St. Augustine wrote, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I believe this to be true, whether it’s travel takes you down the open highway or the other side of the world. This time our travels took us straight south for seven hours through the dark of night. It was so clear we could see Mexico and Guatemala and Panama as we soared past at 30,000 feet. To state the obvious, Peru is completely different from Central America. Yet, that surprised me when I arrived in Peru. The farthest south I’ve been in Latin America is Venezuela but this was completely different. To be candid, I lump all of Latin America into a few consistent things: Spicy food, colorful streets, and somewhere someone playing mariachi. As I write this I realize how ridiculous this sounds and astonishing that, after traveling through 30 countries, I still have not learned to clump cultures and regions together. But this is the amazing thing about being surprised by something different from what expected: It opens you up to seeing things with fresh eyes. And when that happens you see so much more. You get to read another page of that book.
travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. | miriam beard
From the shores of Lima to the soaring Andean Mountains to the mysterious Incan ruins, here were my top five favorite things in Peru...
ONE | Cusco, 11,000 ft above sea level. After overnighting in Lima, and going on search for the best ceviche in town, we took a short flight interior to Cusco. Cusco is tucked into steep mountains, making the town a maze of incredibly steep roads and stairs. At this elevation, your lungs feel like they’re going to explode walking up one steep block. Cusco was the capitol city for the Incan empire, which was then torn apart by the Spaniards and rebuilt into a Spanish-style town in the 16th century. The walls of the cathedral were literally built using the stones that had been carved and carefully placed as the walls for the Incan fortress, Saqsaywaman. Now an UNESCO World Heritage site, this town is a unique medley of the old Spanish conquerers, the echoes of the Incans that once reigned, and modern day homes and shops. And really, really great New Years parties of yellow confetti and reworks of every hill.
TWO | Weaving, the same but different. Peru has the longest continuous history of textile production in the world. Some believe it goes back to 10,000 years ago, just as people started agriculture. From simple spun fibers to nets to clothing, weaving techniques have been developed and passed down to what it is today. And, with alpacas running around, Peruvians have some of the best fiber in the world. While we were in Cusco we drove an hour out into the mountains to visit our artisan partners, to study their techniques, and pet their alpacas. Like the Mayan weaving in Central America, they weave on backstrap looms tied to a post and around their hips. But the way they weave in their designs and the tools they use to keep the tightness consistent is different. They are proud and extraordinary masters of their craft. (Wait until you see Collection Three this spring!)
THREE | Llamas and alpacas make me happy. These soft, fluffy animals are everywhere, from the streets of Cusco for tourists to take photos with to wild ones running around Machu Picchu. They’re a little skiddish and absolutely adorable with their tiny faces, long necks, and fluffy coat. For centuries, they’ve been used as herd animals, providing meat and a source of warm wool (llamas) and fleece (alpacas). I confused alpacas and llamas quite a bit but learned you can tell them apart based on the size of their faces, the size of their bodies, and the shape of their ears. (Eer, still hard for me to distinguish.)
FOUR | Following the Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley. Out of the 32 climates in the world, Peru has 28 of them. The majority of our travel in Peru happen via train, taking us slow and steady along the massive river and through the Andeans Mountains. Out of the 32 climates in the world, Peru has 28 of them. In our train rides alone we passed through the high alpines of Cusco and the canyons of Ollantaytambo, the edge of jungle of Machu Picchu and by the glacier on Veronica Mountain. Forget a book, this train ride is beauty and curiosity with a side of coca tea. Breath-taking is an understatement.
FIVE | Ruins, mystery, and age-old innovation. I’m a big believer in seeing both the real, ordinary life in a place and the historical, well-known stuff. Although the latter is mainstream and more tourist than traveler, I think these places are an important part of a region and culture. They’re the pride of the people and their heritage. They shaped their culture and are woven into their textiles. While we were in Peru, we took some time to explore the ruins of Moray, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. These huge places, perched high up in breath-taking places, used to be bustling, important towns and agriculture sites for the Incans. And, yet, we know so very little about them. As I wander around the sites I kept thinking how strange and extraordinary it is to step on the same stairs, run by hands down the same walls, and look out to the same view as other women thousands of years ago. The world is so different now, but still – standing there – a little bit the same too.