their cousin André who was visiting from Lima. In many Irish homes, a guest will realise that refusal of the invitation to eat or drink is a wasted exercise, after the third insistence it is better to accept the offer. It seems the Peruvian’s and Irish have some common traits. In those first few hours of this family’s company I have to say I was touched by their kindness and acceptance of me.

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack - An Irish Woman's Journey in Peru

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack – An Irish Woman’s Journey in Peru

Eventually all the dishes had been added to the table, a round cake of soft cheese and some bread pans as I was already accustomed to. In addition there was cancha, Peruvian fried and salted corn, and I was served a bowl of stew with pieces of tasty goat meat. There was plenty to go around lots of conversation too.

My ability to converse was still a little stifled but I was forced to try harder to communicate. My new friend Henry, who to this day I am so fond of, is a most inquisitive fellow, who never tires in his eagerness to learn not just the English language but about life outside Peru. He had a natural curiosity and conversations could take many twists and turns. I would end up telling him things about Ireland such as the story of how we got the Shamrock as our emblem or about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and The Salmon of Knowledge….In Spanish!!!
Later I looked at my watch. It was time to meet my other new friends…….the Americans. This was just the start of the adventure. I thanked my new Peruvian friends and promised to visit soon. With an extra spring in my step I made my way towards Plaza De Armas.

Copyright Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing

Good Herb Hierba Bueno

If you read my article regarding my trip to Urubamba Market then you may remember my delicate incident after eating a strawberry. Well, thankfully there was a remedy, recommended by my landlady Qeta at Qusikoller, Ollantaytambo. Hierba Bueno literally means ‘Good Herb’. It had a minty taste, more like peppermint and it certainly revived me after my episode of diabolical-ria. It even looked soothing as I gazed into the cup. Qeta had a good supply of it growing in  a little pot inside her door along with other useful herbs which come in handy for the making of tasty soups.

If you would like to read more about life in Peru please FOLLOW my blog. I am currently detailing my 9 weeks experience living in Ollantaytambo, World Heritage Site and Living Inca Museum.

Gracias.

To The Market – Urubamba

There is a saying in Ireland that goes like this: ‘the way to a mans heart is through his stomach’. However, I don’t think any human being could forget the sight, smell or taste of the organic, home grown food produced in Peru’s Sacred Valley.

Urubamba has a large indoor market and is less than 30 minutes drive from Ollantaytambo (where I lived for 9 weeks in 2013). It costs 1 Sol 50 cents to go by mini-van with stunning views of the mountains and Urubamba river to be admired along the way.

Wednesday is the best day to go as, that is the day when the freshest produce is available. So off I went on a Wednesday to see for myself. It was tremendous to be surrounded by so many good things that Pacha Mama/Mother Earth created. I absorbed it all, the colours, the earthy and fruity smells and the busy atmosphere of the market.

One elderly man spoke to me in what I assumed to be Quechua (the language of the Incas). I remembered some phrases that my Ollantaytambo friends had been teaching me and found the words to ask ‘how are you?’ The elderly man sat up in grand surprise and smiling from ear to ear he stretched forward to offer me his hand in a friendly shake. I giggled to myself thinking ‘he must have understood my Quechua.’

I took many photos and even tried on clothes, discovering rather indelicately that I am a bit larger in size than the Peruvian ladies. ‘Grande! Grande’!’ I was told by one sales woman as she shouted for all to hear. There were only 3 sizes available, Small, Grande and Extra Grande. We ended up laughing about my reaction to being told I was LARGE….back in Europe I am much smaller!

I did to my detriment, however, eat a marvelous strawberry that was handed to me by one stall owner. In my delight I ignored the rule about ‘washing all fruit’ before eating and next morning after a lengthy session in the baňos (loo) my landlady enquired ‘what did you eat at the market?’ I groaned when I thought of the strawberry, it was delicious at the time but had malicious consequences.

I now look back in humour and leave you with some photographs in memory of that day…spot the strawberry ( O; and stay tuned for more about Peruvian food and Life in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Torn Between Two Lovers

Torn! Yes Torn. Why? Because I said in my last post Eat Love Peru that I would contribute further articles with regard to the Peruvian passion for food. As soon as i had that thought of writing the article I reverted back to ‘DRINK’. Sorry, am giving you totally the wrong idea. Oops! I said ‘totally’……….(O: and I never say ‘totally’….like the way some folk ‘totally’ say ‘totally…..ahhhhh!!

Yikes! And there again I have left you probably thinking…’what she doing? Has she hit the bottle?’ Nope! Not at all the way it appears in writing. You see in Peru, those who are passionate about their food (and they are many), often use what they call ‘the secrets of good cooking.’ There are many secrets as I discovered in my conversations with a number of friends, some who were also qualified chefs.

As I was in the deep end for my nine weeks of living in Peru, with regard to learning Spanish, I invited myself to watch carefully as one of my chef friends cooked our meal for the evening. Surely I would discover some of the secrets if I paid attention well.

I shall keep you in suspense to know the name of the dish being prepared on that first evening, but I am pretty sure I did in fact discover one of the secrets. Pisco! Si, yes, Pisco. Its a drink, an alcoholic one and it would be difficult to make your way throughout Peru without being offered a drop or two of this particular spirit, of which its country folk claim with pride.

To be more precise, Pisco is made from grapes and is certainly a product of the famous winery of Ica along the Peruvian coast. Pisco is a colourless spirit and high in alcoholic content (40%), so gently does it with this stuff. In my taste buds it is similar to a brandy or a palinka (made in eastern parts of Europe).

But not to worry, in Peru there are many recipes for the drinking of Pisco. Pisco Sour is the most famous of its cocktails and is hailed as the traditional welcome and celebratory drink in every home and hotel. Chilcano is a perhaps a more relaxed and chilled out cocktail option. There are numerous possibilities, as i discovered during my 9 weeks in Peru’s Sacred Valley.

You can make hot drinks to warm your bones in the cool of an Andean evening, after the sun disappears behind the rocky peaks. I never thought of asking if it is good for arthritis? Hold your horses! Better to drink the stuff (following the recipe) before you try rubbing it in your knees, as  was a custom with Poitín (an alcoholic drink of Irish Olden Days before there were so many laws).

Last but not least, I discovered that Pisco is one of the secrets, ‘the secrets of good cooking.’ I saw it with my own two eyes as the measure was added to the pan. And the dish was delicious I have to say. It was double YUM.

Surely you will now understand my torn agony as I strove to tell you about food. Its great when everything falls into neat categories. That’s life. No neat categories. So lets get on with the show. Next article is definitely about FOOD. I promise it is not the last you will hear of Pisco however and yes I will also include the recipe for Pisco Sour. Salud!

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