After three overnight flights and an early morning cab ride we arrived in the beautiful city of Cusco, the one time capital of the Inca Empire. Walking the streets one can see the indigenous Quechua culture represented alongside Spanish colonial buildings erected on Inca walls all with a bustling tourist life flourishing in the midst.
We headed directly to Green Point Restaurant an all vegan restaurant with a menu aimed to please any palate Given our jet lag and confused stomachs we were not sure what to order but settled on gluten free waffles, creole soup, bruscetta and tea. We sat upstairs in the bright green and sunny rooftop dining area and enjoyed overhearing the conversations of excited backpackers at nearby tables while we waited for our food. After a few cups of Muna (Peruvian mint) tea we started to revive and it helped that the creole soup and bruscetta were so flavorful and nourishing. At Green Point they showcase just how exciting, delicious and healthy vegan food can be while bringing more peace and compassion to the world we live in. After a wonderful welcome from Green Point we knew that this trip to Peru was going to be extraordinary.
Next we headed to the markets and where awed by the abundance of beautiful fresh produce, flowers, breads and grains. It was here that I first learned that there are more that 2800 varieties of potatoes known to have originated in Peru. The Quechua people place such a high value on their cultural traditions and biological diversity and as a result all these varieties still exist. Farmers living in high altitudes where potatoes are cultivated trade them for crops grown in lower altitudes such as quinoa and corn.
We wandered through the rows of vendors making fresh juices and calling out for our business and then moved on to the see the rows of vendors making fresh soup in small little kitchen stands. We saw endless selections of beans and grains and so many vegetables I did not recognize at all.
After a couple of hours in the city it was time to head to the beautiful Sacred Valley and join our yoga retreat at Sacha Munay. We were treated with spectacular scenery all through the valley which was emphasized by dramatic changing weather patterns. The mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley are rugged, dry and rocky and the valley is emerald green, lush and full of springtime growth........the contrast is magical.
We were welcomed at Sacha Munay with a delicious lunch of fresh picked salad, vegetables, warm soup and chunks of sweet watermelon, mango and papaya. Our bodies had adjusted from our travels and were now ready for a week of yoga and exploration workshops led by the impressive Explorations of Self team (Alana Roach, Caileigh Feldman and Brian Anahatta Russo). Meals at Sacha Munay were delicious and fresh and all made from local produce or picked from the beautiful vegetable garden on site.
Our week at the retreat was life changing.........the daily yoga sessions were wonderful but just being in the Sacred Valley connected us closer to the earth and filled us with gratitude . We had so many valuable experiences but two that really taught us so much about the culture and the importance of food and food production.
One was on a day trip high (14,800 ft) in the mountains above Pisac near lake Kimsaqucha where we were welcomed by a local villager into her kitchen for hot muna tea and a variety of potatoes that she had baked over coals. The potatoes are covered with chunks of dirt and clay to bake, this method of baking is called "watya". The potatoes were delicious and all so different from any we had ever eaten. In the countryside there are different types of potatoes for every sickness (they contain high levels of antioxidants). Our hosts adorable daughter kept us entertained by showing us how she cared for her precious teddy bear. It was so special to be in this warm and happy kitchen eating such fresh and local potatoes while the rain fell hard outside.
The other experience we treasured was a a service day we did at a local elementary school. We were greeted in the school yard by excited, curious children eager to get to know us. Our assigned project was to help work in the school garden so after having a bit of fun in the five year olds Physical education class we went and met with the agronomist. Before getting to work we had an excellent hands on presentation on the gardening method the locals use to produce high yield organic produce. It turns out that sunshine and rain are important but the most important part is getting the soil right. The agronomist demonstrated how important it is to break up the hard packed soil and dig deep to loosen it up so that the roots can grow down low rather than spread wide and steal nutrients from plants close by. We were instructed to start on a bed just wide enough that we could reach the middle without ever stepping on the soil and compacting it. The ground was hard. rocky and compacted so it took a bit of muscle to get just a couple of rows ready for adding compost, biochar and a custom mix of minerals. After each application we had to mix it all in with the soil so that it was well distributed. With our soil all prepped and ready it was time to plant vegetables. We all got down and dirty and planted a variety of vegetables just as a soft rain started to fall which made the agronomist very happy. The whole time we were working in the garden the parents of the children were all busy preparing lunch for the children. Mothers and grandmothers were busy washing greens, chopping potatoes and getting Guinea Pigs ready for roasting over an open fire (yes GUINEA PIGS!!!). After our work in the garden we were offered a bowl of corn and potato soup which was hearty and good.
Our week in the Sacred Valley came to an end but now we were ready for our trip to Machu Picchu. We spent a day touring the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo and admired the terraces along the Inca trail green with corn, potatoes and quinoa.....my kind of food. The night before our day at Machu Picchu we stocked up on bananas, apples and nuts so we could board the bus at the crack of dawn. We were greeted with a glorious sunny morning and after a beautiful ceremony led by our guide we entered Machu Picchu and soaked in the energy of that wondrous ancient place. My husband and I had purchased tickets to climb Machu Picchu mountain so we left the group for a couple of hours to scamper up to the top of the mountain for views from 10,000ft. The hike up was steep but well worth it.....the views of endless mountains and beautiful cloudscapes. We hiked back down and toured the ruins before hiking all the way back down and into town for a well earned lunch in Aguas Calientes. My activity traker stated I had walked 23,727 steps and climbed 280 floors that day so needless to say I needed no help devouring an enormous green salad and a vegan pizza.
Our last day was spent back in Cusco soaking in all that we had experienced and all the lessons. After wondering through the markets and being tempted by the wonderful looking soups being made on the spot we decided not to risk getting travelers stomach given that we had three fights in the morning to reach home. Instead we headed to the second Green Point Patio location and shared their outstanding bruscetta, risotto and a warm salad. On our last evening we enjoyed pots of hot Muna tea at Cafe Loco with views out over the city. Our hearts were full of gratitude for a wonderful trip.
I am not sure what I was expecting from Peru but I was certainly overwhelmed by the rugged beauty of the land and the warmth and kindness of her people. Thank you.