Five hours and a world away from Lima Peru Vinac



Our trip to Vinac contradicts every other trip I’ve written about reinforcing the cliche, ¨It’s about the journey, not the destination.¨ While a cliche is a cliche, I love that traveling can prove ones like this true. This trip went against all of that. Vinac, thank god, was about the destination. After driving for five hours through tiny, windy mountains road into the middle of nowhere Lima, I was doubtful about Vinac, to say the least. Henry knew where we were going but i didn’t, which explains why he was so much calmer about the long haul than I was. I just couldn’t imagine what awaited us was worth this drive and couldn’t be found closer.


Five hours away from Lima Vinac Peru


When we finally pulled up to what looked much different than the other tiny highland homes, I started to understand. Tucked just beside the mountaintop pueblo of Vinac was our destination, Refugio de Vinak. And it somehow fit in, this ¨rustic¨ (but obviously modern) building with manicured green lawns, perched in front of the clay homes and dusty hillsides behind. The tiny town of no more than 100 people made the most picturesque backdrop and relaxed setting for this refuge from the city.

When we arrived, they ushered us inside to have our lunch. I think we’ve been doing the backpacking thing FAR too long, because when we entered the building and saw the stunning floor to ceiling windows in place of walls with postcard-worthy views of the valley, our jaws actually fell to the floor. And then they showed us to the buffet-style lunch, just a quick meal for our arrival, where ¨pasta and salad bar¨ was such an understatement. I could only pick my jaw off the floor long enough to try the many different vegetable, meat or herb sauces they had homemade. They had mate de coca served to us immediately to help with the altitude, and the most adorable women were running around greeting everyone, shyly but with the largest and sweetest smiles I have ever seen. The entire house, while it should seem a bit out of place in the small undeveloped town, felt like it encapsulated everything wonderful about the pueblo of Vinac, from the local staff to the garden-to-table meals to the cozy feel.


Local carrying sheep in Vinac Lima peru


The Refugio has no walls or fences around it, and you can just walk up the driveway and through the town. Every single person you pass will say ¨buenos dias¨ to you, and nobody seems to care or notice that you aren’t from there. Or try to shake you down for spare change. When we asked some women to take photos, one smiled big and held up her baby lamb, and another blushed and gestured at her Sunday outfit as if to say, ¨In this old thing?!¨ In Cusco, charging foreigners for photos is just run of the mill business. These women were just enjoying the new interaction and then moving on with their days. It felt so normal. It was as if what should feel like a major cultural gap didn’t exist. We didn’t play the roles of foreigners in the small town and the locals either hating or putting on a show for them, and the vastly different ways of life of the visitors on their iPhones and the women feeding their babies and goats at the same time didn’t seem like such a barrier.


Beautiful landscapes in Vinac Lima Peru


We ended our walk the first day at the newly built church on top of the hill. It was clearly a huge gathering place in the town so we stopped. We sat down for no more than two minutes when a nun approached us. I usually feel awkward going into random churches and always try to leave before I’m approached, but we had clearly missed our window. I was so lost trying to follow her Spanish, and confused why this conversation seemed a bit intense. Once I heard the English version, I found out that it was an important day in the town because they were using the new church to baptize some children who hadn’t had the opportunity before. But there were several children, and they had nobody to be the godparents. They were hoping that we, the nice young couple, the city guy from Lima and his very out of place American girl, could join the ceremony and help them out.


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We looked up at the front and three young teenage girls in veils turned away from giggling and pointing at us. We decided we might as well, because dinner wasn’t for a few hours and we had nowhere else to be…so why not be godparents for some random children in this tiny Peruvian town? (I hear about things like this happening to people on their travels, and it always sounds a little too cheesy to be real…It’s the stuff of, ¨This one time, in (insert exotic country)¨, and we’re all supposed to then assume that person is way more cultured than us and endlessly fascinating, but it also sounds sort of fake, you know? I’m here to give the other side of those stories, because we were just wandering with nothing to do and this happened. Not because we’re endlessly fascinating or special, just because we walked in at the right time. I like a reminder that, why you can pile all kinds on meaning on stories like this, it’s just random. But if you just get yourself to these places, the random and interesting moments seem to follow easily.).

After all of the parents came over, shook our hands and thanked us, an older nun came over to the break the news that we couldn’t be the godparents unless we were married. Which, as strangers not even knowing the names of the potential god-children, was totally fine. We tried to calm the many apologies from the families, even though we weren’t exactly relevant to them in the first place. But it was very kind that they seemed so sad to see us go.


Sunset time in Vinac Lima Peru


Back at Refugio Vinak, we spent the night living it up in the most mountain-chic way possible. For dinner we sat in the beautiful dining rooms with sweeping views of the valley, where we could only see tiny clusters of light from the town on the opposite hillside amidst the vast calmness of the practically untouched valley. Dinner was incredible, and we ended the night sitting by the fire in the living room looking through beautiful Peruvian photography books. It was very adult of us. But the highlight, the loveliest highlight, was returning to our room to find that they had put hot water bottles in our beds (I didn’t know that still existed), and dark chocolates on our table. We snuggld under the think comforters with our hot water bottles and tea and our first evening in Vinac ended wonderfully.


Horseback Riding in Vinac Lima Peru


The next day was our outdoorsy-day, complete with trekking to the river below and horseback-riding…It was exactly what I loved about the whole place- our guide for the trek was a young guy from the town, who walked with us and answered questions anyone had. For him, it was the same walk he’d probably be doing anyways, so it must have been the perfect job.  He told us about how he would be leaving the town in a year to go to the city for university, so he could study and then come back to help the small community. Everytime we passed someone, he knew them and stopped for a minute to chat. On random hillsides, we’d see an old man digging canals or a woman herding cattle- he knew them, too. He told us that Vinac didn’t have police, that because everyone knew each other they could sort any problems out themselves. And the biggest problem was usually a drunk guy. If someone were to steal, the mayor would sort it out with lashes. Like what we read about in history books. This was one of the mayor’s duties. And then I remembered how big the cultural gap really was, even though we could all get along and speak about other things like there were no differences between us.


Getting ready for our Horseback Riding in Vinac Lima Peru


Lifestyle in Vinac Lima Peru


Our last meal at Vinak was incredible- Pachamanca. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a Peruvian technique for cooking meat where they bury the meat in the ground and light a fire above it for hours. They had prepared all kinds of vegetables, from potatoes to sweet potatoes to plantains, to a more adventurous variety of meat, that ranged from chicken to goat to guinea pig. GUINEA PIG. Known to Peruvians as cuy. I had heard about this in Peru, but had been told it was usually served on a platter as the whole animal, so it wasn’t the kind of thing you ate without realizing. Because all of the meat had been mixed with herbs and cooked together, it was in with the rest, only identifiable because the leg came on the bone and was abnormally tiny for the bone of an animal that humans eat. So yes, I had grabbed it thinking it was chicken. Once everyone else went on about what a specialty it was, I gave in and went for it. And, thankfully, It tasted like chicken… Isn’t that what people say about every random meat, though?


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Refugio Vinak, while in the middle of nowhere, turned out to be an amazing weekend escape from the city. Not that I ever feel a strong urge to ¨escape¨  Lima, but it felt like we were weeks and miles away from everything (we kind of were). I don’t know if going to Vinac without staying at Refugio Vinak would be worth it because, remember, 5 hours in the middle of nowhere. One bus passes through the town once per week (we saw it pass through on Saturday, disappear into the hills above, and return on Sunday, zig-zagging through the town and honking to announce it’s arrival). But if you can make it there, it’s a whole other world. But, while it was so new and wonderful for me, I wonder what the difference is stopping at this little town versus any of the previous ones, and maybe it would be just as enchanting to see those towns as well. Wherever you go, the Peruvian highlands are rich with tiny, isolated, tight-knit communities, and it’s really amazing to feel the gaps of that distance as you use your iPhone to take photos of people living the same way they have for a hundred years. And with the extreme kindness of the people, you never feel like you have to apologize for livng the way that you do. The shy kindness of everyone is just amazing, and I love how, because most of them don’t even have proper roads leading to them-,you never know which adorable town you’ll stumble upon next.


Megan loving life while carrying a baby sheep in Vinac Lima Peru