Perusing Peru

This item appears on page 40 of the July 2017 issue.

A lot of you have been to Peru! We got a high number of essays on the subject, and the enthusiasm was inspiring. We are awarding three prizes this month.

On the topic of “Perusing Peru,” the top-ranked essay was that of SUE SPIRIT of West Salem, Ohio, and she will receive a 3-year extension to her subscription to ITN (or she can pass her prize along to friends). Just behind was the work of NANCY BURGHARDT of Oak Park, Illinois, whose subscription will be extended two years, and in third place was the essay by CAROLYN TAYLOR of Memphis, Tennessee, who wins a year’s worth of issues.

In judging the essays, ITN staff ask certain questions. Did we get a feeling for the people, a sense of their culture or outlook? Was there an experience or encounter described that lifted us? Could we picture various locations, and did we want to go there? ITN essay contests are open to subscribers only, and the next topic on the list conceived by ITN’s founder, the late Armond Noble, is “I Saw Warsaw.” If you have been there, try to evoke — in no more than 300 words — a sense of the atmosphere, culture, people and attractions of Warsaw, Poland.

Email your essay to or send it to Essay Contest, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is August 31, 2017. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will be printed in ITN.

Now here are this month’s winning essays.

In August 2001, I breathed the air of Machu Picchu for the first time. I saw a white llama crossing up by the Watchman’s Hut. I was rooted to one spot, entranced by a dream that had come to life. I knew I would return to this sacred place.

Two years later, I was crawling over the rocks at dawn. Their luminescence guided the way for my group of four and our wise guide. He positioned us directly above the Temple of the Sun. 

It was the winter solstice, the only day of the year that the rising sun precisely aligns with a rock in the center of the Sun Temple. I watched as heavy clouds blew away, and there, as the sun struggled to come out, was the shadow on the rock. In the distance, a pan flute played and white-robed priestesses did a joyous dance.

I returned for the day-long festivities of the Cuzco Civic Parade. The next day was Inti Raymi, a reenactment of the Incas’ praying for the sun to return. The entire visit was a whirlwind of noises, colors, music, streets packed with people, and Aji de Gallina (chicken in cream sauce — yum!).

In May 2008, I returned to Cuzco for a month. I rented an apartment and went to school to study Spanish. In the plaza, I talked to shoeshine boys, finger-puppet hawkers and students. 

My trip to Machu Picchu was full of silence. I found a private space, meditated, and breathed the air.

But Peru is more. Near Puno, walk the squishy-reed Uros islands and, at 14,000 feet, Taquile Island. Visit Paracas and then the Ballestas Islands, full of seals and penguins. Fly over the historic Nazca Lines.

Even now, seeing a picture of Machu Picchu makes me long to return.

Carolyn Taylor, Memphis, TN


In 2007, my 14-year-old granddaughter and I traveled to Peru. Our fun began as we flew over the Nazca Lines, near Ica. From a small Cessna, we viewed the ancient lines and drawings depicting trapezoids, a spider, a condor and a hummingbird.

We then enjoyed a spectacular boat ride around the Ballestas Islands, teeming with cormorants, Peruvian boobies and pelicans, cavorting sea lions and nesting Humboldt penguins. We were amazed by a candelabra geoglyph etched into a mountain.

We flew to Iquitos to join an intergenerational group traveling on International Expeditions’ “Amazon Voyage” tour. We boarded La Amatista and cruised the Upper Amazon as far as Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. 

On our daily small-boat excursions, expert local naturalist guides identified the wildlife, such as sloths, pink river dolphins and innumerable bird species. One evening, our guide even climbed out of our boat to grab a squirmy spectacled caiman so we could see it up close and touch it.

Perhaps our most memorable experiences were our daily encounters with the ribereños (river people). We met a family of eight traveling upriver to sell their bananas; they happily sold us a bunch. 

Cheering children greeted us as we approached their village, delighted to see the youngsters in our group. Playing in bare feet, they challenged our kids to a soccer game, beating us easily. They were thrilled to receive the new soccer ball we gave to their village.

Leaving the Amazon, we visited an indigenous Uro family’s home in Lake Titicaca, near Puno. We walked precariously atop their floating island of totora reeds cut from the lake and sat amidst colorful woven garments on display. We purchased some as souvenirs. 

A ride in their reed boat provided our final treat while “perusing Peru.” 

Nancy Burghardt
Oak Park, IL


“It’s Class 6! You go and never return!” my friend Ree shouts as we board our rubber raft for a fingernail-biting ride down Peru’s Urubamba River. It’s a wild river whipped to a frenzy of cocoa-colored foam. It feels as if we’re riding unruly steeds on a dangerous downhill journey.

We’ve just been digging potatoes 13,000 feet up and beginning two weeks of eating potatoes 20 ways to Sunday. Potato fritters, potatoes with spicy sauces, fried potatoes, purple, blue, black and golden potatoes. We’re also trying a dozen ways to consume coca to ward off altitude sickness — anything from chewing coca leaves and drinking gallons of coca tea to sucking on coca candy.

We stop at an open-air market to buy dozens of oranges and bananas for the children of the Rachqui school, the poorest of youngsters, who walk 5 to 8 miles to school on empty stomachs, grateful for their mid-morning bowl of hot porridge.

We spend an afternoon at a weavers’ co-op in the Cusco valley learning how they make dyes from barks, herbs and grasses. The women serve us black mint tea and, of course, potatoes, accompanied by a piquant green salsa. We leave with colorful alpaca wall hangings, sweaters, scarves and caps.

So many memories dance in my brain — tiny black, just-born llamas cavorting in a field by the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman; smooth soup dippers carved from a rosewood tree; a mystical healing fire ceremony with a curandero; dozens of guinea pigs running around a family’s living room, and an unlucky guinea pig (cuy) roasted with a tiny apple in its mouth.

Best of all is the world’s most contemplative adventure: drifting through the paths of Machu Picchu in early-morning fog, pondering the centuries-old mysteries of life.

Peru — a color-laden, mind-blowing experience of shining memories!

Sue Spirit, West Salem, OH