As my plane departed Miami toward Peru’s Sacred Valley region for my inaugural trip to the country, a lot of things were going through my head. I thought about all the Peruvians I’d met throughout the years, and how each had changed my life in one way or another; I relived all my failed attempts at making really good ceviche at home; and I realized that I’ve probably had one too many pisco sours in my life. Other than that, I didn’t really know much else about my destination other than it was located in South America and it housed one of the New 7 Wonders Of The World, Machu Picchu.
Whenever I travel, I’m often more interested in getting to know the people than the places. And Peru has no shortage of quirky characters — natives and tourists alike. During my journey, I met a guy who carries around his taxidermied cat wherever he goes; a chef who gets a dozen marriage proposals a month because his salsa moves are as good as his salsa recipes; an archaeologist who moonlights as a tour guide and considers even strangers “dear friends”; a bartender who dreams of moving to South Beach and making millions on auto-gratuities and double tips; and a rowdy group of American tourists who were having so much fun one night that when they looked through their photos the next morning, they instantly deleted each one as they swiped through…it was like they were starring in their very own pisco & wine-inspired version of The Hangover.
My adventure began when I arrived to my hotel, Sol & Luna, after an hour or so drive from the Cusco Airport through rugged terrain, dirt roads and small farming villages with frequent cameos from men and women dressed in traditional Peruvian garb. I immediately wondered how this city slicker was going to fair in such a rustic setting. As soon as I jumped out of my ride, I kneeled down to scoop up a red pebble for my rock collection. “Those are Pachamama’s bones,” the driver said. “That’s what we call Mother Nature.” Whoa. I’ll save my rock picking for when nobody’s looking! Talk about getting off on the wrong foot…
“Whenever I travel, I’m often more interested in getting to know the people than the places. And Peru has no shortage of quirky characters — natives and tourists alike.”
Things started to look up once I checked in and was guided toward my casita — that’s what they call the rooms at Sol & Luna. When I unlocked the door and pushed it open, my jaw dropped. The place was huge. It was a too-big-to-believe, multi-room, design-savvy, art-filled cottage of comfort with ceilings so high I got a little whiplash when I cocked my head back in awe. “I can get used to this,” I mumbled to myself. And I was right. I liked it so much, in fact, that at the end of my stay, when the dreaded courtesy wake-up call came in, I almost crawled under the bed so I could hide out for a couple more days. But I had a flight to catch, and the housekeeper was knocking.
“I spent a total of 4 glorious days at Sol & Luna, experiencing a lot of firsts during my stay, including a private blessing from a real-life shaman who helped me ward off evil spirits and welcome some peace into my stressed-out life.”
In total, I spent 4 glorious days at Sol & Luna and experienced a lot of firsts during my stay: I had my first alpaca sighting (watch out, they will spit at you), and encountered a group of humming llamas; I got a private blessing from a real-life shaman who helped me ward off evil spirits and welcome some peace into my stressed-out life; I toured an ancient natural salt spring in Maras where I let freshly-dried salt flakes melt on my tongue; I had my first lakeside picnic at Waypo Lake, where I gorged on a diet-busting buffet of beans, veggies, meat, potatoes, corn, wine and exquisite desserts; I ATV’d along a narrow dirt path up a snow-capped mountain, mesmerized by the scenic vistas and steep drops at every death-defying turn; and I went on my very first train ride on Inca Rail’s luxurious Presidential Car to Machu Picchu — which also yielded my first official pisco tasting (it’s just like a wine tasting, only way better) and my first visit to one of the New 7 Wonders Of The World.
But there was another first that’s a lot harder to describe than the rest. It has to do with the extremely soul-soothing hug that Machu Picchu gave me from the moment I stepped onto its sacred ground. It’s believed the area in and around the New World Wonder has an energy vortex so strong it couldn’t exist without some form of heavenly intervention. Cell phones drain, minds clear and dormant spirits are awakened. The experience is so intense, in fact, that the highlight of my entire visit to Peru came during a brief 30-second rest after my grueling hike had ended and the tour guide had finished his spiel. That’s when I finally sat down, completely exhausted and hypnotized by the beauty around me, and I just listened. And just like magic, all my worries melted into nature and for the first time, I heard Pachamama’s voice whispering to me, and what she told me has changed my life.