Things to Do in Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Grandmother and granddaughter at Tambomachay near Cusco

Many tourists whoosh through Cusco and the Sacred Valley on a whirlwind itinerary which leaves their heads spinning. While some might be content to shoot through as they tick off items on their bucket list, Peru’s most famous city and its surrounding valleys offer up a virtual smorgasbord of activities for those with longer attention spans.

During our more than two months in the area, we’ve had some time to get acquainted with not-so-little Qosq’o (Quechua name). What we’ve discovered is one of South America’s most unique and appealing towns in one of the continent’s most unique and appealing regions. No wonder UNESCO declared Cusco a World Heritage Site. Here’s just a tiny sample of all the great things to do in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Continue…

Extraordinary Nazca – Much More Than Lines

Nazca Hummingbird

The Nazca Lines have been associated with everything from aliens to Atlantis; they are certainly one of the world’s most mysterious creations. All that fame, intrigue and media attention means that the name Nazca has now become synonymous with the lines. But many people don’t realize that Nazca refers to a town, a region, and even an ancient culture. That culture left behind much more than lines.

Bucketlisters and speedy travelers shooting through Peru often spend half a day in Nazca, do a quick flight over the Nazca Lines, and hightail it on to Arequipa, Cusco or Lima. GIGANTIC MISTAKE. Nazca is a fascinating region which deserves far more attention. Thomas and I spent six days here, and this is just a bit of what we discovered

Continue…

The Rockabillies of Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park Rockabillies

The Rockabillies of Yoyogi Park are, perhaps, the best example of what makes Tokyo so Tokyo. This city is all about awesome subcultures, retro tongue-in-cheek chic, music, and serious love for everything fun.

For more than 30 years, these Tokyo icons have been gathering on Sundays at the southeastern corner of Yoyogi Park to dazzle visitors with their dance moves, humor and extreme vertical hair. They don’t do it for money; they don’t ask for a thing. They just dance to dance and entertain the crowds.

Continue…

Colossal Olmec Stone Heads of La Venta

Colossal Olmec head at La Venta (Monument 1)

Parque-Museo La Venta in Villahermosa is one of the most unique, well conceived museums we’ve ever encountered. Created in 1958, the park-museum was designed to house relocated Olmec treasures that were threatened by petro-chemical development near the original La Venta archaeological site in northern Tabasco. Those priceless treasures include three colossal Olmec stone heads as well as many other very impressive examples of Olmec sculpture and carving.

Continue…

The Padaung Conundrum

A group of Padaung at Inle Lake

The Padaung, sometimes annoyingly referred to as the “long-neck” tribe, are one of the most recognizable ethnic groups in the world. More properly called the Kayah Lahwi (their name for themselves), the Padaung embrace one of the most extreme beautification practices out there. As Padaung women grow, heavy brass coils are added to their necks pushing down their shoulders to create the illusion of a long neck. From Discovery Channel specials on “body modification” to literature on “body mutilation” the Padaung story has been told and sold and used and abused for a variety of purposes.

Continue…

The Jain Temple of Ranakpur

The spectacular Jain Temple of Ranakpur, India

During our 16 months in India, I dragged Thomas from one temple to another. Yes, I have a bit of an obsession, a rather insatiable appetite for architecture… temples, mosques, churches, fortresses, walled cities… I can’t get enough. (Stop laughing! If I have to spend hours watching him photograph every bug between Hong Kong and Rajasthan, he can visit a few temples.)

Well, my somewhat obsessive quest took us to one of the Grand Daddies of Indian architecture, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur, a VERY small, one-kiosk town northwest of Udaipur. Considered one of the masterpieces of Jain architecture, the huge fortified temple opens up into a surprisingly large multi-storied structure containing a series of vaulted chambers supported by 1,444 pillars. Each pillar is carved with unique designs ranging from sensuous dancers to geometric patterns to fine floral motifs. If you have never seen Jain carving, you are in for a treat.

Continue…

San Cristobal’s Indigenous Markets

Thomas exploring the Zinacantan Market

Without a doubt, the highlight of any trip to beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas is a visit to the bustling indigenous markets full of Tzotzil and Tzeltal people. We decided to plant ourselves in the idyllic, colonial-era town for a couple of weeks to explore the markets as well as those in Tenejapa, Zinacantán, and Chamula.

Each market is an extraordinary event, a feast for the senses and a quick course in the diversity of the region. Traders descend from the hills wearing beautiful traditional clothing marking them as members of different villages. Non-indigenous visitors might be surprised to see twenty women sitting together in basically the same outfit. But this clothing has meaning in Chiapas: it ties the people together and displays their heritage. It’s a modern-day sign of the tribal unity of the past and present.

Continue…

The Smart Way to Hike Emei Shan

Huazang Temple on the peak of Emei Shan

Emei Shan, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China, sits in western Sichuan at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. This soaring mountain was the location of the first Buddhist temple in the country. Today beautiful Emei Shan’s Jinding, the “Golden Summit,” features the gilded Huazang Temple, a prime destination for tourists, pilgrims, and hikers alike.

To Buddhists, the long, arduous climb up the steep slopes of Emei Shan is a testament to their devotion and spiritual fortitude. We took the bus.

It may seem like a cop-out, but it had a lot to do with a Canadian we met in our hotel at the base of the mountain.

“Did you enjoy your hike up the mountain?” I asked naively.

Continue…

Berlin Wall Art

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Wall. For 28 years, the stark cement blocks of the notorious Berlin Wall reminded Germans and travelers to Germany that they were on the front lines of the Cold War. As the post-war western city rebuilt into its cement cage, the traumatized population began to express their anger and humor in paint.

What started out as graffiti on an architectural scar grew into extended visual commentaries on a divided nation caught up in the ultimate ideological battle. And then, in 1989, that battle ended. As Germans rushed to tear down their symbol of division, some realized a work of art was being destroyed as well – and that at least part of it was worth saving.

Continue…

Gocta Lodge Adventures – Kuelap, Revash, Mummies and More

View of Gocta Falls from Gocta Lodge
See note at end of post on changes since our visit.

Stepping out onto the balcony of our room here at Gocta Lodge, it’s hard to believe this view isn’t on the cover of every travel magazine on the planet. We came to Chachapoyas to explore Peru’s rising star Kuelap, which many are calling the Machu Picchu of the north. Yet, the view from our hotel room may eclipse that rising star.

We look out over a jungle-filled canyon framing the spectacular two-tier Gocta Waterfall, which has only recently been named one of the highest in the world. A flock of several dozen parrots swoops by above our heads. Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower below.

Continue…