Spending my birthday abroad is something I’ve been doing since my 15th birthday, where I was in Xi’an, China visiting the incredible Terra Cotta Warriors at the start of our grand four-year family adventure (If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, please check out my travel memoir series Sihpromatum. I am actually not the kind of person who looks forward to birthdays. As a kid it was always a day I felt sorry for myself because we didn’t get to have birthday parties with our friends and presents were not something we were showered with… yes, I’m giving Mom the look. Though, in her defence she has given me so much more than the typical upbringing. Instead of with friends and a party, I spent my 6th birthday at a drop zone watching people throw themselves out of planes…Mom made it clear from an early age that some exciting things were destined for my future. She is also responsible for starting my birthday trip tradition with my amazing man. I was so fortunate to find someone who shares my love for travel and as a special bonus, one whose birthday is only five days after mine.
Three days in Lima was the perfect amount of time to adjust to the time difference and explore a bit of the city life before heading into the countryside to embrace more of the Peruvian culture and history. Driving has a whole new meaning in Lima, and that was reconfirmed on our 45 minute drive back to the airport. It’s not a matter of following lines, but just getting where you need to go with as little damage to others as possible.
It’s funny how international airports (in most, but not all cases) have this neutral, mixing pot feel to them. With plane tickets, suitcase and Starbucks coffee in hand, the Lima airport scene could be anywhere in the world.
For some reason I didn’t realize Peru was so dry. Flying out of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname (the only other South American country I’ve visited) was an extremely different experience, everything outside the capital was solid jungle and meandering chocolate rivers. The one hour flight from Lima to Cuzco is mountainous and dry, with the occasional beautiful snow-capped mountain of the long stretch of The Andes.
For those of you who know me, you’re probably wondering WHY I would ever schedule flying on my birthday…well, there is no good answer to that, except Mom tried to convince me that if I fly on my birthday my fear of flying would end. Nope. Not true. I was still a case of the heart pounding, hand sweating, breath holding, butt clenching idiot. Oh well. I have a feeling I will have many more opportunities to cure my fear of flying.
We arrived in Cusco and were greeted by a well dressed man holding a sign with my name on it and the logo of my very first sponsor of this trip, Sacred Dreams Lodge! There’s nothing like feeling like a celebrity on your birthday and getting driven by a private driver through the spectacularly beautiful countryside of Peru. It reminded me of the drier Mediterranean countries, and Kees was reminded of Nepal.
I decided in my planning to go directly from Cuzco which sits at a daunting 11,000+ feet (3,400m) down to Urubamba 9,400 feet (2,870m) to give us a little bit more time to adjust to the altitude since we were coming straight from sea level. We had been taking the natural herb, ginkgo which I took on the trek to Everest Base Camp to help with any altitude sickness we might get.
Kees said the altitude hit him like a brick and he definitely could feel the difference. If I really thought about it, the air did seem crisp and thinner, but if you didn’t tell me I was at high altitude I never would’ve guess it.
The sun was shining bright and warm, while the air was cool and refreshing, which was something we missed in grey Lima. I was excited to be getting into the real travel section of our trip; No more Starbucks, Subway or Pizza Hut from the big city. The smell of burning fires brought me back to a hundred different travel moments of tasting the smoky earthy. Stacks of hay dotted the fields and women walked around in traditional bright woollen outfits. I loved stepping into the cultural side because the traditional clothing with the brightly coloured ponchos, hats and long skirts, was exactly how I imagined it!
Sacred Dreams Lodge isn’t actually IN the town but in the seemingly remote mountainous area you end up in is WELL worth the extra 15 minutes to get there. I actually loved the drive through the smaller village outside of Urubamba and down the tiny dirt roads to our own slice of paradise. Kees and I were instantly blown away when we pulled up. Could there possibly be a better place than a Sacred Dream Lodge to spend your birthday with the love of your life who, as of that day, was apparently called Banana.
We met the manager, Giancarlo, and instantly became friends. At the time we were the only guests at the hotel, so we truly had the paradise to ourselves and he gave us the BEST room with a giant dream bed, a lounge area and a wood burning fireplace. Of course there was so much to see and do that we didn’t have a moment to sit and enjoy it before Giancarlo invited us to come to town with him. Of course!
My joy of being out of the big city was reconfirmed when Giancarlo informed us we would be getting to town on his motorcycle. I nearly doubled over with instant laughter at the idea of having to fit myself on a tiny bike between those two guys. It didn’t take us long to establish a good system, where Kees pulled me onto the bike and I put my feet on top of his, and rest my arms on his legs like I was on a comfy sofa. This became our normal mode of transport for the next couple of days!
Giancarlo took us to the town centre which was very beautiful and bustling with people and exciting decorated rickshaws. The market was probably the cleanest I’ve ever seen, and amazingly no one hassled us. I instantly fell in love with Peru for the way the people leave you in peace and free to observe their daily life.
It was great to have Giancarlo around to show and tell us everything about all the different vegetables in the market as well as give us some extra insight into the local lifestyle.
I have a feeling we end up saying this on every trip, but this time might’ve been true when Kees said, “Sweet, I’m going to make a really strong statement… This might be the best place I’ve ever been.”
Kees got some incredible footage of our walk through the market and you are really lucky because he has been making 2-4 minute video clips of all of our adventures which I’m going to share with you as soon as we find an internet connection which will allow it to be up loaded.
We ended up doing SO much this day that I have to break it into two pieces. The day was so jam-packed with sightseeing that I forgot it was my birthday until Giancarlo asked me when it was. He then stopped right in the middle of the street to excitedly give me a big birthday hug. I really love it here. And I love my job.
P.s. The rest of the day involved a once in the year Takanakuy event that turned out to be a scam on the entire village, and resulted in the village going on a rampage but I’m saving that story to post with the video!
P.p.s. The best birthday present of all happened the next day!
For interest’s sake, these are my last 9 birthdays:
I absolutely love this tradition and am so glad that I have been able to share this special day with my family and, for the past 7 years, my amazing nutcase, Kees. And how could I forget, YOU!
Categories: Savannah Grace