Those of us who know us know that travel is one of our greatest passions in life.
We’ve experienced no greater feeling in life than standing in a new place, clearing our minds, and looking at the newness around us. The sight of a woman carrying a baby on her back while pushing a cart full of handmade bracelets and scarves, the smell of freshly baked bread combined with the earthiness of the dusty city, the sound of bustling city streets or perhaps the soft rustle of grass while standing in the middle of an empty field surrounded by mountains.
These are the things that breathe life into us, make us feel small and large, all at once.
We’ve been so lucky to have traveled to many different parts of the world – together, we’ve been to 5 continents, 45 states, and 30 countries. We’ve met hundreds of people with thousands of stories. But, the one place that has tugged at us the longest is Peru. Peru was the very first thing on Erica’s Bucket List, taking the number one spot since Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman introduced her to the concept back in 2007. But, even before that, it was a place we both longed to visit. Erica has vivid memories of sitting in Latin American history class in college, learning about Peru, the Incas, and Machu Picchu, and thinking, “damn…I WILL go there someday.” It only took her approximately 12 years to get there, but we did it!
We Manini girls did things a little differently on this trip – we stayed in a tiny little French hostel instead of a nice hotel, we hiked the Salkantay trail rather than the Inca trail, we hiked unguided and carried our own packs rather than hiring a guide and a muleteer to carry our packs (that may not have been the best idea, but we digress), we roamed freely without a plan rather than planning out every detail of our trip, we climbed Mt. Huyanna Picchu instead of making our way to the back part of Machu Picchu that is known as a photographer’s paradise. We ate alpaca and many other questionable things (we don’t even know – nor want to know – what was in some of the food we ate!). We pet street dogs, followed random strangers into alleyways, got lost in markets, bought souvenirs from pushy locals, got massages in a sketchy massage parlor, got attacked by moths the size of bats (and got laughed at by the locals), rode in the back of pickup trucks (which was one of the happiest moments of our lives), walked for miles with blistered and bloody feet (hence the bad decision to not hire a muleteer to carry our packs), we lived like locals in the mountain villages (no electricity or running water, no heat, walls made of stacked wood and tarps).
To put it simply, we lived.
Cusco is known as ‘the historical capital of Peru’ due to its role as the historical capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Today, it is widely regarded as the awesome little city where tourists go to acclimate to the altitude before beginning their voyage to Machu Picchu. If you ever plan to trek to Machu Picchu, you should plan to spend 4-5 days in Cusco to let your body acclimate to the elevation. Elevation sickness is NO JOKE. Just do it.
Fortunately, Cusco is awesome and there’s plenty to do in and around the city to keep you busy for 4-5 days. Between visiting ancient Incan ruins, haggling with vendors at any of the city markets, attending festivals and parades, eating delicious foods, petting furry llamas, and visiting historical museums, you definitely won’t find yourself bored and wishing for a Netflix marathon (that comes AFTER you return from your trek and you don’t want to get out of bed for at least 17 days).
We took a taxi to Sacred Valley just outside of Cusco, which is home of the Pisaq ruins and market. We spent the day exploring the Inca ruins, then walking through the mountains to the market, which was located at the base of the mountain.
This is the trail we walked along through the mountains to get down to the market. It ran along the edge of the mountain for miles.
Meet Abel. A 9-year-old boy who we met on the terraces (you can see his family in the background of the image above). Abel’s family makes jewelry in their home, then they walk 13 miles every day to the terraces in hopes that they will see a tourist or two who will buy their jewelry. This day, there were only two other people who came through here, so Abel decided to join us on our walk down. We talked (in Spanish) about his life, his school, what he likes to do for fun. He showed us some things we would have missed without him – carvings in rocks, special plants, etc. Oh, and we enjoyed the most beautiful sunlight as he guided us through the twists and turns of the mountains.
I fell in love with him.
At the base of the mountain, we said goodbye to Abel and headed to the Pisaq market, where we bought wall hangings, scarves, and delicious street donuts before heading back to Cusco to prepare for our trek to the infamous Machu Picchu.
You can continue reading about our trek, our new friends, and our Machu Picchu adventure here.
We hope you’ll join us Manini girls and our Peru travel company on an upcoming trip to Peru!!
Blog post and all photos by Erica (co-owner & photographer, The Manini Experience)
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