The Inca Trail Begins

Lunch was amazing and each dish had flavors abound just by incorporating different vegetables. We were fascinated that no spices were used, just the natural palette of a garden variety. As we ate our meal, we were told about the hike to the hostel in the mountains for our overnight stay. This hostel was such a lovely experience. We had our own room and a community shower beneath us. We slept high in the mountain range and woke up staring at the most amazing view of the clouds rolling over the mountain. The people at this Eco Hostel were super friendly and had us help make dinner. I got to peel the potatoes while the guinea pigs ran around my feet collecting scraps. Such pleasant sounds were coming out of these tiny creatures while we were making supper. They are also wonderful little garbage disposals. Luckily, there was no guinea pigs on their menu even though it is a delicacy in Peru.

Chris and I were served llama so I scraped mine on to his plate while no one was looking. I made sure to do this in segments so it looked like I was eating it. Did not want to be rude. These people walked all this food up the mountain to their hostel just to feed us. The garden items were grown on site. They also made us fresh coffee in the morning from beans they roasted and ground themselves. It was delicious. While we had our morning coffee, our tour guide wanted to decorate our faces with pollen from a local flower. He said it also would deter any biting bugs. I would have been the first in the chair if I had heard him first. Bugs bite me all the time and I did not want any mosquito bites in South America while hiking through the rainforest. I put pictures of my and Chris’s “face paint” here in the blog. After we both got these drawn on us, we were shown some lovely handmade jewelry.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

The owners brought out their handmade items on boards and explained they made these to help them be able to afford food for their guests. We bought two friendship bracelets and two necklaces we wore the entire trip. Peru happened in the summer of 2017 and I just wiggled my bracelet off in April of 2023. This bracelet still had not fallen off even when my dog ate one of the connecting strings. I did not bring my wedding ring so this bracelet symbolized my and Chris’s bond for me. I am so glad I let the woman tie the bracelet on because I did not want it to fall off, and it never did! After we purchased these very sentimental items, it was time to depart. We reluctantly left the slice of heaven, high in the sky on the Inca Trail, to walk on to Machu Picchu with the understanding there would be more cities and stops on the way.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

-Karen Hilliard

Biking Down the Andes

After waking up from a glorious warm nap we met up with our guide for the excursion ahead. We booked a trip to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail that was scheduled to start with a mountain biking journey through the Andes Mountain Range. Our guide Papi was amazing and it was his last tour with the company so he went all out spoiling us with adventure and a relaxed pace to all destinations. He was an amazing guide and we went to all local places as he wanted to support his friends’ establishments. When he met up with us he told us to bring our small backpacks instead of our large ones and we were forever grateful. We left the larger rucksacks downstairs in the locked closet the next morning and set out on a wonderful adventure through Peru.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Mountain Biking | Andes |Peru | Cusco

Our first stop was to meet up with Papi again and hop in a van from his friend’s company. We were driven all through the streets of Peru and eventually through farms then up a mountain. At the top of the mountain we saw the beautiful tip of the Andes and the glacial magnificence. Bikes were waiting for us, as well as riding jackets, pads, gloves, and helmets. As I wrote before, an amazing tour guide. He made sure we were all safe and happy the entire time. There were 6 of us total. We had the pleasure of traveling with 3 women from Taiwan and their cousin from San Francisco. This trip was an overall out of this world experience of pure joy. Biking down the Andes was a rush like one I never experienced. Luckily the bikes were comfortable, the gear fit, and we had several stops to take pictures and enjoy ourselves. There were a few scary moments on this magical ride as well.

The mountain pass had tight corners and long windy stretches where buses and cars were traveling on it as well. We would be flying down the mountain and come to a tight curve and a bus would meet us head on coming up the other direction. Safety was in the front of our minds and yet we had the time of our life on that ride. Papi and the San Francisco chap road down first at a very fast pace but our guide made sure to stop and wait for us at several sections. He would leave no man or woman behind. He was like a Papa Bear looking after his wandering cubs. I think this is what we liked the most…the space to explore and enjoy at our own pace, yet the care of someone looking out for us. He was filled with vast information as well. At the end of the ride we stopped at a local store for fruit and drinks and after a long van ride we stopped at his friend’s restaurant for an amazing lunch. The table was filled with food and the people were smiling ear to ear sharing the meal they made.

Have a wonderful Wednesday and thank you for reading.

-Karen Hilliard

Cusco Streets

The excitement was looming as we touched down in Cusco. The altitude and temperature were very different from what we were used to. The weather was a huge change from the humidity in Ohio and Chicago with a cool breeze that awakened our senses. The staff at the airport were very nice and helpful when we needed to call the hostel to get a ride into town. Eco Packer Hostel is amazing!! Could not rave about this place enough. They sent a car to the airport to pick us and our bags up, then drove us around on the streets of Cusco. The history and colors were breathtaking and we were so happy to be in the presence of such a rich culture. Upon arriving at the hostel, we checked in, and went up to our room. We chose the option of bunk beds with other people which was very cost efficient for us. This hostel also stored our larger bags in a closet downstairs to keep them safe when we took longer trips.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Cusco | Peru

After settling in we decided to walk around the city. It was the afternoon and Peru was alive with dancing, parades, and so many interesting masks. This was a wonderful way to experience Cusco. The steps leading to the capitol building in the center of the city were filled with tourists and locals. Each person was either deep in conversation, trying to sell art prints, sketching original art themselves, or taking photographs of all the stimulation surrounding them. The men dancing in Gorilla Masks were the most intriguing to me. I also loved the women walking around with alpacas. The little baby alpacas were my favorite. The colors of the blankets the women wore to carry their children and their goods were vibrant and made the City Center come to life. Chris and I stepped into a new world on that day and were very happy to be there. 

We walked around mapping out shops we wanted to revisit toward the end of our stay to bring home souvenirs for loved ones. We found an amazing gourd for ourselves to drink Matcha out of and decided to come back for it later. This gourd ended up becoming the most challenging thing to find again. I will write more about this in a later blog, it was an interesting experience. After the on level shops were explored, we decided to travel up a long hill to more shops. In a tiny alleyway, hidden away, we found an amazing watercolor artist. This wonderful person had shown his work in a New York gallery many years prior and we all tried to have a conversation about it, which was nice. We ended up coming back to his stand at the end of the week and buying one of his paintings. Later on, after all the uphill stores, we were getting quite sleepy and decided to go back to the hostel where we relaxed in the courtyard. Both of us ended up falling asleep with the sun high in the sky overhead and were wrapped in its blanket of warmth. 

Have a meaningful Monday and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

A Journey

“Where do you want to travel to next?” This was a question I asked my husband on our first hike together, which he thought was a date. I ask everyone I meet if they want to go hiking because I love the outdoors. Years later, we decided it could be our first date because we both liked each other instantly and the trail turned into many trails throughout the years. Traveling and being outside is one of our shared loves. The other is the ability to think the same thing at the same time even all these years later. After asking him the question about where to travel, he said “Machu Picchu” and this was the same place I had in mind. Before we planned this trip, we decided to get married and then it became a Honeymoon excursion. Since the altitude is much higher in Peru than here in the desert we needed to prepare our bodies and train.

We thought Mt. Charleston would be the best place to hike every weekend to get our lungs ready for the altitude difference. Cusco, Peru has an elevation of 11,152 feet and Mt. Charleston, Nevada stands at 11,916 feet at its peak. Chris and I were not able to hike all the way to the top before our trip, so we trained on our original trail, and we climbed to about 8,000 feet. Northloop Trailhead has some spots for cars so it is recommended to arrive as early as possible, especially on the weekends like we did. Going as often as we could, we felt we were ready for the trip at this point. In a future blog I will write about where we traveled, the elevation gains, and the need for Oxygen at certain points of the trail while in Peru. For now, I will share the journey we took to South America. 

After hiking Mt. Charleston on the weekends, the next idea was to visit our friends in Ohio and Chicago, then fly out of O’Hare. The tickets were more affordable and we got to stop off at our friend’s farms along the way. We drove to Chicago, to pick up a friend, and then continued on to Ohio to stay at Benham Farms, where the hosts are an amazing couple with oodles of information on techniques, crop development, and grazing rotation. We were also able to venture into Yellow Springs for a walk along the river and a taste of the awesome brews from Yellow Springs Brewery. It is always nice to have a break in the hard work during the middle of the day. Then we got to go back to the farm for a night of gazing at fireflies. Not a bad way to end the day or this blog post.

Thank you for reading and have a happy Monday!

-Karen Hilliard