Breaking Away from Europe as a Certified Backpacker

Jackie Steves is guest-hosting her Dad’s blog with 17 posts in 17 days. Follow the adventures of Andy and Jackie Steves as they — the first Steves to venture into South America — report on their experience.

Incan Ruins in Ollantaytambo leading up to a sun temple.

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This is the first time I can legitimately identify as a backpacker. When I was little I wore a backpack, but that doesn’t count since I was with the family. During my past couple of independent Euro trips, I’ve actually used a rolling bag. While I don’t enjoy a sore back, something about bearing the weight of my belongings on my shoulders gives me a sense of independence and strength, as if I could conquer the world (but not like what the Spaniards did to the Incas because that was not nice).

We stopped at a supermarket, one of my favorite windows into any given culture. Time and again, Andy and I have remarked on the freshness of food here. To watch the cutting of fresh whole fruit at a restaurant in Lima’s airport nearly struck us as odd (shows how starved we are in the States for legitimately fresh fruit). This supermarket was another manifestation of fresh. Inside the entrance, you pass a fresh-squeezed orange juice stand, as well as a fresh farm milk stand.

We took a five-passenger car to Ollantaytambo, sharing it with a nice young Argentinean couple. The two-hour ride only cost $3 per person! Can you imagine being able to pay a few dollars for a two-hour taxi ride in the States?

We drove through rolling Peruvian hills resembling Colorado countryside — dry but also green in parts. We passed construction, where men worked with pickaxes and shovels, just like roadwork we saw in the city. Peru’s roads — from its most modern city to its rural back lanes — are handmade.

Our small tires bouncing on a bumpity cobblestone road announced our arrival in Ollantaytambo, a town in the sacred valley below Machu Picchu that boasts ancient Incan ruins as well.

The “hearty Peruvian fare” of chicken, rice, and quinoa soup I ordered for dinner was good, but bland.

We befriended a couple of Minnesotans (who are here volunteering to help local flood victims) and a few local goofballs with whom we went to Gansos (Spanish for geese), one of the only bars in this small town. This bar did not disappoint — drinks cheap as dirt and an upstairs decorated with hammocks, swings, tree houses, funky Bob Marley wall decor, candlelight, and a fire pole to slide drunkenly downstairs at the end of the night (good idea?). Downstairs five drummers provided the beat for our night out.