Written by: Kelli Hayden, Photographer
WHAT AN ADVENTURE THIS WAS! THE STORY ABOUT THIS TRIP JUST MIGHT BE MORE FUN THAN THE IMAGES.
Hi everyone! Kelli Hayden of Kelli Bee Photography here, guest blogging about this Andeana Women's Retreat, created by Pleiades Peru Tours! I've known Laura for years and years... like about 6 years, but feels like 13. She's been EVERYWHERE. The furthest I had traveled with her was to Mexico to help her shoot a wedding in Playa Del Carmen a few years back, so I always felt ridiculous that I've never been able to go on one of her group retreats due to me having other events scheduled, or whatever other reason. A friend of mine, writer-extraordinaire, Kathleen, that was going on this Peru trip who also went on her Uganda trip last year really really wanted me to go as well. I had a potential wedding booked and a few other shoots so I wasn't thinking it would happen, which was a huge bummer, because Peru was on my top 10 places that I really wanted to travel to.
MY ANDEANA WOMEN’S RETREAT EXPERIENCE
On the night of March 7th, covered head to toe in paint because I was painting the walls of my hallway, I see several missed calls and “CALL ME NOW” texts from Laura. I'm thinking “Oh crap, this can't be good, she's leaving for Peru tonight!” Someone had to regretfully back out of the trip last min and there was a pre-paid, open spot available. Laura, while on her flight to Cusco, demanded I jump on the next plane and fly to Lima. As I'm standing there, covered in paint and un-showered, communicating with her about this, I'm like “....ok! I guess I'm going to Peru” And the next thing I knew, I was ferociously looking at flights to Lima that leave in the next few hours. I didn't even have enough time to pack according to the itinerary for the whole trip because I didn't have any time to read through it! I literally scooped clothing off my rack in my closet and threw them into a suitcase. While doing this, I'm also snickering at the thought of not telling my friend Kathleen, who's already been in Peru for a week, surfing in Huanchaco, that I'd end up joining everyone on this trip after all. I'd just randomly show up and surprise her.
After about 24-hours of non-stop travel which included one layover in Mexico City, landing in Lima, then hopping on another flight to Cusco, then a two-hour drive into the Sacred Valley, I finally made it to our adorable little hotel, the Parway Guest House. This town is really dark and dimly-lit at night, so I couldn't really see how it looked. All I knew at this point so far was that I'm somewhere in the Andes, bumping up and down in a car on cobblestone roads, and through some translation app, the driver was reassuring me that I was in a safe car (haha). Through my broken Spanish, I assured him that I was comfortable and I trusted him. Though I know enough Spanish to get by, I wish I had knew more so I could talk with him since we were in a car together for over two hours.
Once I arrived to the hotel, after walking up lots of cobblestone stairs with my heavy carry-on bag with all my gear (photographers, never ever check your gear! ALWAYS carry it!), I was greeted by the VERY high altitude and friendly hotel staff. Laura pointed me to the room I'd be sharing with Kathleen (who still had NO idea I was coming!) and I walked in, not realizing she was inside, Kathleen was bent over her suitcase with her back turned. I very swiftly grabbed my phone to record my surprise entry and got her completely shocked expression as I'm standing there, IN PERU, in her room, with all my luggage! Best surprise ever!
The next morning, we all sat down in the common area to breakfast the hotel staff made for us - best papaya I've ever had! Our tour van was picking us up at 9am to take us over to the Willoq community that consists of women Andean artisans who are experts in weaving and manufacturing all their clothing. They still use the ancient Incan techniques to weave everything from bracelets, scarves, to the most intricate details in their skirts! The patterns tell stories and all have meanings. It's literally a unique language of its own: Quechua. It's only spoken and woven, not written. This makes my visual artist heart skip beats. Perhaps I knew this language in a past life? We spent the morning learning how the Quechua women of this community use 100% of the natural elements around them to create everything they have. Starting from the alpaca wool that they spin themselves onto a spool, all by hand, to how they create the different colored dyes by using plants, florals, and even beetle blood (seriously)! This an ancient art form, perfected and still going strong in the Andes Mountains by these wonderful women in the Willoq village in the Sacred Valley.
As we thanked the community for the the gift of their time and the beautiful woven bracelets they made for us, we hopped back on the bus toward the Wayra Ranch resort for a delicious al fresco lunch by the pool. Their menu is created by using all organic ingredients, harvested on-site. Followed by our delicious meal, we were treated to an entertaining Caballo de Paso show with their resident horses who pranced around for us in perfect unison. After our visit to the ranch, we all piled into the air conditioned van and headed to the other side of the sacred valley to Pisaq. We enjoyed over an hour or so of mesmerizing landscapes and extraordinary views of the colorful and vibrant mountains.
Our first stop was the archeological site of Pisaq, which offered an incredible view of the valley down below. After that, we stopped in at the artisan market in Pisac to squeeze some shopping in. Most of the vendors were beginning to close for the day as there was a storm rolling in soon. Our journey continued as we headed back to the Urubamba Valley for dinner at Pakaritampu, a buffet-style restaurant that was walking distance to our hotel. By the time we got back to our hotel and got settled in our rooms, in came the storm. Being from southern California, we never get to see thunder and lightning, or even rain for that matter, so I had to open the window and listen to the sounds of thunder and rain while drifting off to a very pleasant sleep.
The next morning, we were off to the Ollantaytambo Fortress, which was conveniently walking distance from our hotel. It's an archeological citadel made up of several stone terraces, almost comparable to Machu Picchu, but smaller. In the Incan days of the Spanish conquest, it was used a retreat for the Incans and it's one of the last remaining stronghold in the Inca kingdom.
The way the Incans have constructed these fortresses throughout the cities is absolutely mind-blowing. They basically invented Legos. These ruins aren't really ruins so-to-speak. They're still standing and are still in immaculate condition. They've survived many large earthquakes. Photos don't really capture the details of how these stone blocks were cut and designed to create precise and intricate walls that you couldn't even squeeze a credit card through. If you aren't fitting Machu Picchu into your trip to Peru (it's totally fine if you don't, Peru has so much more to offer), this offers a very similar experience!
For lunch, we walked over to Pachamanca at El Albergue, which sits inside of a farm in the middle of Ollantaytambo. They're known for cooking heavily spiced meat and vegetables buried in the ground amidst hot stones. Think of it as a Peruvian “luau” - like how they traditionally roast a suckling pig in the ground in Hawaii. While lunch was cooking, we we treated to a welcome cocktail, a tour of their on-site distillery where they make their own coffee and liquor, and had the opportunity to get up close and personal for some “selfie time” with their resident alpacas.
After our lunch at the farm, we hopped in our van and made our way to the Moray ruins and then the ancient salt flats of Maras. It's very surreal to see hundreds of feet - up and down, far and wide - of salt terraces that have been there for centuries, still in use today! Gives new meaning to the phrase “salt of the earth”. I kept everyone waiting when the group was trying to leave because I was buying so many bags of different types of salts! Smoked BBQ black salt; come on! I could almost eat that with a spoon!
From there, we drove to our hotel, the El Retablo in Cusco and had dinner at Limo Restaurant. After that, Kathleen and I somehow got separated from the group and found ourselves sort of lost, in pouring rain, trying to find our way back to our hotel, even though it was only 900ft away! I'm going to be real honest here; I LOVE being lost in cities I'm unfamiliar with. It's the best way to experience being somewhere and tapping into having to use your own devices on finding your way around without relying on a tour guide or a local. It doesn't go without saying of course that you need make sure you're in a relatively safe city and not one of those make a wrong turn down a dark corner and you're in hot water kind of places. Cusco isn't a dangerous place, but that still doesn't mean we don't need to have eyes in the back of our heads and keep our wits about us. Luckily, we did find our hotel and once I realized where we were, the area became instantly familiar and after that, I felt comfortable with the idea of breaking away from the group if I wanted to.
Cusco is definitely one of those cities I wish we had more time to stay in. The best way to explore and and experience a place is to WALK around in it. The sacred valley wasn't the best place to walk around, you definitely need a car for that, but Cusco is for sure an on-foot-friendly place. *Pro-tip: you want flat, slip-proof shoes with traction for Cusco; the sidewalks and roads are made of smooth, ancient polished stone and cobblestones and you could find yourself slipping on the steep sidewalks if you're not careful.
Our first visit of the day was Coricancha, the Temple of the Sun and Cusco's Cathedral. It's one of the most sacred temples in the entire Inca Empire. The walls and floors used to be covered in pure gold! Nearly all of the gold Baroque art and vigils are still preserved inside today, where absolutely no photos of the artwork are allowed, not even cell phone photos! It's also home of the black Jesus, who they believe has special “powers” and they take out for large current and local events. That day, it was rumoured he'd be making an appearance in wake of the current Coronavirus outbreak, even though it hadn't made its way into Cusco at the time.
After the cathedrals, we explored the San Pedro Marketplace for some shopping. Kathleen and I had to buy another bag to bring home because of the amount of stuff we bought! After shopping, we sat down for lunch at Pachapapa Restaurant where I tried alpaca meat that Laura ordered for the first and last time in my life! When in Peru, I suppose! After a delicious meal and mucho Pisco Sours, we headed to the Sacsayhuaman fortress, which is almost jokingly pronounced “sexy women” ...so naturally, we had to compose a sexy women Vanity Fair-esque shot of all of us. Nailed it! We also made stops to Tambomachay and Qenqo Temple just outside of Cusco which offered a gorgeous view of the city of Cusco from the top.
For our farewell dinner, we dined like kings at Calle de Medio, where I finally got my hands on mezcal cocktails, rimmed with the same salt I purchased at the salt mines and finally got to taste it! Delicioso! Cristobel and Maria gave us farewell gifts and we would then head back to our hotels for one last night at our hotel and then get ready for our second leg of our trip; four days in the AMAZON!
To learn more about Andeana Hats, please feel free to contact us. We hope you enjoyed reading Kelli’s travel diary entry on the real behind the scenes of the Andeana Hats Women’s Retreat in the Sacred Valley.