Our highly-mobile travel contributor Grace Yang just returned from a road-less-traveled exploration of Peru. On the itinerary were mummy viewing, checking out Kuélap — the alternative to Machu Picchu, doing a stint at a reforestation project, finishing up in the hipster quarter of Lima.
Ageist: Mummies? Really? Where were you?
Grace Yang: Machu Picchu is, of course, incredible, but Kuélap is definitely the road less traveled, i.e. you are not fighting other tourists. It is high up in the mountains and just feels very magical and sacred. It can be accessed with a short hike in or you can hire a horse and be led in by the locals. Kuélap is definitely getting on the radar — they are trying to be recognized as a UNESCO site.
The mummies are called sarcofagi. These are so amazing. What I found interesting is that they are not more protected. It feels like they should be behind glass, but to see them in person, out where they were initially placed was really incredible — a special moment. Our tour guide was local and really was able to convey the lives back then (or at least based on archaeological evidence).
He also discovered a cave that we went to later — I can’t remember the name of it, but again, there was a petrified mummy in the cave and bones; so Indiana Jones.
Chachapoyas was the town that we stayed in to tour the various sacred sites. There are several archeologically significant sites, and I feel like I am just scratching the surface. Apparently, there are, like, these backpacking trails one can do to see and experience more…
Ageist: Where did you stay?
La Casona de Chachapoyas. The hotel was very pleasant — simple but very comfortable. The best part was the very sweet maternal receptionist who was knitting these lovely quilts every time we saw her. She served freshly squeezed juice every morning, eggs made to order and special local dishes like juane (which is named after John the Baptist’s head). The hotel also hosted an art exhibit one night and we met the artist and watched local dancing.
Chachapoyas is not easy to get to, and we ended up taking a small plane that was only available through Saeta (and only runs certain days and not if it rains, etc). I mean, picture chickens running around leaving the airport. It was pretty difficult to figure out flights and we got a lot of incorrect information from various folks, including travel agents. We ended up booking a tour including the flight to make life easier. Same with leaving Chachapoyas to Lima — we got so much bad information, but finally we were able to get connected to a travel agent through our hotel.
Ageist: What is the reforestation project? What was it like?
The event itself was not too hard — we planted around 25 trees and fences around the trees to protect them. The trees will protect against erosion. People in the town had started cleaning and clearing the area days before. The non-profit chose fruit-producing trees, like mangos that the town folks can eat. Of course, it was hot and muggy near the mouth of this river in the Amazon. However, it felt really good to connect with locals who are so passionate about their town and the environment. They helped make me feel like part of the community. This region is also known for the cacao and produces chocolate; we toured 2 farms and it was really incredible the work that is being done there.
Ageist: Hipster Lima? What was that like?
Grace Yang: Peruvian hipsters look just like American hipsters except without the beards. My first time there was many years ago as part of my post-law-bar-exam trip; I was exhausted and it was such a blur so this trip feels more like a first time. We stayed in Barranco, also known as the bohemian, arty neighborhood adjacent to Miraflores, the fancy, safe neighborhood. We ate so much ceviche; there was a new one I hadn’t tried before made with squid ink and scallops — so good. The other crazy thing I ate was anticuchos — beef heart! The beef heart when done right was good, but probably won’t add to my regular diet. Wherever I travel, I always look for busy local restaurants with a lively crowd — and there was plenty of this in Barranco.