Although I’m a calculated traveler who likes to plan way ahead and research trips to death, the actual act of buying plane tickets usually becomes an auction-like frenzy, with eight or nine different search sites open and a sprint to find a credit card before our ticket prices expire in 2:37 minutes on screen #6. So sometimes, when I hit “purchase,” I’m a little unclear about where and when we’re traveling. This past summer’s buying panic was exacerbated by the fact that John and I were completing the transaction together and got a bit overexcited. We were pretty sure we were going to Peru and Ecuador but the where/when part was a bit murky. Just a week before we left, John looked at me and said, “wait, we’re going for three and a half weeks?!” Yep.

And so it was that we found ourselves driving from DC to New York (because our point of departure was a five-hour drive from our house!), flying to Miami, catching a red-eye to Lima, boarding a short flight to Cuzco, and driving 1 ½ hours in a taxi to the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. By the time we arrived, we were fried, head achy and short of breath from the altitude, and some of us a bit weepy. We were all feeling anxious about what lay ahead.

Day One: Coca tea and Andean golf

When we pulled into Lizzy Wasi (Wasi means house in Quechua), a lovely red building on an old dusty Inca road, Lizzy, the American owner who first came to Peru as a geologist several decades ago, greeted us warmly and made us some coca tea to help with our altitude sickness. Before we knew it, Jeremy was relaxing in a hammock, while Julian and Jacques were figuring out the mini-golf course in the expansive garden. We had a great night’s sleep in our two cozy rooms, snuggled in warm blankets against the Andean evening chill.

urubamba nursing market

Day Two: Swimsuit emergency and castrated bull’s eye

The next morning, as I started sorting out our clothes for the day, I realized I’d forgotten my swimsuit. I figured I’d have to waste away a couple of hours finding a mall when we got to Lima and asked Lizzy for some advice. “No problem,” she replied, “we’ll go to the Urubamba market and find you one. It’ll be an adventure!” Apparently, she’d recently had a similar swimsuit emergency and was able to find a fetching neon number for $10 at that very market. Adventure indeed.

As an aside, it usually takes me three to four months to buy a swimsuit. But it turns out that when I’m faced with a choice of “ridiculously small” or “might fit,” the process takes about 45 seconds, soup to nuts.

The market was surprisingly big, and sold everything from children’s underwear to cheese. After I purchased my suit, Lizzy stopped at a kite seller’s and insisted on buying the boys a kite to play with in the garden (which they did for hours when we returned).

lizzy wasi charm

The most intriguing stall sold herbal remedies to cure everything from a bad case of the evil eye, to a crying baby, and even cancer. Most of the herbs and seeds came from the Amazon basin. I purchased trip insurance in the form of a castrated bull’s eye, the name of an Amazonian plant and well-known good-luck charm. I bought one for Lizzy too, to thank her for her incredible hospitality.

We left Urubamba fortified for the rest of our trip by two days of rest in beautiful surroundings, a good-luck charm with an awesome name, a $10 suit, and a new friend. Thanks, Lizzy!

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Eating: On our second night in Urubamba, we ate at an excellent restaurant, Tres Keros. According to the chef, fellow chefs come from all over Peru just to taste their lomo saltado (traditional Peruvian dish of sautéed sirloin and chilies). We can attest that it was delicious.

Getting around town: The most fun the boys had in town was buzzing around in the ubiquitous three wheeled moto-taxis, which are decorated like Hot Wheels cars. Rides are less than a dollar.

Getting to Machu Picchu: The breathtakingly beautiful train ride from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes is about three hours long. The Urubamba train station sits inside the property of the luxury hotel, Tambo del Inka, and is just a 15-minute walk or 5-minute moto-taxi ride from Lizzy Wasi. It gets busy so make sure you book your seats ahead of time on the Perurail website. We booked weeks ahead from the U.S. but had to pick up our tickets at the Peru Rail ticket office when we landed at the airport in Cuzco.