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Our year “abroad”  as I am going to start calling it, cannot happen without the requisite journey metaphors. Hence the title.  To say that we’re lost may be a slight exaggeration but it seems almost appropriate. And this is the story one of the stories of our greatest trek in South America – our hike to Machu Picchu – which lends it self to a certain degree of hype.

Here’s a taste of our adventure:



Machu Picchu is celebrating its 100th year of rediscovery. While known to indiginous people, the modern world only came upon the archeological site in 1911. This is when a local boy guided an expedition led by Hiram Bingham to the mountain top. It was largely hidden from sight.  In a 1913 article for National Geographic, Bingham wrote, “It is perched on a mountain top in the most inaccessible corner of the most inaccessible section of the Urubamba River. So far as I know, there is no part of the Andes that has been better defended by nature.” It is partly because of its location that the city remains the marvel it is today. “Machu Picchu is not only more extensive than any previously discovered Inca city outside of Cuzco, but it is in a remarkably good state of preservation, and its architecture has not become confused with Spanish efforts to build churches and villas,” he wrote.

You can read Bingham’s original article for National Geograhic here.

Natural Geographic has written several more articles on the site including one on the mysteries archeologists are still working to uncover. The New York Times has also recently sent a team down there for the anniversary which brought back some beautiful pictures and an enviable video of their own.

Here are a few other life is a journey lessons we were reminded of on our own trek to the lost Incan city.

Setting Goals Helps You Reach Them

The hike to Machu Picchu was no walk in the park. Day 2 was pretty challenging especially because of the altitude. If you weren’t used to the elevation (as we weren’t) you had to stop every 30 feet or so to catch your breath. But we had a goal, an attainable goal in fact. And we just had to set it to reach it.

A Little Comedy Can Lighten the Load

One of the things I didn’t capture as well as I would of liked on video was all the fun we had on our trip. I can’t tell you all the times we were laughing outloud for large parts of the trail. The is-it-a-mule/horse/donkey-conversation that consumed some of the guys for most of Day 1 is a comedy routine in itself.

Mule or donkey? Can you tell? Photo by Nellu

Sometimes the Right Pronunciation Makes a Big Difference

If you listen closely in the video, you can hear that I attempt to pronounce Picchu more like “pict-chu.” That’s because if you don’t pronounce it correctly, you’re actually calling the site old penis instead of old mountain.

Things Don’t Always Turn Out the Way You Planned

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got sick on the last day of the hike. Our wake up call was at 3:50am in the morning but by 2am I was wide awake trying to figure out what I had in my first aid kit that could stave off the impending crisis. I managed the last hike and did muster up enough energy to see most of the site as shown to us by our guide but I couldn’t make it up the stairs to the sun temple.

This is how I felt the last day of our hike. Photo by Nellu

But one of my favorite parts of the day was when we were riding the shuttle down to where we had to catch our train because if you turned back to look you got see just how amazing the city on Machu Picchu looks perched all the way up on top of the mountain.

Photo: Nellu

Oh and I was thrilled to find that Nellu got a picture of me that didn’t make me look like a sleeping llama.

Life is Always Better in Person

This video and these stories pale in comparison to the remarkable journey of hiking the Inca Trail and getting to see the city revealed on the top of the mountain Machu Picchu. So the good news is, you’ll just have to do it yourself.

~ Molly


Yes it’s true, Nellu has been talking about chicha since we were still in New York. I think he was first introduced to it while watching one of the adventure eating/drinking shows and thought, “Wow, that’s weird. I definitely want to try that.” He will try anything at least once – the weirder the better. I think Santiago sticks in my mind as the place where chicha’s role in our daily conversation hit a new high because we were staying with two lovely American women who had recently traveled through Peru and Nellu wondered if they had in fact tried it.

Chicha is an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn. Photo: Nellu

What Nellu leaves out of his story is the fact that when – as he put it “a miracle happened” and our bus returning home from the Inca Trail passed right by the chicharia (or place that makes chicha) – I was dying in the back of the bus. As fate would have it, I got sick on the last day of our hike to Machu Picchu. I won’t go into detail but it was the type of brutal sick that travelers often get when exposed to foreign elements in their food and water.  So after getting up before 3am in the morning, hiking 6km to Machu Picchu, trying to eek out every last bit of spirit I had to actually enjoy and see the ruins, then taking a bus to a train to a bus without consuming anything more than two Gatorades and a few crackers, I was happy to be on the way back to our hotel.

Nellu had been an absolutely trooper the whole day, staying by my side to help me with the hike, running to get me water or Gatorade or anything I needed. From time to time he would give me that look that he sometimes gives me when I am sick, he can’t help, and he secretly fears that I may die. It’s that look of sheer despondency that you usually see in movies when someone is in fact dying…from the plague. He gave me the look a lot that day.

So you can imagine my surprise when, as the sun was setting and I was curled up in the fetal position on the back of the bus, I hear, “Hey! Is there any chance we can stop at Mercedes’ chicharia !?!” coming from my worried husband’s mouth.

Part of me wanted to shout back, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” But I didn’t. I knew how much Nellu wanted to try it. And he had come so close so many times. The first night we arrived in Cusco before embarking on the Incan Trail, we even ate at a place called Chicha. But alas, they did not serve the drink. And all through out the hike, there were chicharias on the way where the porters would stop to refresh. It was almost like the chicha was teasing Nellu throughout the whole trip. So being the good wife I am, I said nothing and the bus stopped.

About 5 minutes later, some of our other trail mates returned to the bus after sampling their first taste of chicha and gave a very definitive review, “It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.”

Usually, I would have been right there with Nellu trying the chicha. I definitely wouldn’t have had a whole glass like he did (he wants me to make sure you know that it was a monster mug and not a small taste like some others had) but I would have tried it. I may not be so adventurous when it comes to food but usually with drinks, I’ll take at least a sip.

And besides, I would have gotten the opportunity to improve my skills at the drinking game “el sapo.” This is essentially the Andes version of Beruit where instead of tossing ping-pong balls into keg cups, you hurl metal coins at a table aiming for the mouth of a small metal frog and rack of points based on your accuracy. The loser buys the next round of chicha.

Here’s a little video of us trying our hand at “el sapo” during our first visit to Mercedes’ chicharia:



~ Molly

“You haven’t stop talking about chicha, since Santiago.”

This is the line that currently echoes in my head. Molly has said it several times to me since we left Santiago. I can’t remember precisely when but I think it was more like Buenos Aires or even as far back as Rio (Lance & David can collaborate on this if they know??). Realistically, it was probably several months ago in NYC before coming face-to-face with reality. I think I told everyone I met, my intention to find a chicharia and drink some chicha. This is my story and though it has been done before,  this one is mine. The Inca Trail is a 45KM, 4 day hike to Machu Picchu along the paths created by the Incas, which connected outposts to cities and cities to each other; but that is another story. This post will be about chicha.

Chicha. Now in two great flavors!! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Near the town of Ollantaytambo on the way to the start of our hike, our guide (Rivelino) delivered a query which had been already answered at some point earlier in the day when I had mentioned chicha several times by name.  We would be stopping at a nearby chicharia (place where they make chicha) and find out how it was made. As we neared the establishment, I noticed the familiar red bag on the end of a stick in front of a house. This is a business marker indicating chicha is being sold here.

When cuddly becomes dinner: "The Before Picture" (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Before we could taste any chicha we would first have to see the guinea pig pen. Guinea pig is a delicacy in Cuzco and is generally only eaten at special occasions. It can be quite expensive; 80 Soles for the one we tried at ChiCha restaurant in Cusco. It tastes a bit gamy, with a texture reminiscent of a mixture of rabbit and duck.  Photos of dinner can be seen here, but it’s not pretty. But I digress, the topic is chicha.

Seeds germinating. (Photo By Jack Zalium)

We were stopping at a well known chicharia owned by a woman named Mercedes. Inside the chicharia, Mercedes spoke and Rivelino, translated. The chicha that Mercedes makes is produced from the germination of seeds of corn (several varieties) that are then boiled/mashed and then strained through straw into containers for fermentation. We were first shown the corn, followed by a basket of germinating seeds. Next Mercedes demonstrated how she mashed, boiled and strained the product into chicha. She was even going to offer us a taste (which I picked up via my limited Spanish),but Rivelino intervened. He did not recommend that we partake because of nature of chicha itself. Chicha is made with local water, is alcoholic(does not mix well with the altitude) and contains yeast that continues to ferment even after drinking. He simply did not wish for anyone’s adventure to be horrid or worse, end before it began. The rejection was brutal, but I hoped there would be another chance in the future.

The future came quickly enough, mocking me throughout the climb as every porter and local was drinking chicha at various stations along the trail. Many of our porters ran the trail while wearing open toe sandals and carrying 25 KG of cargo on their backs. These men would repeatedly show great feats of strength and endurance as they ran past us each day to setup the camp when we arrived at our lunch and dinner breaks. Perhaps there’s something to the chicha mystique after all.At the end of the hike, I had become despondent as we only had 1 night and 1 day left in Cusco to find and try chicha. I had some leads, but nothing solid. Then a miracle happened. Realizing that the road back to Cusco passed Mercedes’ chicharia, a sole plea was made for a quick stop. This would be a great reward to have climbed to the top of Machu Picchu and then return to sample chicha. That one voice grew into a cacophony of support and the bus stopped. This is how I like to remember the incident, in my mind anyhow.

This chicha's for you!!

Chicha is an acquired taste and not for everyone. I had just came from Chile, so the terremote was similar and not too different from tulburel (newly fermented Romanian wine). Both denote homemade spirits with active yeast, which means it will continue to ferment even while in you stomach. Mercedes happily greeted us and I get rounds for everyone that wanted it.  Chicha is cheap, costing between 1-2 Soles. Drink as many as you like. It is cheap, because they play a drinking game called ‘el sapo‘ (the toad), which can drain you of your Solesquickly, especially after a few rounds. More on that later.

Chicha is between 2-4% alcohol, tastes a bit like sour beer and smells eerily like boiled cabbages juice. Anyone who has had one of several American craft beers made with wild yeast, will have an idea of what this tastes like. After several gulps your mouth adjusts and you may find that you are actually enjoying it. It is not a heavy drink, but do not be fooled. I only had one but I definitely felt the affects. Most that drank it found it to be interesting, but not interesting enough to finish. I downed every drop of chicha and the rest is history. I can’t recommend you drink this as only you can make that decision for yourself, but I have no regrets.

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