Two beautiful weeks: Chilean Patagonia, Machu Picchu, and MEL!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful and rejuvenating holiday break! So much has happened since the last post, and I am finally getting around to writing all of it down. Before I begin, I encourage you to please click the title of this post and read it on the website as opposed to on your email – the formatting is much cleaner and the quality of the photos is better. A quick recap: in our first three months in Chile, Jordin and I earned our TEFL certifications, found students and started English classes with students of all ages, and have made a bunch of friends (mostly through Spanglish Party, the language exchange).

At the end of those three months, our family finally came to Chile!! Yes, Mel stepped away from her junior year and crazy schedule just to hang out with me, but also to hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world: Chilean Patagonia. They arrived on Wednesday, December 21, my parents exhausted from their first long flight in many years (and Mel’s first long flight in her life), with hiking gear, 84 Clif bars, and 3 large jars of peanut butter in tow. Let’s clarify: the Clif bars were for our trip (but the extras are for meeee), and the peanut butter is to keep in our host family’s house because peanut butter here is imported from the U.S. and very expensive (maybe the peanut butter thing is really cliche of Americans but also it’s very important). We all reunited at their hotel, and I may have shed a tear or two when I saw Mel for the first time. After making themselves look a little more presentable after 10 hours on a plane, we all took the metro together to our host family’s house. Aly (host mom) really outdid herself, but of course did it all without looking like she tried: she made a typical Chilean dish, pastel de choclo, which I can only describe as a casserole-type dish made of ground corn, various vegetables, and meat, but for us it was carne vegetal (veggie meat). There were various side salads, a plate of multiple types of olives just for my dad (he’s the only one in our family who likes them), and Chilean wine. Even though my parents don’t speak Spanish and my host family doesn’t speak English, they got along very well! Jordin and I were the translators, and we made Mel speak at least a few times (she’s in her 3rd year of Spanish…she needs to practice), but we discussed many different topics and everyone seemed to understand what was going on. My dad had been practicing his Spanish for weeks before arriving, and even prepared a few sentences for our host family, which was very cute. My family had brought a few gifts for our host family, and our host family gave each of us gifts in return, which I didn’t expect: Chilean wine for my dad, copper coasters for my mom, and a copper bracelet and ring for Mel (copper is a big product of Chile). When Jordin and I were in our rooms getting our stuff together after the meal, there was a point when I realized that my parents were outside with our host family and neither Jordin nor I were there to translate, and I thought, “OMG ARE THEY OK WHAT ARE THEY DOING??” and ran outside. But sure enough, they were getting along just fine on their own – the whole day, both of my parents tried so hard to speak Spanish, and I have to give them props for that. None of the pictures we took as a group came out perfectly, so below is the best of them. My parents fell asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel, and I made Mel give me all of the updates about her life before sleeping since she’s not the best at communicating when we’re not together (hopefully this will encourage her to text me more).



During my family’s time in Chile, we had two full days in Santiago. The first day, we climbed Cerro San Cristobal, which is a big hill in the center of the city, and from the top, you can get a marvelous view of the city and the mountains, especially if it rained recently. Unfortunately, the smog was so thick that we couldn’t see the mountains at all. We walked to La Moneda, which is the general government center and where the President of Chile works. The architecture in that neighborhood is very different than in other parts of Santiago – it reminds me very much of Buenos Aires, with European-style buildings. For lunch and dinner, we went to two fantastic vegan restaurants (yes, they exist here, and yes, they were the same price, if not cheaper, as typical Chilean restaurants).San Cristobal3.jpg



Dec. 23 – The first day of our trip to PATAGONIA! We almost missed our flight to Punta Arenas (traveler’s tip: always continually check the TV screens that list the gates for every flight in case your gate changes), but 3 hours later, we arrived and then took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. I would highly recommend you to look at a map of Chile right now to get a visual of where we were – the country is as long as the U.S. is wide, so it takes a long time to get from one place to the other. Most Chileans consider Chiloe, a sector of islands in the south of Chile, to be the VERY south of the country, since that’s the farthest south to which people usually travel if you’re not going to Patagonia. But if you look on the map (here’s a map that points to Chiloe), you’ll see it’s only halfway between Santiago and the actual end of the country. Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are wayyyyy farther down – we were actually at the end of the world!

Dec. 24: Day 1 of the W-trek: The next day, we started our five-day trek in Patagonia, which is called the “W trek”, because if you look at the map of where you hike, it makes the shape of a W. Patagonia is a region in both Chile and Argentina, but there are many separate parks inside. The most popular national park in Chile is called Torres del Paine. “Torres” means towers, and there are 3 immense rock towers in the park (you’ll see a photo soon), and “Paine” is an indigenous word for the colors in the sky during twilight, which are various shades of blue. So “Torres del Paine” translates to “towers of blue”. We did the trek through an agency called Chile Nativo – we were a group of 13 overall, plus our two amazing guides. Our group drove about 1.5 hours from Puerto Natales into the park of Torres del Paine, on a road called El Fin De Mundo (“The end of the world”) and hiked around for a few hours until we met up with the van again, which took us to our first refugio (basically a campsite, but indoor rooms as well as tents), where we stayed for the night. That night was Christmas Eve, so there was a big buffet dinner, decorations, and lots of interesting drinks. Every refugio we stayed in served meals at long tables, so sometimes we sat with people who weren’t in our group. That first night, our group had a table and a half reserved, but before my family could disperse ourselves among the tables to talk with different people, everyone else sat down at the first table, so my family sat separately. We all were thinking, “Oh no, I hope everyone else doesn’t think that we only want to sit and interact with each other this whole time!” But this situation turned out to be serendipitous, because we sat next to two best friends from California, Grace and Aimee, who had just quit their nursing jobs and are traveling the world for six months. We found out that their W-trek schedule was the same as ours, and we would be staying in most of the same refugios each night, so we expected to see them again at some point. At the end of dinner, we wished them the best on their travels and then said goodnight. Little did we know, we would see them every day, multiple times a day, and become good enough friends that Jordin and I hung out with them in Santiago a few weeks later (just last week!). Lesson for all: always introduce yourself to the people you’re sitting next to! Hopefully they’ll be friendly back, and you may even make some lifelong friends out of them.


Dec. 25, Day 2 of the W: We woke up early to see a gorgeous sunrise on the towers (of which we had a great view from our bedroom). This was the first of our really strenuous hiking days – we had breakfast at 7am, and left at 8:30 to start our hike up to the towers: 18 kilometers (11-12 miles) roundtrip. We passed through every type of terrain in the book – open fields, steep switchbacks, forest, streams (thank goodness for waterproof hiking boots), and finally, the last kilometer was straight uphill to the top. Our hiking poles were crucial for this part – even though it was only 1 kilometer/.6 miles, it was almost a 1000 foot climb, so it took us over an hour, and every step took a lot of planning because of how rocky it was. The views at the top were spectacular – we were next to a gorgeous blue lake, with the three towers just beyond it. The lakes reminded us of the incredible blue lakes in Banff National Park and Lake Louise in Canada – the beautiful blue color is a result of it being next to a glacier.


Even though I was wearing a t-shirt during the last part of the climb, as soon as we arrived at the top, we all had to put our layers on again because it was very cold. On the way down, it started to snow for a few minutes, so we did enjoy a bit of a white Christmas, and we passed many other hikers in Santa hats who were wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Even though the way up was a lot of work on the quads, the way down was brutal on the knees, and I thought it was harder than climbing up. Story of the day (which may be TMI, but when you’re backpacking, nothing is TMI): taking a nature pee was tranquil as usual, but standing UP from the nature pee was incredibly painful because of how much stress climbing up and down that last kilometer put on my knees. However, if you’re going to take a nature pee anywhere, you really can’t choose better scenery than Patagonia! :) Quote of the day on the way down: much of the route was downhill, since we had ascended so much during the day, but at times there significant hills to climb. At one point, there was a HUGE hill that neither Mel nor I remembered from the way up to the towers, and Mel gasped at it and said, “Is that for us??” Yes, indeed it was. 



Dec. 26, Day 3 of the W: Our 3rd day of the trek was incredibly windy, so much that the wind blew me over a few times, and most people fell at least once. One of our guides, Tati, yelled into the wind, “THIS IS PATAGONIAAAA!” Even though this day wasn’t as significantly long as the others, we still hiked over 10 miles. When we arrived at the refugio, it was so windy that the glass on the windows was rattling. We went down to the beach with Grace and Aimee (the two world travelers we met) and the wind was INSANE – we stood on the shore and could see the wind coming across the lake because it was pushing the fog. All of a sudden, the wind was so strong that I could lean back into the air and still be pushed forward – it was like a cold, wet rollercoaster. Aimee fell down completely one time – I’m surprised the rest of us didn’t. All of us got soaked because the wind also blew in a lot of moisture – so much for my change of clothes!



Dec. 27, Day 4 of the W: The 4th day of the trek was the second really long day. We hiked from Refugio Los Cuernos to two different lookout points, called Francés and Británico. We left at 8am and didn’t arrive at the next refugio until after 6pm. We hiked through all sorts of terrain – a lake shoreline, forest, streams, climbing through rocks – you name it. At the French lookout point, we could see blue water/island-looking landscapes in one direction, then turn to the other side and only see glaciers – SO COOL. We then hiked to the British lookout point, which was a central lookout in the middle of an enormous landscape of tallgranite rocks, one of which one of our guides has climbed. On the way down, we passed through forests where the trees were burned and windswept – there have been many fires in Torres del Paine, and many have been caused by tourists being careless, such as cooking in an area that wasn’t a campsite. When we finally arrived at the last refugio, Jordin, my dad, and I hung out with Grace and Aimee at the bar for a while before dinner. Even though the refugios were like little campsites, each one had a bar and they were exceedingly expensive (understandable because of the cost of transporting the liquor all the way there) – a bottle of wine that costs 3,500 Chilean pesos (around $5) in Santiago cost 20,000 pesos ($30) here! The dinner at this refugio was served cafeteria style, so Jordin and I sat with Grace and Aimee and talked with them for a number of hours. Total stats on this day: 38,500 steps, 25 km/15 miles, 400 floors climbed (thank you, someone’s iPhone health app!).


Dec. 28, Day 5 of the W: We only hiked 11 km this day (almost 7 miles – which seems like nothing in comparison to our 15-mile days), from the last refugio to a black sand beach, where we ate lunch while waiting for our boat. We took this boat for an hour and a half and saw an enormous blue glacier. We also had the chance to drink pisco sours (popular Chilean drink) with glacial ice! I was a little skeptical about where this ice came from (I didn’t want them to be taking ice from the actual glacier just for drinks!) , but they told us that it came from small pieces of the glacier that are floating in the water, far from the main part.

All in all, our five day W-trek in Patagonia was INCREDIBLE. It was by far the most strenuous hiking I’ve ever done, especially because it was backpacking instead of just day hikes, but the scenery and overall experience were unbelievable. To anyone interested: this was my family’s first time backpacking together, but this wasn’t “full” backpacking because we weren’t carrying five days worth of food, cooking materials, sleeping bags, etc., as we spent each night at a refugio, and ate dinner and breakfast at each one.

General notes about Patagonia:

  • We were lucky to have perfect weather throughout the five days. We heard from others who did the trek a few days before us that they had to hike through pouring rain, and even snow, and that’s always a miserable experience when you’re completely soaked AND it’s cold. We got drizzled on a few times, but never more than that.
  • We carried our trash with us, and didn’t wash our hair for five days. Most if not all of the trash in the park gets carried out by horses (which we observed), so keeping a few granola bar wrappers in our backpacks didn’t add any extra weight for us. In terms of showering, there were showers at all of the refugios, and we each took one or two over the five days, but we we were advised not to use shampoo/conditioner because everything drains into the park’s system, and those are chemicals that the park doesn’t need. Definitely not an issue for us, but it very much shows in the photos as the trip goes on ;)
  • We drank water straight from the streams in the park! Before you question that, please know that my family is the first one to come prepared with water filters and iodine tablets, especially as my mom used to work in the Philadelphia Health Department and knows what’s up with bacteria that we don’t want. After talking with multiple people who have traveled to Patagonia and drank the water there without filtration, I decided to give it a go – and this water is the most pure, best water I’ve ever tasted (and it was always cold). The streams come right from the glaciers, and this water is probably the least contaminated water in the entire world. After indulging in this water for a few days, I braced myself in case my body was going to reject it – but it never happened. I still dream about that water.
  • We were really surprised at the food waste we saw in the refugios. It wasn’t buffet style, so everything was served to us (equal portions for everyone), which means that everything not eaten went to waste. Every morning at breakfast, each person was served three pieces of bread (among other things), and the portions at dinner were huge. There was one night that no one at my table finished their dinner. We were particularly surprised at these portions, especially because we were in a national park where they stress conservation and reducing your footprint.
  • I am unbelievably proud of my mom, not only for owning up to the fact that she was the slowest hiker in our group of 15, but MOST importantly, for going five days without coffee. This is the woman who roasts her own beans at home and can’t even go out to get the newspaper without her brew in hand – I don’t know how she achieved this feat, but it must’ve been that pure, clear air in Patagonia that gave her the extra energy. Brava mama!


We had one travel day back to Santiago (Dec. 29th), and then one full day (Dec. 30th) in the city before my mom and Mel headed back to the states because Mel had that thing called “high school” to return to. We went to the Museo de Derechos Humanos y Memorias (Museum of Human Rights and Memories), which is all about the human rights violations during President Pinochet’s regime between 1973 and 1990s. The museum is meant to commemorate the victims of these violations, especially the thousands of people who went missing. It also reminded Jordin and me a lot of the Holocaust museums in both Washington D.C. and in Israel, especially because the architecture is so unique. We went to another fantastic vegan restaurant for lunch (even in a country with a lot of meat, veganism exists y’all!), and by the time we finished and walked around for a bit, it was time to head to the airport. After Mel and I spent a long time meandering through the countless Britt shops (with lots of free samples of dark chocolate-covered things), we said goodbye to Mel and my mom as they boarded their flight back to the states.


WEEK 2 – the Sacred Valley in Peru!

And then there were three! Our flight from Santiago to Peru arrived around 1am in Lima, and then we spent a lovely four hours in the airport waiting for our 5am flight to Cusco. The altitude in Cusco is 11,000 feet (!), so we had a ride already set up to drive us from the city of Cusco to Ollantaytambo, which sits at a mere 9,100 feet. Two hours later, we arrived at our hotel…at 9am in the morning. Immediately, we took a nap, and then roused ourselves for lunch. We couldn’t drink any unfiltered water in Peru (I started missing the glacial water as soon as we left Patagonia), and though we had filters, we drank a lot of tea at meals. Coca leaves, as in from the plant that is cultivated to make cocaine, are very popular in Peru, either to chew or in tea. It is also said to help with altitude sickness, so we drank a lot of coca tea during our five days in Peru. The city of Ollantaytambo, located in the lower valley, definitely attracts tourists on their way to/from Machu Picchu, but it also is full of culture and history. The town had very narrow streets of cobblestones, which were built by the Incas hundreds of years ago. I can’t compare the mountains in the Sacred Valley to anything I’ve seen before – they are so green, so lush, and SO CLOSE to you at all times. You walk outside and look straight up, and there are the mountains. We hiked up to some cool ruins on the side of one of the mountains – what would have taken us 15-20 minutes at a lower altitude took us about an hour because we had to stop to breathe and rehydrate very frequently. For a nice touch on our first day, there was a man playing the flute at the top of these ruins, so ascending and descending the mountain with that music in the background made me feel like I was in a movie. At our first dinner in Peru, we tried traditional quinoa soup – quinoa originated in Latin America and is very popular in Peru, which definitely makes a vegan family happy. When we returned to our hotel, on New Year’s Eve of 2016, we all fell into a much needed sleep at 9pm. None of us even thought about drinking anything throughout our stay in Peru because: lightweights + altitude + alcohol = a disaster waiting to happen.



New Year’s Day 2017!

We woke up around 6:30am, the latest we would wake up on the entire trip, and our guide for the day, Paull, arrived at 8. We started our climb to the village of Pumamarca, which sits at 11,000 feet and dates back to the year 1200. We passed through the land of various families on the way up, and even got to see some adorable piglets. We arrived at the ruins of Pumamarca, and Paull told us all about the history of the Incan people (this is relevant to everywhere we traveled while in Peru). The biggest takeaway of this trip is that the Incans were brilliant in their design – you’ll see:

  • The trinity of the puma (represents the earth and power), the snake (the underworld and wisdom), and the condor (the sky and freedom) was incredibly important, and their images are all over the Incan ruins in various cities. Additionally, we later climbed to see ruins of a temple (described more below) which looks like a llama from a bird’s eye view, and this llama represented fertility.
  • The original windows in Pumamarca and throughout Machu Picchu are trapezoidal, and the stone walls lean against each other in a certain way, both of which helps protect them from earthquake destruction.
  • There are terraces all over the Incan ruins – they were incredibly effective at creating different microclimates for different crops.img_3659
  • There are water channels everywhere, not only on this mountain where Pumamarca is located, but throughout Ollantaytambo, the town of Aguas Calientes (where we traveled next), and the ruins of Machu Picchu. These water channels come from the top of the snow-capped mountains (15,000 feet), and are all constructed of stone. They all still have water running through them, and they used to irrigate the terraces.
  • Peru grows 1200 kinds of potatoes, some of which used to be grown on the terraces, along with corn, quinoa, wheat, and lima beans (and we saw all of these plants!).
  • In Pumamarca, a temple in the city of Ollantaytambo (which we climbed), and in Machu Picchu, everything was originally designed with the sun’s light in mind, especially during the summer and winter solstices. The first light from the sun at each solstice comes up at the exact same spot every year, and the Incans designed certain parts of their buildings (the ways that they faced, where they placed stone benches, etc) to point out these exact light locations. SO COOL.
  • The fountains in the temple were cut in a way to resemble an Incan cross, and were built with a kind of stone that would never be worn away by the water. The Incans also designed a catch basin that forced the water to move in a circle, which prevented the stone from eroding in the basin. Brilliant.
  • Agave plants are everywhere, and some of them grow into very tall trees, but the Peruvians don’t use it for a sweetener nor tequila.


All of the locals in the town of Ollantaytambo were wearing traditional Inca clothing, which was very colorful, and we got to witness the swearing-in ceremony of the new mayor of the town.


January 2 – Paull was our guide for the day again, and we traveled to two different places.

  • Las Salineras (salt flats)there was one small spring at the top of the flats that produces saline water (about 60% salt), which has had the same flow for 500 years. The salt flats are used to this day, with hundreds of shallow “pools” that each have a few inches of water, which the sun dehydrates and the salt is left at the bottom. The spring at the top flows throughout the entire area, trickling into each pool, and the salt ends up in three layers after it dehydrates: pure white, pink, and pink salt mixed with clay.



  • Moray was the agricultural laboratory for the Incas (elevation: 11,404 feet). There were three major formations of seven circles each (all in terraces), allowing for different microclimates of crops. The Incas would acclimatize the plants, both food and medicinal crops, depending on whether they could grow at higher or lower terraces. They were able to get coca leaves, one of the biggest products, to grow at 9-11,000 feet where it can only grow at 1-4,000 feet in other parts of the world. There are apparently 80 different climate zones at Moray, and the Incans used the wall shapes to change the climates. They brought soil from all over Peru to try different combinations of seeds and soil, and essentially developed their own seeds to meet their objectives at all sorts of climates. So basically they were agricultural scientists that were extremely accomplished.



More cool information:

  • The chacana is a sacred symbol of the Incas, which we saw throughout our trip – carved into stone, within the stones in the streets, and on jewelry (lots of necklaces, both for women and men), clothing, and art. There are a variety of interpretations, but here is what we were told. 
    • The four sides represent: earth/water/air/fire, as well asNorth/South/East/West.
    • The upper and lower (or left and right) halves represent the male and female.
    • The four “corners” with three points each (multiple interpretations):
      • Past, present, future
      • Heaven, the earth, the underworldperuvian-chakana-necklace-black-stone-j0290-01-66
      • Work, knowledge, love (all are connected – you can’t work successfully without knowledge or love)
      • The trinity: condor (upper world/sky), puma (power), snake (underworld – not bad)
    • The center hole represents the Incan capital, Cusco
    • The 12 corners represent the Incan calendar


Later in the day, we traveled to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is also referred to as the town of Machu Picchu, since it’s where everyone stays when going to see the ruins. We took the PeruRail Vistadome train for 1.5 hours, and it was awesome – we traveled from the high lands down to the jungle, and saw all sorts of different terrain throughout the ride. Everyone had an assigned seat at tables of four, and the staff served tea and some type of quinoa bread, which was delicious. There is only one track from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, so when trains pass each other, one has to move to a side rail, and to make this happen, someone has to get out of the train and manually switch the tracks. Aguas Calientes sits on a huge hill (read: a mountain), and there is no vehicle traffic – everything is on foot, which means that everyone pushing wheelbarrows of materials around is INSANELY strong. When you look up from the road, you’re just surrounded by huge green mountains and it’s AWESOME.


January 3 – Machu Picchu!

We rose at 4:30am (not even our earliest of the trip), ate breakfast at 5 in our hotel (it was very crowded), and walked five minutes to get to the bus station by 5:30, at which there was already a long line of people waiting to get on the buses up to Machu Picchu. The bus ride was about 30 minutes, and went up the mountains via switchbacks. We met two travelers from Canada in line, Chloe and Scott, and ended up spending the whole day with them. There are three peaks through the gates in Machu Picchu, and the tallest is called Wayna Picchu, which we hiked the first day. It was incredibly steep – the elevation gain was about 1000 feet, so it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to climb up. So putting the elevation gain and the altitude together, it takes a bit of time as well as countless breaks. There were a few switchbacks, but the majority of the climb was stone steps, which at times were basically vertical, and often very narrow. We were lucky to have perfect weather, so could see everything, including the fast-moving clouds moving up around the mountains and past the city of Machu Picchu. One of the best parts of this hike was when we got toward the top and passed through a beautiful lookout point, and there was man dressed in long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a vest, and a tie (and we were dripping in sweat in our t-shirts, if that’s any indication of how hot it was/the difficulty of the climb) dancing like crazy on the side of the mountain. Apparently, he creates videos of himself dancing in travel destinations and posts them on his website and youtube channel. He hasn’t posted the video yet, but I will definitely post that video when it’s published because I’m sure it will be hilarious. We got some beautiful pictures at the top, just before some larger clouds came in and completely blocked the view of Machu Picchu. The climb down was slightly treacherous, especially because at one point we had to crouch our way through a 5-meter long tunnel. When we finally reached the bottom around 10am, we met our guide from the two previous days, Paull (we really liked him), for a tour of the city of Machu Picchu. At this point, it was cloudy and started raining for about an hour, so we were very happy that we climbed Wayna Picchu much earlier in the morning.


Twins dressing like twins.


Facts about Machu Picchu:

  • People generally didn’t live there for very long – it was more of a temporary home for people passing through, from 6 months for 4 years. Most people passed through for a specific reason.
  • About 70% of the ruins are original, and the rest have either been or are currently being restored.
  • The city is built over a river that ran around the mountain like a snake (in the trinity), resembling mother earth.
  • It took 30 years to build the foundation of Machu Picchu – the terrace system, the drainage system, etc.
  • Machu Picchu receives almost 2000 cm/787 inches of rain every year! Many people who have studied the city extensively wouldn’t have chosen this area to build a city because of the rain, but the Incas chose it because it is in the center of 10 mountains, which represented eternity, and was built as a center of learning for the priests and more important members of the Inca Empire. It was built to last for eternity because it was built for religious purposes, as opposed to for power or love.
  • About 70 mummies have been discovered in Machu Picchu – people were buried in the fetal position because they believed that if they were buried like a baby, they would be reincarnated as a baby.
  • The acoustics of the temples within the city were designed so everyone could hear (we clapped our hands and could hear everything echoing back).
  • The words Machu Picchu are in the indigenous language of Quechua (pronounced “ketch-oo-a”), which many of the locals still speak. The words translate to “ancient mountain”, but relates to the three peaks that are in the center of the valleys: each peak is called a “Picchu” because of the shape, and the Incas used the peak of Machu Picchu as a lookout to see all three valleys.

Classic shot of Machu Picchu!


Wednesday, January 4

We went to Machu Picchu for the second time to hike to the “Puerta del Sol”, called the “Sun Gate” in English. While we were still able to see the city of Machu Picchu and the mountain of Wayna Picchu (we climbed it the day before – this is the tallest mountain in the back of the classic Machu Picchu picture), it was incredibly foggy, so we were very thankful that we got the full view the day before. However, we were able to snag a llama selfie even in the rain, so that day was worth it.



Later in the afternoon, we took the PeruRail train from Aguas Calientes back to Ollantaytambo. After receiving our tea, someone dressed in a rainbow costume with a puma mask started dancing along our train car to Peruvian music. Then the two servers did a short fashion show of various clothes made of alpaca that were for sale. While much of the women’s clothing was incredibly versatile (one was a dress, a shawl, and a scarf), it was also very expensive. After arriving in Ollantaytambo, we drove straight to Cusco (2 hours), and our driver told us that the reason that Peruvians generally don’t need orthodontia and have great teeth is because of all of the coca leaves they chew.

That night was our only night in Cusco, and we wished we had more time to explore the very historic and beautiful city. We found an awesome restaurant/art cafe for dinner, and my dad even purchased a cool piece of art – the restaurant called in the artist just to explain the meaning behind it.

Throughout our time in Peru, none of us had any altitude problems – we took altitude medication for the first few days and drank coca tea, but were lucky enough not to be affected by it, with the exception of taking many more breaks while hiking. Interestingly enough, the only time I had any problems was our night in Cusco. We didn’t get to bed until 9:30 (very late for us during our two weeks of travel in Patagonia and Peru), and had to set our alarms for the earliest they had been the entire trip, 3am, because we had a 5am flight from Cusco to Lima. I think the 11,000+ foot altitude definitely affected me, as I attempted to try breathing in every way I could, but barely slept at all during those 5.5 hours. I was very happy to arrive back in Santiago, which has an altitude of only 1700 feet, for both a lower altitude and to get back into my normal routine. However, I definitely shed a few tears leaving my dad in the airport alone, eating a salad with no one to translate for him.

General Peru experiences/notes:

  • All of the tea we drank was fresh herbs and hot water, and it was fantastic – I wish I could drink tea that fresh every day.
  • We tried many typical Peruvian dishes (they’re still traditional even if made vegan):
    • Lomo salteado (veggie meat, tomato, onion, garlic, parsley, chili peppers, various spices)
    • Rocoto relleno (stuffed rocoto peppers) – rocoto peppers are extremely hot chili peppers, stuffed with veggie meat, onions, bell peppers, and many other things. However, these were so spicy that even my dad couldn’t finish all two of them.
  • We taught my dad a popular “cheers” in Spanish, and by the last day in Peru, he just almost got the hang of it. Though this is usually said with alcohol, we did it with tea: arriba (glasses up), abajo (glasses down), al centro (glasses to the center), pa’dentro (to the inside = drink!)

If you made it to the end of this post, thank you so much for your interest and for following along! I’m sending lots of virtual hugs through the crazy technology that allows me to stay in touch with everyone while I’m 5,000 miles away. ¡Feliz año nuevo!