This article is from the October 2017 Issue of Forever Young

 oct 2017 feature story image

 

By Robin Esrock

A decade ago, I set out on a year-long adventure to discover the world, and hopefully myself in the process. Travel teaches us as much about the planet as it does about ourselves, and my journey to 24 countries was far richer than my formal years of education. I chased ancient wonders and exotic cultures, romance and adventure. My first port of call was Peru, a country that borders five other South American nations and seems to soak up the best of all of them. Mountains, colonial towns, beaches, world-class dining, ancient ruins, and jungles – the “Land of the Inca” also boasts 28 of the planet’s 32 climates, and 20 percent of the world’s birds and butterflies. It's no surprise that travellers flock to the continent’s third largest country with hopes to discover it all.

Unlike several major cities in South and Central America, Lima is more than just a gateway to something better. I arrived in the coastal capital during the city’s remarkable rise to the very apex of South America’s culinary scene. World-class restaurants helmed by rock star chefs have mastered the country’s ample and unusual ingredients, picking up international awards in the process. Here, you’ll sample fruits, fish and flavours you can taste nowhere else: dorado cooked in bijao leaf, grilled paiche with snake fruit puree, and for dessert: charapita chilli pepper marshmallows! Peru’s mouth-watering national dish is ceviche, comprised of raw seafood delicately cooked in lime juice, salt, cilantro and giant corn kernels. Wash it down with the deceptively sweet Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink, consisting of pisco (a clear brandy), lime, egg whites, bitters and sugar. Both drink and dish are definitely refreshing after a full day exploring Lima’s historical colonial centre, and wandering about the ornate colonial churches and buildings, alongside the city’s ample green spaces, like the Parque Kennedy.

One doesn’t think of beaches in Peru, and yet 24 hours after my plane touched down in Lima, I found myself eating homemade ceviche at a private beach club. The owner had invited me, and he raved about a surf town north of Lima called Chicama that is blessed with the world’s longest, most perfect left-breaking wave. World-class surfing in Peru? I had no idea, but after a wonderful and tasty introduction to the country, I was eager to catch a wave to the country’s most famous attraction: Cuzco, and the ancient wonder of Machu Picchu.

When the Spanish conquered the Inca in the 1500’s, they had also defeated what was then the world’s largest civilization. At its peak, the Incan empire stretched across Peru, Ecuador, and large parts of Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Their capital city, located 3,400 m above sea level, in the Andes mountains, was Cuzco. Worshipping a sun god named Inti, the Inca called Cuzco “the naval of the world,” and today it draws international travellers from the planet’s four corners. It is a city of stunning colonial architecture, which includes churches, cathedrals, and the city’s main hub, the Plaza des Armes. Cuzco’s many architectural and museum attractions serve as a gateway to Inca highlights that include the Sacred Valley, Inka Wasi, and the Incan citadel of Saksaywaman. This provided plenty to do as I got used to the unfamiliar altitude, which can turn a small hill into an exhausting trudge. Fortunately, a few days are all one needs to acclimatize, although some travellers might want to look into remedies for altitude sickness, and watch their pisco sour intake!

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. Adventurous travellers book ahead to get a spot on the renowned Inca Trail, a four-day hike into the Andes along an ancient pathway that deposits you at Sun Gate. Overlooking the mythical ruins at sunrise, trekkers can explore Machu Picchu well before the tour buses arrive. Most visitors take the tourist train from Cuzco to Agua Caliente or Ollantaytambo and hop on shuttle buses to navigate the steep mountain switchbacks. Both groups converge at this remarkable Incan site, built in the 15th century but lost to history until it was brought to worldwide attention by an American explorer in 1911. Spanish conquistadors defaced or destroyed most Incan sites, but Machu Picchu remained hidden, unscathed and mysteriously abandoned. Guides walk you through the attractions. After my long trek along the Inca Trail, I relished the ambiance, surrounding mountain scenery, terraced steps, and famous views. There’s simply nowhere else on Earth like it.

Peru is rich with one-of-a-kind experiences. Climb aboard a small flightseeing plane to view the mysterious Nazca Lines, comprised of hundreds of images of animals, shapes, plants and people. Sprawled across 450 kilometres of desert-dry plateau, these giant, remarkable images can only be seen from the air. Do they represent constellations, pilgrimage routes, landing strips for spacecraft? Nobody knows. We do however know why the colonial city of Arequipa sparkles. Many of the buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage Site were constructed of white stone quarried from surrounding volcanoes. In Puno, stand at the shores of Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable river, sparkling under a deep-blue sky. Here I visited a village of Uros, the indigenous boat people, living on floating islands made entirely of reeds. There had already been so much diversity, but with a quick flight north to the jungle city of Iquitos, I was about to discover a whole lot more.

Sixty percent of Peru is comprised of the Amazon jungle, an area that is larger than Spain. With Iquitos as the gateway, outstanding eco-lodges line the banks and tributaries of the planet’s mightiest river, while various boats take visitors on multi-day excursions into the impenetrable rainforest. This is a region of unsurpassed bio-diversity. Sipping a pisco sour on deck, I see splashes of bright-coloured macaws and parrots appear in the sky.

How big is the Amazon? During rainy season, parts of the river can swell to over 190 kilometres in width! With a luxury riverboat as a mothership, we explore tributaries on smaller motorboats, spotting monkeys, sloths, caymans, and birdlife. We also visit small communities of people who call the Amazon home, dropping off supplies for a local school. I end up playing soccer with some kids on a clear-cut field, but when the ball is kicked into the jungle thicket, I let one of the locals retrieve it. Earlier that day on a short walk, my guide pointed out tarantula and a perfectly camouflaged anaconda.

Teeming with life, the jungle feels like it can swallow you whole. No wonder villagers live atop stilted wooden huts. Although seeing pink dolphins and fishing for piranha were definite highlights, I found each cultural encounter with villagers as fascinating as the Amazon’s wildlife.

It would be a few more years (and many more miles) before I could say I found myself. Fortunately, the many natural, historical and cultural wonders of Peru ensured I would also find myself in Peru again. Each visit continues to unravel a remarkable destination as diverse as the travellers who choose to visit it.

Reprinted with CWT permission from their POSSIBILITIES magazine which can be accessed on line at www.cwtvacations.ca

A decade ago, I set out on a year-long adventure to discover the world, and hopefully myself in the process. Travel teaches us as much about the planet as it does about ourselves, and my journey to 24 countries was far richer than my formal years of education. I chased ancient wonders and exotic cultures, romance and adventure. My first port of call was Peru, a country that borders five other South American nations and seems to soak up the best of all of them. Mountains, colonial towns, beaches, world-class dining, ancient ruins, and jungles – the “Land of the Inca” also boasts 28 of the planet’s 32 climates, and 20 percent of the world’s birds and butterflies. It's no surprise that travellers flock to the continent’s third largest country with hopes to discover it all. Unlike several major cities in South and Central America, Lima is more than just a gateway to something better. I arrived in the coastal capital during the city’s remarkable rise to the very apex of South America’s culinary scene. World-class restaurants helmed by rock star chefs have mastered the country’s ample and unusual ingredients, picking up international awards in the process. Here, you’ll sample fruits, fish and flavours you can taste nowhere else: dorado cooked in bijao leaf, grilled paiche with snake fruit puree, and for dessert: charapita chilli pepper marshmallows! Peru’s mouth-watering national dish is ceviche, comprised of raw seafood delicately cooked in lime juice, salt, cilantro and giant corn kernels. Wash it down with the deceptively sweet Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink, consisting of pisco (a clear brandy), lime, egg whites, bitters and sugar. Both drink and dish are definitely refreshing after a full day exploring Lima’s historical colonial centre, and wandering about the ornate colonial churches and buildings, alongside the city’s ample green spaces, like the Parque Kennedy. One doesn’t think of beaches in Peru, and yet 24 hours after my plane touched down in Lima, I found myself eating homemade ceviche at a private beach club. The owner had invited me, and he raved about a surf town north of Lima called Chicama that is blessed with the world’s longest, most perfect left-breaking wave. World-class surfing in Peru? I had no idea, but after a wonderful and tasty introduction to the country, I was eager to catch a wave to the country’s most famous attraction: Cuzco, and the ancient wonder of Machu Picchu. When the Spanish conquered the Inca in the 1500’s, they had also defeated what was then the world’s largest civilization. At its peak, the Incan empire stretched across Peru, Ecuador, and large parts of Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Their capital city, located 3,400 m above sea level, in the Andes mountains, was Cuzco. Worshipping a sun god named Inti, the Inca called Cuzco “the naval of the world,” and today it draws international travellers from the planet’s four corners. It is a city of stunning colonial architecture, which includes churches, cathedrals, and the city’s main hub, the Plaza des Armes. Cuzco’s many architectural and museum attractions serve as a gateway to Inca highlights that include the Sacred Valley, Inka Wasi, and the Incan citadel of Saksaywaman. This provided plenty to do as I got used to the unfamiliar altitude, which can turn a small hill into an exhausting trudge. Fortunately, a few days are all one needs to acclimatize, although some travellers might want to look into remedies for altitude sickness, and watch their pisco sour intake! There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. Adventurous travellers book ahead to get a spot on the renowned Inca Trail, a four-day hike into the Andes along an ancient pathway that deposits you at Sun Gate. Overlooking the mythical ruins at sunrise, trekkers can explore Machu Picchu well before the tour buses arrive. Most visitors take the tourist train from Cuzco to Agua Caliente or Ollantaytambo and hop on shuttle buses to navigate the steep mountain switchbacks. Both groups converge at this remarkable Incan site, built in the 15th century but lost to history until it was brought to worldwide attention by an American explorer in 1911. Spanish conquistadors defaced or destroyed most Incan sites, but Machu Picchu remained hidden, unscathed and mysteriously abandoned. Guides walk you through the attractions. After my long trek along the Inca Trail, I relished the ambiance, surrounding mountain scenery, terraced steps, and famous views. There’s simply nowhere else on Earth like it. Peru is rich with one-of-a-kind experiences. Climb aboard a small flightseeing plane to view the mysterious Nazca Lines, comprised of hundreds of images of animals, shapes, plants and people. Sprawled across 450 kilometres of desert-dry plateau, these giant, remarkable images can only be seen from the air. Do they represent constellations, pilgrimage routes, landing strips for spacecraft? Nobody knows. We do however know why the colonial city of Arequipa sparkles. Many of the buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage Site were constructed of white stone quarried from surrounding volcanoes. In Puno, stand at the shores of Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable river, sparkling under a deep-blue sky. Here I visited a village of Uros, the indigenous boat people, living on floating islands made entirely of reeds. There had already been so much diversity, but with a quick flight north to the jungle city of Iquitos, I was about to discover a whole lot more. Sixty percent of Peru is comprised of the Amazon jungle, an area that is larger than Spain. With Iquitos as the gateway, outstanding eco-lodges line the banks and tributaries of the planet’s mightiest river, while various boats take visitors on multi-day excursions into the impenetrable rainforest. This is a region of unsurpassed bio-diversity. Sipping a pisco sour on deck, I see splashes of bright-coloured macaws and parrots appear in the sky. How big is the Amazon? During rainy season, parts of the river can swell to over 190 kilometres in width! With a luxury riverboat as a mothership, we explore tributaries on smaller motorboats, spotting monkeys, sloths, caymans, and birdlife. We also visit small communities of people who call the Amazon home, dropping off supplies for a local school. I end up playing soccer with some kids on a clear-cut field, but when the ball is kicked into the jungle thicket, I let one of the locals retrieve it. Earlier that day on a short walk, my guide pointed out tarantula and a perfectly camouflaged anaconda. Teeming with life, the jungle feels like it can swallow you whole. No wonder villagers live atop stilted wooden huts. Although seeing pink dolphins and fishing for piranha were definite highlights, I found each cultural encounter with villagers as fascinating as the Amazon’s wildlife. It would be a few more years (and many more miles) before I could say I found myself. Fortunately, the many natural, historical and cultural wonders of Peru ensured I would also find myself in Peru again. Each visit continues to unravel a remarkable destination as diverse as the travellers who choose to visit it. Reprinted with CWT permission from their POSSIBILITIES magazine which can be accessed on line at www.cwtvacations.ca