When choosing where to travel on a new adventure, there are many things to consider from where to stay and how long, going alone or with a companion, transportation, what to bring, the list goes on and on.
On return from your new experience, people see the pictures and videos, but they don’t think about the effort you put forth into planning your shenanigans, the stress that traveling can imbue or even how much you needed this trip for yourself, for your sanity. They only see how worth it it is to see the world through your photographs, and, oh my, how worth it it is! When the trip is over and the money has been shelled out, the beauty of the trip is what will remain; that’s when you know. When you know you have to get back out there, have to see more cultures, eat more food and live more broadly. That’s when you have the travel bug!
My most recent so-called “vacation” was to Peru (it ended up being more like an excursion as my travel companion put it). Deciding where to go felt liberating as I vacillated over exploring Columbia, the Dominican Republic or Thailand. Peru wasn’t even on the list; I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. I had 2 weeks of vacation time I could use, so I wanted to make the most of it, but to be honest, I wasn’t truly in the mood for another solo adventure. Being a flight attendant, I do it quite often as my crew doesn’t always feel as gregarious as I.
Another reason to get away was that I had recently decided to cut someone out of my life for good, a boyfriend that I’d been on and off with for three and a half years. I’m sure many of you can empathize when I say I wish I had realized sooner that he wasn’t the one for me, that he’s not the good guy he portrays himself to be to everyone around him, that being a good liar isn’t an admirable quality. One would think that understanding would have come as soon as I found out he was cheating on me with his best friend (and Lord knows who else), but love is blindness, right?
One of the many reasons why I love traveling is you forget about things that hurt you, people that disappoint you and all that is fucked when you’re focused on your current adventure, because you’re trying to wake up in time for the flight, you have to run to catch your train, you climb that mountain to see the world up high and jump into the freezing cold water trying not to think about sharks below, and you meet amazing humans along the way that make you feel better about yourself and about life by putting your faith back into humanity. This is what Peru was for me.
Because of those two factors, I decided to hunt for a travel buddy, and I ended up traveling with an old college friend who I hadn’t seen in 3 years. He could only go for a week because of his job, but we always had fun together, so I chose him – Shout out to you, Evan, for going with me last minute and for being such a good sport!
He then told me Machu Picchu was on his bucket list.
Decision made. Peru it is! So one week before departure, I began planning.
Travel perks is the main reason why many people decide to become a flight attendant, and boy, is it great to travel for such an inexpensive price! The downside is that we have to fly standby. For those of you that don’t know, standby is when you list yourself to be on a flight, but you only get a seat once all of the paying passengers have boarded, meaning you may not get a seat at all!
Our vacation became an excursion the second we began.
I found out I actually like the ridiculousness that is Rick & Morty.
We found out we’re lucky bastards when we made the second and last flight out of Miami to Peru as standbys.
A shitty experience was had at the Prime Spot hostel due to its filth, lack of organization and overall icky-ness. Thank sweet baby Jesus it was just for one night, and that we had a delectable bottle of duty free scotch to help us through the night, lighting our veins with fire of excitement for our adventures soon to come!
The most important meal of the day (which apparently includes tamales).
We needed that breakfast as we exhausted our legs walking an hour and a half through the city to our next air bnb.
It was tiring as we had our big back packs on our backs and our smaller ones on our front – yes, we looked really good, but along the way we found some beautiful things that we wouldn’t have seen in an Uber, such as the biggest olive trees I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I wanted to climb them all.
It was worth the walk.
Our new temporary residence was MUCH better – clean, cool, professional, free drinkable water!
We set back out as soon as we settled into our new digs, taking a super cheap Uber to the main square in downtown Lima. From there we stumbled into Toque Criollo (highly recommend) and had a incredible dinner of ceviche and the best calamari I’ve had to pleasure to eat, accompanied by the ever present Cancha Salada – of the corn variety (maiz cancha); it is roasted with oil and salted – that is usually given as a complimentary table snack in Peruvian dining facilities.
Besides that perfectly fried squid, the pisco sour was my favorite thing I put into my mouth. A simply delicious, alcoholic beverage made with lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites and pisco, topped with a few drops of angostura bitters and a lime wheel.
Pisco is the national spirit of Peru (also, in Chile). It is classified as a brandy, but in my opinion it tastes like a refreshing tequila. We drank a lot of pisco in our week in Peru, sometimes with salt and lime, other in pisco sour and, of course, just straight up.
There’s no policy against open containers here, so, naturally, we take a pisco and a Cusqueña beer para llevar (Tip: Don’t drink and go to the market, you’ll want to buy everything).
The catacombs under the San Francisco convent are amazing, creepy, a little sad, and not recommended for someone who is claustrophobic. Unfortunately, photography is illegal inside, but to the left is a shot of the church.
(Tip: when traveling, ALWAYS bring your student ID because you can use it in a myriad of places for discounts).
Before entering the church, we saw this little cutie selling churros. I haven’t had a ridiculous amount of churros in my life, but out of the ones I’ve had, this one dominated them all. Super crunchy and slightly dusted in sugar with a creamy center that tasted like Tres Leches, but better! Two Soles for one churro, not bad for something so good.
After checking out the main square, Plaza Mayor, we noticed it is seemingly always holding a public party, even on a Sunday night.
Apparently, it’s a thing at the Islas de Las Lobos de Mar… to swim with sea lions.
We paid $50 per person. Not bad for the car ride to the boat, the hour long boat ride to the islands, swimming with the sea wolves (as they’re called in Peru) in provided wetsuits, post swimming snacks, spying on a few penguins, a history lesson and the ride back.
Most intriguing was learning of the history of El Frontón, the island that is known as the “island of hell” for torturing and holding prisoners in extremely miserable conditions. Escape was impossible as the waters are too cold and the mainland too far at 12 miles.
Built in the early 1920s, it is mostly remembered as the place that held the Peruvian prison massacres in the 1980s which resulted in over 200 deaths of prisoners. Originally, it was meant for the political enemies of the Peruvian dictator, Augusto Leguia, until he ended up in the prison himself, thrown in by his successor.
Cuscotopia! (I’ve always been a big fan of the Emperor’s New Groove.)
Easy flight from Lima to Cusco. Not so easy purchase of transportation to Machu Picchu which was supposed to include the ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, train to Aguas Calientes, bus to Machu Picchu and in reverse, back to Cusco.
This can be done at the airport at baggage claim, but don’t do like us and go to the first “PeruRail” you see. Walk around the corner and purchase them from the counter directly across baggage claim that says “PeruRail” or “IncanRail”. Yeah. We got scammed – but we weren’t sure of this until later.
One shady 2 hour-car ride later, we were in Ollantaytambo. An adorable, touristy town where I tried alpaca meat for the first time. I would definitely eat it again – it’s kind of like flank steak, but a smidge tougher and super flavorful! The pile of green stuff under the meat is like pesto mashed potatoes – such a delicious combo!
Soon we were on the train to Aguas Calientes. It took an hour and a half, and even though I didn’t get to sit next to Evan, I met some cool peeps. There were four at our table, 2 from China, one from Brazil. Only the Brazilian knew a little English. For the entirety of the train ride, we played Farkle. A game that is about numbers with dice, so you don’t need to speak the same language to teach it! We were even told to be quiet by the waitresses on the train a couple of times because we were getting too rambunctiously involved in our game. Haha.
When you arrive in Aguas Calientes, the first thing you need to do is buy your bus ticket to Machu Picchu, which was supposed to be included in what we purchased at the airport. We were almost unable to get the tickets, because we “weren’t in the system”, meaning we were scammed, but we called the guy and he sent someone with money to buy them. Okay.
Dinner was even more unorthodox than our lunch as we ate a nice avocado salad and some fried cuy (pronounced as coo-wee).
If you can’t quite tell from the picture, it is an animal, and probably one many of you are familiar with, as in the U.S., they are relatively common household pets – I had one myself growing up, in fact. Guinea Pig. It’s a guinea pig, and in Peru it’s a delicacy and one of the most expensive dishes you can buy. It really just tastes like fatty, greasy, dark meat chicken. I don’t think I’d eat it again, though!
Souvenir shopping, a night cap of pisco and bed time was upon us.
We got in line for the bus up to Machu Picchu at 06:00, and there were already over a hundred people in front of us.
Every second more and more people showed up behind us, so when you go, make sure to wake up early. You don’t want to be any of those slackers standing in the back!
The bus ride takes about 25 minutes. We made it to the top a little after 07:00. We didn’t go to the ruins yet though, as we had something more arduous in mind to begin this day.
Machu Picchu mountain took us an hour and a half. It is an exhausting, beautiful climb with increasingly steep steps that are seemingly incessant! They only allow you to ascend twice a day; we went in the blocked time between 7 and 9. (I purchased our tickets for this, as well as, the Machu Picchu ruins online, which you MUST do before getting into Peru. This is the website where you can buy them.)
The energy of the climbers is amazing, and everyone around was so kind and encouraging to each other. Not to mention, the view from the top is quite spectacular!
Evan and I celebrated with some shots of Pisco, shared with some new friends we made on the way up.
After descending down the mountain, we purchased a tour of the Machu Picchu ruins from a guide waiting outside the entrance (you can exit and re-enter just once, and there is no bathroom once inside, so remember that). We paid her 120 soles; it is cheaper to try to find others to go along in your group, because they don’t have an up-charge for more people.
The ruins were… out of this world. Intelligently built and an overall air of wonder, these ruins are on people’s bucket lists for good reason. I would love to go back as our tour was a bit rushed since we had to make a 14:30 train back to Ollantaytambo.
We missed the train. Not because we were late, but because we couldn’t find were to be picked up. Assuming it was where we were originally dropped off, that’s where we went, and we were wrong. We easily got our tickets changed to a later time – luck was with us because the train could have easily been booked solid.
Our new train time wasn’t until a couple of hours, so what do we do? Pisco sours.
Once in Ollantaytambo, we had no one to pick us up, because we were never able to get ahold of our “travel agent” to notify him of our delay. Luckily, we found a van driver to whom we paid 10 soles to take us all the way back to Cusco. It was very uncomfortable since there were so many of us in the van, but it was cheap. Once in Cusco, we had to to Uber to our air bnb, where we swiftly showered and passed out around midnight.
After barely getting any sleep, we were picked up from our air bnb at 02:15. EARL-Y.
Three hours of the bumpiest van ride of my life, followed by breakfast at the base camp.
We began climbing around 06:00.
Apu Winicunca. Rainbow Mountain.
The climb was 2 1/2 hours, with an elevation of 14,000 feet. I chewed coca leaves and drank coca tea to help with the elevation headaches that typically occur (yes, you will fail a drug test by consuming these).
We were the second group to make it to the top that day. The first being two Germans with a guide. We didn’t use horses, just our God-given legs and our coca leaf stamina. The view and feeling from being at the top are so wonderful! We were the only ones up there, until a couple we had passed earlier met us up. It was lovely sharing that experience with kind, happy people. There were only 6 of us at the summit, which is great because it’s not very big! We shouted at the top of our lungs that “we made it” then we took some shots of pisco with our climbing buddies!
Going early in the morning is the BEST possible option. It was getting very hot on our climb back down, and the many people on their way up looked so exhausted and kept asking us how far they had to go.
Driving back, we stopped at a local’s house to have a legitimate, Peruvian-style lunch. This only happened because we booked our climb that day with Flashpacker Connect. They’re the ones that drove us there and back, provided breakfast, our entrance fees, oxygen (if needed) and this superb lunch; they pay locals to provide this meal. Our guide, Mike, climbs the mountain 5 times a week! What a boss. He also takes great pictures for you!
Since it was dark on the drive in, we didn’t see the scenery that had been unfolding around us, but on the way back, we saw it all from the rushing river, to the shining rocks and the escalating mountains.
We made it back to Cusco around 17:00.
The remainder of the night consisted of well deserved rest and food.
Flight back to Lima. One last scrumptious meal.
We were originally going to stay another night in Lima at the Healing Dog hostel (AKA: the BEST hostel in which I’ve ever stayed), but we still had to fly out standby, and the our flight we were to leave out in the morning, was overbooked. We chose to leave that night in better hopes of making it on the flight straight back to Dallas versus going through Miami, again, and we barely did! How lucky we were on this trip.
Before heading out, we sat in the common room, drank some Cusqueña and told stories with fellow travelers from around the world, two with whom we shared a ride to the airport that night.
I will never forget this trip. It was… exhilarating, tiresome, stressful, eye-opening and packed full of fun. If anyone wants to go to Peru, I’d love to return!
Want to see more on this excursion? Click here to view my vlog covering it!
Here’s to adventures and the people who make them happen.
*South America has so much to offer! Read about another amazing country in my article “Exploring Ecuador“*