We’re excited to hear again from Chris Harter of AdventureSmith Explorations. Chris is a 7-year North Lake Tahoe resident who has one of the best jobs around! Here he recaps a product development trip to Peru, where he scoped out potential activities and sites for AdventureSmith’s tours.
WHO: Chris Harter of AdventureSmith Explorations, along with some incredible guides
WHAT: A 2-week product development tour through some of Peru’s must-see destinations with hiking, paddling, and some serious cultural immersion
WHERE: Lima, Amazon Basin, Cusco, Urubamba Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca
WHEN: June 2010
WHY IT WAS SO EPIC:
With locations as diverse as the glaciated peaks of the high Andes, the Atacama and Sechura deserts, the upper rainforest tributaries of the Amazon basin, and the highest navigable lake in the world (Lake Titicaca), Peru offers an astounding array of environments for the adventurous traveler to explore. But after several long flights down to Peru, I could think of nothing but bed before beginning my busy schedule the following day. Fortunately, after checking in to my Lima hotel at 1:00am the desk attendant and bartender insisted I try the national drink, a complimentary Pisco sour, before retiring. Beyond being gracious and welcoming, there’s a reason they insisted I try it: It is without a doubt one of the world’s most delicious concoctions, and they were clearly proud of their national cocktail. This example of national pride and hospitality became a constant theme throughout my travels in Peru. Pisco sours became a common theme as well!
The first stop on my Peru journey brought me to the Amazon town of Puerto Maldonado, a gateway for travels along the Amazon tributary of the Madre de Dios River (Mother of God). The flight alone was worth the trip. In no less that a half-hour we transitioned from the incredibly rugged peaks and glaciers of the Andes to soaring over the dense lowland rainforests of the Amazon basin. Upon arrival I was greeted and brought to the long dugout vessel, which motored us 45 minutes down river to our riverside lodge. The list of excursions and activities on offer from the lodge was extensive: Beyond the wilderness hikes and water based journeys, their activities for Amazonian cultural immersion and education was impressive. I opted for an all-day hike and dugout canoe paddle along the Gamitana creek one day and a visit to the rainforest canopy walkways and platforms the next. Beyond the wildlife viewing that one expects with any journey into the Amazon, I was surprised at the participatory nature of the excursions offered. I fished for piranha using beef for bait from a locally crafted dugout canoe. I sampled a freshly picked and succulent annona fruit, easily the tastiest fruit on the planet! I smelled, tasted, and rubbed any number of useful plants to see first hand their use and value to the local people. I even wove plant fibers to create garments and adornments. The intrinsic value that this type of participation creates is something that stays with you long after the trip ends.
For my second leg of the journey I made my way to the central valleys and mountain ranges surrounding Cusco, the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley), and Machu Picchu. Deep-rooted cultural pride was immediately apparent upon my arrival to Cusco. I expected to see traditional garments and alpacas in the villages of this area, but outside the front door of my Cusco hotel? This immediate exposure to Peru’s traditions and culture, and even some of their furry domesticated friends, is part of Cusco’s charm. For the brave epicureans, Cusco is also an adventurous culinary destination with alpaca and guinea pig making it’s way onto many menus. In case you’re curious, guinea pig tastes oddly like duck. After touring Cusco’s many museums, churches, and plazas that helped to make it a UNESCO World Heritage city, I made my way into the Urubamba Valley. Here I toured incredible lesser Inca ruins, artisan markets, and examples of local industry and crafts where I was able to view textiles being woven, salt being harvested, and mud bricks being made and used for the local structures of the area. All of this under the beauty of the dramatic and vertical mountains on either side of the Urubamba Valley.
Making my way farther east I arrived at the renowned Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Words fail to describe the beauty and wonder that accompany one as they tour the ruins. After a comprehensive tour I was left to sit and speculate about the previous inhabitants as the clouds and sun danced and mixed their way along the ruins and surrounding mountains. I’m generally not a spiritual person, but beauty and history of this places easily lends itself to introspection. This is certainly a site not to be missed for any travels within Peru. Again the Peruvian people demonstrated their warmth as a couple from Lima introduced themselves, took photos of me framed by the ruins, and promptly invited me to a family dinner back in Lima. I only wish my schedule allowed me to take them up on their generous offer.
During the last portion of my travels I found myself exploring the Puno and Lake Titicaca region. Surprisingly, this area was my personal favorite of the trip. The region had an austere beauty to it with the stark, high-altitude landscape and enormous Lake Titicaca fringed by snow-capped peaks. But what made it so very special was again the people that I encountered along the way. Although the high altitude of well over 13,000 had an immediate impact on me, everyone I encountered inquired on how I was doing. Somehow this seemed to alleviate the effects of the altitude, although the constant helpful reminders from the locals to drink plenty of water and cocoa tea helped as well. After a relaxing acclimatization night I ventured into the interior of the lake by boat to the famous reed island of Uros and the larger neighboring island of Taquile. Here again the people made the day. Uros is actually made up of dozens of smaller floating islands made of the local totora reeds where the extended families of the Amayra people originally settled as a means of evading Spanish settlers. On the island we visited I was immediately taken under the wing of the island’s matriarch who offered the grand tour. She invited me to sample the grains she had been milling that morning and the fleshy center of the torora reed that is crucial to their diet. She proudly displayed her home, noting the reed weaving handiwork her husband had done. And she let me feed her pets, a grumpy cormorant-type bird and continually hungry juvenile condor. Beyond being an incredibly gracious host, she insisted on paddling me around for a bit in their family’s reed boat. It was a little embarrassing to be chauffeured around the lake by a woman who was clearly a stronger paddler than I could ever hope to be.
A bit sad with the departure, we then made our way to the terra firma island of Taquile where the Quechua people have most definitely held on to their traditional agrarian society. After a rigorous hike through the islands interior we stopped at a village for lunch and a visit with the local people. Without refrigeration on hand, the trout we enjoyed was the tastiest and surely the freshest I’ve ever had. After lunch we sat and had a discussion on the customs, costumes, and traditions of the island followed by a dance and music performance by the village men. After an elaborate goodbye we left the islands of Titicaca, and over the next two days I made my way back to the United States.
The sites in Peru are not to be missed. Machu Picchu lived up to the hype, and then some. The Amazon holds mega-diversity in flora and fauna found no where else on earth. Lake Titicaca is an unparalleled gem in the Andes. As wonderful as these locations and sites were, they were made all that much more special by the people that inhabit these locations. Never before in my travels have I been greeted with such open and inviting arms.
The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or hike, ski, surf, climb, bike, Peru travel trip) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.
I’m Tahoe Mountain Sports’ web editor and a 6-year Tahoe resident. Yep, I live the life, with a lake view from my desk, lunch breaks on the beach with my dog, and morning powder runs when the snow’s good. I ski, snowboard, skate ski, and cross-country ski in winter, and hike, mountain bike, backpack, and lay around on Tahoe’s beaches in summer.