On Saturday the sixth of August 2011, I began a trip 25 years in the waiting. It is a journey that I have dreamed of doing since I was a child. I'm off to South America, specifically Peru & Bolivia with a relax at the end in Buenos Aires. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

This journey began for me in 1985 when I lived in Port Lincoln. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun a rich golden warmth that eradicated the edge that lingers in people after Christmas and New Years. Children were everywhere frolicking along the foreshore and through the waters, jumping from the Jetty and enjoying all that could be from the day. The morning drew to afternoon and my sister and her friends started to wander further than my mother wanted them to. She sent me to bring them back closer to her view.

I stepped into the blue water lapping the shore, took a few steps into the pitiful surf, and fell. Electricity shot through my body, screamed into my skull, nerves became alive like never before. I yelled, but not understanding the pain, thinking it was probably just a stubbed toe, I reached into the water and pulled my foot free and into the air. My mind went white, my voice pierced the golden joy of summer, the water darkened, staining with the rich blood pouring forth from my foot, opened like a baguette.

During my stay at the hospital where they repaired my foot as best they can, I received a gift from my Grandmother. It was a calendar with pictures of places around the world. In the calendar I found two that I had to see – The Pyramids of Giza and Macchu Pichu. I have carried a picture of Macchu Pichu with me since then, and finally on the 21st of August 2011, I will be there after having hiked through the Andes for the previous three days.

Below are the entries for the Peruvian leg of this trip.

August 16 to 17 2011 - Cuzco, Planeterra project, Pisac - Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo

We flew to Cuzco via Lima as our original direct flight was cancelled. When we landed at Lima, we had 30 minutes to disembark and make our way through the terminal, past ticket control and security, to our plane. It was tight, and was quite hectic at one stage as the line-up at security was very long, probably 80 or more people. Ali our guide managed to wrangle security to let us cut the line. 5 minutes after we were on the plane we were taxiing.

Cuzco is a the cultural heart of Peru, the gateway to the Sacred Valley and thus to Machu Picchu (the most popular attraction in Peru, and the one that has captured my desires for a quarter century). Cuzco has all the standard requirements for a colonial city – central square with cathedral, museums, restaurants, statues, etcetera. It is a bustling metropolis and for today we had an afternoon to explore but first lunch. A popular dish in Peru is Roast Chicken. You can get a quarter chicken and chips with salad for around 10 Sols (AU$3.00).

After lunch, Ali took us to one of the local markets to see some of the food on offer. The market was a large tin shed filled with small booths of alpaca, wood, and stone souvenirs, Beyond the first layer comes the fun stuff, the food. The next two lanes are juice stores – think Boost juice but crazy, cheap and exceptionally good. Next came the grocers, fruits and vegetables galore all very fresh and very cheap. Bananas were the highlight for me, a bunch of them costing me 5 Sols (AU$1.50). Needless to say, I've been eating a lot of bananas to get myself caught up after months of not having them due to their expensive prices in Australia. Ali introduced us to a range of local fruits, some sweet, some sour, and one peculiar and difficult to describe.

Beyond the grocers came the butchers. The butchers area is an open market, not refrigerated, and everything is freshly slaughtered that morning. By mid-afternoon nothing will be left and by tomorrow all that was sold will be cooked and eaten. The Peruvians do not let anything go to waste so at the butcher you can buy everything from a fresh cut of your favourite meat to every organ and extremity. It's probably quite off-putting to a lot of westerners to see all this on display, but I find it refreshing that everything is used and that the Peruvians are not squeamish regarding their food. I hope they never lose that in their march toward modernity and westernisation.

Here at the markets I had a goal, a food to try that was apparently a local delicacy – Jugo De Rana, Frog juice. It took a while to find someone that would sell me a frog (2 Sols) but once I had it, I made my way to juice alley and gave it to the woman working there to blend with some orange, apple, papaya, and carrot juice. The result was a beautiful drink with an excellent protein supplement (4 Sols).

The markets are also home to the witches and you can purchase any manner of medicinal remedy or offering to the gods.

The rest of the day was wandering and eating. Most of my travelling companions seem to prefer the basic westernised foods such as pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Thankfully most restaurants offer those as well as some local dishes.

The following day...

I must admit to feeling some trepidation today as we begin the journey I have waited so long to achieve – The Sacred Valley of the Inca, then onto the Lares Trek leading me towards Machu Picchu. It's a weird feeling to stand on the threshold of a dream. I oft wondered what would happen when I achieved this. All know for sure is that my brain will liquefy and splat against my skull (figuratively, not literally, of course). But that is in the days to come, and first we must visit the Sacred Valley.

The way out of town takes us past the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, pronounced Saxy Woman. This was a major fortress that the Spaniards stripped for building supplies in Cuzco.

Our first stop is a Planeterra project run by GAP Adventures. It's a Women's Weaving Project at Caccacollo. This project is a sustainability project to help this community maintain their traditions and support themselves (see The women here use the traditional techniques to dye and weave the wool into scarves, jumpers, hats, gloves, bracelets, and women's ponchos.

One thing I find strange is that in school we were taught that the Inca never invented the wheel and yet I see it use everywhere in the communities. The Inca had the wheel, they just never used it the way we did in the west, and a quick look at the terrain and you can understand why. The wheel for carts wouldn't work with the llama over this terrain. Better just to load the animal and go. Here they use the wheel for spinning wool, crushing ochre, leaves and Cochin, running out and levelling their weave. It is an amazing thing to watch.

From here we travel the winding roads and stop in a village for a light snack of coca tea and traditional epinadas. Epinadas are a small pastry like a pasty with various fillings. The pastry is sweet and the fillings savoury, baked in a clay oven and makes for a satisfying snack.

All through these hills and valleys are the villages that were once ruled by the Inca from on high. The homes are mud brick, made locally from the surrounding mud and grasses. To we in the west it may seem like a poor building material, but it is cheap, effective and survives. All of these homes have electricity, and house at least one if not multiple generations tightly if not comfortably.

Our guide says something very interesting regarding the poverty we are seeing:

“These people are not poor, just poor in technology. They have ample food and water, shelter and community. If you have all that, how can you be poor?”

The agrarian Peruvians live for decades longer than the urban ones. It is not uncommon to see old men and women in their 80's and beyond out here in the countryside.

Our next stop was the Inca ruin of Pisac. The first thing that stands out is the terracing. This is the feature that most people know about the Inca – terraced mountains for their crops. The terracing makes excellent use of the terrain, allowing for maximum agricultural use of hill sides in what would otherwise be unforgiving terrain. The stonework is incredible. The Inca were able to move granite rocks, many tonnes in weight and put them together without mortar with seems so tight you cannot slide even a sheet of paper between them. The Inca built up on the hills for protection and power, to lord from on high, and with structures such as these it's not hard to see why the people deferred to them.

On our way from Pisac to Ollantaytambo, we came across a small town celebrating something in the town square, so we stopped to have a look. There were devils on the roof of the church and a range of people dancing. I'm not sure what reason it was today, but it really seems as though Peruvians need very little excuse to have a party.

Ollantaytambo is the final stop on our tour today. Here is another Inca ruin, looking over the town which is still in the original layout with Inca streets and water ways. The streets are thin with Inca stone forming the first half of the walls. It was a Spanish technique to demolish the top of the Inca buildings and keep the foundations. As such you have beautiful stone topped with plastered European style walls and roofing.

Ollantaytambo is an incomplete city, and is a treasure to behold. Majestically stepping up the mountain to the peak, terrace after terrace into the sky. The structures at the top are impressive, but more so is the pieces left unfinished. There are stones that weigh several tonnes that have been placed near their final location ready for finishing, half polished and smooth. Touching the stones, they are as smooth as glass. You can see from here, across the valley the road used to bring the stones from the quarry several kilometres away.

It is hard to stand here and not appreciate the majesty and wonder of these people and the land in which they lived.

Looking over the town from on top the ruin, there are Incan granaries and a walkway. It is a short journey to the walkway up the mountain, and it is here that I get my first taste of what is going to happen tomorrow on the Lares – the difficulty getting enough air when climbing these stairs to the Granary.

Other Peru Articles:

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