“What would I do without you?”
If I had a dollar for every time I asked Lynn the question above, I would have enough money to retake this Peru trip - and you better believe I would. But, since nobody will keep me on their payroll for adoring my dear friend, I’ll have to settle for reliving our trip in story form. I’ll do my best, but the thing is, Lynn and I have always been better at making memories than cataloging them.
In the - I can hardly get myself to say it - forty years since our friendship began, Lynn and I have gone through it all. When I made smart comments at boys in our high school hallways, she kept a level head. At my bachelorette party, she made a sneaky deal with the bartender to avoid alcohol. She was newly pregnant with her daughter but didn’t want to steal my wedding thunder with the news. It wasn’t too long after I married my husband (in a dress Lynn made!) that I had a daughter of my own, who calls Lynn her aunt to this day. Now, my daughter is grown and married, and Lynn’s three kids are well out of the house. Somehow, we have gone from mischievous choir kids with bad 80s hairdos to empty nesters who meet on the weekends and walk hills for fun. C’est las vie, I suppose.
When you are a woman, wife, mother and manager, you have to say “no” pretty often. “No, I cannot extend that deadline,” or “No, you cannot get a pony,” or my personal favorite, “No, we already have one kid.”
It can get exhausting, running everything and everyone around, from office errands to airport drop-offs to dance competition after dance competition. Lynn is no stranger to this, and over the years, we have learned to turn to each other when we want to say yes.
“Yes, let’s go line dancing.”
“Yes, I’ll go on that ghost tour with you.”
“Yes, you should buy yourself that pair of shoes.”
So in December of 2019, when Lynn’s pilot brother offered us two buddy passes to go anywhere JetBlue Airlines flew, you can guess what we had to say in response.
I chose Peru because it seemed like the most exotic choice. Also, seeing Machu Picchu was on my bucket list; I was intensely excited about standing in a place that held so much history. In middle age, you realize that your bucket list items won’t cross off themselves, and you need to make the most of opportunities.
Our pilot perk had us flying on standby, which assumes a certain amount of risk. During our Boston layover, only one seat was available on the next plane to Lima. Lynn told me to take it, but I refused to separate. If we didn’t split up when running from the cops after TPing our high school, we certainly weren’t going to now. Luckily, a second seat became available, and we were off to Lima!
I was warned about the safety of Peru’s capital city, but I was pleasantly surprised by how we were received there. We were given the red carpet treatment with friendly service from everyone we met.
Our concierge set us up with a tour guide and driver, with whom we spent our first day in Lima, exploring their recommendations. Our tour guide was female, which was a big deal to me, especially when we landed in what felt like an uneasy part of town. I watched this Peruvian woman confidently walk down an alleyway and up a side staircase to perform a secret knock on an unmarked door. If she had been a man, I can’t say I would have thought it wise to follow him inside.
But inside we went, where we found a pop-up bar and private pisco tasting! Pisco is a South American brandy derived from grapes and the staple liquor in Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour. It was tequila-esque in nature, which was plenty good by me, and our comedic bartender had us practice toasting en espanol before each sip.
This kind of quirky, local experience comes with saving room in your itinerary for recommendation. We had told our concierge that we wanted to have fun experiences that were authentic to Lima, then trusted what they set up! A travel tip I highly recommend.
Getting to Machu Picchu is pretty involved. After arrival in Lima, you have to take a domestic flight on a small plane to Cusco. While Lima is on the country’s coast, Cusco sits inland, in the mountains. One of the truly incredible things about Peru is how many different landscapes you can encounter in the country: Peru is home to beaches, mountains, sand dunes, volcanoes, lakes, and part of the freaking Amazon jungle.
Cusco was chillier, with humidity that hung in a cool mist as we strolled through its open-air markets. Merchants pushed alpaca wool sweaters, stray dogs poked about, and people sat on the tall curbsides, wrapped in colorful shawls.
We took a train from Cusco to the smaller mountain town of Aguas Calientes. As someone born and raised in Colorado, I am no stranger to mountainous landscapes. These mountains, however, held a different beauty than my familiar Rockies. Tall and towering, yes, but the Andes are also green and dense. They have a sort of mystical quality. The religious influence in Aguas Calientes perhaps accented this.
Aguas Calientes is small, yet busy. It’s the last real stopping point before Machu Picchu, making it a tourist trap. Things are more expensive there, but we didn’t mind. The other cities were quite affordable, so we felt it balanced out.
After the plane and the train, I was happy to board the final vehicle - a bus - between me and Machu Picchu. It drove up winding mountain switchbacks as we climbed toward colder, thinner air. This bus delivered us right to the ancient city.
It’s no secret that there is world-renowned hiking in this part of the world, but I’d like to note that this isn’t a requirement for seeing Machu Picchu, which I’d call a mostly accessible destination.
It’s a surreal experience to encounter something you’ve long dreamed of. There I was, standing in the remains of Machu Picchu, in the breathtaking Peruvian mountains, with my high school best friend at my side.
Being dropped off in the middle of the action was fine and well, but Lynn and I craved a little more adventure. We decided to hike up Huayna Picchu, the towering peak in the background of all the pictures.
We made the climb steep and steady, step by step. As we did, I found myself deeply grateful for two things: that Lynn and I had been walking hills back home and that my trusty Colorado lungs could handle altitude. Around us, others huffed and puffed. By the end, I could hardly breathe myself. I can only imagine how someone from sea level made that climb, and I want to offer a warning to not underestimate the effects of altitude.
Like all summits, the climb was as rewarding as it was challenging. From the top, I could see the Machu Picchu in a whole new way. While the perspective from the drop-off point had me assuming the position of a single Inca citizen, I could now see the picture as a whole. I could imagine the city in its prime, with its inhabitants moving about their daily lives.
Climbing Huayna Picchu felt like hiking to the heavens, which I imagine the Inca people thought they were doing when they first made that climb nearly six hundred years before. Looking around at what they had built up there, I pictured them carrying supplies on their backs as they climbed, only to begin their work at the summit, which tourists now consider a finish line.
After who knows how long of soaking up the view, we put faith in our shaky legs to carry us back down. I should point out that the descent of Huayna Picchu is not for the faint of heart; it requires calculation and a sense of sturdiness. What goes up must come down; some consider this the real challenge of the journey.
We headed back to Cusco that night feeling accomplished. We gratefully tucked ourselves into bed, exhausted. Several minutes later, Lynn whispered something horrible into the darkness: “I think there’s something in my bed.”
I am not squeamish, but this pest threat sounded my alarm! I leaped out of bed and turned on the light. Lynn was sitting by her headboard, her knees curled to her chest, pointing at a terrifying lump in the covers at the foot of her bed.
We looked at each other, horrified. We were certain we were about to encounter a creature and couldn’t decide if we preferred it dead or alive. The only thing we could think to do was prepare for battle. Grabbing whatever was around, we braced ourselves for the worst and ripped off the covers like a Band-Aid.
Tucked under the covers where Lynn’s feet had found it was a hot water bottle. We half gasped, half cried in relief before bursting into a fit of sleepover giggles, taking us right back to our high school days.
By the way, a hot water bottle tucked into a tired tourist’s bed is exactly the type of service you can expect in Peru. Thoughtful touches everywhere, though this one was not received as intended! Those belly laughs were worth the scare, though, and Lynn and I have doubled over laughing about this incident many times since.
The next morning, we flew back to Lima. After more much-needed rest, we walked along the coast to a fine dining restaurant on the water. We toasted to life, travel, friendship, and our bravery in conquering mountaintops and hot water bottles.
The following day was our final one, and I couldn’t believe I had been in Peru for a week before trying ceviche! On our quest to find some (no challenge there, it’s everywhere), we stumbled upon the lovely neighborhood of Barranco, home to a lively art scene with a colorful mural on every corner. We squeezed in a final museum, too. Our tour guide accompanied us but was too embarrassed to go into the room showcasing the Karma Sutra-esque statues, which we thought to be an adorable example of her professionalism.
When I left Peru, I did so with a full heart, cheeks that hurt from smiling, legs that hurt from hiking and a belly that was sore from laughter. As beat-up as this makes me seem, I was happy in every cell. It reminds me of this quote from the late Hunter S. Thompson:
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!"
One final note from me. If you have a childhood best friend in your life, and you have not yet traveled together, I highly suggest you give her a call.
Sherpani Guest Author
The above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to highlight personal travel stories from the women in our community. Would you like to share your travel story with Sherpani? Email email@example.com for more information. We can’t wait to read about your adventure!