Features

Published on May 5th, 2015 | by SA Explorer

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In the Kingdom of clouds – by Corey Watts

Nick Stanziano is a tall, boisterous American in his mid-thirties who came to Peru a decade ago and never left.

On a chilly night in Cusco, the ancient centre of Inca civilization, over a cleansing ale at Paddy’s Irish pub, it becomes clear to me that Nick is passionate about his business. He is one of a new generation of savvy entrepreneurs who strive to meld profit with social justice. For SA Expeditions, the business he co-founded, tourism doesn’t consist of a circuit of surface level meet and greets between people from far off lands, but genuinely good moments that arise naturally from sharing laughs, stories and experience with excellent company.

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Stopping off en route to the trailhead in the village of Huilloc. Image: Corey Watts

He explains that the company has a strong relationship with people in the nearby Choquechaca valley, a few hours northwest of Cusco. This week they will be forging a new route, arriving to the Chouquechaca valley by way of Halancoma pass that Nick’s explains will be “awesome”. I’m invited, apparently. ‘If you don’t mind being a guinea pig,’ he laughs. I smile wryly. We both know what they do to guinea pigs in Peru.

I am not a religious man but I do believe that for all our modernity we’re preternatural creatures still. There is something in us that craves something outside of us, something bigger. Sadly, the word ‘awesome’ is now de rigueur for something like ‘gee, that’s nice’, but it’s truer, older meaning is that which inspires a mix of wonder, reverence, and fear. Love too, maybe. Mountains do that. So, yeah, I’m game.

The Andes are truly awesome: the longest mountain range on the planet, a continental spine stretching around 7,000 kilometres (4,200 miles) from one end of South America to the other. Forged by unimaginably powerful tectonic forces—uplifting, fracturing, and folding of the very rocks themselves—the cordilleras now sit as high as 7,000 metres (22,000 feet) above the nearby Pacific. And it is breathtaking to think that land so high was once at the bottom of the sea. In some places, limestone, the compressed remains of ancient marine life, can be seen just beneath topsoil. In others one doesn’t have to look too hard to find fossilized sea snails lying about.

Choquechaca Visit - March 2014

Waterfall along the trail to Choquechaca. Image: Andrew Dare

The Andes are evolving even as we mere mortals dare walk over them, our lives too butterfly short to sense the changes without a geologist’s toolkit. Perhaps it was auspicious then that our journey started the morning after Cusco’s faithful had packed the Plaza las Armas to pay homage to Señor de los Temblores, the Lord of the Tremors, the town veritably humming with syncretic spirituality.

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Stopping in on friends and extended family en route to the trailhead. Note cuy (guinea pig) on the house floor, center. This is livestock not  pet, but freer than the factory animals of the ‘developed’ world. Image: Corey Watts.

In the minivan, en route to the trailhead are old friends to see and gifts to give—principally coca leaves dished out liberally by Marco, a local guide who has worked with Nick for over five years. Cusqueño, born and bred, Marco Antonio Rondon Huanco displays a consistently cheery, gentle demeanour, matched only by his passion for this place and its people. To him, everybody is ‘my friend’ and you know it isn’t simply a figure of speech. Marco isn’t just a diplomat, he’s a born teacher; the entire landscape his classroom. Throughout the trek, he is always turning to me to explain this custom or that plant.

Locals spill out of their houses to greet Nick and Marco heartily. Nick has diligently established a good working relationship with particular families here. It isn’t just the business he brings, he displays a genuine affinity and affection for the community, and the feeling is clearly mutual. The handshakes and smiles are the genuine article.

Passing through the small tourist town of Ollantaytambo, site of the famous Temple of the Sun and Inca terraces, we see foreigners sipping morning lattes in modern cafés in the town square. Nick says, ‘You’ll see as we get higher how we go back in time.’ He explains some of the changes he’s seen in the ten year since he first came to work for a local NGO in defence of porters’ rights: Now the kids routinely tap into the Internet in town.’ It was only a few years ago, he says, that porters were unionized and the trade regulated to raise worker and animal safety.

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An hour or two out of the relatively modern burg of Ollantaytambo and the traditional way of life is right there. Stone houses are still very well used in many parts of rural Peru. Image: Corey Watts.

I’m not accustomed to servants. Like most Australians, I fancy myself an egalitarian. And, as a solo traveller, it takes a little getting used to the idea of beasts of burden lugging my, well, burden up a mountain, let alone having someone cook me meals served on silver platters. (Alright, stainless steel but they look silver.) I think perhaps it was the hot, sweet coffee delivered to my tent each morning that got me over that mental hurdle. Or maybe it was our chef Flavio’s piping hot soup and poached salmon and rice at the end of that first day. The point is I got over myself once I saw just how much pride these guys take in their work.

Flavio, our chef, trained in the best restaurants of Lima, demonstrates an unwavering professionalism as he prepares meals that make our mornings and nights. Image: Corey Watts.

To Nick, this is a little like coming home. He has, after all, been exploring this valley for the last ten years. ‘The first visitor I brought here was my dad,’ he says. It’s a place overflowing with sacred memories and relationships: deeper ones that belong to the Inca and their descendants and those shared by newcomers.

Nick describes what SA Expeditions does as a little like the buy-local movement in (he glowers slightly) ‘mall-ridden societies’, except that here the company works with particular families in particular valleys. It’s about as local as you can get. No longer is tradition something to be jettisoned in the rush to industrialization and a twenty-one-piece KFC meal. Instead, the Andean way of life endures—not pickled, but a living, breathing, dynamic culture—in part because people like you and I are curious, because we’re prepared to pay to satiate our curiosity.

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Adrian, master of the horses, eldest of the porters, father of Enrique and father-in-law to Nicolas, our porters. Image: Corey Watts.

We are met at the trailhead by Adrian, a proud-looking gentleman in his fifties: father to porter Enrique and father-in-law to his colleague Nicolas. One of three brothers that live in the valley with their families, Adrian’s colourful poncho and hat are working gear.

My instinctual, rather cynical reaction used to be that this costume is a gimmick for foreigners, which doubtless says more about me than anything else. Let me assure you, there’s nothing gimmicky about Adrian and Co. This is authentic, everyday garb and so are the people who take great pride in wearing it. Women in these parts frequently wear the beautiful bowl-like hat, often complete with fresh flowers, held on with an embroidered chinstrap. (If her hat sits level on her head, I learn from Marco, the woman is spoken for. If it’s tilted to one side she is yet to find her beau.) There are signs of change, however. As youngsters plug into global pop culture, the traditional dress may go the way of the other ‘folk’ costumes. Time will tell if the countervailing forces are enough.

For many of the locals their first, often only language is not Spanish but the native Quechua. Many older women, in particular, speak precious little Spanish (sometimes called Castilian or Castellano) at all, though that is changing as access to education improves.

It’s thought that, just before Columbus rocked up, uninvited, around 100 million irreplaceable human souls called the lands that became the Americas home. In the decades following 1492 at least nine our or ten million Indigenous people died in incomparable agony as wave after wave of imported disease swept across the continents, leading the Spaniards to delude themselves that it was divine intervention. The Inca and other native peoples had little to none of the Europeans’ defence against these ghastly maladies. Whole societies were sheared away. The scale of the dying that followed the Conquest is breathtaking and yet the culture endures, so that, today, Quechua and related languages are spoken by as many as 4.5 million in Peru alone. Daily, the conversations on the trek would ebb and flow in three languages, easily switching from one to another. Marco is skilled in all three.

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Llamas and alpacas are made for and by this high world. Image: Corey Watts.

It takes us a few hours to walk up the first leg of the valley, passing by stone houses, fields, and llama herds. We arrive to find Flavio, Nicolas, Adrian, and Enrique have set up camp on a rise overlooking a glassy chevron-shaped lake flanked by steep scraggy rock. The horses and mule are happily munching on juicy green grass, their shift done for the day.

The Gate Between Worlds

The next morning we walk through a deep valley ringed by mountains and continue up the side. We spy more llamas far below: tiny white and brown figures moving in a neat column.

On a ridge we reach a low stone wall, opening in the middle. It’s a ramshackle affair, clearly pummelled by time and the elements. Enrique dutifully adds some stones to the wall. The rest of us follow suit.

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‘How old is this wall?’ I ask. ‘Who knows?’ Enrique replies. A thousand years? Two? Still, a blink in time compared to the mountains themselves. Image: Corey Watts.

 

On the far side of the wall and the thin air (we’re well above 4,000 metres) has me going slowly. Nick points out that the weather up here can change in a heartbeat. No sooner has he spoken than a light snow starts to fall and for a few minutes we find ourselves in a whiteout. Still, when the fog clears, the view is… words fail me: craggy, sawtooth peaks loom all around as we walk perpendicular to the slope, a bewildering richness of mosses and flowering shrubs hunkering to the cold grey earth. (If ever they find life on Mars maybe it will be something like this, but nowhere near as lovely.) The air smells slightly peppery. Our path is marked by llama poo, which makes sense when you think about it. In one direction, streams spill from three lakes—black, yellow, turquoise—down into the valley where still more llamas do their thing. Most seem oblivious to the bipedal intruders but two or three watch us keenly, warily. Overhead, four Andean eagles—a mating pair and their fledglings—wheel and soar; the youngsters mucking, indifferent to the starkness and altitude.

Lake Cory

Through the gate: a landscape of green and grey, cold but full of life if you have the patience to see. Image: Corey Watts.

After a couple of kilometres this path peters out. While Marco and I take a break, Nick scales a slope to see if he can find a route over the ridge. At the same time, Enrique runs (runs!) ahead on the trail to see what he can see. Nada. And so we turn and head back to the gate where a fine feast of sweet biscuits, granola, and mandarins is polished off with coca leaves and a wee dram of Marco’s Anisado—a Peruvian aperitif. Spirits imbibed and renewed, we set off again.

At the gate, we turn right, hiking up over several ridges, the first of which Nick assures me is our ‘last significant up’. He’s lying through his teeth of course, a necessary deceit, but I choose to believe him and later glad I did.

Let me pause at this juncture to stress that what we were doing was trying to find a new path. This was yet to become a regular path for SA Expeditions travelers, and, as it turned out. Never will. Our adventure was an experiment. The horses, laden with our gear, had no such problems on their leisurely stroll about the mountains. They even got there before us! It’s their trail that you’ll follow if you come here. And let me assure you, you won’t miss a bit of the spectacle and wonder. There are oodles and oodles of spectacle and wonder in these mountains.

Now, Nick and Enrique are already scouting ahead, each perched on what looks to me like the edge of reality itself. Nick is whooping and hollering at what, apparently, is nice view. My latent acrophobia is kicking in and each ululation brings an urge to swear and curse. (My father, a former US marine, openly admits he gets ‘nosebleeds on a footstall’.) Yet, oddly, there is no place I would rather be, so I take raspy breath of thin air and plough on. My mother was born when all the pink bits on the map were British and I summon the spirits of Shackleton and Hillary (and not Scott of the Antarctic, who didn’t come home). Thankfully, Nick was right to shout—the view is astonishing. As incomprehensibly and as quickly as it appeared my anxiety evaporates, replaced by a profound sense of the numinous. Marco checks his wrist altimeter: just shy of 5,000 metres—the closest I’ve been to the edge of space outside of an aeroplane.

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Don’t forget, this is home for the people here. Image: Corey Watts.

As if on cue, Nick yells, ‘Condor!’ Two of these stately icons of the Andes are riding the wind over the valley almost eye-level with us. Our eagles join them a few seconds’ later. I fire off some photos then drop the camera and pause to let this privilege sink in.

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Andean Condors circle and glide over the valley, indifferent to the mortals below. Image: Corey Watts

It seems hard to believe that human beings could render big environmental changes this high up but that is exactly what we’re doing. Ahead of international climate change talks in Lima last December, scientists reviewed the state of glaciers in the tropical Andes. It ain’t good news: the rate of melting in the last fifty years is unprecedented in modern history. Like the globe as a whole, the central Andes have warmed by about 0.8 ºC in recent times, and are warming still. It may not sound like much but it’s enough to shrink the glaciers here by 30–50 per cent since the ‘70s. And because the low-altitude glaciers are thin, rarely over 40 metres, scientists warn they may disappear altogether in coming decades. This means Peru could be in for some enormous changes: water supplies, agriculture, tourism, local culture—all are in the balance. I pause to take a long look at the snow and ice on the mountains—trying to fix the image in my mind.

Glaciers in the Andes play a key role in the economy, food security, water supply, and culture of Peru but have diminished by as much as half since the ‘70s as the region warms and the global climate changes. Image: Corey Watts.

Now, each stride brings the valley of Choquechaca closer. Further down, we find ourselves immersed in a mossy native forest, bisected by a tumbling stream. These woods are actually one of several community-run conservation reserves in the area: locals can take a little firewood to meet their needs but otherwise treat the place as sacrosanct. They care well enough, but by welcoming outside visitors to the forests and the fiscal incentives that come along with it, are helping protect these precious remnants of Andean wildlife habitat.

Bright-green colds of moss, like rainforests in miniature, cover native woods in the valley’s private conservation reserves. Remnant forest is protected via partnerships between outsiders and locals, and the income those relationships bring to Choquechaca. Image: Corey Watts.

Arriving at the hamlet where Adrian and his brothers live and once again we find camp set. No sooner have we plonked our weary behinds down than hot soup is put in front of us. I think I cried a little.

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Food for the soul. Image: Corey Watts

Adrian’s young grandson, Maxwel, appears in a Nike hat and poncho. This kid has walked an hour-and-a-half in the rain to join us on this last night with the family. His grandfather gently chides him for taking so long. Though the empire lasted only a century or so before the Spanish broke it, the Inca were able to extend the highway system built by other Andeans such that the total length of the network would have encircled the very globe over and again. In many places in the Andes, the old roads are still used.

It’s the first anniversary of the partnership between SA Expeditions and the Choquechaca family. That night, everyone lets their hair down. Peruvian Pisco (grape liquor) is shared around, the porters blending work and pleasure. Adrian’s wife, Dorotea, joins us with another of Flavio’s hot meals as the moon rises over these embracing mountains.

 Pumamarca—a city of flowers.

The sun comes up but movement is understandably slower than usual. Still, Enrique, bless him, hands me hot coffee as I reach out from my sleeping bag. After breakfast, we’re invited to Adrian and Dorotea’s house where the young women proudly display a colourful array of local blankets, scarves, and such that they have skilfully woven.

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Foliage is colonizing the the ruins of Pumamarca—a reminder that all cities go back to nature, sooner or later. Image: Corey Watts.

The sales are part and parcel of what makes this whole endeavour so important for the family in the valley. The exchange of money for crafts is not only a source of income but also pride. These are proud people doing what they do well and making a good go of it. Without visitors to this high valley, no doubt these women would have to step up their salesmanship in town. Instead, we come to them, their place.

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Old and new: Pumamarca through Eucalyptus foliage; the native Australian trees, growing on old Inca terraces, are ubiquitous in the Andes, providing an important resource for housing and fuel. Image: Corey Watts.

Like many hereabouts, Dorotea and Adrian’s house consists of a single stone room, with a thatched roof supported by beams of eucalyptus. A single lightbulb hangs from the rafters, powered by a small solar panel set on a crooked pole outside. This is new, Marco says: a combination of government programmes and income from tourism has transformed their home and their lives. Brighter than candles and gas lanterns, the little bulb opens up the night to activities like reading. Reading opens worlds.

Nick explains his melancholic feelings as he sees the future changing the basic spaces that he encountered a decade ago when first arriving. “It’s condescending to desire the families to not incorporate modern items that improve their quality of life. When undertaking such an endeavor as SA Expeditions has done in Choquechaca, it’s critical to assess the community desires and alternative income opportunities they have. Essentially it’s about understanding where along the “indigenous spectrum” a particular community belongs. For example, on end of the spectrum you have indigenous communities in Peru that have never been contacted by outsiders. Bringing visitors to these communities would not only be illegal but also highly irresponsible. On the other end you have people that have retained an indigenous identity, yet live in the capital city of Lima and drive an SUV and live in a 10th floor apartment.  The families in Choquechaca are somewhere in the middle, but at a critical moment when ecological and cultural heritage is being undermined by the younger generation’s pursuit of financial resources and modernity in the cities and towns far away. Our goal is to unlock the financial value in their native homes and incentivize the community to preserve the ecology and culture of the place.”

Outside, Adrian proudly shows me his hoe, the same type (different materials: iron and eucalyptus) used by his pre-Conquest forebears. The community keeps a roster and all landowners must work to plant, harvest, and tend their neighbours’ fields. The tradition of communal labour goes back a long way—yet one more example of how pre-Conquest culture, though beaten, has never died.

Choquechaca Visit - March 2014

Gregoria, one of the Adrian and Dorotea’s daughters, weaving in the traditional manner. Gregoria is one a new generation of Andean women: learning Spanish in town, gaining greater access to the globe, but still proudly embodying her living heritage. Image: Andrew Dare

The family graciously answer my questions about what’s growing next to the house: potatoes and other tubers, chamomile, spring onions, lettuce. They routinely gather culinary and medicinal plants from the wild, too. There are several dozen sheep, llamas, and alpacas, all happily munching on green pasture. Young llamas play tag as older ones look on; no doubt rolling their llama eyes skywards as all adults do in the company of crazy kids. A cow and her calf stop to ponder us: she provides a regular supply of milk. Only on special occasions are the larger animals slaughtered. Chickens give eggs. Together with cuy (guinea pigs), now peeping and peeking out from under the bed inside, they provide the family with a steady supply of fresh meat.

Cuy is a staple throughout the Andes. It makes sense: the rodent requires very little maintenance, eats little, breeds quickly, and can be harvested as needed without having to go to the trouble of killing a larger animal and storing its carcase. Cuy poo fertilizes the crops, too. Oh, and if you’re wondering how the cuy gets its name, listen to guinea pigs squealing next time you’re in a pet shop, ‘Coooeeeeee!’ Quechua, Marco tells me, is a language brimming with onomatopoeia.

Saying goodbyes and thank-you’ s, we set off late morning, electing to follow an Inca irrigation channel that, Nick explains, connects the stream to the farms and settlement below. Irrigation has been practised in millennia but this one shows signs of recent repairs. There is a well-marked track but Nick and Marco say this is the more interesting option—the road less travelled by.

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A section of local irrigation channel, originally built in the 15th century and repaired in the late-20th, still in use in the dry season, and occasionally employed by intrepid trekkers. Image: Corey Watts.

As we make our sometimes-uneasy way along the channel, Nick ponders aloud. A key challenge, he says, is to spread the benefits SA Expeditions brings to the families as evenly as possible, to not inadvertently create disharmony between neighbours, as more and more become involved. It’s clear the company is doing well to honour its philosophy. Still, he admits, there is work to do. So, on the side of a mountain, on a warm sunny day, on a major piece of fifteenth-century irrigation infrastructure, he and Marco stop to discuss ideas and options. The future starts here.

In some places the channel is clear and deep as it hugs the mountainside. In others, it’s choked with vegetation and silt, and we’re forced to walk tightrope-like along the narrow outside wall. (Strangely, I get no jitters. Stupid ape brain!) As we push through the scrub myriad scents are released into the warm air. Birds and insects dart and buzz about as the valley unfolds.

We see two or three farms, spread like patchwork quilts on the opposite side of the valley. The guys explain that Adrian and his brothers use these to produce food in the winter. We see the faint outline of the high trail Maxwel walked the night before in the cold. And perched atop a cliff higher up are the remains of what was a small Inca observatory: a vantage point from which they, who ran a command-and-control economy, could assess goings-on in this quadrant of their realm, as well as see approaching messengers, not to mention foes.

And then: Pumamarca, literally ‘village of the puma’. Marco explains that the first rectangular buildings we come across were stores for maize, dried potato, quinoa, and much else. Walking into the complex I am struck by how empty the place is: where once a mighty empire surveyed its domain and performed rituals that kept the world turning, bright yellow flowers now grow in their thousands in the bright sunshine.

 

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Nick takes a break at Pumamarca, overlooking the valley that leads to Choquechaca. The city was part temple, part settlement, part fortress, part center of commerce. Image: Corey Watts.

I loved the morning I spent with throngs of people at Machu Picchu. The landscape is as magical and as beautiful as the tourist ads make out. Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are not everything, however. Experience them, by all means, but don’t forget there is so much more to the Peruvian Andes: more nature, more archaeology, more culture, and often with far fewer people armed with far fewer selfie-sticks. (I’m not opposed to the occasional selfie per se but selfie-sticks cross a line, damnit!) To me, there is an authenticity here in the Choquechaca valley that was utterly lacking at Machu Picchu. There was an exchange between visitors and local that is hard to find elsewhere.

Choquechaca Visit - March 2014

The family stove. Image: Andrew Dare

Strolling down from Pumamarca, there are people, mostly women, at work in the fields: mixed plots of maize, quinoa, beans, peppers, and more. By the time the Spaniards arrived the Inca had exploited every ecological niche in the Andes to produce food from countless plants. Native Andeans systematically, and with a dedication that would astonish modern scientists, developed hundreds (maybe thousands of varieties of potato alone. Crops were adapted t0 myriad growing conditions such that the food security of the empire’s estimated 10 to 12 million people was assured. The women in the plots return our hellos cheerfully, children on their backs and at their feet.

The last lunch of the journey is a real treat, if that were possible after all the other treats. By now, we have arrived to first the first road in three days, (a very basic mountain road). With the sky so clear, Adrian and company have arranged the dining tables on the lawn. Flavio proudly serves Aji de Gallina—the delicious shredded chicken in creamy yellow pepper sauce that is a signature of Peruvian cuisine.

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None of it would have been possible without them. Image: Corey Watts

Full, exhausted, slightly tipsy, grateful—we gather for a group photo. Tips are issued to the crew, sweets are given to the kids, and heartfelt farewells said. These men have made a harsh landscape accessible to this visitor and I am sad to go.

 Looking back, looking forward.

I suppose I’m a reasonably experienced hiker. I have walked alone and in company along trails in the Australian high country, the Canadian Rockies, the Guatemalan highlands, the Sierra Nevada, the Adirondacks, New Zealand’s South Island… Each of these places is special beyond compare, yet I’ve never quite felt like this. Here there is an interplay between past and present, nature and culture that takes you out of yourself.

Good experiences shape us in ways most material things cannot. I want the Andes to shape me and make me a better person. I want to spend my money making a difference. It seems to me that the trade is a good one. I get to experience a wonder of the world in extraordinary comfort with a truly hospitable family. For their part, the family gets financial resource so that their young people needn’t ditch their traditions and relocate to rough edges of the cities far away.

It’s hardly surprising that the Inca revered the mountains as deities. The massif is for, all intents and purposes, everlasting. These mountains are apt to give the most hardened unbeliever, like me, pause for thought. The Andes and their people are humbling.

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Choquechaca: the kind of scenery that demands applause. Image: Andrew Dare.

 

“In the Kingdom of the clouds” was written in its entirety by Corey Watts, and is republished here with his permission. All images were taken by Corey Watts and Andrew Dare and are credited accordingly. The feature image for this blog was taken by Corey Watts.

Corey Watts: A freelance sustainability consultant and storyteller of science, environment, food, history, and wine, Corey hails from Melbourne. He’s travelled widely, leaving pieces of his heart in New Zealand, the United States, Britain, Peru, and Mexico, but he still calls Australia home. You can follow him @BrightWaterSci.”

 

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    Johan is passionate about his Incan heritage, and he brought Machu Picchu and the Incan culture alive for us. He was totally flexible, and gave us options when he realized that perhaps the long climb up the nearly 1000 steps of the very steep mountain for the best view of Machu Picchu might be difficult for us. He wanted us to be happy and to enjoy our visit. I realize that he has been doing this for a number of years, but Johan has an uncanny ability to time things so perfectly, that there is very little down time, where you are waiting for a bus or a train. When he says you’ll be at a restaurant at a specific time or back in Cusco at a specific time, you can count on it. He tried and succeeded in satisfying all of our needs.

    As you know, on our last day in Cusco, Liam was ill, and we needed to cancel horseback riding that we had scheduled for that morning. Even though we had already said our good-byes to Johan the night before, I contacted him around 8:30AM to cancel the tour. He immediately got in touch with you, at 5:45AM PST. Within in minutes you had everything under control, inquiring if we needed a physician to see Liam. Fortunately, I think he was just exhausted, and by the afternoon he was back to himself. However, mid-morning I received a phone call from your local representative in Peru inquiring about Liam’s health, again offering a physician if needed, and offering to contact the hotel in Cusco to extend our check-out time.

    Kim, as you remember, we had some very specific issues that you had to address before we even left for our trip. You had to be certain that any provided meal, be it box lunch (which was excellent), or lunch on the road, or dinner in Aguas Calientes, had to be vegetarian. You had to make certain that we returned from zip lining by a specific time on Friday afternoon. Several days before we were scheduled to arrive, I changed our itinerary to add an additional day in Lima. You handled each and every request expertly.

    I found SA Expeditions in July, 2016, just by searching the internet for companies that provided tours in Peru. I read the reviews on the company, and was impressed, but also a bit skeptical. After all, I was trusting a company in California that I didn’t personally know to plan and execute a trip to Peru that wasn’t going to take place until February, 2017. Well, now I am a believer! You, SA Expeditions, the guides, the drivers, the hotels, the tours, etc. have all exceeded our expectations. Thank you!

    With sincere appreciation,

    – Eddie & Shelley S (Connecticut)
    Photographed at Machu Picchu See more

    2 weeks ago

    Is Rio de Janeiro Safe?

    #brazil #riodejaniero #copacabana #ipanema #ChristtheRedeemer
    #Sugarloaf

    Rio de Janeiro is the world’s most alluring hot mess. It’s everything you expect it to be: edgy, stratified, stiflingly humid, crowded, exhilarating. But it’s also everything you don’t expect it to See more

    2 weeks ago

    Go To South America Just To Eat At These 6 Restaurants

    Check out one of these top rated restaurants during your trip to experience South American gastronomy at its finest!
    #argentaina #Tunuyán #SieteFuegos #colombia #bogota #CasaSantaClara #brazil See more

    Try a more traditional feast or an innovative culinary hot spot that takes classic South American flavors and ingredients to new heights.

    2 weeks ago

    Bolivian cholita climbers conquer highest peaks near La Paz – in pictures

    #bolivia #southamericatravel #mountanclimbing #porters #aymara #women #mountaneering

    Eleven Aymara indigenous women have scaled five peaks in the Cordillera Real range all higher than 19,500ft (6,000 meters) above sea level

    3 weeks ago

    The Great Inca Trail

    The Journey Continues! Follow the adventure day-by-day on the treks facebook page, ‘The Great Inca Trail.’

    *Versión en español abajo*

    April 30 – Day 19

    Our local guide, Shanta, also happens to have one of the best restaurants in Vilcabamba, named after him. It was a natural place to go and meet one

    They also have a mountain of information, at their home in Vilcabamba, which they graciously invited us over to review. Eventually, sending us on our way, with the most detailed maps I’ve ever seen of Peru. The ESCALE maps, published by Peru’s Ministry of Education, will be of great help and supplement the maps that Ricardo Espinosa published in “La Gran Ruta Inca”, a bible of sorts, for our expedition. Espinosa’s maps focus on the location and remanence of the The Great Inca Trail from Quito, Ecuador to La Paz, Bolivia, which he walked for 7 months in the early 2000’s.

    After all the analysis and conversation at Shanta and the Kunstaetter’s home, we found ourselves reconnecting with The Great Inca Trail today after 15 miles and over 6,000 feet of ascent, over two mountains. It was a tough, steep day, with our new local guide, Tuco, who has a ranch, at the only suitable camp within the entire day’s walk. Tomorrow, we continue on The Great Inca Trail through a non-native, out of control pine forest, hopefully making it through, to the road towards Amaluza.

    Nick Stanziano
    Chief Supervisor
    SA Expeditions

    __________________

    30 de Abril – Día 19

    Shanta, el guía de la localidad, no sólo conoce muy bien esta parte del territorio sino que también tiene uno de los mejores restaurantes en Vilcabamba bajo su nombre. Este lugar fue ideal para conocer a una pareja experta en expediciones conformada por Robert y Daisy Kunstaetter quienes juntos, han caminado miles de kilómetros en Ecuador, Perú y Bolivia, y desarrollaron una de las guías más completas que convirtieron luego en un libro llamado “Trekking in Ecuador”. En Junio de este año un segundo libro llamado “Trekking in Peru” saldrá a la venta y considero tendrá el mismo impacto que la primera mencionada.

    Esta pareja de esposos cuenta con una cantidad enorme de información. Ellos nos invitaron a su casa en Vilcabamba para poder conversar y observar lo que tienen. Luego de una productiva reunión retomamos nuestra caminata llevando a la mano los mapas más detallados que he visto del Perú. Los mapas ESCALE, publicados por el Ministerio de Educación del Perú, serán de gran ayuda y complementarán los mapas que Ricardo Espinosa publicó en “La Gran Ruta Inca” – una especie de Biblia en nuestra expedición -. Los mapas de Espinosa se centran en la localización y remanencia del Gran Camino Inca desde Quito, Ecuador a La Paz, Bolivia, por donde él caminó durante siete meses a principios del año 2000.

    Después de la reunión y todo el análisis en Shanta y en la casa de los Kunstaetter, volvimos a encontrar la ruta del Gran Camino Inca después de 24 kilómetros y ascender 1,800 metros cruzando dos montañas. Fue un día muy difícil con muchas zonas empinadas.
    Esta vez nos acompaña un nuevo guía de la localidad, Tuco, quien es propietario de una finca. Este fue el único lugar adecuado que encontramos para acampar en todo el trayecto de la caminata de hoy. Mañana continuaremos por el Gran Camino Inca a través de un bosque con gran presencia de pinos que esperamos poder atravesar y continuar la marcha en dirección a Amaluza.

    Nick Stanziano
    Jefe Explorador
    SA Expeditions. See more

    1 month ago

    Introducing Mendoza, Argentina’s wine capital

    #mendoza #wine #malbec #argentina #chardonnay #winevacation

    The Malbecs are mouth-watering, the wineries cutting edge and the Andes resplendent. Every way you look at it, Mendoza is a delight

    1 month ago

    The Great Inca Trail

    The journey has begun!

    The expedition is about to begin!

    1 month ago

    Palacio Nazarenas is top of world’s top 10 best-rated luxury hotels

    For a worthwhile splurge during your trip to Peru, consider the top rated luxury 5-star Belmond Palacio Nazarenas hotel.
    #luxurytravel #palacionazarenas #cusco #peru #machupicchu

    The five-star Palacio Nazarenas, set in a tranquil plaza behind Cusco’s main square in Peru, came out on top of nearly 900,000 online hotel reviews.

    1 month ago

    1 month ago

    Timeline Photos

    When you’re in Rio de Janiero a stop by the classic eatery Confeitaria Colombo is in order. At the turn of the 20th century, the building that houses Colombo Confectionery was Rio’s preeminent

    #riodejaneiro #confeitariacolombo #colomboconfectionary #brazilianfood #braziltravel #brazil # #southamericatrip See more

    1 month ago

    Timeline Photos

    Nick Dall is next in our #sauniverse series that introduces all the people around the world that allow us to build life changing experiences.

    Nick is a man of letters and words, someone who

    As editor of the SA Expeditions travel blog, he has curated hundreds of pieces that give insight into the culture and history of South America. And he’s no armchair blog manager either: he will be joining us on our great Qhapaq Ñan expedition in 2017 to paint a vivid textual picture of the trek for your eyes only. Nick’s work as a journalist has seen him fishing for trout in Patagonia, attending baroque recitals in Chiquitania and interviewing the pioneer of eco-tourism in Peru.

    SA Expeditions has a voice…It’s the voice of our clients talking about their experiences, it’s the voice of its explorers on the Qhapaq Ñan, it’s the voice of Nick presenting the wonders of South America in words and pictures. Come and be inspired by our blog, curated and cared for by Nick. We promise it’ll make you want to pack your bags!

    Cheers to Nick! The #sauniverse looks forward to continuing our journey of enlightenment through travel with you. See more

    1 month ago

    Easter Island: Separating Fact From Fiction

    #easterisland #rapanui #moai #isladepascua #mystery #ancientcivilizations #conspiracytheory

    Easter Island, Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua…Whatever name you give this island thousands of miles from anything and littered with almost 900 moai, it is without d

    1 month ago

    2 months ago

    Explore The Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, Peru

    Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica is one of our favorite luxury lodges in the Peruvian Amazon. See what the business magazine Forbes has to say about the unique once in a lifetime experience.
    #amazon See more

    TAMBOPATA NATIONAL RESERVE, Peru – A trip into the part of the Amazon that’s known as the Bioviersity Capital of Peru is about as magical as you would imagine it to be.

    2 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras, Peru by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the See more

    2 months ago

    World’s first fluorescent frog discovered in South America

    Neon Frogs, more than just science fiction. #amazon #frogs #fluoresce #southamerica See more

    In normal light the polka-dot tree frog has a dull complexion – but under UV light it glows bright green

    2 months ago

    Experiencing Antarctica is easier than you think

    Visiting Antarctica has never been easier than it is now…
    #antarctica #expeditions #penguins #icebergs #polarbears

    What do you get the man who has everything? A ticket to Antarctica of course. With icebergs, penguins, whales and more, it’s the very definition of a bucket list destination

    2 months ago

    Guinea pigs: A popular Peruvian delicacy – BBC News

    Did/Will you try guinea pig during your visit to Peru?
    #peru #guineapig #peruvianfood #yumm

    Guinea pigs may be seen as pets in the UK, but in Peru they are an increasingly popular delicacy.

    2 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Nick Stanziano is next in our #saexpeditionsuniverse series that introduces all the people around the world that allow us to build life changing experiences.

    Nick began life in a small town, on a

    Nick sees himself as part of a wave of human endeavor that accelerated 600 years ago, in renaissance Europe, as artists, scientists and merchants began to utilize reason to understand the physical and psychological frontiers of humanity. By the 17th century, traveling purely for curiosity arose when Englishman Richard Lassel gave advice that all “young lords” take “the Grand Tour” to better understand their world and prepare for their role in it. It was later in the 21st century that one could not only travel for curiosity, but also build a business around it and name it SA Expeditions.

    Nick is a dreamer, a thinker, someone that will always wonder at what lies beyond. It’s why he conceptualizes his position as Chief Explorer, a role that feeds the soul of our organization with adventure and curiosity. His most recent and most ambitious exploration yet will bring the world on a 2,000 walk across the Andes along the great Inca Road, known as the Qhapaq Nan. He will be taking his grand tour of that faraway place, to better understand our world and how our clients can play a role in it.

    Cheers to Nick! The #saexpeditionsuniverse looks forward to continuing our journey of enlightenment through travel with you. See more

    2 months ago

    6 women to thank every time you fly

    March 8th 2017 is International Women’s Day. Here are six women to thank every time you fly.
    #internationalwomensday #trendsetters #aviation #changemakers

    Thought aviation was a man’s world? Think again. These six women transformed the way you fly today

    2 months ago

    CLIENT REVIEW: Trip planned by destination expert Staci Steele.

    “My husband and I just returned from an absolutely spectacular trip to Chile and Argentina planned by SA Luxury Expeditions. Not only

    The thing that really blew me away, though, was the crescendo of the trip. While everything we did and everywhere we stayed was top-notch, each successive stop and activity just got a little more wonderful than the last. The result was a truly fantastic week and a half that we’ll always cherish. I highly recommend SA Luxury Expeditions to anyone looking to travel in South America, whether you’re looking for a low-key trip or an action-packed adventure. We got a wonderful mix of both and enjoyed every second of it!”
    #chile #argentina #patagonia See more

    2 months ago

    ‘We are rewriting the textbooks’: first dives to Amazon coral reef stun scientists

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/17/we-are-rewriting-the-textbooks-first-dives-to-amazon-coral-reef-stun-scientists

    Scientists have discovered the river reef is far bigger, and more important, than first thought – a biodiversity hotspot on a par with the Great Barrier Reef. Now they face a race to protect it See more

    2 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    The Copacabana neighborhood is located in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is known for its 2.5 miles Balneario Beach, one of the most famous in the world. During the 2016 Olympics in See more

    2 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Ecuador, traditionally a prominant South American producer of cacao is stepping into a new light as its chocolateers are gaining noteriety on the world stage.
    #chocolate #ecuador #pacari See more

    2 months ago

    Friday February 24th marked the start of Carnival 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The lively celebration which includes live music, street performances, dancing, floats and costumes, attracts

    The word Carnival originates from the Portuguese ‘Carne Vale’, interpreted as ‘Farewell to meat’. The phrase refers to the Carnival as being the ultimate celebration before a period of abstinence from alcohol, meat and pleasure during Lent. Brazil’s Carnival began in the 1830s as a continuation of the Portuguese tradition, though, Rio’s Carnival has a unique style, which is mainly attributed to the influence of African immigrant slaves, famous for their spectacular musical abilities which gave life to the first samba rhythms.

    #Rio #Carnival #Samba #Brazil See more

    3 months ago

    The science behind why you should spend money on family holidays instead of toys

    #familyvacation #happychild #giveexperiences

    Parents have been wasting hundreds of pounds on toys, according to one of Britain’s leading child psychologists and should be spending their money on holidays instead.

    3 months ago

    CLIENT REVIEW:
    One of our favorite travel testimonial comes from Danielle Vogel of Virginia. Her trip to Argentina and Chile was planned by our destination expert Staci Steele.

    “My husband and I

    The thing that really blew me away, though, was the crescendo of the trip. While everything we did and everywhere we stayed was top-notch, each successive stop and activity just got a little more wonderful than the last. The result was a truly fantastic week and a half that we’ll always cherish. I highly recommend SA Luxury Expeditions to anyone looking to travel in South America, whether you’re looking for a low-key trip or an action-packed adventure. We got a wonderful mix of both and enjoyed every second of it!”
    – Danielle V
    #chile #argentina See more

    3 months ago

    Jaguar vs. Giant Anteater

    ‘Insane’ camera-trap video captures rare battle in the Amazon.
    Jaguar vs. Giant Anteater. Anteater wins!
    #amazon #jaguar #anteater #moveoverhoneybadger

    3 months ago

    Chilean dreams of rescuing box camera photography

    No need to pack the selfie stick if you’re headed for Santiago, Chile
    #santiago #chile #boxcamera

    Luis Maldonado is the last remaining photographer in the main square of the Chilean capital still using a wooden box camera.

    3 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    CLIENT REVIEW:
    “Jeanie: Our trip was absolutely magical thanks to all the great organization, preparation, wonderful suggestions and impeccable professional services we received from SA…starting

    Our hotels were fantastic… the food was fantastic…. even though there were unforeseen circumstances such as a protest that shut down all tourist roads throughout the Sacred Valley, SA Expeditions reacted with quickly. I cannot say enough about the drivers (Louis especially) and all the guides who were with us. They were knowledgeable, gracious, always willing to go the extra distance and warm lovely friends. We loved them all. The horse back/hiking trip to Choquechaca was an experience we will never forget. It was Peter’s 65th birthday in Cusco and SA even arranged to have the meal paid for by our thoughtful children.

    In short, it was the best trip we have experienced and we look forward to many more!

    Thanks so much for creating a truly memorable experience…we only regret we did not get to meet you in Lima!

    Thanks again,
    Pam and Peter”

    #peru #peruvianfood #machupicchu #sacredvalley #choquechaca #cicciolina #birthdaytrip See more

    3 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Laguna Colorada is a 15,000-acre shallow (less than 3 feet deep) salt lake located in southwest Bolivia. The lake is is tinted dark red due to a variety of algae which thrive in the salt water. The See more

    3 months ago

    Quinoa genome unveiled in search for hardy crop to feed world

    Have scientists found the answer to global food security in the Andes? #Quinoa #Peru

    Some strains can tolerate 38-degree days, salty soils and high altitudes, say researchers

    3 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Sara Hensel is next in our #saexpeditionsuniverse series that introduces all the people around the world that allow us to build life changing experiences.

    Sara’s emerged from small town America,

    Sara does not dwell on what has already come though. She’s a roll-up your sleeves and bring on tomorrow type. Her path has taken her through corporate America, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and many other projects far from the homogeny of McDonough. Her generation has learned that change is the only constant and that adversity is not bad, but instead a necessary path towards true achievement. Progress for Sara is not about conquering, it’s about pliability and knowledge. As our latest and greatest Destination Expert, she designs experiences that stay true to her senses that travel can bring wisdom.

    Cheers to Sara! The #saexpeditionsuniverse looks forward to continuing our journey of enlightenment through travel with you See more

    3 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    In Peru it’s very common to see ceramic bulls on roof ridges. These are known as ‘Torito de Pucara.’ It’s believed that they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca See more

    3 months ago

    Best Trips 2017 — National Geographic Travel

    National Geographic listed the Ecuadorian Cloud forest as one of the best trips of 2017. These mountain rainforests receive a high percentage of their moisture directly from cloud cover, resulting See more

    National Geographic Travel has selected 2017’s top travel destinations. From Kauai’s stunning cliffs to Malta’s rich culture, these 21 must-see places will inspire you to book your next See more

    3 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Aaron Welch is next in our #saexpeditionsuniverse series that introduces all the people around the world that allow us to build life changing experiences.

    Being an accountant for small and medium

    Nerds and their ability to manage data rules in the digital age. Considering this and the fact that Aaron plays Ringo Starr in a Beatles cover band, he begins to define what is cool. We’re just lucky that he decided to be cool with us!

    Cheers to Aaron! The #saexpeditionsuniverse looks forward to continuing our journey of enlightenment through travel with you. See more

    4 months ago

    VIDEO: The jawdropping beauty of Uyuni in the rainy season

    The Salar de Uyuni in Southern Bolivia is the world’s largest salt pan. In the rainy season it is transformed into an enormous natural mirror which is every photographer’s dream. Watch and enjoy

    4 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    Collin McNew is next in our #saexpeditionsuniverse series that introduces all the people around the world that allow us to build life changing experiences.

    Collin came barreling into the SA Universe

    This was how travel began with Collin. It started as a pursuit of sport that evolved into a pursuit of experience and learning. It was soccer that brought him to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014, where he stayed in the Amazon for four months, which he wrote a book about. Since, he’s lived in Ecuador and explored across Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. He now turns his passions for travel into developing trips for his clients as a Destination Expert for SA Expeditions where his unique energy and experiences greatly strengthens our mission to share South America with the world.

    Cheers to Collin! The #saexpeditionsuniverse looks forward to continuing our journey of enlightenment through travel with you. See more

    4 months ago

    All you need to know about Argentina’s Cueva de las Manos

    The enigmatic Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) in Argentine Patagonia is one of the finest examples of ancient rock art on the planet.

    4 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    “The Chincha chiefdom emerged in the Southern Valleys. The Chincha were mariners and traders and skilled weavers. Their most characteristic pottery form was the bowl. With their beautiful See more

    4 months ago

    Best of Brazil street food

    Is a trip to Brazil in your future? Here are some traditional Brazilian foods you shouldn’t miss!

    Almost more so than any other country, the food scene in Brazil is a culinary melting pot merging influences from all over the world. Ingredients and traditions from as far afield as Africa, Japan See more

    4 months ago

    Old and New: 16 Photos of Santiago, Chile

    The metropolitan city of Santiago is Chiles largest and has been its capital since it was founded in 1541. Santiago’s cityscape is shaped by its 19th century neoclassical architecture, Mapocho River

    Santiago is a great starting point to explore the colorful ocean city of Valparaiso, dry arid Atacama Desert, world famous Chilean wine regions, wild and rugged Patagonia and the mysterious Easter Island.

    #Chile #Southamerica See more

    Home to modern skyscrapers and historic colonial architecture, Santiago offers visitors the chance to step between past and present just by crossing the street.

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