14 Tips For Having the Most Romantic Valentine’s Day Ever!

Last Friday morning we officially said our “see ya laters” to Cusco and began the first portion of the journey that would lead us to Chile.  It was bittersweet to leave the first stop on our RTW journey, but we were very excited for what awaited us!  The itinerary went as follows: drive with friends of our host from Cusco to Puno (an estimated five hours), and then from Puno to Tacna (an estimated ten hours), the southernmost city in Peru.  Everything was planned a little bit last-minute as we had a busy week prior with our friends Dan and Nichole visiting.  We had nothing planned after that but knew we had to make our way from Tacna across the Chilean border to Arica.  That gave us almost entire week to make it down the coast of Chile to the capital of Santiago, where we will fly even further south to Puerto Montt this upcoming Friday.  Now, back to us leaving Cusco.  We had absolutely no idea that one of the craziest days of our lives lay ahead of us on the only day we had actually planned out over the course of the week. As you also know, Saturday was Valentine’s Day.  To help capture the essence of the events that followed our embarkation on Friday, Karen and I are happy to present to you the simple process for creating an unforgettably romantic date chock-full of cupid’s arrows.

Tips For Having the Most Romantic Valentine’s Day Ever:

1.  Hire a private driver to take you from Cusco to Tacna. Make it to Puno (the first stop on the way) and hear your driver tell you that you are ahead of schedule and only have six more hours to go.

2.  While in Puno, treat your lady friend to some ice cream and enjoy it on a sunny day in the central plaza.

3.  Take the “shortcut” from Puno to Tacna, which will “save time” getting you to your destination.

4.  Roll through an assortment of very small mountain towns, in which every person gives a completely different answer as to the length of time remaining on your journey.

5.  Drive through “detours” on the route, which include fording streams (Oregon Trail style) that are deep enough to allow water into the car and begin soaking your feet.  Watch as local llamas are wading through the waters with their legs completely covered.

6.  Every hour or so, ask your driver how much time is remaining and receive the same answer of “about three hours.”

7.  Drive up to the top of a snow-covered mountain at 14,000 feet, drive your station wagon through the cake-like mud and putter out in a giant water-filled crater.

8.  Try various strategies for over an hour to get the car removed, only to soak through every pair of dry socks that you have, lowering your body temperature enough to begin shaking.  Teeth chattering yet?  Perfect, you’re setting the mood nicely.

9.  Run out of feasible options (with no cell phone service in the mountains) around 1:30am, and huddle together using your dog’s body as a temporary blanket.  Turn off the car to go to sleep and wait for help to arrive in the morning.

10.  Within the hour, awake to hear a truck coming up the mountain and yell “CAR!”

11.  Get towed out by the truck, only to begin silently weeping as your car battery stalls.  Watch the battery turn over just in time to catch up to the truck.

12. Drive over a rock plateau and get stuck again after the truck has already left.  Watch as your wife spends Valentine’s Day chiseling rock from underneath the car at 4am.

13.  Take one more cat nap in the car before cruising into Tacna just 12 hours after your estimated arrival time.

14.  Remember that you’re together, everyone is safe, and everything will be all right!

In our minds, we had a timeline for how and when we would arrive in Chile.  However, God’s timeline was much different than our own!  But the most amazing part is what ensued after the madness.  We arrived in Tacna fairly early on Saturday morning.  From there, we met a driver (he also happened to be a police officer) who was not only able to get us across the border to Arica with Sofi’s crate, but he even made a call to a friend to find out every detail we needed to get Sofi into Chile.  He drove us to a couple different offices to get the necessary paperwork to make the following day a breeze.  On top of that, this man introduced us to another friend who ended up driving us from Arica to Iquique, our second stop in Chile.  And, wouldn’t you know it, this gentleman was a bus driver who had permits for securing Sofi’s crate to the top of his car.  God’s timeline was certainly different than our own, but it was perfect.  Everything happens for a reason!

The Sacred Valley, Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, Oh My!

Two days after our travel companions Dan and Nichole arrived last weekend, we embarked on an epic four-day adventure culminating with Machu Picchu.  Now, it’s important to know that there are a variety of options for visiting the sacred Inca site.  You can do it simple and cheap via a one (albeit long) day trip on the train. You can schedule a much longer trip, oftentimes seven or eight days, in which you visit all of the Inca ruin sites from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, the city nearest Machu Picchu.  Or, you can do a private tour in which you determine the length of your journey, as well as the stops along the way.  The best choice for you will depend on your agenda, the time you have available, and your preference for a more or less rigid schedule.

For us, we determined that a four day trip made the most sense and we knew we wanted to visit Machu Picchu in a less conventional way.  This meant that we were going to take the private car tour.  Our host’s father, Daniel, has long been a tour guide in Cusco and he has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Inca (or more accurately, Quechua) people.  So, the five of us (and our driver, Carlos) left early on Monday morning to head to a few sites in the Sacred Valley. We visited Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo during the day before heading to the jungle of Quillabamba on Monday night.  We spent all of Tuesday in Quillabamba and stayed for one more night before heading to our next stop in Cocalmayo/Santa Teresa on Wednesday afternoon.  At this point in the journey, we left our vehicle and hiked from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday evening.  This set us up for a beautiful Thursday morning at Machu Picchu, followed by a long trek home that night.

The four days we spent on the road seemed like a month because of the immense activities we experienced.  Since we don’t have a month to read about it, let me sum up why the Kimble-Rudenga itinerary was perfect for us (and may be perfect for you, too!):

1. Flexibility.   You aren’t tied to a specific timeline through private car transport.  There are options to stop off somewhere for lunch, spend extra time at certain sites and even pull off of the road if someone is getting carsick.  A private tour puts you in control of your schedule.

2. The ability to travel off the beaten path.  More than half of our four days was spent at sites that the train surpasses on the way to Machu Picchu.  The jungle in Quillabamba and the natural hot springs at Cocalmayo are “must-sees,” and you wouldn’t get to see them taking a direct route!

3. Enhanced knowledge of the Inca sites.  Daniel was constantly dropping knowledge during the car ride and at all of the archaeological sites.

4.  A more personal experience.  There’s definitely a different feeling when you have one tour guide for four people versus a large group.  Everything was so interactive (like climbing trees to pick your own avocado!) and being in a smaller group allowed for us to ask questions and really understand the culture and history.

5.  Better bang for your buck.  The price of the train ticket alone (not including entrance to the sites) is about a third of the cost of what we paid for our four-day excursion.

6.  Cultural experiences.  We made various stops at fruit stands and markets along our route, giving us an opportunity to try so many new things (ever tasted a pacay?).  Not to mention we were able to visit local farmers in Quillabamba and enjoy organic coffee, fruits, meats and vegetables!

7.  You can bring your dog!  Sofi experienced every bit of our four-day trip with the exception of Machu Picchu, so she definitely recommends a private car.

8.  Insane scenery.  Our route to Quillabamba allowed for a pass through the snow-capped mountains at over 14,000 feet!

9.  Working off the “car” legs.  The mountains don’t allow for cars to make it past Santa Teresa, so we enjoyed a 10-kilometer hike to Aguas Calientes.  The path follows the train tracks and gives a little sneak peak of Machu Picchu near the end of the trail.

10.  Memorable videos.  Daniel encouraged us to take time for pictures and videos, so we never felt rushed.  See below for a video of our journey from start to finish!

Breaking Bread

Pan campesino is to the Kimbles as blue meth is to Walter White.  Even when we have some, we’re thinking about more! Prior to arriving in Peru, we knew relatively little about what to expect in the way of food.  Now that we’ve had a taste, we feel qualified to give our two cents (how do you convert that into Peruvian soles?).  The categories of food below are broken up into the following: things you know, things you probably don’t know and things we still have to try.

Things you know:

1. Avocados: They are so green and the perfect consistency.  I never imagined in my life that I would be fighting Karen for the last bite of avocado!

2. Ceviche: This dish is a type of raw (usually local) fish cooked in lime or other citrus juices.  Local Peruvians often eat ceviche after a long night of drinking to cure their hangovers.  If you’re a seafood fan, this is right up your alley!

3. Mangoes: Rainy season in Cusco is also mango season.  If you enjoy mangoes in the United States, you will be blown away by the size, flavor and juiciness of these incredible fruits!

3. Pan campesino: Karen and I take a trip to the panadería (bakery) about every other day.  One of our staples has been the pan campesino (peasant bread), which is similar in flavor to a delicious wheat bread.

5. Queso Andino: Say cheese!  This Andean cheese is pasteurized, unlike much of the cheese sold in the region. We didn’t want to test our stomachs too much so we went the safe (and delicious) route. We often pair this with none other than…pan campesino!

6. Starbucks: Before you lose your cool on why we included this, let me explain.  The Starbucks in Cusco is the only Starbucks in the world which uses organic coffee beans!

Things you probably don’t know:

1. Aji de gallina: Karen and I both agree that this is the best meal we’ve eaten since arriving in Peru.  Translated as “chili chicken,” this dish consists of a heavy cream served over chicken (or hen), potatoes and rice.  Hard-boiled egg and sliced olives garnish the top!

It's blurry because Karen was so excited to eat it!

Aji de gallina. It’s blurry because Karen was so excited to eat it!

2. Bistec a la olla: Quite simply, “steak in the pot.”  The steak is cooked in a pan and then served with a variety of vegetables and rice.

3. Cancha: Pieces of salted, fried Andean corn served as a side with some meals.  It looks like a combination between fried corn kernels and corn nuts, but the taste is much better than either of those!

4. Chicha Morada: This is a Peruvian drink made from the purple corn that is grown in the area.  It’s a very refreshing and much less-sugary version of fruit juice.

5. Inca Cola: Not food at all, but necessary to include on this list.  The South American brother of Coca-Cola, this drink initially tastes like you’re drinking a gumball. But give it time and it may become one of your favorite drinks.

6. Lomo saltado: A local favorite (and the favorite dish of our host Manuel), it typically combines pieces of steak with onions, tomato, fried yellow potatoes and rice. Delicious!

7. Saltado de acelga: Very similar but less popular than its friend above, this has nearly everything that lomo saltado has minus the tomato and onions.  It will likely includes sautéed swiss chard or a similar green for added flavor.

Saltado de acelga.  One of our first meals in Cusco!

Saltado de acelga. One of our first meals in Cusco!

Things we still have to try:

1. Alpaca: Similar in appearance to a llama, these animals are used primarily for their wool and meat.  We’ve seen some walking on the streets but have yet to see them on our dinner plate.

2. Cuy (Guinea Pig): This is considered to be the number one delicacy in Peru.  Our host’s father has a birthday this weekend, and it’s looking like guinea pig might be on the horizon!

3. Quail eggs: These little hard-boiled eggs are peeled and served by street vendors all over town.

Our next report will hopefully include follow-up on the “things we still have to try,” as well as a slew of other delicious Peruvian foods!