100 days ago I decided to 'stay home' for 100 days. When I began the 100 days I thought I would write regularly about the process. I didn't, and I even forgot about the 100 days for some periods of the time. But last week I remembered, calculated the end date and I'm writing now. This is a much more personal post than most on this blog but I want to have this recorded here and anyways I feel good about sharing it publicly. Think of this as a thank you to all of the people and animals that have taken part in getting me to where I am now.
First to explain the original plan, the 'staying home' was basically a technique to try to become more grounded in my new home and after a few turbulent years. The plan was to stay within a couple of kilometers of my home, only leaving for food and supplies, but it wasn't totally strict, if an emergency happened or I got a guiding job I was allowed to leave the zone temporarily.
Even through forgetting about this whole plan at some periods I am happy to say that I did sucessfully follow the plan and the principal objective of becoming more grounded in my home, family, social life and business has been achieved beyond my own expectations.
I started the 100 days on December 1st, 2018 and I am ending them on April 13th, 2019. As you can read in my inital blog post about this plan, this is the second time I have used this 100 day technique, which I made up myself, the first being from December, 2012 to April, 2013.
I did leave the area around my home a couple of times, once to lead a tour for 2 nights and 2 days in the Wakrapukara region, another to assist in a mountain search operation for 10 days in Calca a few kilometers away and a couple of times to go to the city of Cusco an hour away to get my car fixed, to follow two mountain first aid courses and do a bit of other shopping. I also went on a one day road trip to the jungle three hours from our home, went up and down the valley to have lunch a couple of times and did two overnight trips to villages within 3 hours drive with some out of town friends that visited. I feel like none of those outings were really frivolous regarding my plan and didn't greatly affect the connections and grounding I was working towards. The10 day search operation was intense, sad and traumatising and this of course affected me but it was an emergency and so within my original 'rules'.
So what happened within the plan? Well, I stayed home a lot more, I cooked at home much more than previously, I spent a lot of time with my daughter and the neighbours on the property, I received lots of visitors, I said no to lots of invitations and events and I got my dream business of starting up my own ranch off the ground surprisingly sucessfully. I recoved my body back to its more sporty working state since giving birth nearly 2 years ago and am living in a house where I am very comfortable.
At the end of December, after searching for my friend's daughter in the mountain, an extremely difficult 10 day process which led me to recognize the wealth of resources that I have but unfortunately ended in great tragedy, I was exhausted, heartbroken, shocked and I didn't even want to leave home. It was also a time when the tourism was lowest here and I had very little work contracts and I was starting to think about what I was going to do to survive. I had the plan to get my own ranch business going but I thought it most prudent to wait until April or May to bring the horses here and I had just started preparatory work like building up my website. But I felt terrible and I really missed my horses and their medicine.
On January 15th I decided to take the jump and gave the order to transport the horses here. They were here by the 18th, so we suddenly had 4 large horses and a pony here and I had my dear old friends back, and a new one. I quickly got my saddles and gear back in an operable state, launched the website and to my surprise in the "deadest" part of the tourist season, I had work almost daily. And that's how it's been going since then.
This sudden success caused me to quickly need to make solid plans to have help to hold my work, home and family life together. Working with some incredible volunteer helpers has been a key as well as taking my housekeeper/nanny on full time. I find that when I need to be extremely and constantly active I am also more focused and things fall into place as they should. I'm happy that at this phase of my life I am able to maintain my physical and mental energy levels so I can step up to this unexpected occasion. I had really thought I was taking the big risk of getting into financial problems by bringing my horses here so early before the tourism season begins.
Every day I have been realising that I have made the right choice. I am busy, but not too busy that I can't spend lots of time with my daughter and even still socialise a bit. I also have noticed that what I have done in this period, but also slowly over the last few of years is to omit one by one many of the things that don't serve me and that I don't like in my life. Now I just do what I like most (of course we all have obligations and have to take care of things like fixing the car), and I don't do things which don't serve me. Slowly I am becoming more able to observe what is superfluous in my life and I can clearly see what does me well.
Having a ranch and a business and being a single mother I have to work hard. I wake up early, I have to attend to lots of people and animals and I do my office work late at night. Luckily there are so many moments, nearly each day, when I feel fully grateful, for the amazing view, for feeling 'cool' because I get to guide people to incredible experiences, for getting paid to hang out with horses, for being able to spend a lot of time with my daughter and see her develop so beautifully, that I have no doubt that I am doing the right things with my life right now. And I think that this is the first time in my life I have felt this way.
It takes SO MUCH effort, time and process to say "I am just going to follow my dream". I have so many people in my life that support me unconditionally, but even they sometimes, in their efforts to help, have made comments that planted seeds of doubt. The society, education, conditioning, strangers, observers, envious people, scared people, loving people we all encounter in our lives all contribute to insecurity and doubt, because of course we all want safety and confirmation that we are doing the right thing.
I can now see that confirmation for me comes best in those moments when I am riding on my own in an epic landscape, on my mule, with the sun hitting my back, taking a moment to absorb that everything I have done, everyone I have encountered, everywhere I have been and every thought I have every thougth has brought me right to this place and time. And I think that is pretty close to 'grounding'.
Is everything perfectly calculated? No way. Am I totally focused on my goals at all times? No way. Is my life completely clean of issues, things or people that don't serve me? Nope. Am I always in a good mood? Definitely not. But I am just where I want and need to be right now, right here, riding along on the ground and I can see the dirt trail ahead of me.
My 100 days are over now but I don't plan to change my rythm much. I do feel that now that I have my business and life established here I could consider occasionally traveling temporarily if I felt like it. In any case, now you know where to find me.
One of the places I often take my riders to is a well-kept Sacred Valley secret. Thereare tons of secret sites here in the valley but this one is so easy to access and so interesting that I have often wondered why it's one of the least known spots. The site, near the bottom of the trail that leads to the very well-visited Maras Salt Pans is called Pichingoto and this is the story that the locals have told me about it...
Apparently in the local Qechua language 'Pichingo' means bird and "toco' means holes or caves. The old name of the site was Pichintoco, 'the caves of the birds'. The village indeed includes a few different eras of hand made stone and earth housing attached to the rock sides of the large basalt rock cliffs and overhangs. The first era of housing, from the 12th-14th century pre-Incan 'Wari' people are indeed tiny caves with little square doorways, more like windos, to get in and perch inside. The legend goes that the first people of Pichintoco were highly spiritual and connected to nature and actually believed they were the decendants of birds. They twisted strong Andean grasses into ropes and made ladders to climb up to their caves. Back then it was a time of tribal wartime and they had discoverd the valuable salt spring up the ravine so they must have been in defense mode.
The second phase of Pichintoco are homes that are significantly large and more comfortable, starting down on the ground, alcoves attached to the rock. Some of the alcoves have a few connected rooms. The overhanging rock cliff leans over the houses, nearly like a cave and offered shelter and the houses had straw roofs. Now some of those houses can still be visited. These are from around the 15th century once the Incas had arrived and taken over the salt flats.
The newest phase of the Pichingoto includes a small Spanish church from the 17th century that has recently been renovated and some colonial and new stand alone adobe houses, three of which are still lived in. in 2010 there was a fire in the ancient village that drove out most of the families that were still living there and only two have moved back. Damage from the fire can still be seen buta lot of the very old structures are luckily still intact.
Now people store animal feed in this dry sheltered area and very few people visit the site. Whenever I go I get a feeling of ghosts and whispers and I wondered why nobody hangs out there and why they call it the Pichingoto 'ghetto', until someone told mre another story.
It's important to remember that the original people of Pichintoco were those that discovered the salt source, a stream of very salty water called the 'Qori puqio' or 'golden spring'. But they discovered it back in a time when the Andean diet was very limited. Developments in high altitude farming, such as the important work done at the Moray incan Agricultural Laboratory didn't happen until the 15th-17th century. The people living in Pichintoco thus are a simple diet and when they started to consume the salt, getting benefit from the minerals, they likely also generated imbalances in their bodies.
The site isn't called Pichintoco anymore, it's called PichinGOTO now, which, I was told, roughly means 'the birds with gout', gout being an illness one can get when they are suffering from a mineral imbalance. Gout causes the growth of debilitating goiters around the throat area and also causes mental disturbances (which might have contributed to the augmented 'spirituality' and strange living style of the original inhabitants of Pichingoto. This area below the salt flats was a workers ghetto.
Nowadays the salt is iodized for human consumption, preventing gout and we have much better diets that make imbalances quite uncommon anyways. This history was told to me in pieces by various locas from the Sacred Valley and from the immediate area around Pichingoto. All I can say for sure is that it really feels like visiting a mysterious ghost town. Let me know when you want to comke for a ride and explore the ancient village of Pichingoto and/or the Maras Salt Flats above. From our ranch we can visit Pichingoto in a 2 hour round trip or we can visit both sites in 4 hours.
Check out the details on our page!
Maras, Misminay, Moray Expedition Report: 2 days, 4 women, 4 horses, epic culture in the Sacred Valley.
Last week I had the opportunity to ride with 3 incredible women for two days through the valley and high plans of this Andean landscape. The group consisted of myself and 3 solo travellers, an epic team. Every day I feel deeply greatful to do this work of leading journeys and this time it was especially amazing to travel with 3 powerful women from 3 different walks of life. What began as a group of clients quickly turned into a lasting sisterhood.
This journey started at the Frontierlab Ranch in Urubamba, climbing up to the Pre-Incan salt pans at Maras, up over the great plains of the Sacred Valley's largest agricultural area and up to the community of Misminay where we spend the night. On the second day we ride above the iconic Moray Incan Agricultural Laboratory and enjoy a picnic facing the great glaciers and sacred mountains from a high point before droppinch pack down to the Willkamayu river and passing ancinet sites and new villages until we reach the ranch again. It's a two day journey of riding in vast open space, surrounded by the monumental Andean landscape and a cozy night spent full of culture, textiles and Andean flavours.
One the journey we enjoyed amazing views across the plains and out to the toher side of the valley where we can see the Chicon glacier and other 'Apus' (Sacred mountains) eye to eye. At the beginning of the ride everyone was excited to getto know each other and full of questions, talking a lot upon the way but as soon as we came up from the Salt Flats and the landscape opened up everyone fell silent for quite a while, in awe of the panorama. I've been running these trips and exploring on my own in the valley for a long time and I still take photos and even sneak the occasional selfie! It never gets boring. The long straight clouds that hung below the glacier and along the valley, as seen in the picture below, are referred to as 'serpents' in the Andean culture and are believed to be a sign of blessing for a journey forwards.
One of the things I always take great care about is in matching each rider with their horse. Each one of our horses has their own distinct personality and style and the journey always flows more beautifully then each big animal fits well with their human counterpart.
The night before our departure I received a mail from a client asking for a ride but I had to say I was already hedding out on a 2 day journey. She was a first time rider but wrote me back and convinced me that she wanted to do the trip and was going to be able to handle it. Was she ever right! She rode our big fancy Peruvian Paso champion Abakur and did fabulously the entire way! She is undoubtledly the most confident and capable first time rider I have had the oportunity to ride with. She learned quickly and sat solidly. A hebalist, she provided rich knowledge about the medicinal plants we passed along the way and shared info with the women in Misminay community.
Our smallest rider took on our biggest horse... well our mule Josias actually! And she greatly enjoyed the solid stride and confidence, often hanging back and blissing out. Since she was a more experienced rider looking for a more intimate connecting with the landscape, Josias the 'cadillac' was the perfect partner. She was a healer and shared some of her magic with another rider. I truly believe that everyone is led to this region for some type of personal process and it actually occurs more frequently than one might expect for healing events to happen spontaneously on our journeys.
Our third rider, a musician who had ridden with us a few times before on her visit to Peru, specially requested her favorite horse, our young guy Ninja. He's a small Peruvian Paso work horse from Arequipa's Colca Canyon. She said that she always enjoyed riding him and was really looking to develop a deeper relationship with her horse on the journey. When we arrived to spend the night in Misminay she took care of Ninja, unsaddling and brushing him and making sure he had a great pile of green hay for dinner. We always encourge our riders to spend as much time with their horse as they wish to, before, during and after the ride. Members of the Misminay community sang us a welcome and later a farewell song and our guest also sang a song for them. The connections that we make with community members in Misminay and the warm hospitality always makes it feel like arriving home.
Each day we rode for about 5 hours, with lots of interesting stops. We enjoyed food at a great restaurant in Maras and event tried some guinea pig and other Andean delights in Misminay. We love working with and supporting this community. When we stay in Misminay we're hosted by a collective of 8 families, we stay in one of their homes and they all share workshops about their medicinal plant and textile traditions with us. Some older community members only speak Quechua and the younger ones translate for us into Spanish. There is no cultural barrier, whenever we visit we become part of the family. This time tears were shed by all the women as we departed and everyone said they'd be back.
This journey allows us to get out of the regular tourist circuits and become part of the landscape. Let us know if you'd like to join us for a two day journey sometime!
On December 1st I decided that I would begin a period of 100 days of staying near home. This means staying home basically, except for going out to buy food, to work leading tours and for emergencies. 100 days is a long time. I live in Urubamba and can get everything I need to survive here and we get deliveries of horse feed so there isn't much neccesity to run around.
I have done this before, also staring December 1st, in 2012, when I lived in Berlin. There I decided to stay within 4 blocks of the apartment and only left for medical emergencies and one 5 day pre-scheduled trip. At that time I was struggling in my relationship with my ex-husband and also completing my Masters project, the documentary Eikka. In brief, at the end of the 10 days, I moved to Peru and haven't returned to Germany since. In 2012 that all started because I felt a lot of unclarity in my life, wanted to undertstand the situation better and in general feel more grounded. It was a challenge which worked, I received lot of clarity, succeeded in finishing my documentary, graduated and made the change in my life to separate from my ex-husband and leave for Peru, for at least 6 months. Now I have been here for nearly 6 years.
This time I am not looking for a change of life and location. After a couple years of changes, a new baby and new businesses, I am rather looking for grounding in this place and to see how to concretise the projects I have been envisioning and working towards. On October 1st I moved to a large property in Urubamba with the plan of starting my horse ranch here and have worked hard for two months to get the place, house and land, in order for that. I tend to be a very speedy and active person, I have lots of ideas and energy, but I am looking for focus, dicipline and the right format for doing things. I live alone with my baby daughter, take care of my horses and run my tourism business on my own, so I feel that I need the best plan.
It's the 4th today, and the past few days I have just gone to town to go to the market. I have cooked and eaten at home and have been getting lots done around the house and property. My baby seems to enjoy being here and is showing lots of independence. After a busy tourism season, moving and travel to check out some new routes for next year we are both glad to take some time to enjoy this beautiful green property and find a new rythm. So let's see how it goes. I'll make another post soon.
I have to admit, I have been out on a lot of adventures, especially lately, but this is definitely one of the most epic and long awaited. Wakrapukara is an Incan fortress perched up on a stone pillar, standing in the middle of a deep canyon near the village of Huayque in Acomayo province in Cusco. And it take a long time to hike, or in our case horseback ride up to it. WARNING, this is for expert riders, it's a very tuff trail. nearly all on the edge of the abyss. Well, for expert riders, and for my dad!
Im so glad I got to share this adventure for the first time with my dad (this was his first ride at 77 years old with a 1 year old new hip, yes he's a hardcore adventurer), and two of my best friends Edward who is from Huayque and Wilbert who is my companion from many a horseback adventure.
We drove from Cusco to Pomacanchi lake and slept in a great community owned lodge. In the morning we drove 40 minutes up to the village of Huayque to meet Edward and the horses. The drive was already spectacular.
The first part of the climb was a rocky trail but the horses did great. There were both Peruvian Paso horses and criollo (mixed mountain horses) and all of them were amzing and used to the extreme trail and luckily our saddles were stable and comfortable. I admit I am a very experienced rider and have been on a lot of unofficial trails, as are Edward and Wilbert. This trail was wide and obviously an ancestral road and had been transited by horses for generations, but I still felt like a bit of a jerk for taking my novice dad all the way up there. Especially after I realised were were going to be riding for 6 or 7 hours! I kept looking back and asking if he was ok. He was hanging onto his saddle horn tightly and looking concentrated but he always answered "I'm fine"!
The entire ride was breathtaking. There were views above, below and all around us. Arriving to the actual site was so enigmatic, I had seen photos, but the journey was so epic and extreme that I really felt the remoteness of this "fortress" which I'm sure was actually a very sacred ritual site. The ancient constructions were impecable and symbolic, on such a rugged piece of landscape and the canyons all around were so very deep.
I dont know what to say except that, go there, any way you can. The site isn't physically large but this is one of the places that despite the extreme route to get there, it so worth is because there you really feel the power of the ancient spirituality. It's not just the actualy construstion, it's the entire location that is astounding. And most likely you'll arrive and nobody else will be there. We all experienced a deep connection with our horsesand with the land. This is truly a journey to the edge, literally and emotionally. We had hot sun, extreme wind, rain, hail and we even ran into a group of wild horses and some mountain goats. We saw condors and passed below monumental overhanging rocks that made me forget which was was up or down. This is a journey of trust and letting go, on all levels. Luckily the next morning dad said "I'm amazed, I'm not sore!"
We have a two day and two night horseback expedition coming up on December 15-17th (for actual experts) and later in the new year we will program more trips. Check out our website Frontierlab.org and get in touch if you'd like to make this journey with us.
I just came back from a totally fascinating two day trip to the jungle, just 3 hours from the Sacred Valley! I traveled up the valley toward Machu Picchu and Quillabamba but stopped off in Huyro, where tons of black tea, the best rated coffee in the world and lots of cacao and fruit comes from! I had no idea I could go from the high mountain to the total jungle so quickly!
Passing Ollantaytambo the road got very curvy and we climbed up very high, up to the Abra Malaga, a high pass at 4300meters of altitude.
After the pass though we immediately dropped into the clouds and then it quickly started to get warm and humid. The difference of vegetation from the high Andes was astounding. Within 2.5 hours we were in Huyro district and I called our contact Americo to come bring up to the Eco Albergue Colibri biological station. When we arrived he took us on a tour of the large property, explaining jungle agriculture and their different ecological projects and showing us all kinds of different fruit and insects like big spiders and the exoskeleton of cicadas.
We enjoyed a delicious home cooked lunch and then went for a drive in a 4X4 to visit tea and coffee plantations. I was surprised and impressed at the way they farm the tea, totally organically and in a bio diverse style, all kinds of plants and crops and trees all mixed together in the plantation.
After visiting the plantation we went to the original Huyro community tea processing plant, where the tea is dried, roasted, ground and sorted. For me this was the most interesting part of our journey as I learned so much about the handling, politics and comercialization of tea. The machines are from England from the 1920s and the plant had once processed 2000 tons of tea per week. The area had been very prosperous, as you can see from some of the old plantation homes, but now everything was in ruins. Even this important plant had closed down due to mis-management by community and politicians around 20 year ago and had just reopened 6 months ago. This plant is apparently the only one in the region with such fine machinery. The machines are made of copper and softly massage the tea, rather than cutting it, producing whole leaf fragrant product. Unfortunately I noticed that the community has no idea about branding and produces their final product with a very common looking brand, not telling about the better process and that the tea is all organic. I hope to return and learn more about the history and processing of tea and possibly help orient them a bit in marketing.
When we got back to the lodge Americo offered us a workshop on how to prepare cacao (chocolate) directly from the bean. We toasted the beans and use a hand-crank grinder to make it into a paste and then pressed it into a mold to make blocks.
It was a lot hotter than we were used to so we slipped into the pool!
IWe slept in the lodge under mosquito nets even though there weren’t many mosquitos at night. The next day we went to visit a part of the Inca trail and a 'tambo', an ancient resting place for ‘Chaski’ Incan messengers. I can hardly believe that I can just cross over a mountain and end up in this whole other world! Peru is awesome! If you are in the Cusco or Sacred Valley region and want to take a quick trip to the real jungle, we can organize your trip. Check out our options on our site Frontierlab.org
Visiting Q'eswachaka is one of my favourite things to do in the Cusco region. Every year the communities surrounding the bridge, which is located in the Canas province of Cusco, near the village of Quehue, gather to rebuild the bridge, entirely by hand, from twisted Q'ishwa grass. The suspension bridge is approximately 28 meters long and surprisingly stable, spanning the Apurmac river canyon. It's amazing to visit and cross the bridge at any time of year though.
If you have a chance to attend the annual bridge building, a 4 day work event with a traditional dance and gastronomic festival at the end, you'll be one of very few visitors. This year we were there for the last two days of the building. I was shocked by the absolute intimacy of the whole event. We arrived to the remote area down a very winding road and found hundreds of community members, all in their traditional clothing, sitting in small groups twisting grass. I sat with them and they showed me how to make the little ropes. On the roadway on both sides of the canyon, high above the actual bridge, women make the small ropes. They use a technique of double twististing wet and pounded grass by sliding one hand over the other, somewhat like spinning raw wool into yarn.
The locals consider women "bad luck" and during the bridge construction no women, not even a journalist, is allowed to go down to the lower part to the site of the bridge. During the 4 days of the construction 4 local 'curanderos' (traditional Andean shaman) remain on site to continuously perform a protection ritual to bless the bridge.
This is one of the few events where you will see all of the men participating in their traditional clothing. In most of the region men have not conserved their traditional clothing in the same way as the women have. Here they are all dressed in black and white woven wool cloth, called "bayeta". The men climb up and collect the small ropes from the women. They twist them into 6 huge rope which are the main support for the bridge and use other small ropes to create sides for the bridge. The original Incan bridge pillars and tying spots are still intact and used.
This journey is a 3 hour drive from Cusco or a 4 hour drive from The Sacred Valley. The last part of the road is a very winding road down the canyon, full of pothotes, so get ready to hold onto your hat. But it's well worth it to experience crossing this amazing creation and to admire ancient traditions and engineering that are still very much alive today. Check out our options for daytrips to the bridge on our site Frontierlab.