Several miles outside of Cuzco, Peru’s tourist mecca and the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu, lies the Sacred Valley. Of course, you can tool around its breathtaking mountain-hugging curves in a tour bus, where, upon hitting certain vistas, you’ll be ordered to climb out and take photos. (Picture a tour guide barking “SACAR FOTOS! SACAR FOTOS!” to a van full of people.)
Alternatively, you can experience the Sacred Valley’s dramatic landscape from within your very own VW Beetle.
We found the rental place in Cuzco’s bustling Plaza de Armas, nestled between your typical Machu Picchu tour operators and countless massage parlors. We negotiated for a price of 30 soles for the day, or around $10.
It was all quite simple until we realized, out of four people, two were without a drivers license, one refused to drive a manual, and the last remaining candidate–a Brit–had only ever driven on the left side of the road. We decided to take our chances with the Brit, and he passed the round-the-block driver’s test.
As the four of us crammed in to the 1984 model with our picnic and cameras, we were instructed over and over “never faster than 70!” Converted into miles per hour, I believe that amounts to a whopping 40. So we didn’t exactly fly through the valley. The car was rickety enough that we may have topped 70 once on a massive decline; I blame that on the shoddy brakes. We also stalled five or six times. No big deal.
Within the first 10 minutes outside of Cuzco we encountered countless brilliant vistas, both of the city and of the various ruins surrounding the city. We almost ran the car off a cliff at one point when “reverse” got stuck in “first.” At each pull-over point, we admired the terraced mountains, often worship points for indigenous people, we ogled at the damage from Peru’s January mud slides, and we marveled at the tough-as-nails Peruvian women we encountered on foot (How long have they been walking? Where are they going? What do they have in those massive packs on their backs?). We snapped glamour shots on the hood of our road beast, snacked on Peruvian chocolate (not amazing, for the record), and argued over the limited CD selection. (Choices: Fugees, the Beatles, Elton John, and Shakira,; all of which were exhausted quite quickly.)
We eventually reached the town of Pisaq, a sacred town where lots of gringos go for spiritual shaman experiences that involve fasting and drug taking and vomiting. We opted out this time. After parking our chariot among autorickshaws and mules, we wandered through another in a very long line of artisan craft markets. After some thick banana smoothies and haggling over panflutes, we embarked on a long, curving journey back to Cuzco. After several hours, with pollution and altitude clearly increasing, our Beetle sputtered back into town, just in time for me to dive out and puke on the sidewalk. Sudden altitude, plus curvy roads, plus two hours of pollution intake, does not equal a happy stomach. (The solution, I learned, is Agua Con Gas: you’ll be farting for days, but your stomach will never be happier!)
By: Erin Griffith