From time to time I will begin posting on the blog about travel destinations I’ve been to and ones I’d love to visit someday, it would be my travel “wishlist”. Traveling is one of my top five favorite things in life for many reasons. Thus far I’ve lived more or less in 3 different lands for equal amounts of my life. I was born in Uruguay, raised in New York City since 10 and have lived in Vermont, USA for 13 years! Since I don’t have a place I “belong” to, no simple one word answer as to where I was born and raised when someone asks, I feel the world is my native land. I’m fascinated by people and when I travel I am like a little kid at the toy store, I love learning stories, cultures, traditions, tasting foods, being culture shocked. I don’t travel nearly as much as I wish I could, lack of time, the whole student loan debt thing, excuses, excuses I just don’t. I will use this blog to share my love for travel but also as a way to motivate me to pursue what I love so much, leaving my post land and exploring the world.
A couple of years ago I had the immense opportunity to travel to Peru with my former employer Keurig. Peru is a very popular destination for coffee distributors given the high quality coffee that grows high in the mountains of this beautiful country. Typically when you hear tourists visit Peru, they are heading towards the South in Machu Pichu. My trip took me in the opposite direction to Cajamarca, north of Lima and close to Ecuador. I had no idea what to expect, in pure honesty I was very nervous. I heard so many stories about Peru and other Latin America countries that get a bad reputation about potential safety dangers. I know so many of these are ignorant anecdotes but being a mother to two girls I couldn’t help but worry. The worries were pointless. Peru was a beautiful country, welcoming, safe, loving and hopeful.
Our first stop was Lima which needs its own post, I will talk about this beautiful city in part II of my post series on Peru.
Once we landed in Cajamarca, I was feeling a slight bit of culture shock. The streets were no longer tidy and organized like I’ve been used to. While this may turn some off, these details were soon overshadowed by the beauty of Cajamarca. Riding in a tiny bus where the roads are located on mountains, it helps to put things into perspective. Then there was the moment where our bus came head to head with another bus and we had to back out…into a road…built on the edge of a mountain. Great, why not…?
Once we arrived to our destination in Chiclayo and after hours of admiring the unique beautiful scenery of local markets, natural resources and the mountains I was in for some fun. In Chiclayo, we visited a coffee distributor who took us through the entire process of coffee harvesting and drying. Being an avid coffee lover and being able to process how that cup of coffee gets in my hands each morning was an experience I’ll never forget.
Even more fun was our trip up to San Ignacio which led us into the lands of coffee farmers. Very high up in altitude I ended up picking cherries with a local coffee farmer, their work life is to pick these cherries which eventually turn into mass amounts of coffee that feeds an over caffeinated population elsewhere in the world.
Interesting facts I picked up on my many conversations: local coffee farmers don’t actually drink the high quality coffee they produced but instead weak, inexpensiv coffee imported into Peru from other countries like Ecuador. Why? They can’t afford to use up their own product they need to trade for income.
Another surprising fact was hearing the amount of local people who had never been to Machu Pichu. Why? As I was told, “esos viajes cuestan mucho dinero” or “those types of trips take a lot of money”.
Yet my most memorable moment came on top of a coffee mountain as I was picking coffee cherries. It was right after having a cup of robust, dark coffee. This trip was happening at a very troubling time in my life. As a result of the stress, I was suffering from what appeared to be heart palpitations. After drinking the strong coffee and being out in the height of the mountains, I had a palpitation and immediately asked one of the men who drove us up there if he could please drive me back to the town so we could be at a lower latitude. He kindly did and he could see how nervous and shaky I was on the ride back. In his effort to comfort me, I remember his beautiful words to me which I still carry with me whenever I stress about anything: “Señorita, si el senor la quiera llevar ahora, no la pondria en esta hermosa montaña con este hermoso dia, todo esta bien” which means “If G-d wanted you to die at this hour, he wouldn’t put you on top of this beautiful mountain in this beautiful day, it’s not time”. Religious or not, his words were so comforting and his confidence a reminder of how positive and forward looking the Peruvian culture is.
I got the pleasure to meet so many locals, share so many stories, meet women my age with children my age in a completely different environment than me. We visited Peru’s beautiful mountain side and drove fairly closed to the Amazon although we didn’t make it quite there (another trip!).
On our last day in Cajamarca, a group of locals that heard we were there hosted for us a goodbye dance at one of the coffee distributors headquarters. There was beautiful local dancing and artistic performances done for us even by a sweet little 5 years old who danced to Latin American pop hits. We danced, we ate, it was one of the best Saturday nights of my life.
Of course I have to mention the food. That was one of my favorite things about Cajamarca. I remember trying delicious “empanadas” filled with savory beef but my best food memory was eating Chinese food in Chiclayo. Up in a tiny town there where there were only 2 hotels (one halfway under construction), I stayed at the hotel off the end of the town that happened to have a Chinese restaurant. Random? Chinese restaurant in the middle of a mountain town in Peru. I went with it, I figured that was a once in a lifetime type of opportunity. It was the best Chinese food I’ve tasted. The rice and chicken were infused with a tangy orange zest flavor, I still haven’t forgotten it. I still remember sitting by the pool in an open patio at this very small hotel, eating Chinese food and drinking a cold Cusqueña!
If you want to visit the other side of Peru, away from an overload of tourists and where you can meet some of the nicest, most welcoming people in your life, I recommend the beautiful area of Northern Peru in Cajamarca. You will not regret a day there. I can’t wait to come back some day!
Storefront in Cajamarca
Members of a local women’s project to enhance women’s input in local economic development
The amazing views of Peru’s mountainside
Coffee cherries in the mountains, high quality Arabica coffee only grows in high altitudes vs. the more commonly available Robusta coffee that can grow at lower altitudes
Hours of travel finally lead to a larger than life view on top of the mountains
Our last day in town Saturday night dance party. So much fun.