Goodbye Peru, it’s Been Grand!

We arrived back at the EcoPackers Hostel and decided to take one more romp around Cusco to find our mate gourd. On the first day we found the perfect gourd in a tiny shop but wanted to wait until we did our larger shopping for everyone. Then, we could not find it!! We looked everywhere and down every alleyway. We wanted to give it one more go and put the effort in before we headed to the airport in the morning. Luckily, we found it!! This gourd was super beautiful and hand carved, still is to this day. We take great care of it. The carving is of Machu Picchu, and three animals representing Cusco and the Inca people. They are the serpent, the condor, and the puma to represent the Inca civilization and the realms of the living and the dead. The words carved on the gourd read “Machu Picchu.”

As we looked at this treasure we reminisced about the Inca Trail, the ruins, llamas, and overall amazing experiences we shared. We went back to the hostel to pack and get ready to leave in the morning. Two people were in the room where we slept talking about Rainbow Mountains and how they bought their own oxygen, rode the horses up, and still had to come back to Cusco without seeing the mountains. They planned to go back the next day. Chris and I just looked at each other and smiled with pure joy that we saw them and a hint of achievement that we always persevere. We both talk about how it is the athlete in us that will power through. One thing we both liked about sports growing up was the discipline and drive it takes to power the body and mind. I am grateful for the discipline and determination because I think it carried over into my art career. Writing these blogs three times a week, painting, and staying up with social media has been challenging at times. Just like the trip up the mountain, persistence weighs out in the end. We both were ecstatic to get under the warm blankets, lay flat, and drift off to slumberland.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

When we woke up, we slowly got ready, ate breakfast the hostel provided, and got in our taxi to head back to the States. Our taxi drove us for a while, twisting and turning down side streets, and we were quite concerned. Then we saw a hug protest going on. We found out all the teachers were on strike and the cab pulled over to the side of the road. He could not get through and motioned to us to take our bags and walk to the airport terminal. We were going to miss our flight if we did not listen right then and there. Chris grabbed both our large bags and I grabbed both the small backpacks and two carry-on blankets. We hoofed it and made it just in time for our flight. We were super thankful! I was so impressed with Chris, yet again, due to his strength with both bags in his hands, agility through protesters, sanity to not complain, and just got the task done! Overall, this trip was beyond interesting. We flew from Cusco to Lima and had a layover. This is where we ran into Miguel, the artist again. What a crazy ride this trip had been. There is so much more with the flights I would love to share. If you are interested, send me an email. Next week I will be writing about my trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights, Auroras. This will go with my recent collection of 2023 Christmas Ornaments.

Have a safe and happy weekend and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard 

Back to the Buses!

The sky started to change as the snow rolled in over the mountains. Our guide was hustling around telling people to head back down to the buses and herding everyone in groups to make sure no one was left behind. Chris and I took a moment, looked at each other, closed our eyes, and breathed in the cool mountain air. As we opened our eyes, we said goodbye to the beautiful rainbows ahead of us and started walking back toward the buses feeling forever grateful to have experienced such a wonder. These mountains had just been recently discovered when we visited in 2017 due to glacial melt and no one knew they existed. The exact date of discovery is unknown yet some say it may have been sometime between 2012 to 2015. We were blessed to have seen them near the beginning of the hype. As you can see in our photos from my Rainbow Mountains blog…there were a lot of people. I wonder if there are even more traveling there today.

As we walked back, we reflected on how fortunate we were to get the pictures of each other in front of the mountain. The snow came in quickly and we had already changed into our snow attire. I was so happy to have had my gloves because my hands get super cold. As an artist, I am very protective of my hands and fingers. We walked back at a faster pace due to the wonderful down hill gradient. I got to really look around and enjoy the things I missed on the way up. I saw men and women resting their horses and chatting with one another. We spied some more llamas grazing on the mountain in the distance. We counted how long it was until we came upon tree growth again. So many people were still traveling up the mountain and the horses were still working very hard to get them there. After an hour we came to the parking lot where the buses were and were thankful to finally sit down. The taxi was super tiny so we were happy to have really tall seats to sit in.

This did not last long! We were told to get off the bus and that we were on the wrong one. We looked at each other and thought, oh no, we are going to get left again. Chris told the guide no, we are staying on until you tell us where to go and we see our name on a clipboard. So after much discussion we were rerouted to another bus and that was not the right one either. At this point Chris was super frustrated, and we just wanted to make sure we would get back to Cusco. Just as Goldilocks needed a third time for everything in her world, we headed to the third bus. We sat, held hands, and fell asleep. The driver had been going for about an hour when we were suddenly startled awake. A woman started shouting “Chris and Karen are you on the bus?” over and over. Then, we woke up and said, yes! Then the bus started again and we were just shocked. What if we were not on that bus and why did they not check before we left? We just realized, this tourist attraction was so new at the time that they must have been working the kinks out. Any advice I could give you fellow travelers is…check the clipboard and don’t let any buses leave until you find your name!

Karen Hilliard Art Blog
Photo Taken at the end of our hike before we got back on our bus.

Thank you for reading and happy Wednesday!

-Karen Hilliard

The Road to Heaven

Today we are going on a trip in our imaginations  to a place that felt like heaven. This place, Rainbow Mountains, exists and can be visited in actual time, readers, you just have to tap into your mind right now to view it from our perspective and memories. Getting to the slice of heaven was a feat in itself. Chris and I signed up for this trip back in America months before we left for Peru. We had a 3am pick up at the local church that did not go according to schedule. We woke up at 2:15 and got ready, walked to the church, and waited. We chatted with a nice fellow and then the busses arrived. They did not call our name so we asked the lady with the clipboard if we were in it and she said no. So we waited for another bus to come. For future reference in this story, this lady was in fact, one of our guides. The nice gentleman we chatted with was also, in our group. So we waited….

Rainbow Mountains. Peru Series Number 5

We saw a man in bottomless chaps who peed on the outside of the church in a drunken state. We saw a mariachi band leaving a club and singing on the streets of Cusco. What we did not see, was another bus. We both had a feeling to walk back to the hostel after 45 minutes of waiting. When we arrived at the hostel, the front desk person told us the bus went there to pick us up. We thought we messed everything up. The person at the desk called the company and said he bus would come back to get us. An hour later, no bus arrived. We were flying back to the States the next morning and the person at the front desk tried to reschedule our trip with one of their companies but we did not have time. So, they called the company we designed up with again and a taxi was sent for us. I just kept feeling like we would see the place from the pictures and I felt there was nothing to worry about. Chris went to use the bathroom and the driver arrived.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog
More pictures of the hike to come on Friday!!

We loaded in a tiny car, small for our 6 foot selves, but we fit laying down a bit. We were driven at a very fast pace for over an hour and the man stopped at where we were supposed to have free breakfast. Nothing was left of course, understandable, and we told him there was no need to stop, but he insisted because we paid for it. We used the bathroom which was outside on a hill and had a hole in the ground. It was nice and clean and had a ceramic piece where your feet go surrounding the hole. The people made us a quick plate, we felt bad, and on we went to drive up the mountain. When we arrived, our group guide was waiting. We entered at the sign and he took off with the oxygen. We signed up to have oxygen in case I needed it since it was 16,000 feet. We got nervous because days before our trip, two people at the hostel were telling stories of how they could not breathe, tried riding the horses, and had to go back to Cusco without seeing Rainbow Mountains due to no oxygen. So we signed up for it. I will write about heaven, that is the mountain, in Friday’s blog. I ran out of time…but luckily, not out of oxygen! Stay tuned for the rest of our story.

-Karen Hilliard

Giant Stones of Sacsayhuaman

Chris wanted to see the giant stones of Sacsayhuaman. He found out about the ruins while in Peru and how the people brought huge boulders to create the fortress. He was so curious about how they could’ve possibly done this, perhaps like the pyramids in Egypt? So we decided to trek out to find them, and of course, in Cusco, everything goes up! We walked for what felt like miles to get to the top of the city. Upon reaching the ruins, beautiful stones and wide open space, we were practicing saying the name…..Sacsayhuaman. It has been said as “sexy woman” in English to help tourists pronounce it. However, these are the ruins of the Cusco people. The stones of the protective fortress are still standing and can be visited today.

These stones weigh in the tons, hundreds of tons, and it seems improbable for how they could have been moved into place? The history behind the fortress is fascinating yet unfortunately involves war, power, and the need for land expansion…an issue we sadly still have today. The ruler at the time, Pachacutec, wanted the whole area designed in the shape of a Puma. He remained in power protecting Cusco for decades and the entire structure was finished after his death. The site was used for protection, political control, and religious ceremonies. The stones were carried by the people of Cusco, 10 to 20 miles, over a very rocky and uneven terrain. Many lives were lost in the process to build such a structure; just like any man made archaeological wonder throughout history, such as the Great Wall of China or the pyramids of Giza. This place was eventually conquered by the Spanish in the 1500s. The stones were slowly dismantled over time and in the 1900s were seen as a site to be protected.

Karen Hilliard Art | Sacsayhuaman

Chris was fascinated by the mystery and beauty of the stones. I was fascinated by the culture, the people, and the history behind them. Both of us discussed how the stones may have got there in length. Even on the backs of many men…how did they do it?! Any ideas? Please leave them in the comments. Here are a few pictures of us walking around the ruins and exploring. This is a must see if you ever get a chance to go to Cusco. Such a beautiful city and filled with so much history. I hope you had a marvelous Monday. I have been busy making Christmas Ornaments and filling orders. So…have a terrific Tuesday and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard 

Always UP in Cusco!

So I started Monday’s blog about the blanket and it was about nightfall. I forgot to mention what we did during the day and how many shops we went to. We traveled on foot all over Cusco looking for gifts for family and small souvenirs for ourselves. We went to the San Francisco Church and got a little ornament for our parents and saw one of the largest paintings in South America, the “Genealogy of the Franciscan Order.” We also saw the catacombs underneath the church which was very interesting. From the steps of the church, we ventured out into the main part of the city and saw many artists on the steps in the plaza. We later discovered the people sitting with portfolios, selling art, were not the artists since they all had the same artwork to sell.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

We walked around and went into several shops to find hats, sweaters, pants, and other items. The sweaters were tricky to find and all looked the same. We wanted something more authentic and simple so it took many stores to track down what we loved. We found 4 sweaters that were our style and we did not find them anywhere else in any other store. Always happy to find unique items in the midst of tourist central. We loved seeing the women carrying their babies in Peruvian blankets and attire. Each of the colors represent a different village in Peru. So each lady and their children wear the colors of their village. These ladies also had baby alpacas they were taking around to make extra money for their villages and families by letting tourists take pictures with them and the animal. We walked on.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

Traveling up as always, we happened upon an alleyway filled with little shops that had a ton of unique items. We bought a conch shell since Papi showed us how to use one and told us how people used to use them to communicate miles away from each other. They would call each other on these with soundwaves like wolf packs howl at one another. We found an awesome llama tie for Chris to wear to work but did not buy it until the last day we were there. As we walked even higher there were more shops that were city oriented. It felt like we were in San Francisco and the shops were set up specifically for high end tourists. There was another alleyway in the midst of all these stores. We ventured forward to find an amazingly talented artist working on a painting of llamas and people walking to a village set high in the mountains. He gave us a quote for how much it would be when he finished it, and two days later we went back and picked it up. This was our greatest find and treasure from the trip. Here is his name, Miguel Chacon Ventura, and I linked his Facebook page if you would like to see his work. There is also an article written about him if you would like more information, click here. We ended up running into him on the way home at the airport in Lima. What an amazing encounter! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and next week I will write about our day with the big stones!!

Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

A Day off in Cusco

The city was even more beautiful when we arrived back at the Eco Hostel. The beds were freshly made and the blankets kept us so warm and cozy. It was nice to rest our sore muscles. We asked the staff where they got the blankets and they just said in town, so we decided to go hunt them down. We wanted one for ourselves and a gift for family members. We were allowed to carry on one bag each with Spirit Airlines so we were going to get two blankets only. We asked the person at the front desk of the hostel for directions and headed into town. We walked down the hill and turned right as the directions stated, while the night was looming overhead. Darker and darker the streets were getting due to being in the mountains. We wondered if we would find this magical shop.

We were very tired when we turned on to the shop’s street and it was a ways off. We crossed over intersections and avoided cars. On the street where the blanket would be there was wire protruding off the roof of another shop. Chris and I are tall so I almost cut my eye on it. He saw the wire and pulled me out of the way just in time. I learned at that moment to watch my step way more carefully moving forward. Getting to the shop in the distance was such a reward. The owner was an amazing and honest man. He ran a family business and his son tried to spike the price on us since we were tourists. We said the price said a lot less on the floor model and he kept telling us it was way more. We decided to only get one blanket. As he rang us up, his father came out and got very upset at his son. We ended up getting two blankets for the owner’s original set price, which was less than the price his son wanted to charge us for one. This whole blog is turning into a sales pitch for these blankets but they are worth it!! I would link it here but there is no option to purchase them online. You just have to go to Cusco and ask.

After leaving this shop we had to walk up, up, up the hill back to the hostel. As we walked we saw a store with amazing fabrics and thin ribbon stitching for bags. I wished we found this place earlier because I would have bought some fabric and made my own bag. At this point we were running low on funds and space in our rucksacks to take back home to America. I was happy just window shopping in this wonderful shop brimming with colorful dyes and textiles. Peru is such a lively place filled with various hues that play with the eye and let the imagination run wild. On Friday I will walk you through the other shops in town we went to, our souvenirs, and the flee market shenanigans. Until then, have a wonderful Wednesday. The paintings from Peru are at the bottom and all linked if you are interested. Thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Here are the paintings in this Inca Trail Series so far…Number 1 is from Blog, “Trekking to Santa Teresa”. Number 2, is a work in progress. Number 3 is from Blog “Delicious Fruit.” Number 4 is from Blog “Hot Springs.” Number 5 is from Blog “Climb to Machu Picchu.”

Llamas and More Await!

There were llamas everywhere we looked munching on grass throughout Machu Picchu. The brown and white ones were especially interesting to look at. I was partial to my all white llama that watched me paint for 60 seconds. He was a cheery one. None of the llamas spit on us so that was nice. Did you know that in the wild they fight off predators with their talon like hooves? They are fearless!! They live in high altitudes and their coat keeps them extra warm including their long graceful necks. I decided to do a Tiny Painting watercolor series on these llamas because they were just a dream come true for me to see them.

I would always see pictures of Machu Picchu with llamas walking around it in tourist photos. Seeing them has been on my bucket list for a while. Right when we entered the ruins it was super foggy and misty. Once the midst cleared we saw a brown and white llama immediately munching grass in one of the stone tiers. We were a safe distance away so I got my camera out and started snapping pictures. Chris and I are used to being super respectful of wildlife and try to never disturb them in their habitats. These llamas, however, were very used to people. As we walked up the many stairs to take more pictures of Machu Picchu, you know the classic one I posted in my last blog, there were llamas abound! 

When we found an initial photo opportunity we came across three llamas lying down with their necks stretched upward eating the leaves off trees. I stopped to take a picture with them for my nephew because I got him a Machu Picchu book with a llama on the cover. After this amazing experience was complete we got our photo with the mountain behind us. We were discussing how high we would have to climb to get the ‘classic’ photo of the whole mountain and ruins together. We walked on, and up many stairs, then found the spot. That is when we ran into the other person from our group and he helped us with the photo. After this we sat and had the wonderful llama experience I shared in “Exploring Machu Picchu.” After Mr. Llama was done watching me paint, Chris and I sat together marveling at the landscape and remembering our first hike where we both said “Machu Picchu” for the place we wanted to travel the most. 

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful weekend! I look forward to writing about the journey back to Aguas Calientes, the shops, and the train ride back to the hostel next week. Stay tuned…

-Karen Hilliard


Exploring Machu Picchu

Karen Hilliard Art Blog | Machu Picchu
The Line of People to get in!!

When we finally made it to the ruins, we felt we were walking around in a time of ancient history. Wondering what each place was made from and what the people did while there. What were their celebrations like? What did they do for worship? What were their meals like and sleeping quarters? How did the children interact and play…how did they learn? Papi answered a lot of our questions on the tour but some were still nice to ponder. Chris and I walked around for some time looking for his “Stairs of Death” and we thought we found them. An area was marked off with lethal warnings of falling to one’s death so we thought that area was where the stairs were. Nope. While writing about them in my blog last week I discovered they are in Wayna Picchu.

My friend from Taiwan has been reading these blogs and she kindly shared her photographs from her hike. This is the amazing friend who fell, hurt her leg, got stitches, rode up to Machu Picchu, and then when Papi left…hiked Wayna Picchu because she is tough! Her stitches held up and she said the pain killers were working so good that she did not want to miss out. I get that. Traveling around the world to see something you may never have the chance to go back and see. She put a smile on her face and went up to the top. They saw dancers up there and the “Stairs of Death.” Here are a few pictures she took and shared with me for this blog post. I hope you enjoy them. As I mentioned, Chris and I will have to go back if he ever wants to do the stair hike. For now…let’s head back to Machu Picchu.

We found a lovely spot to take pictures and the avocado guy was nice enough to take our picture staring at the mountain. He set us up and told us where to stand, look, etc. it was nice to have the help and the pictures turned out awesome. After this I found a spot to sit and paint. Chris wandered around and found a trail for us to hike together later, then came and sat with me while I painted. The most amazing thing happened to me at that moment. He sat and a llama came over to smell my paint set. It thought it was good I guess, and then the llama sniffed my face. I kept painting and he looked at my painting, then at Machu Picchu, then at my painting, then at me. This carried on for a minute and then the llama went to Chris for food…which he did not give the llama of course. We sat for a while and just enjoyed ourselves. More to come on Friday!

Have a Wondrous Wednesday and thank you for reading!

-Karen Hilliard

Here is a taste of the blog coming out Friday…What do you think it will be about?

Machu Picchu in All its Glory

Reaching the top of the stairs to Machu Picchu was a huge feat. We met up with Papi and the rest of the group and then proceeded to wait in a very long and grouped up line. There were so many people! We were glad to have our guide at this point of the experience. He led us all in and told us to stop and look around for a minute to take it all in. The midst rolling over the mountains in the early morning light was magical. It felt so surreal for Chris and I and we were speechless. This is saying a lot because we talk all the time. We have spent hours in road trips cross country with no radio in just listening to one another. So, I o have no words, was wonderful. We both just stood there admiring the landscape. Everyone in the group actually, all stood in silence. Then we heard Papu’s voice in the wind.

He was ready to tell us all about where we were, the people who built Machu Picchu, what the ruins represented, and so on. He told us once we were finished with his tour there would be time to explore individually and he would be gone. We were going to miss him and his great sense of humor but we’re so grateful for the stories and lessons he shared. He took us to the mirror pools, a lookout place, explained carvings, etc. we all stood around listening in awe and wonder. I sketched in a couple of places while Papi was talking and everyone enjoyed this. At the end, we all said our goodbyes and one person from our group took a giant avocado out of his bag, then started to eat it! Chris wanted to know where he got it and that will be in a future blog!

After we were done looking at him devour an avocado, we said goodbye to the people from Taiwan and they headed up to Wayna Picchu. I will tell you about their experience in tomorrows blog along with more on my and Chris’s Machu Picchu adventure. When everyone dispersed, Chris and I had to figure out where we were going and we went the wrong way. The ruins are set up on a one way system. We did not know this and a nice gentleman kept telling us we needed to turn around. Every time we thought we were going the right way we ran into him and he said nope, in Peruvian with a lot of head shaking and pointing. Eventually we went the right direction and ended up outside the gate of Machu Picchu super sad that we could not get back in. After waiting around, we heard others talking, followed their lead, and got back in with a stamp. This time…we would not mess up! More on what we saw in tomorrow’s blog and the llamas!!!! Below are some Peru Paintings I am putting on SALE for 10% OFF as a special deal to go with these blogs!

Thank you for reading and Happy Monday!

-Karen Hilliard

For the Original Train Painting Click Here! For the Original Grasshopper Painting Click Here! For the First Llama Click Here! For the Second Llama Click Here! Enjoy 10% off from Today Monday the 23rd Through Saturday the 28th of October!

Climb to Machu Picchu

The walk in the wee hours of darkness to the base of a mountain with my best friend was amazing!! We had vouchers for the hike up to Machu Picchu and were patiently waiting in line with our passports to cross the bridge. Upon arriving to the line there were several people waiting, which we did not expect. We should’ve assumed there be this many people since it’s such a popular spot in the world but we had no idea it would be like Disneyland. It was unreal. How many people were there at 4 AM getting ready to hike up several steps to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Karen Hilliard Art Blog

The bridge over the river from Aguascalientes on the trail to Machu Picchu was very wide to appease the mini travelers, I am assuming. It was modern and well-built, and the signs at the end of the bridge to get up to Machu Picchu were very self-explanatory, which we appreciated. It was super dark so we decided we would take pictures of those signs on the way down, so they’ll be in a later blog. In this blog, I’ll talk to you about how dark it was, the need for headlamps, the mist coming over the mountains, and just the constant laughter of Chris and I while we hiked up trying to stay out of people‘s way who were hiking at a much faster pace.

Karen Hilliard Art | Tiny Painting | 4x6 | Watercolor | Original Art | Inca Trail Series

The hike was super dark, and Chris and I were very fortunate that we brought our headlamps with us, as we did forget our tent poles. We packed everything for this trip, including our tent, then we forgot to bring the polls and we’re thankful to stay at all the youth hostels along the way. Luckily, however, we did have our headlamps, which we didn’t need for hiking up to Machu Picchu. As we hiked, we thought about our tour guide and how he had gone up on this hike several times. We wondered if this was why he decided to meet us at the top by taking the bus because his “knees weren’t what they used to be.” We were trying to ponder how many times he climbed these steps to Machu Picchu because we were only on a ten day tour with him and there are 365 days a year. We were also his last tour because of his age so he had to have done this trail many, many times. As we got higher and higher, the sun started to come out, and we were able to see the mist over the mountains, but the mountain still was a shadow like silhouette, black. It was surreal, beautiful, just an amazing experience all around for both Chris and I.

I think my favorite part about the hike was the constant image of seeing llamas when we got to the top. I really wanted to get pictures of llamas and just sit on the grassy knoll of Machu Picchu painting the ruins, while being around llamas. I was really hopeful that this would happen. Chris and I were crawling up the steps and felt like they were so high, almost up to our knees. We had to high-step, and he is six foot four and I am six foot one so us high-stepping is saying something. He was excited to see a part of the ruins where the steps were on the side of a cliff. They are known to just be rocks coming out of the rock and it is a very deadly trail on Wayna Picchu. We did not know this at the time and did not go all the way up to the top. I guess we are going to have to go back someday soon. For now, I will write more about Machu Picchu next week!

Have a happy weekend and stay safe…be careful if you do the “Stairs of Death.”

-Karen Hilliard