Peru

Pleasant Surprises

Thirty-six hours of travel later: a taxi, a bus, a second taxi, three planes, a car, a bus, and a van and we’re home in Haiti. Simultaneously exhausted and refreshed, I find myself looking back on the highlights of the past eight days we spent in Peru. Over the next week or so, I’ll post some of my favorite memories from our trip, the moments that stand out.

Some of them were anticipated: the breathtaking view of Machu Picchu as the sun painted the mountain in a soft golden light, the immensity of the night sky and the thousands of stars twinkling over Lake Titicaca, the quiet beauty of the cobbled city streets in Cusco with shaggy dogs darting past the traffic. Others were surprises. It was as if someone had carefully placed them for us to discover just past the last bend in the hill, right past the door to the alleyway propped slightly open. Two of the most beautiful views we saw all week came from these moments.

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One of our first days in the city, as we were still adjusting to the altitude: guzzling bottle after bottle of water and taking our time to see the city, we stumbled across a wooden door just barely propped open. We had been headed to a restaurant in San Blas and we were methodically making our way over the uneven stones when a sliver of light caught Kelsey’s eye. She pushed the heavy wooden door back a little further to reveal a dirt floor through the threshold and took a step in.

I followed behind as the brown earth, covered by a cool stone archway opened up onto an overgrown lawn and a spectacular view of the small houses scattered on the hill against the baby blue sky. An older man stood up from his chair in the lawn beside us.

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“Hola,” we said quickly, pointing to the view and gesturing at our cameras.

“Moy bonita,” I tried to explain with my cripplingly-limited Spanish.

He nodded his approval, smiling and asked if we were Argentinean.

“Estados Unidos,” we said, shaking our heads. And taking one last look out at this man’s private view of the mountainside in this little nook of the city, we backed out through the cool archway and back onto the street in search of our restaurant.

Later that day, after we’d been thoroughly filled by lunch, we continued along our path, this time in search of a hostel, El Mirador, that had been suggested to us by a friend because of the stunning view of the city from the restaurant. We had found our way to the central fountain in the area and asked a woman in a shop there if she knew where it was.

She walked us out to the front of her shop where she gestured to a map affixed to the door. She ran her fingers along the streets from the fountain up to the top edge of the map and then pointed to the steps leading away from the water and up a steep hill.

We began the ascent. With 80% of the oxygen at sea level we were moving a little slower than usual and took frequent breaks to pet the dogs that passed or commiserate about the lack of preparation all those stairs at sea level in Haiti had provided us.

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After what felt like hours of searching, conflicting directions from several locals that all still managed to lead us straight up the hill, and what felt like hundreds of steps, we were beginning to lose hope. We reached the top of a final set of steps, huffing and puffing and clutching our backs for support. Up ahead of us was a small convenient store and three kids tossing a ball back and forth along a dirt path. One of the boys wound up and threw the ball at the other, his eyes darting over to look at us. The ball sped down towards the ground, hitting a parked car in its path. The alarm started blaring and the little boy, grabbed his face a la “Home Alone” in utter shock.

After a few minutes, the alarm subsided and the ball toss commenced. Kelsey and I meandered along the road, certain that we were not going to find El Mirador after all. It wasn’t until we turned around that we realized we’d walked up a hill overlooking the whole city of Cusco. We stood there in silence for a few moments taking in the expansive view of the valley that we had just stumbled upon on our way to the hostel.

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Two beautiful overlooks in one day.

We did eventually make it to El Mirador and the view was spectacular from there too. We even indulged in one pisco sour to share for all our efforts. But the views I’ll remember from that day were from the places we were never headed and didn’t intend to see. Pleasant surprises.

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