On Day Three of our Lares Adventure, I woke up feeling much better and I was ready to get out and continue exploring. We started our morning with a stop in Calca to see the market. I always love going to grocery stores and markets when we travel – it’s one of my favorite ways to get a real glimpse of local living, and it’s interesting to compare the differences with what we’re used to at home. I spotted bags of fresh-cut vegetables prepped and ready for soups and stews and marveled at the fact that they were roughly five times cheaper in Calca than they are at home in the States! All of the produce was unbelievably fresh and beautiful.

After touring the various stalls at the market, we headed into the mountains. Our first hike of the day took us to the archeological site of Ankasmarka where we walked alongside the ruins of an ancient Incan granary and enjoyed beautiful views of the valley. We had the site and all of that fresh air completely to ourselves.

This was the perfect spot for a group photo!

Post-hike we split into two smaller groups – Chris and I, along with a few others, chose to dive deeper into Andean culture with a visit to Choquecancha, a small village on a steep mountainside in the Lares region. We took quite a long, bumpy, winding road (with the occasional obstacle) to arrive there.

The village is home to a very small community of people. We observed the Incan ruins that serve as the structural foundation for many of the homes, and we learned about the ancient Incan practices still in use today. As we walked through the village, our local guides pointed out various native plant species growing along the mountainside that serve medicinal purposes for ailments like headaches and digestion issues, for weight control, and even for oral contraceptives. I admit I kind of wanted to chew on the weight-loss plant for a minute to see what happens. Maybe I could have had six-pack abs as a souvenir!

Mountain Lodges of Peru arranged a fantastic lunch for us at a local family’s home, an experience that would have been hard to come by (probably impossible) if we had not joined this tour. We received a special blessing in Quechua as we entered, complete with flower petals sprinkled over our heads. The meal was simple, delicious, and nourishing, with locally harvested staples from the typical Andean diet. I did try a small bite of the guinea pig here – it wasn’t bad, but I don’t need to eat it again. The stuffed peppers were amazing though.

After lunch we had the opportunity to speak (via translation) with women from a weaving group in the village. Watching their handiwork in action, techniques that have been passed down through generation after generation, was mesmerizing. I grew up watching my grandmothers and mother turn simple fabrics into functional items like blankets, drapes, and clothing as a hobby. Sadly, I have not yet mastered their skills. Here in the Sacred Valley weaving is a way of life and tradition, and it even goes a step further in that they source and dye the fibers themselves. It’s truly an impressive process.

In the afternoon, we wound our way back down the mountain and up another one to land at our lodge for the next two nights. Huacahuasi Lodge sits perched on the mountainside at an elevation of 12,585 feet (3,835 meters) overlooking Huacahuasi village. This was the highest elevation we slept during the trek. If we had any issues with altitude we didn’t notice, perhaps because we were completely distracted by the outdoor Jacuzzi also overlooking the valley! While enjoying this gorgeous comfortable lodge and the soothing benefits of our Jacuzzi, I happily let go of any remaining guilt over not doing the Inca Trail and sleeping in tents. (But I do promise to try camping eventually.)

We woke up the next day with a hike and a cooking lesson on the schedule, and that post is up next!


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The morning of Day Two on the Lares Adventure I woke up abruptly around 2am with a stomachache and a sinking feeling of impending issues. Noooooooooooo. Sure enough, I spent the rest of the night into the dawn tending to some kind of stomach bug, most likely from not being careful enough with the water situation in Peru (I did rinse my toothbrush in the sink throughout the trip knowing it was a no-no). I self-medicated with all of the over-the-counter supplies in my luggage, hoping that things would clear up in time to leave with the group for the day’s activities, but no such luck. To be on the safe side and to promote healing before the remaining days on the trek, I decided to rest at the lodge for the day.

Chris immediately defaulted to staying back with me, but I begged him to continue with the trek and to come back with lots of stories and photos. I verbally nudged him out the door from my spot in our cozy bed, and off he went. Meanwhile, the wonderful staff of Lamay Lodge and MLP took great care of me, providing me with an electrolytes mixture to drink throughout the day, and the absolute most perfect homemade soup and toast for lunch. I passed the day by watching Netflix on my iPad, and I was so grateful for the incredibly comfortable place to convalesce.

The group returned that evening after a long, full day of visiting the local town, enjoying a traditional Pachamanca meal, and hiking to a beautiful archaeological site. I was completely gutted to miss this day, but super happy that Chris got to enjoy it! And because it’s just Chris that experienced Day Two, every single one of these photos in the rest of the post is his! So photo credits all go to Chris, and I’m going to do my best to re-tell his stories. He is not a blogger, and quickly passed when I offered him the option to write a guest post.

So, while the exact details are a little on the fuzzy side for Chris (I’m writing this a month after it happened, so I’ll cut him some slack!), they started the day with a visit to a botanical garden in Pisac, the Jardin Botanico Pisac, which also housed a collection of Peru’s native potatoes and insects. It’s okay with me that I missed the bug display portion of the day. Also of note: there are around 4000 different types of potatoes in the Andean region (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador)!

Also in Pisac, they visited the market for some shopping and to watch a baker at work. Chris bought his first Inca Cola (it tastes similar to cream soda) and brought back some Peruvian chocolate for me which I happily ate once I was feeling better. Based on Chris’s description and what I can tell from the photos, a weekday morning must have been a good time to go to this market because I’ve read from other sources that it’s quite bustling at times, especially on Sundays when additional vendors arrive to sell to the local communities.

After the market visit, they headed off towards the Andean village of Viacha where everyone watched a foot plow demonstration and the preparation of the traditional Pachamanca meal, which is cooked beneath the ground using hot stones.

Look at that view! I can’t imagine a more perfect picnic location. The meal consisted of lamb, chicken, guinea pig, plantains, vegetables, corn, and of course potatoes. The fact that the culinary team can prepare such a gorgeous meal using ancient techniques in this location blows my mind.

Satisfied from a very special lunch, the group continued with the scenic hike through the village and down the mountain. They came upon a quinoa farmer drying his crop in the sun on the hillside before eventually reaching the archaeological site of Pisac.

I love that this hike included such stunning views over the Inca Pisac ruins and agricultural terraces. These views of the citadel high up on the ridge give us an idea of the Incas’ incredible work ethic. To build this site manually, they had to maneuver all of those stones up against gravity without the use of machines or even vehicles since they did not use wheels. Impressive, right? We continued to see these kinds of examples throughout the week.

Aren’t Chris’s images beautiful? I’m really glad he went and enjoyed such a fun and fascinating day, and that he took these photos (and video – I’ll put those clips together soon) so I can feel like I didn’t completely miss out. Thankfully after a day of resting, my stomach was feeling much better and I was able to rejoin the group for Day Three, and that’s up next!



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After spending two nights in Lima and two nights in Cusco to acclimate, Chris and I were excited and ready to set off for the Sacred Valley and Lares Adventure with Mountain Lodges of Peru! The night before our adventure began, we met our awesome guide, Eddie, and seven other fellow trekkers for a briefing. At the meeting, we went through introductions (we ended up with a fantastic group of people!), discussed logistics and packing, and went over the process for selecting the cultural activities and hikes. Over the next several posts I’m going to blog about each day that Chris and I experienced on the seven-day trek, so let’s get started!

In the morning on Day One, the MLP van collected all of us at our respective hotels and then we hit the road leading out of Cusco. Our first cultural experience was a visit to a small village where we were treated to an in-depth weaving demonstration with information about the use of alpaca wool and the natural dyeing process. It was fascinating to see how they are able to get such vivid colors found in nature from plants, flowers, fruits, and minerals. One of the ladies even showed us how to get a bright red by smashing a beetle right in the palm of her hand (eek).

And this was our first real opportunity to get up close to some alpacas since a few were penned up nearby. (Note: We ended up seeing hundreds of them all over the Sacred Valley throughout the seven days.) Look at those lashes and fuzzy noses! Their wool is considered to be a very high quality material in the Andean region for its softness and durability.

After the weaving demonstration we moved on to the archaeological site of Chinchero to continue learning about Andean life and to begin our foray into the history of the ancient Incan Empire.

And this was where we started to realize what a treasure Eddie was – his guided tours were incredibly informative, funny, and passionate. I don’t think there was a single question about Peru to which he didn’t know the answer. He also asked all of us questions about our own home countries during our time together, and we could tell how much he genuinely cared about constantly learning and soaking up all kinds of world history, culture, and general information. Our assistant guide, Admil, was also so knowledgeable, sweet, and fun. We hit the guide jackpot for sure!

At the archaeological site we visited a beautiful seventeenth century colonial church (no photos allowed inside) that was built right on top of an Incan structure. The walls built by Incas are easily recognizable by their technique of precision-fitted cuts and slight inward tilt, theorized to prevent earthquake damage. So smart!

Eddie also introduced us to the ancient technique of dehydrating potatoes which is done out in a sunny field like the one shown below. Once dehydrated, the potatoes can last for years to be used in soups and stews.

After the guided tour of Chinchero, our group split up into two smaller groups for two different hikes. Half of the group set off on foot to hike down from Chinchero. Chris and I boarded the bus for the hike that would include a visit to the Moray archaeological site and then the Maras salt ponds. The salt ponds were one of the main reasons we selected the seven-day Lares Adventure vs. the five-day itinerary, so obviously we couldn’t pass that up!

We passed through more villages along our route, and all the while my face was pressed up against the bus window soaking up details of the fascinating Andean lifestyle.

At Moray we discovered stunning visual evidence of Incan agricultural experiments, which totally blew my mind. They went to so much trouble building this intricate terraced site to experiment with farming techniques, and I find it challenging just to keep a houseplant alive. I would have made a terrible Inca.

We ate lunch in the town of Maras before arriving at the salt ponds for one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done. Our walk began at the visitor center and continued along the edges of the salt ponds. The terraced formation and salt mining process dates back to pre-Incan times, and we learned about the tasks that are still performed today using that same pre-Incan structure.

As we walked along the narrow salty ridges deep into the mines, the tourist crowd (well, other tourists that is) thinned out and the site became more peaceful as we were left with only our small group guided by Eddie. He explained that the salty water source (which we tasted!) comes from a subterranean stream which pours over the terraces, filling the ponds. As the sun shines down along the cliffs, the water evaporates and the salt remains. We observed families working in their ponds harvesting the salt crystals. Mmm, salty.

The hike continued along the entire length of the salt mines and then a few miles down a dusty trail into the valley along the Urubamba river.

Our Maras visit was my favorite part of the day and one of my most favorite hikes ever. I had never seen anything like it! It helped that we were gifted with absolutely gorgeous weather, too.

Both groups met back up in the evening at the incredible Lamay Lodge where we ooh’ed and ahh’ed over our accommodations (complete with resident llama), enjoyed the hot tub, ate dinner, and attended our next briefing.

I wish I had taken the time to photograph our lovely meal prepared by the brilliant chefs at the lodge, but we were ravenous after our big day (despite eating nearly that entire mini fruit basket as a snack) and I didn’t pause for even one snap.

So that’s it for Day One! Next up, a visit to the community of Viacha and the archaeological site of Pisaq on Day Two.

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I originally thought about calling this post something along the lines of, “Sweating My Face Off in a Sunflower Field.” It is indeed a hot and sweaty excursion since the flowers are only in bloom for a couple of weeks during the warmest part of the year, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re in the area and need a nature fix and/or a cheerful pick-me-up. The golden fields of McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area are located in Maryland about an hour drive from D.C., tucked into a quiet stretch of farmland countryside.

There are a few maps online to make your sunflower search easier, and I found the one on the McKee-Beshers website (shown below) to be accurate and helpful. The area shows up on Google Maps or you can follow the directions posted on the website. Once you’re close to the location you just drive along River Road until you see the signs for McKee-Beshers (there are a few), and then you can either park along the road or in the small lots if you arrive early/late enough. If you go on the weekend during peak bloom, expect crowds and slim pickings for parking.

I ended up going to the fields twice this year. The first visit, Chris and I went in the evening around 5pm to the field directly off of River Road (red arrow on the right below), and the second time I went in the morning to a field further into the park (red arrow on the left below).

I had read something online that said sunflowers will rotate throughout the day to face the sun, so I figured it wouldn’t matter what time we arrived as long as the light was nice. Only when we got to the first field, we found the flowers all facing away from the sun! The light was still a little harsh and it was incredibly hot, so we just took a few backlit images, several close-ups, and photos of the backs of the flowers and called it a day.

I love these next two gorgeous images, captured by Chris.

I went back to the park by myself another time to see if I could also get some photos of the flowers facing the sun. I parked in the small lot along Hunting Quarter Road and followed the trail. I reached a huge field after about one half-mile where the flowers were a little smaller in diameter than they were in the first field, but some were taller than I am!

As of July 30th, I think the fields are just a little past peak, but there are still a few that look like they’ll open up soon. I love photographing the flowers in their various stages. I also got to see a goldfinch land on a stem for a few seconds before flitting off to another spot.

The whole park is beautiful and you’ll find other flora in the area as well…

…but mainly you should go for the sunflowers!

Know Before You Go:

  • PRICE: There is no entrance fee and parking is free.
  • TIMING: From a photography perspective and for fewer crowds, I recommend visiting during the hours around sunrise and sunset. I personally would also like to go back on a cloudy day to do some close-ups with the soft, diffused light. There are multiple fields and they are spread out over 30 acres, so if you want to spend time in more than one field, plan to be there for a couple of hours.
  • CLOTHING: If you can stand it, wear long pants! There are paths in among the sunflower stalks where you can walk, but you’ll still end up brushing against the stems and tall grasses, so be aware of the potential for ticks, etc. (I wore jeans so that I could also avoid scratches, but it’s a trade-off since it’s so hot.) I also recommend hiking shoes or boots if you want to go deeper into the fields.
  • SAFETY: Wear a good bug spray. Bring water so you can stay hydrated in the summer sun.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY: We didn’t see any rules or guidance regarding photography equipment and we did see photographers there with tripods, reflectors, etc., so I think it’s safe to assume these pieces of gear are currently allowed. And I don’t know if the flowers ever rotate to face the sun or not, but all of the ones we encountered were facing to the east.


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As per the advice recommended by so many sources, Chris and I spent two nights in Cusco before setting off on our Sacred Valley journey with Mountain Lodges of Peru. We also spent two additional nights in the Inca Empire capital post-trekking so that we could rest up before returning to Lima.

During the trip planning process I thought about trying to get to Lake Titicaca or maybe even the Amazon, but I went with my gut which told me that we’d be tired after the trek and in need of some down time. I was right. And it turns out we needed the buffer on the way back for trip delays due to protests in the area, but more on that in a minute.

We took a short flight on LATAM Airlines from Lima to Cusco and arrived to rumblings of the teachers’ strike activity affecting transportation. Sure enough, our taxi that we had booked in advance couldn’t reach the inside of the airport to pick us up. It wasn’t a huge deal – we just met the driver outside of the small airport and walked a few blocks to his parked car.

After getting settled into our fantastic hotel (I’ll write more about it in a future post), we headed out on foot to explore the city’s quaint cobblestone streets. Cusco is simple to navigate and most everything is accessible by walking. The altitude took my breath away a little at the airport upon arrival, but after a few hours I didn’t notice our 11,500 feet above sea level-ness. Chris had very minor headaches every once in a while, but thankfully neither of us had true troubles with the altitude.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the middle of Plaza de Armas. We returned to this spot several times throughout our stay since it’s the heart of the city and thus the perfect place for people-watching and the launch pad for many of the city’s attractions. We sat on a park bench in the plaza and thought about the Incas and their time there so many centuries ago. (We also took a very post-Incan selfie in that spot.)

Craving a good view of the plaza, we paid a small fee to go inside the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and we headed up to the lower level of the bell tower. Even if it wasn’t my favorite bird’s-eye view ever, it was an easy climb and you can get a better look at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin (a.k.a., Cusco Cathedral). Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed elsewhere inside of the church, but it’s an incredibly ornate interior with tons of gold and beautiful artwork, so I recommend the experience even sans camera.

Speaking of places that don’t allow photos, we also spent some time at the Museo Inka to brush up on our history before heading off to the Sacred Valley. The museum houses an impressive collection of Inca and pre-Inca artifacts including tools, textiles, jewelry, pottery, and ceremonial wooden drinking vessels. There is also a big model of the Machu Picchu citadel.

Of course, with all of the shops and markets lining the streets of Cusco, we couldn’t help but search for Peruvian souvenirs. I ended up with this Andean-style hat known as a chullo, as well as a crazy-soft throw for the house. Both were purchased at one of the stores specializing in alpaca wool. I also scored a pan flute as a nod to my musician days long ago. Back in our hotel room, I worked out a rudimentary rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

While we did listen to the advice to acclimate over the course of two nights in Cusco, we ignored the advice to eat light and avoid alcohol. Oops. We ate and drank quite a bit in Cusco, though perhaps slightly more cautiously on our first two nights as opposed to our second time passing through. While we ate mostly Peruvian cuisine during our time in Peru, we ended up celebrating July 4th over burgers with American cheese at Papacho’s. And for dessert we checked off my wish-list item to try alfajor cookies with a Papacho’s alfajor sundae. YUM.

One of the things we loved about our hotel was their happy hour nights with pisco sours and a Peruvian treat similar to a donut called picarones. I don’t think I’ve ever found a fried dough I didn’t love, and these were no exception.

We also found various Peruvian beers to sample at Qosco Beer House, which was a fun spot to sit on the deck outside and listen to a live local band. Chris’s favorite beer on the whole trip, though, ended up being at La Bodega 138, a cute pizza joint around the corner from the main plaza. It was our first time trying a beer made with quinoa!

Our second time coming through Cusco ended up being a little more dramatic than the first. Throughout the week we were in the Sacred Valley, the protests had escalated quite a bit and the transportation issues had become major. Roads in and out of Cusco were blocked with large boulders, parked cars, and an occasional fire. The policia were out in full force with riot gear should the crowds become violent, but Chris and I only witnessed peaceful marches (and the boulders in the road) despite news that protesters had resorted to violence in other areas.

The plaza and surrounding streets filled with protesters supporting varying causes. Our understanding is that the original teachers’ strike was still ongoing at this point, but that they were also joined by citizens upset over the planned Chinchero airport.

No worries though. This security llama was on the job. By the time we returned to the Plaza de Armas in the evening, all was calm and the crowd had dissipated.

We did have to take an extra early taxi to the airport the morning of our 11:45am return flight to Lima to ensure that we could get around any road blocks. Based on social media reports, it sounds like if we had waited to go to the airport later that day, we would have been trapped in Cusco! Leaving before sunrise did the trick since the protesters weren’t active yet and we made our way back to Lima. Good citizens were out moving the boulders in the road and our taxi just had to maneuver around a few remaining obstacles.

Sadly, we didn’t make our way up to Sacsaywaman or over to the Coricancha as originally planned. We had saved a couple of sites for our second visit coming back through after the trek, but by the time we were back in Cusco we were exhausted. The protest-related delays getting us out of Aguas Calientes put us back at our hotel shortly before Midnight and we ended up taking the following day to rest and repack, thus we skipped any legit sightseeing during our last moments in Cusco. But I’m happy to have a good reason to return!

Up next: the whole reason for our trip – our adventure with Mountain Lodges of Peru!

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