This post does not include a recipe. BUT there are pictures of food. And AMAZING landscapes. This post is actually about a boy and a girl and an epic adventure. This is how the story goes…
Once upon a time there was a boy who saw a girl step off a bus. And he said “WHOA! WHO is that?!” The boy introduced himself to the girl and they became friends. But nothing more. The boy was too nervous to confess his undying love for the girl and the girl was enjoying just being a girl. Then summer came. The girl flew to the East Coast. And the boy stayed on the West Coast. Distance and time parted the boy and the girl and they never talked again. The End.
Until 5 years later….
The girl was living in Italy. The boy was still on the West Coast. He heard about the girl and that she was living in Italy so he mustered up all of his nerve (which was a lot of mustering since 5 years had gone by) and decided to send her an email that said, “How you doin’?” (in his best, most subtle Joey Tribbiani voice)… or something like that.
They wrote back and forth for many months and then one day the girl decided to leave Italy and return to the West Coast. The boy was very happy about this. But the girl only stayed a little while and went back to the East Coast. The boy decided he needed to step up his game so he wrote old fashioned handwritten letters to the girl while she was away. The girl decided she liked the boy. A lot.
The girl came back to the West Coast (again). This made the boy very happy (again). The boy and the girl dated for a while. However, the girl liked traveling to far off places so she decided to go to Timbuktu. Yes, it’s a real place. The boy missed the girl VERY much (even though she was really only gone for 2 weeks). The girl returned from Timbuktu and without wasting any time or allowing the girl to recover from extreme jet lag the boy told the girl that he loved her and FINALLY asked her to marry him. The girl said yes. And it wasn’t the jet lag speaking. The End.
Then 10 years passed by….
The boy and the girl looked at each other, their two kidlets and their dog, and said, “WHOA, can you believe we’ve already been married 10 years?! Let’s do something epic to mark this milestone.” So the boy and the girl patted their dog on the head and hugged and kissed their 2 kidlets goodbye for 9 days leaving them in the excellent care of their amazing grandparents.
The boy and the girl went to Peru.
Deepest darkest Peru.
They didn’t see the Home for Retired Bears or bears eating marmalade (name that bear) but they did see llamas.
And they trekked through the Andes and the Peruvian jungle to the ancient city of Machu Picchu.
And they ate some really amazing food.
Get ready for a lot of stories and a lot of pictures. And be sure to check out the video I shared of this epic trip on Instagram TV!
BTW…if a travel post is not your thing and you came here looking for tasty recipes, no hard feelings. You can find all the tasty recipes here.
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is not for the faint of heart. Or those who hate stairs. 4 days. 28 miles of stairs. Or maybe it’s more like 27.5 miles of stairs. I’m not sure but it’s a LOT of stairs. Here, let me show you.
You get the point.
It’s also not for anyone who hates strenuous hiking at high altitudes and worries about whether or not it’s possible for your brain to turn to complete mush from thin air and lack of oxygen. Your trail guide does carry a small oxygen tank in case this fear becomes reality.
And the Inca Trail is not for the proud or the vain. If you’re of the athletic sort that gives yourself gold stars for blazing past others during a friendly 5k race at sea level elevation prepare for the assault on your ego when the Peruvian porters, a number of whom may be twice your senior, run past you up (and down) the Inca Trail with a 44 pound pack on their back like it’s The Sound of Music.
If that doesn’t serve you a slice of humble pie, then trying to decide if you need to use both your hands and your feet to climb up a staircase known as The Gringo Killer Steps or ascending to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,800 feet above sea level will.
But there is also the Peruvian woman who appears out of nowhere on the trail walking along as if this a normal everyday commute to go visit her grandchildren. She’ll hand you the whole humble pie as she walks past.
And I feel like we should discuss quad strength. It is of the UTMOST importance. Begin practicing squats/squat holds months in advance before you depart on your Incan trek. You’ll thank me for this advice while you’re taking a… how should I put it politely…a #2.
Actually, don’t thank me while you’re taking care of your business.
Thank me later. Please.
Squatty potties will test your quad endurance. And trust me, you don’t want to lose your balance when delicately hovering over an Inca Trail squatty potty. You will never look at your own pristine porcelain shrine the same. Those squatties may also influence you to consider hitting up your trail guide for that oxygen tank.
That’s enough potty talk for now.
When Strangers Become Family
Nothing brings strangers together more quickly than when you throw them out in the wilderness with no cell phone coverage, the adventure of a lifetime spanning before them, squatty potties, and two fun loving Peruvian trail guides. It may be that Joe and I just got really lucky to be placed in a tour group with 10 others who all happened to be kind hearted, fun-loving individuals ready to embrace all the beauty, adventure, and mystery the Inca Trail had to offer us. Whether or not luck played a part, I’m thankful for the group we were placed with.
Our group consisted of the Wong Family, residents of the San Francisco Bay area. Joanne, the matriarch of the family, convinced her husband and two adult sons to join her on this adventure. She has a passion for visiting as many national parks as possible in her lifetime and so far her family members continue to follow her lead, this time taking them to Machu Picchu. She definitely wins the “Coolest Mom” award.
And then there were the 5 self-titled “Mama Llamas.” Five women who through various connections had become close friends and adventure-seeking travel buddies. They have a contagious zeal for life, laughter, and travel. And you secretly either want to become their newest Mama Llama pledge or you want to find a group of friends back home who will do the same type of adventuring as these ladies do.
And lastly, there was Jordyn, our token mid-20s, cute, single girl who had finished up an internship in Cusco and decided to wrap up her time in Peru with this epic adventure before heading home. I’m pretty sure the Wong Family was trying to figure out how they could adopt her into their family before we parted ways.
Our fearless (or maybe partly naive) team of 12 was led by skilled guides Christian and Roger. Christian welcomed us with a hearty “Hello Family!” followed by an explanation that we must be packed and ready to go by 6am on the first day of the trek.
The second day he said, “Dear family, how are we all doing?! You must be packed and ready to go by 5am.”
The third day…4am.
And dear family, on the 4th day…3am.
Either Christian or myself should probably tattoo U-B-C-R-A-Z-Y on our foreheads. You go first Christian.
Early morning wake-up calls have an odd way of bringing strangers together. (Side note: If you have a high value for sleep, I suggest skipping the trek and taking the train to Machu Picchu. However, if you want to experience the accomplishment of a lifetime by traversing the Andes like a springtime baby llama (on an oxygen tank) and major bragging rights over the cheaters on the train, do the trek.)
But aside from the early mornings, it’s four days of shared “family” meals, shared laughter, shared conversation, and shared exhaustion. One of the Mama Llamas, a psychologist, asked…requested…forced us to share a highlight from our day each evening during family dinner. It’s a practice that is not only thoughtful during bucket list adventures but a valuable practice for everyday life offering perspective and reminding us to regularly give thanks, even for the little things…like real toilets.
The People You Meet When You Walk The Walk
On the Inca Trail I found myself not only sharing life and stories with those in our tour group but with those in other tour groups. The Inca Trail draws in a cross section of travelers from all across the world. People from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds, different stories, and different motivations for attempting what may be considered one of the world’s best and more challenging hikes.
Sitting atop Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,800 feet I watched as a trickle of middle-aged women in white t-shirts with hot pink bras printed on their shirts slowly made their way up the stone path below. It was steep and exposed in this section. The air was incredibly thin and exhaustion mixed with determination was etched in each person’s face along that insanely difficult stretch of path. I watched as the first pink bra shirt woman successfully made it to the top where I was sitting. She was overcome with joy and relief that she had accomplished such a major milestone in her walking journey. Then not long after her, one by one, more pink bra t-shirt ladies made it to the top. As each one drew nearer to the top those waiting for them above began to shout words of encouragement that eventually transformed into cheering and then into a robust and joyous song of triumph and true grit with hearty English accents included. It was beautiful and inspiring to see these women pouring their support and love toward their pink bra-ed tour mates.
Once they had all made it to the top, group hugging mixed with tears of accomplishment and pride from their hard-earned success poured out. I had to find out who this vibrant ladies were and the significance of their eye-catching t-shirts. One of the ladies explained to me that they were all from England with an organization called Walk The Walk. They had just met the day before as strangers but with a common mission. They had been sponsored by dozens of family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues to walk the Inca Trail as a fundraising strategy dedicated to raising money and awareness for vital breast cancer causes and to encourage women, men, and children to start walking as a way of improving their health and fitness which can contribute toward cancer prevention. She told me, “We are here to play a small part in doing whatever we can to stop breast cancer from claiming the lives of so many women.”
And then it happened. ALL the emotions (and probably lack of oxygen) hit me like a ton of bricks. And the tears flowed. In torrents. Definitely not what this sweet woman was expecting from me. With uncontrolled sobbing I thanked her and her group for raising funds for breast cancer research and for walking such a strenuous trail to do so. We talked about my best friend who had passed away from breast cancer last summer and that what the Walk The Walk women were doing to help prevent more women from possibly experiencing what my friend went through as well as those of us who support and care for our loved ones during such times meant so SO much to me.
To see these women who had just met each other cheering each other on, supporting, and loving each other so intensely on such a difficult hike combined with their proactive approach to support breast cancer research gripped my heart. And it made me feel close to my friend that day. It had only been minutes before meeting these ladies while I sat at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass that I had been longing to see my friend again so I could just sit with her and tell her about my Peruvian adventure.
And in a sense she was there that day. In the hearts and spirits of those 13 ladies from England. And just like my friend would do whenever life and heartache caused tears to be shed, those 13 ladies gave me the biggest hugs combined with such kind words of love and compassion.
Sometimes memories and emotions surrounding the loss of a loved one have such unique and surprising ways of saying hello. Even at 13,800 feet. If you are one of the English ladies I met that day and you are reading this. Thank you again. From the bottom of my heart. XO
A friend recently asked me what it was like after 4 days of intense hiking (and some unbearable squatty potties) to finally see Machu Picchu for the first time. It was emotional. Which as I’m writing this I’m beginning to wonder if I just was a big mess of emotions for the entire trip. With epic trips, sometimes emotions just can’t be helped nor should they be.
Machu Picchu is truly amazing and is rightly classified as one of the seven Wonders of the Modern World. How this ancient village of large granite rocks nestled high up between awe-inspiring mountain peaks came to be constructed is baffling. And I may have cried just a little bit when I reached the top of the Gringo Killer Steps and saw the city for the first time waiting for me on the other side. Tears of happiness though. (And maybe a couple tears of relief that we finally made it.)
We haaaave to talk about the food. Who would I even be if we didn’t.
Pisco Sours, Coca Tea, Lomo Saltado, Causas, Fresh Seafood, Quinoa, Potatoes of every color imaginable, Pumpkin soups, Quinoa soups, Vegetable soups, Alpaca (yep, that’s right), and Cuyo (aka guinea pig). This list is a brief overview of what one would most likely encounter on a Peruvian gastronomic adventure.
And I loved it alllll. Well..almost all of it.
Alpaca was a little too tough for my liking.
And all the hype behind Lomo Saltado, a classic Peruvian dish consisting of marinated steak, onions, and peppers and served with french fries and rice, in my opinion is just hype. It could have just been the particular restaurant I tried it at but the marinated steak was just so-so and the french fry and rice combo served alongside was too starch-heavy for my personal tastes. I heart more vegetables.
I think I’m pretty open minded toward trying new foods but I drew the line at guinea pig. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for those cute little spasmodic furry faced critters. This doesn’t mean I’m becoming vegan. And if your vegan, don’t judge. I agree that all animals are cute. Except for maybe turkeys. Being vegan just ain’t my thang. Unless it involves saving all the guinea pigs.
One of the culinary highlights of our time in Peru were the family meals during our 4 days along the Inca Trail. Braulio, the chef for our tour group, was a phenomenal cook. With a handful of pots and pans Braulio cooked every breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisting of multiple courses and with surprising variety for us as well as all of the porters and staff who were a part of our group, which was about 32 people in total. Not a culinary smorgasbord I anticipated while out in the middle of deepest darkest Peru when the only items available were those items that were packed in.
Braulio was also so very gracious toward a particular food blogger who liked to hang out near the cooking area and who in very poor Spanish would ask as many questions as a 4 year old about his personal recipes and methods. And he wore a chef’s hat, which definitely gave him the cool factor. Then when he took his chef’s hat off, he’d turn into one of the porters skipping past me on the trail with a 44 pound pack on his back. He was legit.
And his food was fantastic. Cornmeal encrusted trout, vegetable salads, flavorful rice, quinoa, and potato dishes. My personal favorites were the soups. Every soup was like visiting grandma’s house for a nourishing and satisfying bowl full of tasty. Pumpkin, quinoa, and veggie soups all flavored with just the right amount of cilantro and lime.
And when we weren’t trekking, our short time in Cusco was a continuation of fresh trout, quinotto (Peru’s answer to the Italian’s risotto), Peruvian maize (aka the largest corn kernels I’ve ever seen), and causas, which are essentially a mashed potato salad incorporating lime juice, chiles, and some other mystery ingredients of amazingness used as a base for a variety of dishes.
But the meal that surpassed them all was dinner in Lima at Central….
Central (More Food, Like Nothing I’ve Ever Had)
Central, a restaurant located in Lima, Peru, serves more than just food on a plate. It is food that has been carefully crafted and calculated by chef Virgilio Martinez to provide a mind blowing experience taking the curious foodie on a journey of Peru’s varying ecosystems and elevations and the indigenous foods found within each of those realms. Our meal, which consisted of 16 courses, is presented by a well versed and very personable, down to earth server explaining the particular elevation and ecosystem the ingredients of that course are foraged from. And half the time I think I just sat there in a state of awe mixed with giddiness. Especially when Martinez came to serve us one of the courses himself.
It was a such a fun and unique privilege to be able to have the opportunity to dine at a world ranking restaurant. Central was ranked 2nd for Best Restaurant in Latin America in 2017, and is ranked 6th for Best Restaurant in the World in 2018. And while I can’t even begin to understand or explain what each of the foods were that I tasted and savored during our 16 course meal it didn’t matter the moment I took my first bite. Each course was a beautiful surprise of flavors, textures, and presentations.
Martinez’s food causes you to slow down and savor it, and to think upon it, and then to wish it would last a little bit longer. It was probably a good thing it didn’t last longer though because we were there just shy of 4 hours. Just eating. And savoring. And enjoying the experience before us and time with each other. And it was glorious.
Each course presentation was an art form in and of itself which occasionally led me to ask which part was to be eaten and which part was the presentation piece. FYI don’t eat the frozen piranha heads. They are part of the presentation (see course 10). I know there are things that I ate that I probably wouldn’t have touched with a 10 foot fork if I were at any average restaurant, but I trusted the fact that this was not an ordinary restaurant. And luckily the experience was well worth it.
And obviously I can’t help but to show you pictures of all 16 courses. If you’re still with me at this point, I figure why not. Thanks for still being here btw. : ) Each picture lists where the ingredients are located followed by a listing of the ingredients themselves and the elevation (in meters) of where those ingredients are found in Peru. And don’t shake your head at the food until you’ve tried it yourself. But I agree some of it is definitely a little crazy looking, and maybe even scary (see course 10 again). And in case you’re wondering, I finished my 16 course meal that evening feeling completely full and absolutely satisfied.
In case you’re interested in learning more about Central and you Netflix binge watch like myself, check out the show Chef’s Table. Martinez and his creative, forward thinking restaurant are featured in Season 3, Episode 6 in case you want to check it out. Which you definitely should.
And more pictures (just because I can)
Sooo…are you ready to go to Peru and do the trek to Machu Picchu?! Here are the details of our trip if you’d like to go the route we went. If you have any questions just send me an email or post it in the comments down below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Who we toured with:
We booked our 4-day Inca Trail journey with SAS Travel Peru. There are dozens of tour agencies in Peru and within the United States that you can book a Machu Picchu/Inca Trail tour with but the key is finding a guide that is knowledgeable, skilled, and passionate about their country, their rich cultural heritage, and loves sharing that passion with others. Not all guides possess those qualities. But Christian Gonzales Garcia was that guide for us. He has a deep love for sharing his culture, the history of his people, and provides outstanding guidance, support, adventure, fun, and hospitality to adventure seekers and trekkers placed within his care. He’s been in the industry for over 12 years and his experience and expertise are evident. His English language skills are amazing, especially considering that it is his third language, with Quechua being his native language and Spanish his 2nd language. It was such a HUGE benefit to our group that through Christian’s outstanding English language skills we were able to learn and soak up rich tidbits of history and Incan civilization. Joe and I eavesdropped on a number of other tour groups we crossed paths with and we realized pretty quickly that we were incredibly fortunate to have Christian as our guide.
If you would like to book a tour with Christian he has just recently launched his own tour group agency called Peru Travel Company. If we ever return to Peru for another adventure, we’ll definitely be booking it with Christian.
Where we stayed:
Hotel Marqueses (Cusco, Peru): We stayed here for 2 nights to acclimate before beginning our 4-day trek on the Inca Trail. And I’m SO glad that we did. If I could do it over again I would have stayed for 3 nights instead. Since I’m a sea-level dweller, the jump up to 11,000 feet in Cusco definitely took it’s toll on me. Let’s just say I’m glad the hotel has a oxygen tank on hand for when it’s guests suffer from altitude sickness. The hotel staff were very kind, helpful, understanding, and accustomed to guests struggling with the altitude.
JW Marriot Hotel Lima (Lima, Peru): We decided to extend the layover on our return flight home with an overnight stay in Lima. While Lima is a large city with plenty to do we stayed only one night with the sole purpose of having dinner at Central. The hotel (and the dinner at Central) with a room overlooking the ocean and boardwalk below was definitely a splurge for us but you only celebrate your 10 year anniversary once so we made the most it! I forgot to take pictures of our hotel and room (which I’m not sure how that happened) but you can check out the link for pics.
Where we ate:
Each restaurant listed below (including Braulio, our chef during the trek) were very accommodating and knowledgeable in preparing gluten free food which I was so grateful for!
Morena Peruvian Kitchen (Cusco, Peru): Be sure to try the Ceviche a lo Macho, Pancetta de Cerdo, and the Andean Trout.
Inka Grill (Cusco, Peru): The Andean Causa, Quinotto, and Valley’s Trout along with a Pisco Sour made for an incredible dinner.
Popular de Aquí y De Allá (Lima, Peru): Located conveniently nearby the JW Marriot in the Larcomar Outdoor Shopping Center. Try the Causa, Salmón “Black Butter”, Arroz con Mariscos, and a Pisco Sour. Then find the Maraná cart located near the restaurant and buy an organic cacao chocolate bar for a post-lunch treat. : )
Central (Lima, Peru): Central takes reservations in four-month periods. Each period opens approximately thirty days prior to the new reservation period so if you think you’d like to eat here set your alarm and get ready to book your reservation as soon as your desired date opens up! They only offer four tasting menus. We chose the Mater Elevations Tasting Menu of 16 courses.
The packing list:
Since Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere their season is the opposite of those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. So while it was summer here (June-July), it was actually winter in Peru. However, the temperatures range from 30ºF on up to 80ºF so having a strategic variety of different types of clothing layers was SUPER important. I’ll link to a couple of my favorite clothing items as well as gear that Joe and I thought was essential to a successful and comfortable trip specifically for trekking on the Inca Trail.
- Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles (Women’s) – These came in VERY helpful on the very steep ups and downs of the trail. If you don’t get these poles, make sure the poles you do purchase can adjust in length. Your knees and joints will thank you later for making use of these on any challenging trail you encounter.
- Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles (Men’s)
- Rubber Trekking Pole Tips – rubber tips are required when using your trekking poles on the Inca Trail.
- Mountain Equipment Helium 400 Sleeping Bag: 27 Degree Down (Women’s): I’m not the gear guru but my husband is. His suggestion is to 1) buy a good sleeping bag b/c it will last you forever and 2) always buy down over synthetic (unless you plan on sleeping in the rain without a tent or in conditions where you’re bag could get wet), it weighs less and packs down smaller.
- Mountain Equipment Helium 400 Sleeping Bag – 23 Degree Down (Men’s)
- Bug Spray – Your guide will suggest you carry bug spray with you. It can be a jungle out there.
- Sunscreen – A must unless you like severe sunburns. The sun is more intense at higher elevations so I wouldn’t mess around with this.
- Osprey Packs Lumina 45L Backpack (Women’s) – A lightweight durable hiking pack comes in SUPER handy for a quick swap out of clothing layers (as the temperatures can quickly change) and for carrying water, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. I personally wouldn’t go any larger than a 45 liter pack, which is what I carried and found to be just right. If you decide to go bigger, just remember that means more weight, and that extra weight can be brutal hiking uphill.
- Osprey Packs Levity 45L Backpack (Men’s)
- Small Camping Pillow – it’s nice to lay your head down on something soft after a long day of hiking.
- Eddie Bauer Sandstone Shield Hooded Jacket (Men’s)
- Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants (Men’s) – breathable, durable, moisture-wicking, all-season pants that Joe recommends.
- PrAna Halle Pants (Women’s) – I looooove these pants for hiking. They kept my legs warm enough when it was cold and cool when it was hot. I also loved that I could convert them into capris. They are made of moisture-wicking quick-drying fabric and they were the perfect fit. I bought two pairs in both the dark khaki and black. These have definitely become my go-to hiking pant.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots (Women’s) – These are the boots I wore and I thought they were awesome! Durable and lightweight. No blisters. No cold toes. Happy hiker.
- Hydration Reservoir – It’s a must that you carry water. And more than just a small water bottle. Stuff this reservoir into your backpack and you’ll be set. You won’t need a reservoir larger than 2 liters. But bring a water bottle too because that can come in handy at mealtimes when you don’t want to carry around your entire backpack.
- Hat – Find a hat you love and wear it to protect your face from the sun. I am slightly obsessed with hats made by PrAna. My PrAna hat is a distressed cadet style hat.
- Columbia TurboDown Jacket (Women’s) – I’ve had my jacket for a while so Columbia doesn’t still make the exact jacket that I wore but this one is the closest that I could find. I was SO happy that I had this jacket for those evenings and mornings when the temps were hovering around 30ºF.
- Mountain Hardware Finder Jacket (Women’s) – A second lightweight rain jacket came in super handy especially when we were trekking through the cloud forest during Day 3 of the trek. Both this jacket and my down jacket were lightweight and could be easily carried in my backpack if I didn’t need them.
- Merino Midweight Base Layer Top (Women’s) – I bought two of these shirts (in Black and Dark Vin Rouge) and loved them! A perfect layer for cooler temps, odor-resistant (which I’m sure everyone around me was thankful for since we didn’t shower for four days while on the trail), and the material was super comfy.
And that’s it friends! Did you make it all the way to end of this post?! I hope you enjoyed it! Happy adventuring and if you find yourself in Peru I’d love to hear about it!
P.S. Even though the boy and the girl had amazing adventures in Peru, they were also really happy to reunite with their two kidlets and dog. The grandparents were glad they came back too.
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