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PERU: 5 Amazing Sites in the Sacred Valley

PERU: 5 Amazing Sites in the Sacred Valley

Machu Picchu is spectacular—more stunning than any poster, more alive than any ruin—and the highlight of The Sacred Valley. The drive from Cusco educates travelers about the incredible Incas and their sophisticated history, architecture, science and engineering. Hard to believe they only ruled 100 years.

1. Moray: How do you grow crops in high altitude?

Circular terraces reveal the Incan talent for farming and experimentation. Perfect drainage and scientific savvy have developed 3,800 types of potatoes and 1,500 types of corn.

Crop circles

Each terrace is a micro climate; temperatures vary 60 degrees from top to bottom

potatoes



2. Maras: How do you find salt at high altitude?

In salt evaporation ponds.

Salt evaporation pondsToday families tend up to 40 plots and earn about $10 per plot per month. Too bad the warehouse is way up where I am shooting this photo. We saw both men and women carrying these bags—one at a time.

salt bag warehouse

3. The Incan Fortress at Ollantaytambo: How do you protect yourself from the Conquistadores?

Climb to the top and flood the valley below.

Steps leading up to the fort

 

Guard House

 

carving of the creator god

Viracocha, The Creator God

Some advice: If your 21st-century knees aren’t at 100 percent, save them for Machu Picchu.

4. Machu Picchu: Why didn’t our schools teach Incan culture?

Guess you had to be at Yale and sign up for a class with Professor and explorer Hiram Bingham, the inspiration for Indiana Jones. Bingham re-discovered Machu Picchu during his 1911 quest to find the last capital of the Incas before the Conquistadores overran them in the 1500s.

After several days acclimating to the altitude, you’re ready for Machu Picchu, reached by the Inca Trail (3-5 days) or by train from Ollantaytambo and then a bus. Either route offers great views.

Ollantayambo River

Ollantayambo River

Translated, Machu Picchu means old or ancient peak. Before you set foot on sacred ground, your guide will shame you into pronouncing it correctly: machu, like it looks, and pik-chu, a pronunciation new to most tourists.

Climb the ruins and discover a royal city, important for spirituality and agriculture. Discover the secret to why Incan structures survive major earthquakes, while the Conquistadores’ “high-tech” European cathedrals crumbled at the first seismic jolt.

Note the intricate terracing to manage water run-off.

Machu Picchu from above

Some advice: Note the lack of handrails while you are looking around.

Steep steps, no handrails.

Then observe the earthquake-proof buildings with trapezoid-shaped doors and windows, walls of interlocking blocks that slant in, and uneven rock shapes that create stability.

buildings at Machu Picchu

trapezoid doorsTherein lies the magic of Machu Picchu (did you pronounce that right?). It is preserved like Ephesus in Turkey so you can still get a good feel for the life and times.

The Temple of the Sun, the most spiritual site, still stands near the king’s residence, and the June solstice sun still shines through a trapezoid window to illuminate the altar rock.

Temple of the sun

The first of those royal residents, Emperor Pachacuti (or Pachacutec), transformed the Cusco region into the Incan Empire and initiated the building of Machu Picchu as a summer residence. Excavations have unearthed elongated skulls, which lead archaeologists to believe that royal family members had cranial alterations as a sign of superiority.

We spent five hours among the ruins and on the way out met these cuties:

Chinchilla

chinchilla

llama

llama (ya-ma)

5. Cusco: Where do you need more than 1 day?

In this Incan capital at the classy Palacio del Inca Hotel.

Palacio del Inca hotel lobby

Meet a friendly Pachacuti at the front door.

Man dressed as Pachacuti

The hotel is not far from, what Conde Nast calls, “the most charming plaza in South America.”

Cusco town square

Cusco town square by day

Town square at night

The square by night

My only regret: I needed more than 36 hours to explore Cusco, enjoy the fun restaurants, where you’ll learn the Pachacuti song, and shop for alpaca products.

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Next blog: Spiritual Peru

PERU, The Land of Surprises

PERU, The Land of Surprises

I have just returned from Peru, a country with a surprise around every bend. I’ll tell you about Machu Picchu later. First, let’s check out Lima, where you will land. It’s a foodie paradise, where world-class restaurants introduce diners to the superfoods of the Amazon rainforest. Book months ahead.

Maido (See #1, Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants)

On our first night in Peru, we went to Maido in Mira Flores. Maido is Japanese for welcome. It’s a quaint little place, open to the kitchen with a lovely staff.

photo of the Maido restaurant

Fusion is my favorite cuisine. Here, the chefs blend Japanese and Peruvian delicacies into an 11-course tasting menu. Only the men in our group ordered the two-hour tasting. Though it offers small bites, it is still a lot of food.

The house specialty is an incredible Beef Short Rib, cooked 50 hours, served with potato cream and cushuro (blue-green alga), but first you must try their Pisco cocktails mixed with various juices.

Pisco Cocktail

 

Each beautifully-presented course is a taste-bud surprise, like this appetizer of tomatoes in mirin, roasted banana, sachatomate emulsion.

3 appetizers

 

Or this cauliflower cream with torikara sauce.small cream entee

I don’t have enough science to know all the ingredients, but everything tasted fresh and healthy.

My single course was this beautiful, unforgettable ceviche.

 

Dessert was to-die-for. First came the Theobroma Cacao: a black sugar volcano holding mandarin sorbet, mucilage foam (from flaxseeds, chia seeds or kelp), cacao nibs, and ice cream made from lucuma, a sweet, Peruvian superfruit, known as the Gold of the Incas.)

black sugar volcano ice cream dessert

 

We finished with Theodroma Bicolor: featuring ice cream from macambo (a chocolate-like superfood), camu camu (antioxidant superberries), goldenberry, and mucilage.

chocolate-like desset

 

Museo Larco

Enter the museum property and descend into a garden that flows into a restaurant with excellent food. I had ravioli followed by Mousse de Lucuma.

Golden Lucuma mousse

 

Then tour the museum and learn pre-Incan history through its 42,000 pieces of pottery.

Pre-Incan Pottery

 

Pottery showing evidence of small pox

small pox

Pre-Incan jewelry

Pre-Incan jewelry

 

Astrid & Gastón (See “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”)

Gastón Acurio is “the architect of the Peruvian culinary movement” and serves dinner in this 300-year-old San Isidro hacienda.

Astrid & Gaston Hacienda

Balcony seating

Balcony seating

sunken bar area

Sunken bar area

Astrid & Gastón offers a 14-course tasting menu. The food again was delicious, but too much.

I was enthusiastic at the appetizer named “The Indecent Bed, The Forbidden Love,” fish empanada, stuffed blue potato with lamb, sea urchin toast.

appetizer

Bread Basket with 5 types of bread

Five types of bread

To pace myself, I skipped the Cuy (guinea pig), which everyone else loved.

plate of guinea pig

I slowed down at the rabbit in Lima curry and quinua jasmine. And bailed at the beef tongue skewer, but made a comeback for the three desserts.

ice cream cones of corn sorbet

Chicherito: Fermented corn beer sorbet, coca, quinoa and tamarillo (a kiwi-like superfruit).

 

chocolate mousse nuggas

El Cajacho: Cajamarca chocolate mousse, nougat, cacao nibs, yuzu and lemon. The platter, a study in Peruvian expressions, belongs in the Museo Larco.

Elsewhere in Peru, I loved the quinoa, prepared in every which way: salads, soup, porridge, main course side, and more.

When we picked up our tour, the guide taught us a very handy word: yapa, which means “More please.”

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Thanks to Jeff Hart for donating restaurant and bread basket photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manzanar: Let It Not Happen Again

Manzanar: Let It Not Happen Again

In 2012, I visited Auschwitz. One heart-wrenching day was enough to quell my curiosity about internment camps forever. Then last week, my husband insisted on seeing The War Relocation Center at Manzanar in central California, near Death Valley. It is now part of our wonderful, educational National Park Service.

Manzanar sign: Relocation Camp

 

In this one-square-mile internment camp, the American officers were less physically cruel than the Nazis in Poland, but the gross unfairness should disturb everyone. Many Japanese were American citizens (Nissei). Some were Japan-born (Issei). But for all, as Ronald Reagan said, “It was an action taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race…”

Today, we must still heed the message of Manzanar, stated in the Visitor Center video:

 “When we violate the Constitution, we [as a country] start to unravel.”

Originally, FDR thought internment was unconstitutional, but in 1942, his sentiments lost out to a propaganda war pushing known falsehoods. Imagine, Americans willing to believe what they know is a lie.

Guard tower

 

Rounded up without warning, Japanese families from all over the West coast left almost everything behind. Worse yet, the government sold their property to pay for the internment. To further finance their own internment, Japanese residents farmed to grow their own food.

Manzanar’s location in a mountain valley brings brutal weather, sweltering heat in the summer, blistering cold in the winter and unrelenting winds all year (a march wind blows in the photo below), with everything constantly covered in dust.

Quonset Hut

This Visitor Center was the Quonset Hut where dances and gatherings were held.

 

The Japanese first lived in 504 crowded barracks with tar paper insulation. Don’t know how they survived.

Japanese barracks

tar paper insulation

Inside walls

No insulation inside this bathroom

 

Eventually, they obtained furnaces and sheetrock.

Added furance

 

For a modest, humble people, the lack of privacy was humiliating. One woman said her mother waited until the middle of the night to go to the communal shower room.

Women's Latrine

In Auschwitz, the toilet was one long trough. Prisoners straddled it while the guards said, “One, two, three, pee pee.” After thirty seconds, guards called, “Next.” Here are the toilets in Manzanar. Not a trough, but would you be comfortable with this situation?

 

women's toilets

 

 

Through all the hardship, the Japanese spirit survived, and to my surprise, so many internees remained patient and patriotic. Some men even joined the U.S. Military.

What I most wanted to see was any sign of the triumph of the human spirit. If you saw Life Is Beautiful, you remember the music. So at Manzanar, I searched for art and beauty.

The Japanese men became skilled carpenters and crafted beautiful furniture from fruit crates.

dresser made from fruit crates

Server made from a fruit crate

I saw videos of women in lovely Japanese gardens, but when I searched the landscape, this is what I found.

water pump

 

After the war, the U.S. Government razed the structures to sell the wood, and they also buried the Japanese gardens, which made my heart sad.

The American spirit also revived. In 1988 Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing restitution for “this grave mistake.” Monuments have been erected as reminders, like the Nidoto Nai Yoni Memorial on Bainbridge Island. Here, on the memorial wall, you will find an ugly history among art, nature, and beauty. You will also find a translation: “Let it not happen again.” To appreciate this beauty, follow this link.

 

 

FEET FORWARD!

“The sacred Ganges River taught me to raft.”

“In that polluted brown stew?” the doubters laugh.

“No, fellow travelers, have no fear.

Above the cremation ghats, it’s mineral-water clear.

But maybe you’ll be bumped out of your boat, Land in a stream, and struggle to float.”

“Feet Forward!” the raft guide will tell you to go.

“Orient yourself! Move with the flow!”

I heeded his words, not thinking twice.

And wherever I travel, I take his advice.

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