Peru – Machu Picchu

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There have been very few times in our travels where I’ve had a physical reaction to seeing something. It’s that heart-skips-a-beat excitement mingled with crushing sadness that I’ll only be able to soak this all in for one day. Machu Picchu was one of those places.
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We woke up SOOO early to try to get there in time for the sunrise. After waiting for hours for the bus, then waiting in line behind millions of tourists to get in, we missed the golden hour for photos, but hiked up to the viewpoint just as the sun began to spread across the whole city. Magical.

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I’m pretty sure these two were in heaven, except for the high-altitude hiking up millions of steps. But that’s what made this ancient mountain-top city so amazing. It’s so hard to get there, you almost can’t imagine why or how it even exists.
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Learning about the King’s home

We took a tour of the old city, which amazingly has not had to be restored at all! It survived 500 years of being uninhabited with the only damage coming from the trees and shrubs growing through the rocks.

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The temple of the Sun with Wayna Picchu in the background.

20160802_10.21.17We wandered through homes, temples, the observatory, past the common area where feasts would have been held, past farmlands, and wondered at who the inhabitants really were. Who master-planned this incredible city? I’m still in awe.
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Sitting in the clouds, marvelling at this view. Best part of the trip.
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Peru – Ollantaytambo

After Chinchero, it was another hour drive to get to Ollantaytambo. This is the tiny town where you catch the train to get to Machu Picchu. Our first activity was taking a cooking class at the Chocolate Museum! Peru isn’t famous for its chocolate, but they do export lots of cocoa beans.

Our cute teacher taught us how to make hot cocoa from the beans. We got to cook and shell the beans, then mash them with a mortar and pestle, and make 3 kinds of hot cocoa. Then we got made our own filled chocolate candies. We picked the fillings and the type of chocolate (dark, milk or white), and then they refrigerated them for us and we got to take them home! There is nothing better than spending time with family and eating chocolate.

The next day we explored the market in Ollantaytambo (Ollanta for short), tried some Peruvian pastries, and decided on a whim to hike up a mountain. There was a building up there, so we wanted to see if we could get to it! Apparently it is an ancient grainary, used to store food and grain.

We are way too out of shape for this kind of hiking (straight up), but luckily there was a handrail so we didn’t twist any ankles or fall down the mountain. We stopped many times to admire the view (and catch our breath – 11,000ft elevation), but it was really cool to see the archaeological site on the other side of the valley from up there.

Next we met our tour guide Paloma for a tour of the archaelogical site on the mountain on the other side of the valley. She taught us about Incan building techniques (mining the granite, cutting it, transporting it, building with it), agricultural and irrigation patterns, and a little about their religion. The Incas had no written language, so much of what we know is what we deduce from observations. Still, we know the Incas were pretty advanced for their time.

Our last day, per Juliana’s request,  we rode horses up into the mountains in Ollanta. It was slow going, but the view was beautiful! I tried to imagine what it would have looked like in the spring or summer (it is winter there now), all green and growing. But there is just something about the majesty of being up on some of the tallest mountains in the world!   Zac took more selfies on this horseback ride than he has in his whole life! I think he had a great time.

Peru – Cusco and Chinchero

We have been so lucky that both our parents have been bitten by the travel bug since they’ve been empty nesters! They’ve invited us on some pretty amazing adventures, and this time it was Machu Picchu with the Brassfields! We left the kids with the Taylors, and they were as excited as if they were going on a real vacation! Double bonus. We sure did miss them though.

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They wanted me to take something to remember them by (like some toys or stuffed animals). I told them I’d look at this picture to remember them :)

Zac and I flew into Cusco, Peru one day ahead of the rest of the gang. We started the trip with some popcorn from DFW airport’s newest Chicago-based popcorn heaven:

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Our overnight flight schedule left me feeling like this:20160729_06.45.32

But the view flying into Cusco over the Andes mountains was amazing!20160729_11.05.19-2 We landed about noon, so after checking into the hotel and taking a much needed nap, we set out to explore town a bit. We were pretty exhausted from the flights and the altitude, so after walking around for a while, we found a restaurant that served Peruvian food and ordered some alpaca steak and papas rellenas, and stopped at an ice cream shop on the way back to the hotel.

The next morning, the family met us at our hotel and we headed out of town . We stopped at Chinchero to tour a tiny home where women dye and weave alpaca wool into textiles. We loved seeing how the wool was washed clean with soap found in a root, dyed with colors found in plants, flowers and herbs, spun into yarn, and weaved into beautiful clothing, blankets, ponchos, etc.

We toured the old city of Chinchero, crashed a wedding at the cathedral, learned about Incan agricultural terraces and how Peruvians make dehydrated potatoes (random, I know), and tried boiled corn and cheese from a lady on the streets.

It was so wild to experience such a different kind of life, where life is dictated by the altitude in which you live. Only certain foods can be grown at that altitude. Everyone wears hats to shield their skin from the sun. Even the people’s height is affected by the altitude and lack of oxygen. This is my favorite part of traveling – learning how people live across the world, and coming to appreciate each culture for the way it shapes its people.

Other July shenanigans – picture post