Inspiration for the Home from the Sacred Valley
While snipping and stashing away my lemongrass cuttings before the cold evenings of Autumn begin to set in, my mind travels back to when I first began to enjoy lemongrass in my tea. It was a couple of years ago while in a lovely little dining room at the historic and romantic El Albergue hotel in Ollantaytambo, Peru. I was there for our annual Travel to Transform retreat and each morning we would meander down to the dining room to start our day with a fresh cooked meal and a cup of coca tea to help adjust to the change in altitude. They had a table in the dining room where they set out bowls of freshly cut lemongrass, fresh mint leaves and dried coca leaves (for assisting with the change in altitude), as well as fresh fruit, yogurt, granola and other breakfast goodies. I loved the look and feel of the little open kitchen. Fresh pasta hung on small wooden dowels just above the bar that separated the kitchen from the dining area. And there were colorful baskets of freshly harvested vegetables from their gardens sitting on top of the bar. There is something about fresh food in view that brings a feeling of comfort to the kitchen and dining area in the home. I’ve always liked to keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter and typically have a bowl of tomatoes and avocados alongside it too. I also store my bulbs of garlic, shallots and fresh ginger in plain view in small earthenware bowls on the shelf just above our counter. And we recently took down the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room and living room, opening the whole space up and making it more inviting for small gatherings of friends and family.
Creating a calm and peaceful oasis
The other thing I really appreciated about our home away from home in Peru, was it’s ability to create a calm, quiet, peaceful oasis right outside a busy and bustling train station. Many tourists use this village as a place to stop en-route to the famous ruins at Machu Picchu. So the train station hosts a long line of stalls on both sides of the street with vendors selling bottled waters, woven blankets and souvenirs from the area. It is often noisy and jam packed with tourists waiting for the next train. Yet as soon as you step through the doors in the hotel and into the gardens just outside the lobby in back, the hustle and bustle is left behind. I’m still amazed at how the sound is so well muffled by the plethora of plants and flowers you wind your way through on the stone walkways to find your room. This too is something I love to have in and around my home - lots of plants. Having plants around reduces your stress level, boosts your mood and it has even been shown that they can increase your concentration and productivity.
Many of our meals in Peru were beautifully adorned with fresh flowers from the gardens there. Every year I like to plant nasturtiums because I like the spicy taste and bright color they add to salads throughout the summer. Side-note that they are easy to grow, but do tend to prefer cooler climates. Fresh flowers often adorn the tables there as well. And though we often see this in restaurants here at home, it is the prevalence of using what they have locally in nature to provide simple beauty in their living spaces that I felt drawn to. Sometimes when it comes to furnishing a home, less is actually more and bringing natural beauty from the outside in creates such a beautiful and soothing vibe.
The Heart of the Village
I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to trek upward into the heart of the old Incan town if you are ever fortunate enough to visit. There you will be delighted with much to see and explore. People and vehicles share the same stone streets that were built centuries ago. There are tiny restaurants where you can find the most delicious bowl of quinoa soup you’ll ever hope to eat and shop owners eager to sell jewelry, beautiful woven alpaca blankets, shawls and sweaters. This village also boasts its own set of ruins that you can easily see from most places with the ancient village. If you hire one of the local guides to escort you through the ruins, the explanations and stories will paint a vivid picture of this place in its original hey-day so long ago. It is still a vibrant village with kind residents and a welcoming feel. It exudes such charm that it still holds a very special place in my heart to this day.
A Visit to a Quechan Community
During our visit to the sacred valley, we were blessed to be able to visit a Quechan community high in the Andes mountains. This day trip was orchestrated through Awamaki, a non-profit that helps women in the region start and run their own businesses. They invest in their skills and provide leadership training to help them connect to the global market and bring income to their small communities. It was an intimate, once in a lifetime kind of experience that I will never forget. The women in the village greeted us with tea and necklaces they had made with one of the local flowers. They then offered each of us a colorful skirt and hat to wear during our time with them to help create a sense of togetherness. After introductions and some explanations of the natural dying and weaving processes, we were each paired up with a Quechan woman that helped us make a woven bracelet to keep as a reminder of our visit. Little to no English was spoken, but lots of laughter and smiles were shared. They also served us a lunch of traditional fare in the home of one of the women hosting the visit. The quinoa soup, not surprisingly, was the highlight of the meal. After we finished lunch, they gathered around in a small circle in the yard; each of them spreading out woven goods that they had personally made in front of them to give us an opportunity to purchase directly. It was both memorable and touching to be able to look into the eyes of the woman who had lovingly crafted the gorgeous handmade products.Both authentic handmade woven baby alpaca products as well as cheap knock-offs could be found in all of the street markets we visited and in many of the stores as well. One thing we learned in our time with the Quechan women was how to tell the difference in dyes that were made from the natural materials harvested from the land and those made from chemical components in a factory. The natural dyed materials generally has a rich, softer and more muted coloring. While many people enjoy bright color decor, I find these soft earthy hues soothing to my soul. One of the throws I brought home has soft blue greys in its pattern, and another rich creamy browns.
Simplicity and Natural Elements
As I think back to each of the places I stayed on my visit to Peru and each of their unique indoor furnishings and decor, simplicity and natural elements were the theme. This created a grounded sense of calm that I felt drawn to and encouraged a deep and full exhale when I entered. They seemed to invite you to sit back, relax and savor life for awhile. I’ve got a long way to go to be able to let go and find the same level of simplicity in my own home, but it is a work in progress I am determined to continue and am confident I’ll continue to be rewarded in my efforts as I do so.