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Jackie Cunniffe - South Africa
Client review The Sacred Valley Ride
For those with a passion for horses and adventure travel, head for the Perol Chico ranch in the mythical and historic Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco, Peru. A purely by chance surf on the Internet led me to this piece of heaven, and I will forever hold the experience close to my heart.
Perol Chico is owned and managed by its founder, Eduard van Brunschot Vega, who left Holland a decade ago to return to the country of his birth and follow his dreams. Now internationally recognised as the premiere riding centre in Peru, Perol Chico offers exclusive riding vacations across the altiplano of the Andes to remote villages and captivating Inca ruins, combining culture, history and breathtaking scenery in an unforgettable odyssey for the privileged few.
The meeting point for the Sacred Valley Ride is in Lima, from where an awesome flight takes you over the snow-capped Andes to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco (3 338 m). At a later part of the journey you have more time to explore this charming town - a home to native Quechua Indians, steeped in history and bustling with backpackers - but for now you are spirited off to Perol Chico and the allure of the adventure that lies ahead.
It is not long before you are calling Eduard “Eddy”, because all guests are literally welcomed with open arms and treated as part of the family. At his impeccable ranch nestled against a majestic mountain backdrop, Eddy introduces you to his cherished Peruvian Paso horses – direct descendents of the mounts of the 16th century Spanish Conquistadors. These noble and fast-paced but gentle horses have a unique, inherited four-beat gait called the paso llano, in which the centre of the horse’s gravity remains very still, resulting in an extremely smooth ride. They are fitted with traditional Peruvian tack, developed over a period of 400 years to suit the ever-changing and often treacherous terrain, and enhancing comfort for the rider over long distances.
Before the ride begins there is a day or two of relaxation in order to acclimatize, including a visit to the nearby Inca ruins and village of Ollantaytambo – site for the royal estate of the Inca Pachacuti and the only inhabited settlement that has retained its original Inca layout. Trudging up the steep terraces to examine the exceptional stonework, there was a moment when I thought my chest was being squeezed so tightly that my heart would pop out in a re-enactment of “Alien”. Although in awe of my surroundings, I confess this reaction was solely due to the altitude….but luckily my mind-over-matter strategy prevailed and I was soon able to adjust.
Back at the ranch we were treated to sumptuous three-course meals prepared by Perol Chico’s gourmet chef, who incidentally also caters on the ride. Instruction is given on the principals of classic Peruvian equitation, admirably demonstrated by Eddy and his top chalan (Peruvian Paso horse trainer), José. Horses are carefully matched with riders according to weight, riding ability and personality. I was assigned a grey stallion with the incredibly Spanish-sounding name of Misty. Initially I was a little dubious about managing this testosterone-driven steed, until about 15 minutes into the ride when I realised he was the most well behaved, responsive and sweet-natured horse I had ever encountered (well I did say they matched our personalities…).
The first day of the ride involves a steep climb to the high planes of the Andes, and thereafter you are surrounded by incomparable scenery and peace. Layer upon layer of mountains stretch as far as the eye can see, mirrored in cobalt blue lakes and shrouded in cloud and snow. As you trot down the cobblestone streets of Andean villages and through the rural countryside dotted with piglets, calves and laden donkeys, you are afforded a glimpse into the heart of the “Forgotten People of Peru” – local Indian families who barely survive as subsistence farmers. Despite their poverty and harsh living conditions, they will readily share what little food they have with you, including the local delicacies of alpaca and guinea-pig. Farming techniques are primitive, with oxen hitched to wooden plows, but the highly effective system of hillside terraces and irrigation developed by the Incas is still evident and in daily use.
Eddy himself leads the ride and provides a wealth of information as interpreter and guide, while José keeps a watchful eye at the rear of the procession. The horses have saddlebags in which you can keep such essentials as sunscreen, camera, water bottle and rain jacket, while lunch provisions are carried by three errant llamas under the supervision of local Quechua herdsmen. We had a tense moment when one llama tried to make a getaway with the cutlery, but he soon chose to re-join his shaggy friends.
The sure-footed Pasos take you along stone-paved roads originally used by Inca messengers, past ruins such as Chinchero and the agricultural terraces of Moray, and up steep, narrow paths to heights of 4350m. At the end of the third day’s riding you reach Cusco, where the horses have a well-earned rest and riders stay in four-star hotel luxury, reveling in such rudimentary pleasures as having a bath, before heading back up the mountains. Four nights are spent camping at remote, picturesque sites, including the courtyard of an ancient Spanish church and several lakes of unsurpassed beauty. The campsites are accessible via 4x4 vehicles and are set up by the Perol Chico team before your arrival – you literally do not even have to carry your luggage to your tent or make a cup of coffee, as everything is done for you in line with Eddy’s creed of excellence and perfection. After a great deal of food, merriment and stories shared in the warmth of the dining tent, nothing quite beats falling asleep to the sounds of horses grazing contentedly nearby, wrapped up in their blankets as snugly as you are.
The Sacred Valley Ride culminates in a trip to the spellbinding lost city of Machu Picchu, and a final dinner at Perol Chico before lump-in-the-throat farewells and the inevitable return to your own reality. Having arrived in Peru alone, I left with a treasure chest of memories and several new friends from across the globe, bonded forever by our shared adventure and completely in love with the Peruvian Paso horse and the land it treads.
Judging not only from my own experience but the accounts of numerous others, you cannot fail to be profoundly moved by this journey, and are bound to return rejuvenated, inspired and at peace with the world.
More information: The Sacred Valley Ride
Judith Kellogg - USA
Client review The Sacred Valley Ride
As I crawled out of my tent on the day before heading to Machu Pichu, the scene was overwhelming. We were camped in the courtyard of a beautiful colonial brick church that was little changed from previous centuries. The snow covered Andes loomed above, while our exquisite Peruvian Paso horses stood quietly nearby. Our group had a little time to chat over the morning campfire while we waited for breakfast, reminiscing bittersweetly that this was our last day in the saddle. Most of us had been lured to this ride by the promise of visiting Machu Pichu, the magnificent, mythic vestige of Inca civilization, but we all agreed that even this spectacular site could hardly match the inspiring and exhilarating horseback experience that was about to end. This ride had introduced us to the justifiably admired Peruvian Paso horses, and allowed us to peek into the heart and soul of this fascinating and richly layered country and people in a way simply not possible traveling any other way.
The success of this trip was largely the work of our engaging, energetic, and knowledgeable guide who was also owner of the ranch that served as home base. Eddy traded his life as a successful Dutch businessman, giving up his luxurious office and Porsche to follow his dream of returning to his birth-country (his mother was Peruvian) to own and train Peruvian Paso horses. Not only were we able to experience the true nobility of these unique horses, but Eddy also made sure that we did not miss the sights, sounds and cultural diversity of Lima, Cuzco, and the wonderful villages along our path.
Eddy generously met those of us who had arrived in Lima a few days before the official start of the ride, and introduced us to the most important museums, typical cuisine, good shopping areas, and exciting nightlife. Then we all flew to Cuzco, the colorful and lively city that contains extraordinary artifacts representing the complex layers of Peru’s history, from pre-Columbian times, through the colonial period, to the present. We returned to Cuzco at various points during the trip, with ample time to explore, but of course, during the first days, we were eager to get in the saddle, and Eddy wasted no time. We headed for Urubamba, set in a lush farming valley, arriving at Eddy’s meticulously maintained, flower-filled ranch, where we were greeted with a veritable feast. That afternoon we had our first experience riding the Pasos, each outfitted with elegant, silver-inlaid, traditional tack, that, for all its beauty, was very comfortable. These gaited horses descend from a carefully selected lineage that goes back 400 years, having come with the first European conquerors. Although tough, spirited, and strong, these horses are remarkably sweet-tempered and responsive. My horse was an unforgettable five year old gray stallion.
The next day, we saddled up and headed out of the valley to the high plane between Urubamba and Cuzco where most of the ride took place. For the days of the ride, we rode through the rural countryside, with the magnificent peaks of the Andes generally in view. Often we rode along remarkably well-preserved, ancient Inca stone-paved roads. As we passed through picturesque, adobe brick villages, excited, beaming children in colorful traditional Peruvian garb would inevitably run out shouting, “caballos, caballos.” We sometimes had to defer to herds of sheep or cattle. Given that the ride took place in Spring, the fields were animated with baby animals everywhere—piglets, calves, lambs, llamas, alpacas, and (my favorite) little burros. Several times, we had the opportunity to visit churches or pre-Columbian sites rarely seen by outsiders, or to buy beautiful crafts in Indian markets. With Eddy, we felt perfectly comfortable exploring narrow, village streets at night, capturing the tapestry of the lives lived in places still remote from the media influences of the modern world. One night from our campsite we went to sleep with gay, exuberant and sometimes haunting traditional Peruvian music from a wedding party nearby. Occasionally, inquisitive village children would greet us when we woke up. Although we were camping in tents for much of the ride, we had comfortable mattresses, excellent meals (sometimes including such local delicacies as alpaca and guinea pig), and wonderful comraderie with both fellow riders and staff. When not camping, our accommodations were excellent, selected for both comfort and traditional local color.
This ride provided the best that an Equitours ride has to offer: noble, warm-blooded horses; a smart, charming, and superbly competent guide who adored his horses and succeeded admirably in making sure we left in love with them as well. In addition this trip was organized to maximize the rich ethnic experience of this unique country in the short time we had. Going about my daily routine now, I often wish I were back in Urubamba or riding up on the high plane. We had a remarkable twelve days!