OK, let's just face it - this is a travel day plain and simple. Flights from the US to Lima, Peru arrive late in the evening and later.
TIP 1 If you would like a full night to rest and get acclimated into the culture (trust me when I say it is different than the US in Peru), arrive a day early.
Arrival at our hotel was a delightful experience. Casa Andina has a very elegantly rustic aesthetic, and it felt wonderful after a long day of travel to relax into our spacious room:
and, by the way, there is free wireless internet in this hotel (which also made us very happy)
We settled in for a full 5 hours of sleep before it was time to get up and head back to the airport and travel to Cusco... where the real adventure began!
DAY 2 - An Incan Tapestry
I heard varying reports on the elevation in Cusco... the average was approximately 11,200 ft so let's go with that. No matter where the line is drawn, Cusco is way high in the Andes mountains... and that's probably why we could get a little free oxygen in the airport.
Good thing, too, because we were on our way to 12,000 ft elevation to visit a weaving cooperative for lunch and a demonstration. Upwards at about 11,500 ft elevation I started feeling short of breath and fell asleep until we reached our destination... which I found to be a great solution.
TIP 2 Prepare for high elevations before you leave the US. Alan and took chlorophyll to strengthen our blood and increase the size of the hemoglobin to hold more oxygen. You can also contact your doctor for medication to help. And - even with preparation - bring something for headaches and tummy distress.
Lunch was served family style, with new Peruvian delicacies continually added to the table.
This is Alpaca... did I mention I travel as vegetarian just because people around the world eat weird meat like this.
After lunch, the demonstration began. These women maintain the highest standards of their ancestry to create works of original and natural art.
They start with the wool, dyeing it with plants
They spin the wool into thread
and create magical designs from their dreams and visions
And, of course, after all that inspiring creativity we had to get a little shopping time in. I found a gorgeous Goddess Shawl (foreshadowing here) that you will see me wearing throughout the remainder of the adventure... and would be wearing still if I didn't live in sunny, central Florida. I do, however have a picture of Ser Alan sporting a traditional Peruvian hat with some of the weavings behind him..
It was an delicious, inspiring, and happily 'acquiring' way to start our adventure into the Sacred Valley. We descended to about 9000 ft elevation. Can you say: "Loco"? Our destination Sol y Luna... What a SWEET retreat!
Our room was very serene
and I telly you what - I made really good use of the tubbie ...more on that later.
We've had an hour or so to relax and 'settle' into our sweet bungalows. and now we are gathering for the evening activities. The chairs are gathered around the fire...
The stage is cradled in the Andes and illuminated by a beautiful setting sun sky...
and the table is set in anticipation...
We gathered around the fire to share our a little about ourselves (this was really the first opportunity in the itinerary) like our names... and why we'd come on this particular adventure. This was truly where the camaraderie started. Everyone was friendly and eager to laugh together. We represented a broad spectrum of lifestyles, and here we were joined in a common interest. It was a very good feeling. Just one example of this will to good: As we were introducing ourselves, I couldn't help but make a witty quip (All who know me understand), and I shared that - while I came to explore Macchu Picchu - I realized since the purchase of my handwoven shawl fit for a goddess I had really come to become a Peruvian Goddess. After that, my name in the group - Goddess. And I have to say... I liked it!
We were having a traditional Pachamanca feast... our dinner would be cooked in buried hot rocks!
We moved to the pit to watch the chefs prepare. The stones had been heating over a fire. They had to be moved, the fire embers carted way, and the stones placed back in the pit. These guys are moving their hands really fast because those stones are HOT!
Everything is covered completely with cloth and then buried. Finally - and my favorite part - we offer a prayer of appreciation and gratitude to Pachamama (Mother Goddess).
That I got to be part of it, made me VERY happy!
We left our dinner to magically prepare itself in the Earth of Pachamama while we watched the Andean Gods dance for us...
Sun God, Inti
Earth Goddess, Pachamama
These were two of the Gods who came forth to dance for us. The show has a story - all in local language, of course - so I wove my own understanding from the dance. Here a human comes forth to express appreciation and pray to the Gods (in my story)
They hear her pray...
and send many blessings our way...
It was a beautiful dance, and my heart was filled to overflowing by the music and dance and creativity AND it was time to fill our tummies....
Alan's plate shows the full range of offerings.
and mine the vegetarian...
We both loved all the sauces and many types of potatoes and corn presented. This evening was a highlight for us on many levels!
DAY 3 - Inca-Redible ...and it's true. You'll see.
We started the day with a breakfast buffet that offered both American and Peruvian options. I quickly fell into the routine of fruit, fresh bread, Farmer's cheese, and Coca tea. I think I could live in Peru.
It's going to be full day. First up, river rafting down the Urubamba River. This is the Spanish name for the river. The Incan name, we learned from our rafting guide, is "Willkamayu" which means "Sacred River". Its waters come from Glaciers high in the Andes, and no doubt it is COLD! Hence, the wet suit...
Which is only the beginning our our full regalia...
Good to go, we're off and already the landscape is Inca-redible...
All around us, we saw reminders of the Incan culture...
their brilliance in agriculture
and building.. This is resting place for Incan runners who carried messages from village to village. No mortar and - still - these buildings withstand time and earthquakes!
Up above, watch towers...
And - in between the 'friendly' rapids, we waved to some local farmer taking a break from plowing their fields - with oxen.
Our raft guide shared lots of information about the Incan culture with us - herbs and plants for healing, sacred symbology, and importance of balance int their spirituality: Take care of each other, and always give appreciation for the blessings and bounty bestowed. And, mostly, about Pachamama, the Mother Goddess who bestows the bounty and blessings. I felt blessed to be on the river with him.
Lunch took place in the village of Ollantaytambo; this village dates back to the 1200's and you can see how the bottoms of buildings are Incan in design while the tops are more current.
Up high over the village an ancient grainery. The Incans stored their grains where the cold kept infestation of all kinds at bay.
The streets were too narrow for automated transportation, but just perfect for horses.
We ate our buffet in a private square with a sampling of Peruvian foods..
After lunch, we traipsed (as well as anyone at 9000 ft elevation can traipse) to the Temple nearby.
Since the Incans left no written history, it is all speculation as why the temple was built here. But it is notable that every December 22nd (Summer Solstice), the light coming through a specific window of temple shines in a particular spot on this mountain at the top between the two dips...
We were climbing the temple stairs as we took this picture... there are LOTS of temple stairs; most of the group climbed to the top, some of the group stayed behind to shop, and a few of us made it 'most' of the way. Disney makes it work for everyone.
One last picture to leave you with on this Inca-redible day...
This is how bricks are made in the Sacred Valley... the happy feet way.
It was an inca-redible day!
Day 4 - Andean Majesty
TIP 3: The guides will tell you to drink only bottled water... and they mean it.
I'll never know if it was because I forgot and brushed my teeth with tap water the night before or if I inadvertently took in some sacred river water while we were rafting or if something I ate was washed with tap water... all I know for sure I is woke up wishing I hadn't. First, I tried the complimentary oxygen in the hotel lobby in case it was altitude sickness.
Trooper that I am, I took some nausea medicine and climbed in the bus hoping for a quick recovery by the time we arrived at our morning exploration destination. We drove up and up.. over the sacred valley.
We passed other travelers on the road.
Speaking of the road... it was very bumpy. By the time we reached our destination - The archeological site of Moray - I was not only still nauseaus - I had a burning pain in my spinal cord at the fracture sites from inflammation caused by all the bumps in the road. In a word, I was 'ferklempt'. But the faeries of the Universe are everywhere, and today took the form of one our travel group; a doctor with a compassionate Soul and a great will to good. He gave me what I needed to take the edge off the nausea and an anti-inflammatory for my spinal cord. I stayed on the bus with a couple of other folks suffering from gastric distress and sent Alan off with the camera...
He told me when they came back that - as far as the local expert can tell - this pattern is in honor of Pachamama (Mother Goddess) and Ayni (balance in all ways)
You can tell by how small the people are, that this is huge, and rather far away. The group began the hike down..
and down... check out the stairs built with stones into the wall.
until they reached the bottom. Marion, humming TADA!
Of course, then they had to climb back up... I have a feeling Alan wasn't the only thinking, "Wish I had one of those.."
Everyone returned to the bus, and we headed into the village for a picnic lunch and a wonderful folk dancing show.
It was time for me to surrender to the needs of my tender body so Alan and I caught a ride back to the Sol y Luna while the rest of the group went on to explore the salt mining terraces (yes, salt from the mountain) and hike down to the village. This tour is a hiker's dream come true! Everyone joined us back at the resort afterward for an afternoon of enjoying resort amenities. There was horseback riding on gaited Paso Finos
Such beautiful Spirits!
There was also para-gliding, even more hiking for anyone who wanted, mountain biking, and a spa with several types of treatments. For me, it was a massage and back to prone position - I had a back to mend in order to climb Macchu Picchu the next day. I hear tell the cooking demonstration was fascinating, the pizza-making was delicious, and the Salsa dancing hysterical... yes, Ser Alan danced and how I wish I'd been there to get a picture of that! It was good to know the evening festivities were fun-filled for everyone. I enjoyed it all through Alan's eyes.
Day 5 - Mysteries of Macchu Picchu
Bless this day! When I met Alan, 16.5 years ago, he told me first thing that he had dreams of visiting Macchu Picchu. His vision and stories about Macchu Picchu instilled the same desire in me. Many time I researched the trip but was always daunted by the number of transitions it would take in an unfamiliar country to find our way there. We both have SO MUCH appreciation to Disney! Once again, they are making our dreams come true.
I wake up this day VERY eager and excited. My back is rested, my tummy is settled, and we have water and hats. We are good to go!
From the Sacred Valley, we climb aboard a train to travel a little over an hour down a couple of thousand feet to the village at the base of Macchu Picchu.
We travel next to the Sacred River. Through the window, we get glimpses of the Incan trail used by the Incans to make this journey. We can see hikers traveling this route; it is, according to our Adventure Guide, a 4.5 day hiking trip. Of course, the Incans ran this trail (which is sometimes 14,000 ft elevation!) in four hours or less.
I am happy to be in the train. Once in the village, we climb aboard a motor coach for hte final ride to the entrance. I telly you what - there are plenty of folks willing to make to make the trek to experience this mysterious wonder. As we enter, you can see all of the folks heading to the right through the main entrance. We, however, are taking the trail less traveled - UP!
and up and up and up and up. Alan says we climbed about a 1000 feet, but I think it was further ...must have been the altitude, I guess. We round the final incline and find ourselves with this view:
We did it! And we have pictures to prove it.
The peak behind us is called Waynu Picchu - Young Mountain (Macchu Picchu means Old Mountain), and if you arrive at dawn you can be one of the 400 people allowed to explore it's buildings.
Having reached the 'overlook', we now head down into the city to explore through this gate..
The experience of Macchu Picchu was very meditative for me. I could feel a 'hum' in the air, in the stones, in the ground around us. Our local expert told his stories of what and how and who the archeologists say Macchu Picchu was, but I was filled with my own sense of power and magic and awe in the experience I felt in my Body, Heart, and Soul. I decided everyone's story is true, and mine fills me with a pervasive Well-Being as I relax and take Macchu Picchu into me. As you look at these pictures, maybe you'll be inspired, too.
We headed out of Macchu Picchu to the entrance for lunch at the Macchu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. It was a buffet with plentiful Peruvian offerings. We were quite happy with the variety of flavorful choices. After lunch, some folks headed back to the village to shop and some hiked to the Sun Gate at the top of summit. We - along with a few others - travel back into Macchu Picchu to find a place to meditate and 'be'. Much less crowded now, and there were others sharing our same intent.
This tree calls me, and we find a spot as near to it as we can.
..and we are kept company by this sweet being as we stretch and meditate and relax. I loved aligning with the 'hum' there and feel it even now as I recollect the wonder and magic of the experience.
We stay as long as possible, and we left too soon, of course. I have a gleam in my eye to return and stay in the Sanctuary Lodge at the entrance so I enter at sunrise and 'be' for a long, long time.
Our train ride home was filled with group laughter and love. It was a VERY good day!
Day 6 - Loco For Llamas
We are back on the road today. After four magical days in the Sacred Valley, we are saying good-bye (for now)
and heading higher into the mountains to Cusco. Our first stop is the famous Pisac Market.
Sellers gather here for the day, bringing impromptu their families and mobile kitchens for feed themselves. This little one seems quite content to adorn the merchandise.
Disney gave everyone in the group 10 Sols with instructions to purchase a "White Elephant" gift for a dinner activity in Cusco. It was fun shopping for silly gifts through the market. Afterward, we relaxed in a cafe with some Coca tea, and Alan found a friend. He finds them everywhere.
Back into our vans, we climbed to about 12,000 ft elevation to meet and play with some Llamas and Alpacas. This is also a cooperative participating in the re-emergence of traditional Peruvian weaving... everything from raising the animals to selling the merchandise.
We were given alfalfa to feed them, and it brought out the childlike wonder in all of us! I found a little baby that I was training to follow me home.
We finished this tour in their store... where everyone had even more fun.
Back in the vans, we were all very ready for lunch in Cusco!
We had a choice of two appetizers:
Entree choices included a vegetarian Gnocchi
or Chicken with Rice
There was also a choice of desserts, but they both were sugar-ful so Alan and I didn't have one to take a picture of.
TIP 5: If you have special meal accommodations (Alan and I both maintain a sugar-free diet, and I prefer to be vegetarian), start talking to the guides about it immediately. This is the one area that, in the four Adventures by Disney tours we taken, attention to detail is inconsistent. Some guides are very attentive and some only make an effort when reminded. Oftentimes, there were no snacks that didn't have sugar in them so be sure to bring your own if you have bloodsugar considerations, and oftentimes I had difficulty getting protein (ie cheese) with my vegetarian meals. Towards the end of the trip, I had to order chicken to maintain bloodsugar balance. As far as sugar free desserts go, at best expect the guides to make sure the dining staff serves a plate of fruit. At worst, expect to have to remind the guides at each meal. Our tip is to just bring your own stash of sugar free treats. And our tip for any Adventure Guides reading here: A great way to increase your gratuity is to handle special meal accommodations consistently and attentively.
After lunch.. well, we were tired. At a higher elevation again and after a full morning of activities, all we wanted was a room to rest and regroup. Fortunately, the hotel in Cusco is a short walk from the restaurant. Everyone headed to our own territory as soon as we arrived. We were on our own for the evening, and Alan and Marion and I were happy to relax at the hotel. We had a wonderful and quiet meal at the hotel restaurant, reliving the highlights of our adventure together.
Day 7 - Cusco Kingdom
One of the many qualities I appreciate about Adventures By Disney tours is the flexibility. While every day is filled to the brim with activities, the guides are happy to accommodate those of us who want to veer from the planned schedule. This was our day for that. With a good internet connection, we opted to spend the morning at the hotel catching up on a little 'business' while the group explored Sacayhuaman, an Incan fortress. Cusco was the capital of the Incan world and intentionally built in the shape of a puma (Puma represents the present and Mother Goddess in the Incan cosmology). The fortress was built as the head of the Puma.
We left the hotel for from Cusco exploration on our own and discovered a "city" with quite a bit of technology... quite a juxtaposition to the Sacred Valley and our understanding of what Cusco was in Incan times... not to mention: How does civilization exist at 11,000+ elevation?! In our part of the world, trees won't even grow at that altitude.
Here's an example of the architecture we saw there. The bottom is Incan, and the top is Spanish:
We found an elegant little restaurant (all of the restaurants in Cusco are 'little' by American standards) for lunch
and the food was exquisite! I had stuffed chicken (Peruvian style) with sweet potatos
Marion had a vegetarian entree
And Alan chose a spicy pasta
All of us raved over the flavors in our particular dish. Then we cruised the square to do a little shopping before heading back to the hotel to meet up with the group for Plaque Painting. This is billed as one of the children's activities, but I am a devotee of this activity (there is some form of it on almost every tour we've done). We were set up with paints and brushes and a painting 'surface' and told to express our experience
For me, it is an hour of bliss, immersed in color and an oppotunity to create. Alan chose a symbology designs to decorate his plate:
and for me it was all about Pacha Mama (She lives in Macchu Picchu)
We gathered for a meal and a game with the White Elephant gifts we purchased at the Pisac market that evening. It was raucous and so much fun, I forgot to take pictures... So, you'll just have to go on the tour to find out what this about.
Day 8 - Adios
It's a day of transitions - flying back to Lima. While I think all of us were eager to get back to sea level, nobody wanted the adventure to end. Fortunately for us, we had quite the finale awaiting us in the city. We were let out of the motorcoach right next to the President's home.. See how that is?
and taken to the first president's best friend's mansion a block over where we were allowed to explore
This was the master suite bedroom... people were smaller in those days, eh?
Drinks were served and h'or deurves passed while we watched a show in this beautiful courtyard
The live band was uplifting and delightful with a display of purely Peruvian sounds.
Lunch was served buffet style while the music continued to play.
My plate was vegetarian
and Alan's included the Chicken Cordon Bleu
The show continued after lunch, too
Afterward, we joined in the parlor for coffee and tea and an opportunity to share one more time with each other the highlights of our adventure together. We visited amazing and remarkable places. We experienced a culture that expanded our world view. We explored the 'far reaches'... but all of it was made "more" because we were together.
This is the piece of doing an Adventures by Disney tour that is almost impossible to put to words. I have graduate degrees in Psychology and I did my focus work on Group evolution and development; some would say I know how to 'facilitate' a group. And I stand in awe with my hat off to the system Disney developed and the attention to bringing the group together as 'family'. It works every time! We are a month returned from our trip now, and I still bask in the wonder of Macchu Picchu and the remarkable people and places we found in Peru. Mostly, though, I still feel connected to the folks we traveled with, and on some level I always will. Together, we made the magic happen.