Mother Daughter Trip to Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu

A few years back, my daughter, Angela and I, took a mother-daughter trip to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. The trip was an effort to spend time together in a serene and beautiful place, in order to recapture the feelings of peace and companionship that had previously characterized our relationship with each other.

My daughter had reached the age (15) where she looked upon most of my behavior, if not grounds for outright disownment, as utterly cringe-worthy to say the least. Where previously we had gotten along famously, now she could hardly stand to be in my presence, and she let me know it with sarcasm and eye-rolling, many, many times per day.

I know I was supposed to know this would happen, but it hurt anyway. I guess nothing really prepares you for the arrival of this phase. I mean my daughter and I had been best friends. Until she turned 13, we did everything together. We knew one another’s thoughts. We even looked alike. So when my daughter felt the need to rebel against a mother as open and wonderful as I knew myself to be, I felt bewildered and hurt. The trip to Machu Picchu was an attempt to spend time together in a tranquil setting and to allow ourselves to relax enough to remember the basic connection that must be still there, lurking underneath the turbulent waters of our current interaction.

The turbulent waters of the Urubamba River below Machu Picchu seemed to define our current relationship.  (“Rio Urubamba” by Manuel Menal licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

Did I forget to mention that we were living in Peru? We had moved to Cusco several years before, as a family, and Machu Picchu was a three-hour train ride from the ancient Inca city. So when I was at my wit’s end with Angela’s distance and sarcastic attitude, I suggested that the two of us take a trip to Machu Picchu together.

We boarded the train to Machu Picchu at Ollantaytambo, early ion a Friday. morning The spectacular views of the Andean countryside outside of our train window were intriguing. I tapped Angela on the shoulder to point out a young woman herding sheep on the hillside of a thatched-roof village. Once I convinced her to stop playing with her I-phone and take a look, I could see she was impressed. There were country folk at work tilling the fields, lambs bleating beside their mothers, and a mist that caressed the hills and inspired a curious sorrow inside me that felt like a longing for something I could not name.

Sheep herding in the Andes

A shepherdess and her flock on the route to Machu Picchu

My daughter and I arrived in the village of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu.We checked into our hotel and went for a soak in the Aguas Calientes hot springs, Aguas Calientes means hot water, and these enjoyable thermal baths are only a five-minute walk from town.

After pizza at a local restaurant, of which there are many, we tucked in for the night. In the morning we took the bus up to the ruins, a fifteen-minute ride that ascends a narrow and steep road. Not for the faint of heart, as looking down below at the rapidly churning Urubamba River can make one quite giddy.

We entered the citadel, and a profound sense of mystery and awe overcame us, a feeling that’s hard to convey in words. There, laid out before us, was the ancient stone village, its structures seemingly a part of the surrounding woodland. We climbed around the original Inca steps and stooped to crawl into the stone houses. A people of long ago, a people we could barely imagine, had made their home here, in the midst of the cloud forest. They had lived, breathed, ate and slept here, worshipped their gods, danced and dreamed in ways that we knew nothing of, but which had profound meaning for them.

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A people we knew nothing about had lived, breathed, ate, and slept  here…

My daughter and I climbed up on a ledge and sat down on the escarpment. We looked across at the Huayna Picchu (Young Man) Mountain. Machu Picchu Mountain, across from it, is the Old Man. They towered over us, seeming to communicate with their solid presence and to be alive in ways we didn’t understand, yet could sense

Silence fell. And for a moment in time, a young woman and a not-yet-old woman allowed the magic of this amazing place to fill us, momentarily pausing our struggle and allowing each other to just be.

by Laurel Thompson

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Angela and I after our mother daughter trip to Machu Picchu

A Short Trek with the Llama Pack Project

Everyone wants to see llamas while in Peru, and a trek with The Llama Pack Project is an excellent chance to do just that, while at the same time supporting an eco-friendly enterprise.

We heartily recommend this trek as a great option for a family outing while you are staying in the Sacred Valley. Additionally, farmers, animal lovers, or those with an interest in animal husbandry would find this to be a satisfying activity!

My family and I opted for the half-day trip, which was basically a short, steep hike up a hill, accompanied by a herd of llamas. Miss M loved the hike: she casually took the hand of one of the herders and off she went! The climb was quite hard for Nana, who, at 71, is fit, but the hill was rather steep.

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Miss M casually took the hand of one of the herders and off they went!

This was a fantastic chance to get up close and personal with llamas – and these are just not any llamas – these are purebred llamas, large, robust, and handsome. Miss M became friends with two cute females, Chincha and Aceituna – though we were cautioned not to let her get too close, as these are still animals from a herd. (i.e., they are friendly, but not super tame)

Getting up close- but not too close

Getting up close- but not too close!

We loved hearing about the work of the Llama Pack Project. Like our non-profit project, Threads of Peru, this NGO is dedicated to the revitalizing of ancient traditions in Peru -in this case the use of llamas as pack animals.

The llama, a species of the camelid family, was first bred by ancient Peruvians for carrying loads in the Andes. Much larger than the other domesticated camelid, the alpaca, they have certain attributes that make them gentler on the environment than mules and horses. For one thing, they are easier on foliage: mules and horses cut grasses and plants close to the ground when grazing, rather than nibbling the green leaves off as camelids do. Most importantly, camelids have soft padded feet that don’t cause erosion like the hooves of horses.

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The llamas’ soft feet don’t cause erosion like the hooves of horses do.

Over the past few centuries, since the time of the Spanish conquest, the llama has fallen into disuse as a pack animal. Its relative, the alpaca, has always been valued for its fine fleece, but the cargo-carrying ability of the llama was perceived as much less valuable. Llamas were also perceived as less useful than Spanish mules or horses, which can carry up to 20% of their weight. Since their weight is greater than that of a llama, they can be given heavier loads. A 1200 lb. (545 kg.) horse can carry up to 240 lbs.(109 kg.) ; in contrast, a 400 lb. (182 kg.) llama can carry 80 lbs., (36 kg.) at the most.

Contributing to the devaluation of the llama was the fact that the local people allowed llamas and alpacas to breed together, creating a smaller llama with inferior wool as compared to a pure alpaca.

Enter the Llama Pack Project, aiming to improve the breeding genetics of the llama, and by doing so have the llama re-valued (and therefore used more), thus creating another source of income for high Andean communities. They started out four years ago with breeding sire “Guapo” (handsome in Spanish), a purebred llama who is capable of carrying a large load. As a stud sire, he is rotated among 9 communities in the Sacred Valley and Lares region, and is improving the genetics and animal husbandry in those areas.

Large beautiful llamas

These large, beautiful llamas are the result of improved animal husbandry.

In addition, the folks at Llama Pack Project have been educating the local people on the value of using llamas for transporting goods and carrying equipment on tourist trips.

This is where travel agencies like Apus Peru come in. We can play a significant role in generating a groundswell of support for the idea of re-introducing llamas to common use in the mountains.

If you would like Apus Peru to organize a llama trip for you and your family or companions, please email us at reservas@apus-peru.com

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Trekking with llamas- a family activity.

Comfort Camping On Your Peru Trek

Apus Peru Comfort Camping

What is it and why should you do it?

About five years ago, long before we heard the term “Glamping,” we at Apus Peru innovated a “Comfort Camping” option so that folks could relax in comfort after a long, hard day of trekking. We included such amenities as a real camp bed, large tents for extra comfort, and even portable hot showers to freshen up after the trek.

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Comfort Camping includes large tents for extra space.

With a dash of luxury, this new style of camping/ trek adventure is for people who want an ideal camping experience at the end of the day. It is for folks who love the idea of sleeping under the stars but who still want to indulge in those creature comforts after the large effort they have expended – in other words, they want the best of all worlds!

We at Apus Peru don’t like to overstate things – but some companies might call this “Luxury 4-Star Camping” or “Deluxe Camping”. This alternative for your Peru trip opens up camping to a wider range of people: folks who might not otherwise have the chance to experience camping in Peru will be likely to choose this option.

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Porters ascend the trail with comfort camping gear.

Comfort Camping enables you to concentrate on what is important: spending quality time with your family, friends, and loved ones. It allows your entire family to trek in comfort, and is a good choice for a multi-generational camping trip. That is not to say that you and your loved ones won’t be expending a strenuous effort during the daylight hours, as you climb Inca staircases at high altitude, and descend into verdant valleys; but at the end of the day, when everyone is likely to be hot, tired, and exhausted, the whole group will be able to relax in comfort.

A day of climbing and descending

Relax in comfort after a day of climbing Inca staircases at high altitude and descending into verdant valleys.

The Comfort Camping option offers, among other things, a thicker Thermarest mattress that’s six inches off the ground, an inflatable pillow, deluxe sleeping bags, and a larger tent you can stand up and move about in. Perhaps best of all, you will be able to take a short hot shower after a day of intense physical exertion!

Beds are off the ground

Comfort Camping- Beds are up off the ground.

For more information and specific inclusions please refer to:

http://www.apus-peru.com/make-a-booking/comfort_camping.html

Many thanks to Apus Peru’s past client Patty Hinz for sharing the photos.

 

 

Apus Peru Porters Gifted With New Headlamps

Sometimes our staff and trek crew leave such an impression on our clients that a bond of a lifetime has been forged!

The treks we offer are wide-ranging and tough, challenging and rewarding: as a result of the very real hurdles that have been faced together, strong bonds that transcend cultural barriers are often created among participants and crew. A journey of this nature can leave both staff and trekkers with long- lasting memories of having surpassed limitations, together, under tough conditions.

In December 2016, Apus Peru arranged a classic Inka Trail tour for some clients that hailed from the US. They were so impressed with the hardworking porters and cooks who made the logistics of the trip possible, that, upon their return home, they gifted the entire trek staff with brand new headlamps!

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Apus Peru Porters receiving their gift. 

Although we encourage our clients to be careful regarding gift-giving, we felt that the torches were an appropriate gift that fell well within Apus Peru guidelines for gifts and donations, which can be found here:

http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/travellers_code_of_conduct.html  (see section on giving gifts)

On the behalf of our staff, Apus Peru would like to thank the generous couple who provided these extremely useful headlamps.

Regarding the treatment of porters in the travel industry: in the past, some disreputable companies have been called out for their poor treatment of porters, who often were required to carry very heavy loads and were given inadequate clothing and little food during the trek.

At Apus Peru, we care deeply about the welfare of  our porters, guides, and cooks. Many porters are farmers with large families to support. The income they earn from carrying loads during treks significantly improves their quality of life and that of their families. We hire our porters from the  same remote villages where we have our weaving projects.

In addition:

  • We pay annual personal accident insurance for our porters.
  • We ensure that porters have adequate clothing and shelter for work on the Inca Trail.
  • We abide by the Porter’s Law and send the correct amount of porters for the weights/ amount of clients in the group.

For  further information about our philosophy regarding treatment of porters, please see this link:

http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/porter-welfare.html

 

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Mauro, our cook, receives his headlamp.

Our respect for Andes cultures and communities is a great reason to consider booking your Peru trek with Apus Peru!

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Machu Picchu with Kids

The clouds dramatically drifted apart, opening the sky to reveal the famous lost city of Machu Picchu. Filled with the wonder of this perfect moment I turned to my 5-year-old daughter, with an expectant smile on my face. “So, this is Machu Picchu, what do you think?”

She frowned: “Where are the Incas? There are no Incas!” More petulance. “ I thought that there would be people dressed up as Incas.”

Yes, the reality of travelling with kids is usually different than we imagine. Wonderfully fulfilling- but not even remotely the same as if you were travelling solo.

These are my top tips for traveling to Machu Picchu with kids.

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Amazing view of Machu Picchu with Master L and Miss M-

  1. The steps are BIG for a 5 year old.

After an hour of climbing these gargantuan steps, our Miss M was exceptionally tired. To be honest, I also was fairly tired carrying around 22-month-old Master L, who weighed in at 15 kg and was becoming increasingly frustrated by the constant stream of people looking at him, the many stone walls, and the painstaking slowness of the climb. (Normally if he gets frustrated in the backpack I can divert him by jumping, playing and moving… but this is not feasible on the stone staircase at Machu Picchu.)

  1. Plan your visit.

Get a map or plan your day, preferably with a guide that knows the site. We divided our visit into a couple of different sections (with breaks in between) and this made it much easier on the kids and on us.

  1. The grazing Camelids are cool!

They were the most exciting thing at Machu Picchu for the kids, who really enjoyed them. Don’t be like some of those less savvy visitors, though, poking a range of different foods and snacks at the llamas while trying to get selfies. They’re not supposed to eat Cheetos, for God’s sake!

 

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Grazing Camelids at Machu Picchu

  1. Find a grassy area to rest.

There are a few grassy areas to run and play – but you have to look for them. We found that there were a number of grassy areas roped off, and more that had steep precipice falls on one side (not good for a 22-month-old eager to explore). Finally we found a safe place, had some snacks, and soaked up the atmosphere… it was in a less visited section of the ruins, which made it a pleasant break.

  1. Get a good lunch, rest, and then return to the ruins.

We lunched at the Tinkuy Buffet restaurant. While it wasn’t cheap, it provided another great break for the kids (e.g.; not looking at ruins) and offered a fantastic range of food and drinks. We really enjoyed this meal, there was so much variety. Also, the restaurant has bathrooms, a vital piece of info for families traveling with children: there are no rest rooms inside Machu Picchu, which can be inconvenient when you have small kids. After this break, we returned to the closer sector of the ruins, and were able to enjoy another hour at Machu Picchu.

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Hiking the Trail at Machu Picchu

  1. Be Realistic.

Don’t set your expectations too high, as far as how much history you’ll be able to soak up with the kids. With a 5-year-old and 22-month-old, we enjoyed the ruins and the experience but truly didn’t get lots of the history. If this is important to you, consider taking turns caring for the kids with your partner! 

  1. We loved the train trip!

The Train Trip to and from Machu Picchu was the highlight for the kiddos. They both loved it, especially when a kind man gave up the front seats on the Vistadome carriage and we got amazing views of the tracks. Miss M was transfixed by the sight of the rails and mountains, and we all loved the journey. It was an awesome experience.

 

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Transfixed by the Train Ride to Machu Picchu on the Vistadome

  1. Consider a kid friendly splurge.

We stayed at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – not only is this easily the most atmospheric hotel in all of Aguas Calientes but it has a kids’ program, and a small heated pool.   The kids’ program is targeted to youngsters a little older than Miss M (5 years old) but includes a variety of activities, some of which she could participate in. They also provide an eco-guide (nanny) service and we noticed that more than one family left their children in the care of the eco-guide doing activities around the hotel while the parents went to Machu Picchu for a second day, thus getting the best of both worlds: time as a family AND time as a couple.

Now that’s what I call smart.

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The Glorious Machu Picchu, toddler in tow.

We will be delighted to help you plan your trip to Machu Picchu with little ones. Visit us at www.apus-peru.com or contact us by email at reservas@apus-peru.com.

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.🙂

 

Giving Back to Andean Communities: Apus Peru Student Sponsorship

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Fernando Echame Melo

Apus Peru  strives to be the kind of company that takes our responsibilities to the communities of Peru seriously. We feel that it is equally important that our hosts, whose home this is, benefit from our presence on their “turf,” as that visitors enjoy their time in this unique and vibrant country!

We believe in a tourism that’s both beneficial to local communities and enjoyable for visitors. With this in mind, Apus is involved in several projects that benefit communities in Peru. One of our proudest is our collaboration with Mosqoy, a Canadian- Peruvian non-profit that “supports the educational and cultural rights of indigenous communities in Southern Peru.”  Apus has currently committed to sponsoring the education of an enterprising young man from the Quechua-speaking weaving community of Huilloc in the Andean highlands in the Cusco region. His name is Fernando Echame Melo.

Fernando himself took the initiative to contact Mosqoy several years ago about help with his future. He was orphaned at a young age and attended a school that Mosqoy did not normally work with. When he heard through a cousin that was already working with Mosqoy about a chance to receive an educational scholarship, Fernando made the arrangements to participate in the selection process and traveled many hours to attend the testing. When his efforts proved successful, Apus Peru happily came on board to sponsor Fernando, who is currently in his fifth semester at the Khipu Institute, studying tourism.

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Fernando with his cousin, Raul

Fernando’s hopes for the future include teaching the villagers of Huilloc Spanish, so that tourism will be a viable economic option for his community. He also hopes to bring tourists to his community to teach them about the centuries-old weaving tradition the village centers around.

Fernando is learning all about his beautiful country’s history, landmarks, and flora and fauna as part of his tourism education. Here he is crossing Keshwa Chaca, which is the last example of an authentic Incan woven bridge. Once widespread, these woven grass bridges spanned steep canyons and river rapids. Keshwa Chaca overhangs the Apurimac River in Southern Peru.

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Fernando on the Keshwa Chaca rope bridge in Apurimac, Peru

Fernando recently wrote a letter of appreciation to Apus Peru for our help. His youth and enthusiasm shine through as he thanks us and wishes blessings on us for his sponsorship. It’s both poignant and highly gratifying to read his earnest words of gratitude. We are proud and honored to be able to be of assistance to this worthy young man, and we hope to continue helping Andean youth in the future.

Here is an excerpt from Fernando’s letter to Apus Peru:

“The reason for this little note is to thank you for helping me in my college studies and to let you know that all of my childhood dreams are slowly becoming reality, thanks to you. I will always remember you for your unconditional assistance.”

Fernando letter

Fernando 2

Finally, Cara Catanoff of Mosqoy has this to say about Apu’s sponsorship of Fernando:

“I wanted to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude for your support of Fernando and the Andean Youth Program. Donors like you keep our programs thriving, and we cannot thank you enough. I think it is particularly special that Apus is based right out of Cusco and is supporting a local tourism student. Amazing! ” 

To learn more about Apus Peru’s projects and offerings for sustainable tourism, visit us at the following links.

http://www.apus-peru.com/responsible-travel/community_projects.htm

http://www.apus-peru.com/tours/special_interest.html

 

The Two-Day Inca Trail Family Hike

Maria, Jesus, and their teenage daughters, Itzia and Maria, are about to start a new adventure in Cusco: a trek along the 2-day Inca trail. With their guide, José, this family from Spain is all geared up to experience the amazing natural beauty  and explore the ancient Inca ruins along this route.

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Ready to Start the Trek!

As we descend from Cusco to Km 104, passing through the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, the scenery changes dramatically. Jesus and Maria mention that it feels as if they are in the jungle. Actually, as we get off the train at Km 104 and cross the suspension bridge above the Urubamba River, we find ourselves hiking in the middle of the dense cloud forest with its many different hues of green.

My skin senses the warm air and the humidity. With every breath I take, comes the fresh smell of dew. That fragrance and the roar of the river accompany us for most of the day as we hike the opposite hill. Our guide emphasizes that the scenery here is green all year round.

In addition to the green color of the forest, we admire yellow, red, and pink orchids as well as white, brown, yellow, and black butterflies.

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The Wiñay Wayna Orchid, (Epidendrum Secundum) is  often found along the Inca Trail.

We hike past Chachabamba, an administrative post located near the starting point very close to the river. We can also see, at a distance, the sites of Choquesuysuy, also by the river, and Intipata, perched upon a hill, as we approach Wiñay Wayna.

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The Chachabamba Ruins

After passing through a few streams and a couple of waterfalls, we reach one of the most impressive Inca archaeological sites known as Wiñay Wayna, (Forever Young), named for the orchid of the same name that can be found in this area. Wiñay Wayna features a ceremonial section with a double door and a room with 7 windows, as well as several finely carved water fountains.

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The ruins of Wiñay Wayna

José says that he was lucky enough to see a spectacled bear as well as a puma and a wolf during his previous treks towards Machu Picchu.

Suddenly, the family and the guide spot a bright greenish blue object on the branch of a tree. It’s a type of jungle bird known as a quetzal. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of quetzals playing cheerfully in the tree.

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The family spots a Quetzal in a nearby tree.

A few minutes later, a hummingbird flies above us. We are excited about these encounters, but we are still anxious to find the most famous endemic bird of this area, the Gallito de las Rocas, or Cock of the Rock, Peru’s national bird. It is sometimes spotted in this excellent bird watching region.

We pass Wiñay Wayna, and after a couple of hours we reach a steep section of stairs: the last stretch before reaching the Sun Gate or Inti Punku, from which we attain our first spectacular view of Machu Picchu, the most important and magnificent archaeological site of the Americas.

We walk down the ancient Inca trail listening to José’s explanations about the two huacas or temples we pass on the way down to the archaeological site itself. We are tired but very happy because we have completed this challenge and we are excited to explore Machu Picchu more thoroughly first thing tomorrow morning.

Maria and her daughters admit they were a little bit concerned about the hike at first, but now realize that it was not as difficult as they had feared. They add that the experience surpassed all of their expectations.

Maria exults, “I will definitely recommend this trek.”

10the family at Intipuncu and Machu Picchu at the back

Both tired and happy, the family enjoys their accomplishment!

For more information about this trek, see: Apus Peru Two-Day Inca Trail Trek