Updated on September 16, 2016
Alpaca, llama, vicuña, bear, snake, condor, puma, swallow, and more, I can’t begin to mention all the animals (symbolic or not) that Peruvians identify with. For instance, take the sacred camel family.
Not unlike how the cow is a symbol of strength and abundance to Hindus in India, so too are these beasts of burden considered expressions of mother earth or Mama Pacha.
They have been essential to the Peruvian culture providing work, wool, meat, fur, bones and lard for centuries. Moreover, their excrement provides a fertilizer that helps to conserve the nature ecosystem of the Inca highlights.
Since I can’t take one home I bought a small stuffed toy llama instead:
*This trip wouldn’t be possible without Boston-based Vantage Adventures.
Updated on September 15, 2016
Wednesday was spent in awe and wonder at Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel secured to a mountain ridge at nearly 8,000 ft above sea level.
The size, scope, magnitude of these sacred ruins can not be appreciated in photos so today I return for more photography starting from the Inca Trail.
In the meantime, enjoy what I had time (and internet connection) to post on my FLICKR album:
Updated on September 14, 2016
How did I recover from such a terrible bout of altitude sickness? Yes, I owe it to coca leaves but the true remedy was this famous Peruvian delicacy.
“The best way to show guests that a family is doing well [in income] is, first, how many people they invite, and if they are able to serve an entire piece of (pause)… what is about to come,” said Enrique Virto, our guide from Vantage Adventures.
The host family had invited twenty Americans to their beautiful abode; a four-course meal of every flavor imaginable. We smiled nervously not knowing what the final coup de grâce would be.
First up was an appetizer of quinoa soup, then dishes of “big ass corn” (coined by Mark) or Choclo, followed by yellow potatoes and sides of mush made from the purple lupin plant called tarwi, along with several dollops of other Peruvian traditions. Finally, the 6,000-year-old rodent made it’s debut.
The guests let out a gasp as a fully developed cuy (pronounced “kwee”) or guinea pig with head, teeth, ears and all body parts left intact was served. It had been roasted to a shiny brownish red glow.
It would be incredibly impolite, let alone a disgrace to the travel writing industry, not to try a bite so we carefully, warily, picked at the meat.
The verdict, it wasn’t bad! Yes, sort-of a cross between rabbit and chicken but no gamey smell and no tough texture. A little on the boney side but not bad!
Bottom line: don’t leave home without trying, even a small bite. Or, do like Liz did, and chew on the greasy fried skin that tastes “a lot like pork rinds”.
Updated on September 12, 2016
My heart is racing, my legs are wobbly, my ears are ringing and I’ve consumed enough of the revered coca plant to induce a mind-altering buzz. Where am I? In the Peruvian Andes, of course!
After an exhausting twenty-four hour commute, my press junket has finally landed in Peru. Our original itinerary anticipated us arriving in the Sacred Valley by this hour, 50 miles northwest of Cuzco, but the “Land of the Inca Empire” and home of the domesticated llama will have to wait until Tuesday.
Due to another run-of-the-mill farmers strike, all roads in and out of the Machu Picchu district are snarled with traffic. Odds are good that the anger between grazers and government stems from national water laws as well as taxes, two issues that I’m told are emblematic of social unrest in Peru.
No matter, this is South America and being able to adapt to changes in plans as well as having a malleable temperament are essential. And, besides, the Seventh Wonder of the World is worth the wait!
At a whopping 12,000 feet above sea level, Cuzco, a world heritage city, will take another day for me to acclimate. Pitifully, after just one flight of hotel stairs, I collapsed on the marble landing and sat for a moment recouping my strength. I’m feeling as ancient as the Inca!
Lucky for me, I’m staying at the Casa Andina hotel near the historic main plaza or Plaza de Armas. Within minutes, I secure urban scenes of a city rich in culture and dress.
Updated on September 11, 2016
Frequently dubbed the “Champagne of Drinking Water”, 9 million New Yorkers revel in this pristine watershed called the Ashokan Reservoir. I usually enjoy dramatic views of it from the summit of Catskill mountains, like Cornell, Wittenberg and Overlook, but, today, I decide to get a little closer.
We park the car at a cul-de-sac on B W S Road, a car-free route along the southern half of the Reservoir designated for pedestrians and bikers only. Before we take to the sizzling pavement, our curiosity is piqued by what appears to be unusually low water levels along the shoreline.
A cemetery of neglected rowboats lie in repose under nearby branches. A yacht club for rednecks? Nevertheless, the rocky shore is a picturesque spot to second-guess the names of the mountains in the distance.
Those not afraid of a little humidity are walking and biking briskly along the car-free five mile loop (2.5 miles each way). We stop to explore another unusual sighting, a monument dedicated to J. Waldo Smith, the head engineer and visionary behind the planning and execution of the Reservoir between the years 1897 and 1907.
A mile later, we’re basking in the cool mist blowing over us from a, circa 1982, water fountain. Apparently, the tall plumes of cascading water only runs when the Power Authority’s hydropower turbines, located below the ground, are in service.
Our last mile takes us over a dividing weir separating the Reservoir and back onto an open road with traffic. Poor George is feeling a little tropical and pulls off onto the shoulder for a little respite. Underneath us is a culvert with an abandoned rail bed that distinctly has the potential of being a modern day rail trail.
Bikers can only hope someday.
Updated on September 6, 2016
You’ve heard of the world famous Waldorf Astoria but what about the equally iconic Boldt Castle? Both were owned by hotel millionaire George C. Boldt.
Built in the year 1900, this summer dream home on the St. Lawrence River was for his beloved wife Louise. Beyond the 120-room national treasure, Boldt also constructed five other impressive structures on an island known fondly as Heart island: the Power House, the Alster Tower (playhouse), the Hennery, the Arch and a stone Gazebo.
Located directly across the water on Wellesley Island is the magnificent Boldt Yacht House. Not a single detail or expense was spared.
Then, sadly, just months away from completion, Mrs. Boldt died suddenly. George never returned to his castle and for the next 73 years it crumbled into disrepair.
Today, thanks to years of expensive and pain-staking restoration, the chateau, located in the famed 1000 Islands region of upstate New York, is finally fulfilling its purpose: to preserve that timeless sense of gilded romance.
The picturesque Italian gardens, the exotic drawbridge, the hideaway Dove-Cote, all have been restored to that magical, fairy-tale setting that Boldt envisioned. It goes without saying that venue is super popular for couples looking to tie the knot.
I visited this historic complex with my own sentimental sweetie, George. How I was able to escape back to Alexandria Bay without a ring on my finger, I’ll never know…