Machu Picchu has been on the top of my bucket list for years now and when I was planning my world trip, I knew I had to include it somehow. The trip almost didn’t happen because Emma, my beautiful perennial travel buddy, told me she’s not going and I knew my parents will freak out if they find out I was traveling to South America on my own but I knew in my heart I was ready so I went ahead and booked everything anyway.
It was my first time to go to South America and everything was new to me yet somehow a lot of things also felt familiar. I guess it was the Spanish heritage/influence growing up in the Philippines. In Lima (the capital of Peru), I had no problem blending in, unlike when I visit Asian countries for example, I always get asked where I’m from, over there almost everyone just assumed I’m Peruvian or Latina except for when I start talking in my broken Spanish.
I opted to stay in Lima two days prior to flying to Cusco to do a cooking class. It’s common knowledge among friends and family that I love cooking so I was extremely excited to learn some famous Peruvian dishes, sadly I haven’t had a chance to recreate all the dishes I’ve learned since I got back because I couldn’t find some of the ingredients that we used. The cooking class involved going to the mercado or the market where my tour guide introduced me to the fresh produce that they often use to cook their food. The market was called Mercado Numero Uno de Surquillo.I was also showed a variety of super hot chilli’s. I remember my tour guide warning me that their chilli’s will make me cry, and I was like, meh! I didn’t tell him I love chilli’s. This particular chilli in this jar though is said to be the hottest. Found only in the Amazon jungle, they call it, penis of the monkey. I swear I’m not making this shit up. After visiting the market, we drove to the scenic Chorrillos, a famous seaside district of Lima, where I met the chef of Sirena Restobar that was going to teach me two Peruvian dishes and a cocktail drink. The first dish he taught me was ‘causa rellena’, a potato dish. Peru apparently has over 3000 types of potatoes so it’s no wonder they have gazillion potato dishes as well. The second dish was my favourite, ceviche con leche de tigre (milk of the tiger). For a moment, I really thought we were going to use tiger milk but to my relief, it was just how they called the sauce. The combination/contrast of all the flavours complimented each other and the flavours were like dancing inside my mouth. And then it was time for me to learn their national cocktail drink, Pisco Sour. Pisco sour is so easy to drink because it’s so refreshing but best to limit to drinking 2 glasses at a time, trust me, due to its alcohol content (70%) you won’t really feel what hit you after. The best part was I got to enjoy my very own pisco sour in front of Lima’s famous surfing beach, Playa La Herradura. Salud! The following day, I flew to the quaint and historic region of Cusco. Basically to reach Machu Picchu, you have to fly from Lima to Cusco. Most tourists that embark on hiking Machu Picchu stay in Cusco for a few days to climatise. Upon touchdown, I was greeted by this amazing view at 11 thousand feet and I of course was enamorado. I ended up doing another cooking lesson in Cusco just because doing one cooking lesson is not enough. The same set up as the cooking class in Lima, my guide also took me to their local market as well. My guide in Cusco was more outgoing, he made me try some exotic fruits but was quick to stop me from eating street foods because he was worried I will get sick. I normally get sick but it’s never stopped me from trying before. For some reason I decided to be a good girl that day. Turned out my guide was also my cooking teacher and he made me cook ‘Lomo Saltado’ using alpaca meat. I’ve never cooked alpaca meat before and it was my first time eating it too and although it was very tender and tasty, I didn’t enjoy it as much, because I was feeling guilty the whole time. I will most likely use a different meat if/when I recreate this dish later on. On the way back to my hotel, I met a descendant of an Inca and my tour guide said that I was lucky because he apparently blessed me. Yay. The following day, I joined a whole bunch of adventurers (mostly British) to start the Machu Picchu adventure. I booked my tour via G Adventures and this company is just fantastic. I’ve done a lot of tours from different parts of the world and can easily say G Adventures is one of the best. Our first stop was Saqsaywaman, the neighbouring town of Cusco. Our tour CEO took us to this uphill spot that was overlooking the whole of Cusco, the most important city for the Inca’s. Our next stop was visiting this little village called Cacacollo. It was definitely one of the highlights for me. I loved the idea that part of the money I paid for the tour goes to the livelihood initiatives of this village. I truly admire this project of G Adventures. Over the years they helped provide better living conditions for the people and sustainable jobs especially for the women. This lovely lady made me wear her traditional hat. Apparently if you are single, you flip it up and you flip it down if you are married. I knew I was right to feel guilty cooking/eating alpaca meat. They are like the cutest thing in the world. I would never eat or cook them again.
So humbled to be surrounded by these beautiful Quechuan women while drinking their coca tea.
Sacred Valley is also famous for their delicacy, ‘cuy’ which is basically roasted guinea pig. As a foodie I had to try, at least once 😦
We reached the historic town of Ollaytantambo in the evening. It served us the starting point for our four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail. It was also the last place where we could use our mobile phones and the last place where we could have a shower.
A typical house in Ollaytantambo.
Inside the house was also a strange altar, with skulls, dead animals, sculpted human shaped organs, and rosaries and saints. Most Peruvians apparently still practice the old religion and the new religion (Catholicism) at the same time. We were up early the following day to start Day 1 of our Inca Trail. To say we were excited, would be a big understatement.
And my great big Machu Picchu adventure begins…