For the past month and a half Chris and I had been thinking constantly about these nexts two weeks! Always searching for the very elusive wifi whenever we could to make hotel reservations, get tickets for Machu Picchu, compile itineraries, reminders, and send packing lists home. It had been seven months since we said goodbye, and the day had finally arrived to see the family again! The plane was late, and the longer we waited around the tiny Cusco airport, the more worried we got that they missed their tight connection in Lima... in our world there is no such thing as a quick text to keep us in the loop! Finally, a plane unloaded... but where were they?!? We couldn't identify any of them in the commotion, but eventually did spot the familiar black Heisenburg hat towering above the crowd. Either Breaking Bad was moving their meth lab to Peru, or that was my dad in the distance!! Following a bit behind was my mom, brother Jordan, and Jordan’s girlfriend Felicia. We were secretly hoping to see my other brother Kevin walk off the plane with Sonja and surprise us, but sadly they had to stay home for this one. The six of us headed straight for the Sacred Valley to a little town called Urubamba. The hour long drive was filled with gorgeous glacier topped mountain views and all the oddities of third world Latin America out the car windows - traditionally dressed women carrying babies or huge bundles of grass on their backs, fruits and veggies being sold from dirty tarps on the sidewalks, numerous livestock and dogs roaming in and out of the streets, the crazy laws of the road including blind passes and constant horn honking, beauty and ancient architecture interspersed with rebar exposed buildings and heaps of garbage scattering the roads… it was all thrown at them in that first hour saying "welcome to Peru, you are very very far from home now people!"
We pull up to Kuychi Rumi not quite knowing what to expect… in theory the place seemed great, but weirdly there was an extreme lack of recent reviews online so it could be anything behind the gate in front of us. I almost backed out of the reservation last minute, but my gut told me no. Good thing, cause as soon as we got there the property manager, Johan, led us down a gravel path filled with thousands of blooming flowers and into our cute Andean home in the mountains! You know that feeling you get when something is just right, and works out better than what you could have imagined… well that was the feeling! There are fresh cut flowers around the house, a huge living room with a fireplace, full kitchen, comfy bedrooms, upper and lower patios, and Andean décor covering the walls. Oh yea, and there are three extremely cute and mischevious dogs that have immediately taken a liking to hanging out on our porch and sneaking in the house... just like home! Vacation was already off to a great start! We even had a parking place for Lola where Chris and I could sleep in our own bed each night! First things first, Chris and I sifted through bags of Amazon goodies that I succesfully pestered my family into bringing. Out came a bunch of other stuff that we didn't even know we missed, including a two pound bag of Twizzlers Jordan managed to pack, yea buddy! We wasted no time settling in and wetting our taste buds with delicious fresh Peruvian cheese, olives, bread, fruits, and veggies, while catching up. Julio, the super sweet nighttime security guard, came by and started a beautiful eucalyptus wood fire, that warmed us up and scented the entire house with one of the best smells ever! Vacation mode fully engaged.
|Just a few of the flowers all over Kuychi Rumi!|
|Chocolate coming for a visit|
|Getting settled in just fine...|
There are endless possibilities of things to do around the Sacred Valley, so although we could have been content hanging out at the awesome house all day, we had to get out and see the sites around us! We headed first for the Salineras, ancient Incan salt terraces that are still in use today. Weirdly, there is an endless spring of salt water flowing to these terraces, which are so intricately designed that each and every plot can turn on and off their water flow as needed. Nowadays the plots are owned by different families and the salt from here is sold all over Peru. After our minds were blown from seeing this oddity from a distance, we journeyed on down to walk all around the terraces and meet some of the owners who were out harvesting their salt, me trying terribly to translate the complicated questions my very curious mother decided to ask! We didn't leave without a couple of pounds of salt for ourselves though, stocking up on scented bath salts and various cooking salts with added herbs like it was going out of style! Having the forethought that throwing a pinch of salt into your eggs each morning and being reminded of fun times in Peru will be a good thing!
|Tending to her plot|
Unexpectedly, there was an annual town fiesta happening in Moray the day we went for a visit. Moray is a huge sunken terraced circle, which has unexplainable temperature differences between each level, the top and the bottom can have a difference of up to 27°F. It is thought that the Incans used it for agricultural experimentation, growing different crops on each terrace. We weren't allowed to go all the way down and feel the heat of the bottom, but that is ok, because witnessing the fiesta was definitely a more unique experience. The whole town was out, watching the dancers down in the terraces, eating, playing Peruvian carnival games, and drinking lots and lots of Chicha (home brewed corn beer)! Yes we were aware that supposedly the maker of the Chicha spits in it for added flavor, and yes we knew that the cups were reused among each customer without being washed… but hey, "when in Peru"!!! The fiesta in Moray was super cool, but American stomachs can't handle their fiesta food and drink, and we did not want to incringe too much on a big ol town party where everyone knew everyone but us, we headed off. Our taxi driver was more tha happy to finish our left over Chicha that we all bought to share… in hindsight maybe feeding your taxi driver alcohol before getting home isn't the best idea!!
|That's me on the left!|
|Someone is happy!|
|The serious art of spinning|
|Felicia giving the spinning a shot|
|This is just amazing to watch|
Everyone was feeling well adjusted to the altitude at this point, so it was definitely time to release some adrenaline… off to Via Ferrata!!! Via Ferrata means "Iron Way", where you rock climb with the help of secured iron rungs in some parts. We donned our harnesses, got a quick safety briefing, and headed to the bottom of the vertical mountain we were about to climb. Of course, being the only actual rock climbers of the group, Jordan and Felicia took off and sped up beyond a ledge and were gone! They would later be using their skill and knowledge to help others get up the climb. Meanwhile, at the back of the group was my mom standing at the bottom, head crooked all the way back staring at the peak second guessing what in the world she was doing here! She and my dad had just about convinced themselves to opt out!! I wasn’t having it though… vacation is not just for sitting around and relaxing, it is for stretching your world, doing new things, and even challenging yourself sometimes!! So, with just a bit of persuasion from her favorite daughter, she gave in and started her ascent with the rest of us!
|Ok, we can do this...|
|The front runners heading up!|
Ten or so minutes into the two hour climb I realized that this was waaay more intense than I imagined when I booked it for the whole family! Maybe I shouldn’t have forced my mom onto that first ladder!! Too late now, looks like we are going to have to suck it up and make it up this rock, all 1,400 feet of its steep face! We would each clip and unclip our carbineers around 300 times by the end, as we made it straight up the rocks via iron ladders, across wobbly bridges made from thin metal line, and along narrow ledges, hugging the boulder trying not to slip. There were numerous moments when I was heading up a particular ladder or over a ledge that bumped out higher on the top than the bottom, where I would think "if this is hard for me, then I know it is hard for them back there!!" Impressively, my mom and dad kept going like champs, when hanging on the side of a mountain there is little choice but to keep pushing past your normal limits I guess, but who in the world were these two beasts behind me chasing me up this cliff with smiles on their faces?!?
|Kicking the adrenaline up a notch!|
|Only a thousand foot drop beneath, no biggie!|
|Don't forget a clip!!|
|Ahhhhmazing views the higher and higher we get!|
|Spot the people scattered on the face of the cliff!|
Just when our muscles were getting tired and shaky, and the fun was close to becoming torture, we climbed over a ledge and spotted the sky hotel, three plexiglass capsules hanging off the side of the mountain that you can pay a stupid amount of money to sleep in. We weren't intersted in that part, but we did know that just a bit beyond these capsules was the top of the mountain, and more importantly, the end of the climb! It was time to sit back, have a snack and enjoy the amazing views we've earned!
|We did it!!!!|
Arguably the best part about Via Ferrata is that after you complete the climbing, you know you don’t need to do any more work to make it back down… you will fly down on a series of six ziplines! The first two are intense, flying at high speeds hundreds of feet up, and long enough to give you a chance to figure out how and when to start "braking" with your hand in order to make a nice smooth landing. If you brake too soon you might not make it to the end, yet if you don't brake soon enough, you'll go flying into the landing zone with so much speed that the final stop is painful!! The third zipline was the longest, when you take off at this one you can barely see where you will end up, as it streches close to half a of a mile over a deep canyon! On this one especially, if you were lucky you would keep your speed up until the platform at the end, but the majority of people ended up getting stranded and having to do a little tarzan motion to pull youself to the end! See example below of Michelle of the Jungle in action! By the last three zip lines we were all experts, flying through the air, even dodging a rock sticking out here and there and tackeling the next to last one tandem style! So. Much. Fun!
|Michelle of the Jungle|
|Ted making it look easy|
|You can't see where this one started and it's not even the longest!|
Exhausted and exhilarated, we all piled into the 4Runner, 3 back in the bed, and 3 in the front seats, for the ride back to Urubamba. Yea for Lola!! We had to make a quick visit to the town market, and all the hilarious looks we got as six gringos climbed out of the car only encouraged us to keep riding around town hanging off the outside and waving hello to the curious townspeople. To them, we were a sight to be seen... just like the market was a sight to be seen to us. Normal by Peruvian standards, it is not a place even imginable by American standards. Inside the large open aired building is rows and rows of vegetables and fruits being sold, buckets full of olives and sauces, an area off the the side selling unrefrigerated fresh meats, a cheese and chocolate corner offering samples, and quinoa and spices interspersed throughout. I tasked Jordan and Felicia with roaming the market and finding a bunch of ingredients for dinner, as they were picking up Spanish very well already, and they managed to come back with huge smiles and arms full of veggies! It was local ingredients for the home made Americana-Peruvian dish, Haucaina (yellow pepper cream sauce) Veggie Quinuoa. Another great night as we once again shared the good company of Johan and Julio around the warm fire back at the house, reminiscing over the awesome day we just had! We had a lot of relaxing to do, because we had a train to catch tomorrow afternoon, heading toward Machu Picchu!
|No problem for Lola, the beast!|
|Pretty comfy actually!|
"Half way I thought was the top! I just took it one step at a time, kept focusing on the cool looking air plants and the Spanish moss... it was my coping mechanism! Then once we saw that most amazing river view and mountains and train station I was awed!! 'the most beautiful thing I've ever seen' (in Forest Gumps voice)! Then came the zip lines - relief, excited, scared, HOLY $#*!. Look at what I Just did!!!! Scaled 10,000 ft at 54!!! Oh and I shimmy pulled myself in about 30 feet away from the ramp!!! Booyaa!!! Yea I still got it!!!" -Michelle, reflecting back on Via Ferrata. (Nobody tell her it wasn't quite ten thousand feet k!!!) ;)
"Felicia and I were so stoked when we looked back on the third zipline and saw mom and dad coming, the whole way up we didn't think they had done it, and were so surprised to see them flying down after the crazy climb up! Definitely impressed!" -Jordan, after him and Felicia blew everyone out of the water by completing the climb in record time!
"This place would never pass the safety standards at the Virginia Beach Adeventure Park... There were so many sketchy bits here and there" -Jordan and Felicia, telling us their scrutinizing opinion, after we all made it up and down safely!! Whew!