By Ellen Barone
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Greeted by smiling faces and cheerful choruses of Buenos Días, Petit toured us from one colorful classroom to the next, introducing us to students with obvious affection and pride.
“We knew education was essential to making a lasting difference here, so we created the school as a way to contribute and the hotel [despite no previous hospitality experience] as a means of sustainable support through our Foundation,” Petit explained.
“Initially the Foundation-sponsored student population consisted of underprivileged children – local orphans and children of single moms – which is still our core base,” said Petit. “But as word spread and increasing tourism in the Valley attracted a growing expat community, we evolved to include paying students too, creating a beautiful social mix that enhances and enriches what we’re doing in wonderful ways,” she continued: Her diminutive size belying the enormous passion and vision behind the creation of the region’s most sought after school, in addition to one of Peru’s most exclusive hotels.
Moray, an archeological complex of terraced earthen bowls used by the Incas to experiment with crop growth at various altitudes and microclimates, sits high above the Sacred Valley at an oxygen-sucking 11,800 feet. The day’s stunningly beautiful route among the wind-swept fields of barley, wheat, and quinoa was so far off the tourist track that the rural shepherds and shaggy sheep and mules that sprinted uphill past us seemed flabbergasted by the group of neon-clad trekkers sharing the trail.
“What’s that, Tyler?” asked Holly, one of our B&R walk companions, as she gestured toward a field of spiked red plants during a morning trek along the altiplano plateau near Moray the next day.
Walking Around Moray and on to Cusco
“That’s quinoa, the Mother Grain of the ancients,” replied Tyler as he waded waist-deep into the field to extend a friendly greeting to a Quechua farmer in the midst of harvesting the beautiful rose-colored crop.
We waved goodbye to the Sacred Valley the next afternoon and checked-in to Cusco’s most exclusive hotel—the 11-suite La Casona Inkaterra —for the walk’s final night.
“Come on, I have a surprise for you,” Tyler said. As we followed him across the cobblestoned Plaza Nazarenas and in to the Museo de Arte PreColombino I wondered how he could top a week already full of surprises. We’d experienced an exclusive Paco (shaman) blessing ceremony, an earthen baked Pachamanka feast, ruins-side accommodations at Machu Picchu, a private demonstration of ancient weaving techniques, an elegant Peruvian Paso equestrian presentation, an Andean theater performance, and Peruvian cooking lessons. Not to mention six days of glorious step-by-step immersion into one of the world’s most scenic and sacred landscapes.
“You might want to check out the Silver room,” Tyler said as he handed me a champagne flute and museum map.
Tyler has a performer’s panache, so it wasn’t a total surprise that he had somehow managed to pull off an elegant, after-hours catered dinner in an exhibition room of one of Cusco’s finest museums for the tour finale.
“How’d you do it?” I asked.
“Actually, I can’t claim credit. It was Mick Jagger’s idea,” he replied with true Tyler flair…
Butterfield & Robinson Walking Tour Details:
7 Days/ 6 Nights, $5,995: All-inclusive with the exception of international airfare. Level of Activity: Moderate to challenging. Information and reservations: 1-866-551-9090; www.butterfield.com.
Article and photos by Ellen Barone and area agencies.
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