I Trip Alone // Adam Solo in Peru

With our van stored safely at a friends place in hibernation mode for 3 months in Bariloche, Argentina, Emily and the girls flew to Texas for her cousin Kyle’s wedding.  I flew to Peru to host another 24 Hour Bazaar.  We were to meet in Los Angeles in 3 weeks time.  Of our 3 years on the road, there have only been a handful of times we have been apart as a family. Here’s the story of my (Adam) solo time in Peru. (This was late May/ early June of 2015. Yes, we know we are behind on sharing these tales of adventure, but better late than never right?)

Novelist Alfredo Bryce Echenique described Lima, Peru as “the belly of a dead whale” because of the thick marine layer that is always looming over the city.  Of all the times we have passed through here, I don’t remember seeing one ray of sunshine. After my airplane pierced the gut of the clouds I could see the distant Andes working their way to the sea. I was Cusco bound.
post39_1post39_3Cusco (from Qosqo in the native Quecha language) was the center of the Incan Empire from the 13th to 16th century until the Spanish conquest.  Today it remains a major tourist destination in and of itself, and because of its proximity to Machu Picchu.  post39_4post39_141About 45 minutes from Cusco is the Sacred Valley of the Inca. A place we have returned to many times and will return again. It is a magic place that seems to be lost in time, a place slow to change (in a good way) and where indigenous traditions are alive and well. You will find craftsman practicing age old arts, substinance farmers sowing seeds and tilling the same terraced fields that the ancient Inca did, and homes and businesses made from from adobe. Great attention is payed to the details of all aesthetics here. There is a palpable creativity in the air and people from all walks of life feel the magnetism of this sacred space, coming from all corners of the earth. post39_14post39_79post39_8post39_9The Sunday market in Pisac is a feast for the eyes and bellies alike. The colors, smells and energy in the air is enchanting. Farmers load their weekly crops onto their backs and meander steep trails for hours to reach ‘town’ from outlying villages. The Plaza de Armas, central square, is turned into an open air market where you can find hundreds of different kinds of potatoes, along with onions, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, peppers, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, lettuces, chard, tropical fruit grown on the other side of the Andes in the Amazon basin like Salacca zalacca (snake fruit), a host of herbs both familiar- cilantro, mint, rosemary, turmeric and ginger- and medicinal and foreign- like some of those shown below, bark of trees, berries of endemic plants, and mosses.  There is so much to see and learn, even (and especially) after multiple visits when you can scratch below the surface. post39_23post39_88post39_16You will also find freshly butchered lamb, goat, pork, and chicken. If you do eat meat (we do not) this is as fresh as it gets, a free-range animal, slaughtered and brought to market direct. Packaged, processed meat that is shipped hundreds (or thousands!) of miles away is becoming the global norm.  Do you know where your food is from?
post39_86Drinking chicha is a popular Sunday pastime, often marked with a red plastic bag tied to the outside of a living room turned bar.  Made of fermented maize, this frothy beverage has some grit which is usually drank with teeth closed and delivers a good buzz, especially at 9,000 feet. I’ve tried munkoyo in Zambia (a fermented maize beverage) but haven’t quite acquired the taste, so skipped out on this local favorite.
Chicha morada, however, is an unfermented drink made of this gorgeous purple corn. The corn is so hard even right after harvest, there is little other use for it that to boil it into this tasty concoction, which is sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon.  It is like jamaica made from the hibiscus flower, or like a sangria, as chicha morada is made with other fruits like pineapple, apple and lemon.   
A local lunch plate, menu, featuring rocoto relleno, a spicy pepper filled with boiled egg, potato and cheese then fried.

Yep, I eat street food.  And it is delicious. Most of the time it is no problem, but the water caught me slipping here twice on my last trip and left me reeling on the floor for a couple days. 
post39_85post39_12Called a tuk-tuk in Thailand, these types of rent-by-the-trip transport are a popular global service where owning a car (and paying for expensive petrol) is cost prohibitive.  These moto taxis are everywhere in the Sacred Valley; this is the cheapest way to get around and each owner adorns his with his own personal touch.  post39_143post39_10A few days before we departed Los Angeles in 2012, Emily was at the local Trader Joe’s in Silverlake when she said ‘hola’ to Coco and behind her in line, Carolina joyously started a conversation in Spanish. Emily explained about this great adventure we were about to embark on (a 1 year plan at the time). Carolina kept up with our trip through social media over the next couple of years and was inspired to set out on her own great adventure with her kiddos in tow. Her brother flew out to California and bought this Chevy Blazer and they all headed south for Argentina. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with this wonderful family- what a fun cosmos crossing!
post39_78We commission unique fair-trade goods from talented artisans like Livia Polomino Sotaloliro (below) & Maria Huamám Puma to sell in our online flash sales, which we call 24 Hour Bazaar. Woven from memory, watching these ancient techniques & patterns come to life nearly puts me in a trance. If you would like to receive the curated PDF catalog for our next Bazaar (in April 2016) subscribe here
post39_29 post39_6When 5 months into what we planned to be a 1-year long voyage, as we were departing Colombia entering Ecuador, we had approximately 8 weeks to reach Tierra del Fuego before the weather would make it improbable to safely reach our southernmost destination Ushuaia. So we opened to the possibilities set before us, decided to embrace a future unknown and the rewards of slow travel. We knew we were (are!) on the journey of a lifetime and rushing to check off places visited seemed very unlike the purpose of our departure.

That was the decision that changed it all! We did not have the finances to stay on the road longer, but felt confident that with our hearts open and heads together, we could figure out some way to support our life on the road. Our finances are minimal needing food, fuel and not much else. We discussed juggling at street lights (a talent which neither of us possess), turning the van into a mobile kitchen and selling food after bars close (not very conducive to having a young child), having Adam work with a scuba outfitter as an underwater cinematographer (fun if you want to live somewhere, but quite un-nomadic), so when we mulled over the idea for 24 Hour Bazaar- we instantly knew we had found our winner!

24 Hour Bazaar is a flash sale of curated, fair trade, artisan goods that we host when in craft rich regions. Items include rugs, textiles, blankets, clothing, hats, jewelry, masks and vary according to our location. The one-of-a-kind items are available on a first come- first serve basis and ship worldwide directly to our customers’ door.  Below are a few samples of catalog pages, usually well over a hundred during each bazaar.

post39_163post39_162post39_161post39_158 post39_159post39_165post39_151While the Bazaar was running and Emily was taking care of customer service for our most excellent global shoppers, I had a couple days of free time before I had to get back to work, so I did some searching as to what made this valley so sacred.

Like we mentioned, most visitors come here to see Machu Picchu, but the Sacred Valley is a magnet for all kinds of folks from all around the world for different reasons. Spiritually inclined come here to take part in new age tourism and healing retreats using plant medicine- like ayahuasca (a psychedelic vine), huachuma (San Pedro, a psychedelic cactus) and kambo (frog venom). Shamanistic practices are thriving in the Valle Sagrado as they have become popular (trendy?) throughout the western world. Acting as intermediaries between the human and spiritual world, a practiced shaman can guide you to the deepest places of your mind, some healing people of ailments and disorders. With this newfound popularity and promises of heightened levels of self-awareness and higher consciousness, a business has been born, and with business comes greed. I’ve heard stories of quack shamans taking advantage of people, and have met visitors that take part in ayahuasca ceremonies held on each full moon with upwards of 100 people. Ayahuasca is called the mother vine. It is said that one who goes down this path is reborn, finding spiritual revelations and awakening ones profound paths in life. Gaining a greater understanding of the universe and purpose. In my opinion, taking medicines that traditionally have been done in very intimate settings under guided supervision, and exploiting them to so many is dangerous and irresponsible. Some people I have talked to have had wonderful and positive experiences, but joining a large group of people to purge my demons just isn’t my thing. I’m sure there are good options for ayahuasca ceremonies, but I just haven’t found the right situation.  I am open to it and will surely delve inward when the right situation is presented.

Huachuma, also spelled wachuma, is also known as San Pedro because it holds the keys to the gates of heaven, like this Christian saint. It is said if Ayahuasca is the mother vine, that shows you what you need to see with no filter, that huachuma is the father vine, who wants to take you out for a fun day. Used in Peru for well over 3,000 years, this cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi, T. peruvianus and other species) holds special symbolism in Peruvian curanderismo, traditional folk healing. From the Old Temple of Universal Consciousness at Chavín de Huantar in northern Perú,  a Chavín stone carving of the huachumero shaman dates to 1500 b.c. Moche ceramics several hundred years later, depict the cactus with the jaguar and stylized spirals depicting ‘remolinos’,  the visionary cosmic whirlwind or whirlpool revealed by the sacred plant.

The principal active biochemicals are primarily concentrated in the green outer skin of the cactus. 
The Huachuma experience is certainly greater than the sum of it’s parts, and it is gross misunderstanding to simply charactize it as a “mescaline” experience.  The plant has a powerful and benevolent spirit and is MUCH more.

Not only is San Pedro still used in shamanic trances and healing sessions throughout the northern coast and Andes but it is also used increasingly to combat contemporary problems such as alcoholism and other addictions. Like the peyote cactus used widely in some parts of Mexico and North America, mainly by native people. This parallel is noteworthy because since both cacti contain mescaline which is known to be a highy revelatory and transformative agent of higher consciousness.
(adapted from here).

Having found a reputable source to purchase huachuma, I decided to take a trip and let the cactus itself be the shaman.  The day before I went on a walk to set my intentions and make a plan to climb a mountain that called to me on past trips here.  I prepared by eating only a little, very clean food the day before and drinking lots of water. The next morning I awoke early, mixed the powder with water and drank the bitter brew down. I had taken a dose of ground up coca leaves (sold as huachuma) a year prior, so was interested to see what would really happen. As I walked past the cornfield our family camped along a few years prior, the new morning sun leaked up the valley and I started to climb. Within half an hour I started feeling sick to my stomach and had to lay down. I could only muster climbing in small incremants before needing to lay back down for rest.post39_39The urge to vomit was strong but I wanted to keep the medicine in for as long as I could. I made it higher and higher inching my way up overgrown ancient Incan paths. I found myself laying next to a creek in a thick grove of eucalyptus in a ravine. The smell was so intense, I could hardly contain myself. I spotted a cave and looked for a pathway to it, but the bush was thick and the cliff to steep to attempt in my hazy condition. More time passed and the ill-belly got worse, I writhed in discomfort until I  just had to purge. Once I let it out, the day was suddenly brighter and all my senses enhanced. I became light and airy and it seemed my body was floating up the mountain as I easily scrambled upwards. Branches moved out of my way and the path was clear. I made it to what I thought was the peak of the mountain I had wondered about for so long, but it was not the summit at all, just an outcropping to a much larger mountain with 100 other similar peaks. My ego telling me to ‘climb to the top of that mountain’ melted away and I was content to be connected to the mighty force. I found an ancient terrace, removed my clothing and just was. I felt truly happy and at peace with the world.
post39_41I lit a bundle of sage and surrounded myself with the cleansing smoke and put on Neil Young’s Chrome Dreams 2.post39_43It’s hard to describe the the overwhelming happiness I experienced up there, but it was good. While listening to the song “Shining Light.” Listen to the song here and join me on the mountain!
During the verse:
“Shinning light, what will you show me now?
What can I bring to you to stand in your glow?
Shinning light, when will you show me your love?
When can I see you and stand in your glow?”
There was miraculously a big puffy cumulous cloud right above me which opened up in the middle revealing a perfect heart shape with the blue sky behind. A profound moment telling me so much and filling me with an inner peace.  I sat up there for a few hours truly feeling the love and came back down to earth (in more way than one) when it neared dark.
post39_45The world is a small and curious place. More that 2 years ago we first spotted these man-made crystals hanging high up on a cliff in near Ollantaytambo, Peru. While I was in the chair (with THE best view of any dentist chair) having a checkup at a dentist in Bariloche, Argentina, Emily was browsing a magazine and would have surely spit milk through her nose if 1) she drank milk and 2) if she were drinking milk at that very moment. Right in the magazine was a short article about these very mysterious pods we mentioned here some years before (while they were being built).  We emailed them and then to complete the circle, here I was looking up at Natura Vive Skylodge Adventure Suites. 
Climbing the Via Ferrata, a 1000ft+. cliff, which led to the most unique hotel experience I have ever had.  This is not for acrophobes or the faint of heart. A mother and daughter were also booked in one of the 3 pods, so we all climbed together.post39_51post39_50 Above the gushing Urubamba River, nearing the pods to spend a night suspended in a transparent capsule above the mystic valley.post39_54Beyond those clouds is the famed Machu Picchu, but no need to wish to be anywhere else- this is a truly unique experience not to be replicated anywhere.post39_55Like a condor’s nest perched 1,000 feet up on a cliff, the sleeping pods of Natura Vive give a birds eye view.
post39_57 post39_58 post39_59Illuminated from an almost full moon and feeling connected to both heaven and earth.post39_62post39_63 post39_65As the other guests wanted to eat their meal in their dome, I joined César, our guide, for breakfast in the sky-kitchen.  
post39_69A bit after breakfast we took a series of 7 zip lines ranging from 150 to 750 meters for a total of 2800 meters of pure adrenaline fun back down to the valley floor.post39_71 post39_72When we closed the Bazaar, it was time for me to return to work and I set about processing all these orders from our 24 Hour Bazaar. Through the years, I have made nice with the manager of the post office and have her cell phone, so all I need to do is call the night before I arrive with this crazy stack of boxes and she has an extra person on duty to process all these orders. Arriving with a box of pastries and empanadas for all the post office workers, a truck full of packages and plenty of patience, I was ready to get these boxes shipped to all the corners of the earth. (Picture below from a previous bazaar before I cut my hair as I was too exhausted to even restock the boxes to take a photo.)post39_157After my work was done and all the boxes had been shipped out, I rented a Honda XR650 in Cusco and hit the road for a couple days into the unknown. post39_91 Before setting off on this overland expedition with my family over three years ago, I was dreaming of a big adventure by motorbike through Mexico and perhaps further south. When we decided to start a family, the plans changed and a new adventure was put into the works, but it felt great to return to an idea planted a long time ago, even if only for 2 days. post39_90post39_93 post39_94 I had been hearing about the Lares hot springs way up in the mountains for quite some time, so that was my first destination. Of course, its not about the destination, it’s about the journey and scenery along the winding road was spectacular as the asphalt below whizzed by.post39_95 I explored dirt roads and little single track trails that caught the corner of my eye. It was amazing to change my course at any instant and to enjoy a bit of what I so seldom have… quiet and time alone. It is good to recharge oneself.post39_99 Of course, alone is a relative term. post39_100 post39_102 post39_105post39_111The Lares hot springs, just outside the tiny village of Lares, stuck out like a sore thumb in these parts as it was the only tourist attraction way up here. I have learned the brown water is rich in minerals from visiting hot springs all over South America, but still at glimpse of the water, it didn’t look all that inviting. That’s usually the case at these kind of places, the pools are of different tempatures and murkiness. It’s a beautiful compound with awesome views of the surrounding mountains with a river flowing by. After a long day of riding it was just what the doctor ordered. I met a couple in the springs from Italy that follows our adventures and had a Westfalia camper van of their own, what a small world! post39_103I planned on staying up here for the night at one of the few hosterias, but there was still lots of daylight and I felt like riding so after a soak I jumped back on the bike and started back down the mountain. It got cold and foggy as I descended and I arrived back in the Sacred Valley at dark, working my way to a cheap room in the town of Urubamba for a few hours sleep.  I woke early the next day and was back on the road before sunrise, this time in the verdant farmlands above the other side of the valley. Farmers in the far off fields waived as I blasted by at top speed.post39_110This is the agricultural phenomenon of Moray, atop the high plateau at 11,500 feet.  These huge circles were (thought to be) an Inca laboratory to study how different crops would grow at various temperatures.  Top to bottom the difference can vary by 27 degrees!  A sophisticated drainage system was dug through the mountain and pops out of the other side.post39_114I saw these cows being herded down a crossroad and pulled over, turned off the bike and casually waited for them to cross my path. I love the feeling of setting up a photograph, anticipating the movements of a situation and waiting for the right time to release the shutter. post39_107post39_112post39_113 post39_109post39_116 If I saw animals coming up the road, I would turn off my bike so not to spook them. I got to talking to these men herding their burros with dried corn stalks on their backs as they passed by and they invited me back to their home for breakfast. I would have been very happy to join them even if I wasn’t starving (which I was). post39_115post39_120post39_121post39_122Kindness from strangers is a powerful gift. post39_118 post39_123 post39_126 The wild potato soup was the most delicious I have ever had! (Not that I’ve had wild potato soup before.)post39_125I picked up Laura hitchhiking and brought her to the town of Maras .post39_127 post39_128The 5,400 pools at the Salineras de Maras were built in pre-Incan times and are fed by the highly salty water that emerges from a natural spring in the mountains. Traditionally any person wishing to harvest salt could gain permission from the local co-operative and farm their own pools. The color of the harvested salt depends on the skill of the salt miner and ranges from pure white to reddish-brown. post39_135post39_136 post39_131 I returned the bike to Cusco a couple hours before jumping on a plane bound for California to meet up with Emily, Coco, Sierra and the rest of our friends & family.  Until next time Peru!