Living Like Locals in the Sacred Valley

There have been many moments in our family’s travels when a little wave of joy and self-pride rushes over me. Times when I have to stop for a moment and think to myself, “Wow, I’m really doing this, aren’t I?” Something about successfully navigating through out-of-the-norm situations over and over again until they actually come to feel normal creates a unique feeling of accomplishment. It has an almost childlike quality to it, like the first time you tie your shoes really quickly without messing up the double-knot bow or the day you pass the swim test for the deep end at the neighborhood pool. You know it’s trivial to pretty much everyone around you, but that doesn’t matter. I did it! I rock! If I can do this, then maybe I can do just about anything! :-) It’s one of the most beautiful parts of traveling, these little waves of wow-I’m-really-doing-this joy.

Our time in Peru’s Sacred Valley has given me a lot of those moments. It can be something as simple as catching a local mini-bus and squeezing in for the ride to town with twenty-some Pervuians. Or maybe I’m in the middle of my daily shopping trip at the open air market buying granadillas, aguaymantos, tumbos and lucumos – fruits I never knew existed before coming to this country. Peru has made me really excited to be the well-seasoned traveler I’ve become over the past year. The language barrier is huge. The culture is real. The people are traditional and authentic. And we love it.


When we arrived in Cusco, our landlord picked us up at the airport and drove us out to our temporary home in Yanahaura, a tiny village sitting between the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytamba. Very quickly we were living like locals. With only a few small neighborhood shops in the village, all major shopping requires a trip into Urubamba. Since we don’t have a car, we jump in one of the extended vans piled high with bags and blankets full of wares going to the market, and we brace ourselves for the cramped, bumpy ride into town.

There we’re among the few gringos shopping in the markets, wandering the streets, and jumping in motos for quick rides across town. We’ve quickly found our favorite place to eat, a casual cafe called Kaia with a nice outdoor courtyard and friendly resident cat.
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Our house in Yanahaura is the biggest and most architecturally beautiful home we’ve had on this journey. Ironically, it’s also the most problematic. With a view of the canyon’s hillside, one side of the home consists of floor to ceiling windows. An awesome feature, until you consider it’s winter in Peru and homes here don’t have heat. Needless to say, we’re experiencing very chilly nights and mornings.

Another household hiccup came up when a water main broke and we didn’t have running water for three days. I told the kids we were just trying to experience life like the Incas when we would send them out to the nearby stream to gather water so we could flush the toilets and wash the dishes.

Despite the utility issues with the house, we certainly can’t complain about the nearby hikes to waterfalls, the views of canyon hills from our front yard or those starry nighttime skies. We even have a neighbor puppy to play with.
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While we spend a lot of our time in Yanahaura living like the locals with our bus rides, trips to the market and walks around our neighborhood, we do get to be tourists as well. The Inca ruins of Ollantaytamba are just a 15-minute bus ride up the road. We spent an afternoon checking out the market stalls set up for tourists and wandering through the ruins. The locals donning their ceremonial dress and charging tourists one Peruvian sole (about 30 cents) for a photo weren’t as authentic as our neighbors in Yanahaura, but they were fun to see anyway.

A highlight of the ruins at Ollantaytamba were the intricate and fully-functional water systems running throughout portions of the complex. I found it a bit ironic as I watched these streams of water funnel down from the surrounding hills and flawlessly snake their way through hidden stone chambers to ancient tubs and pools. Given that our modern water system was failing us, my comment to the girls had been false. Evidently we weren’t living like the Incas…they had running water.
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Our time in the Sacred Valley has proven our ability to adapt to the local culture. Everything from transportation to shopping to cooking has been different here, and yet we haven’t skipped a beat. We’ve even collected water from the stream pretty darn well. Our family seems to have hit our traveling stride and shown ourselves we can handle just about any new thing that comes our way.

A sign outside the Kaia cafe has the simple words Cree en Ti, which translates to Believe in You. When I see it I can’t help but think that Peru is helping our family do just that.

About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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