Sunflowers for Miles

I was so excited when this family reached out to me to take photos at Ted Grinter’s Sunflower Field near Lawrence, Kansas. I had wanted to take pictures there last year but didn’t have the opportunity. Farmer Ted plants acres and acres of sunflowers and lets the public come visit and take photos free of charge. What an amazing place!

The beautiful views, coupled with the little guy’s huge smiles and adorable dimples, made for an awesome photo shoot. I have so many favorite images from this session! This is just a handful.

img_8581-copy

img_8631-copy

img_8646-copy

img_8699-copy

img_8756-copy

img_8839-copy

img_8860-copy

Back to Portraits

Most of my clients typically stray away from doing photos in the heat of the summer, so this is my first portrait session in a month or so. We lucked out with a relatively cool evening. This is one of my favorite families ever (and yes, I’m partial because Julie is one of my best friends). The older kiddos are loads of fun, and 6-month-old Baby D couldn’t be cuter! He was enthralled with looking down at the grass, so we improvised and had Daddy “toss” him in the air to capture his smile from the right angle.

IMG_8250 2 copy

IMG_8307 2 copy

IMG_8341 2 copy

IMG_8256 2 copy

IMG_8374 2 copy

Peru Vacation – Lima & Home

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5
Catch up on day 6
Catch up on day 7
Catch up on day 8

Catch up on day 9

Day 10 & 11: Thursday, June 2 & Friday, June 3

Back in Cusco for the final day of the trip, we didn’t have to get up early, so we walked to the local market to explore. We walked around the streets surrounding the market in search of a supermarket, so we ended up seeing parts of Cusco most tourists don’t see – locals on their way to work, people selling food on the streets, etc. Absolutely everything was sold on the streets, from food, to clothes, to blenders, to trash bags and elastic. We finally found the supermarket and bought food to take home for souvenirs and for ourselves – chicha morado, coffee, Brazil nuts, chocolate, creamy chili sauce, and inexpensive quinoa.

VeryLastDayLima_007 copy

Back at the market we had fresh-squeezed juice at a stand recommended by Vanise earlier in the trip. We bought two juices for 10 sol (~$3) – they were served and refilled in glass cups. Delicious!

VeryLastDayLima_003 copy

Lots of Peruvians were eating breakfast in the market at little stands, too. We ate an early lunch (even though we weren’t remotely hungry) at Jack’s – a popular tourist spot serving breakfast food. We had an amazing mocha milkshake, pancakes with caramelized banana, and sausage. It may not have been Peruvian, but it was incredible!

We meandered back to our hotel and grabbed our bags to fly to Lima for our return flight home, surprised our driver was already there waiting for us. He said he’d been waiting an hour and mentioned something about a flight change, but we thought he was mistaken. We got to the airport at 12:15, and the lady at the STAR Peru counter (who luckily spoke English very well) told us that our flight had been moved up an hour. We thought we still had 45 minutes, but she said they closed the gates 2 hours early – which we’re still perplexed by. She told us not to worry, scurried off, and came back a few minutes later with boarding passes for a 1 p.m. flight to Lima on Avianca. She told us not to tell them we came from STAR Peru. Although bizarre and a little nerve-racking, everything turned out ok. This was one of those moments where I wished we’d bought a chip to use our phones internationally, vs. relying on sporadic wi-fi. Our travel agent had tried to contact us a couple of hours prior about the change, but we didn’t know anything about it. This incident confirmed our belief that airlines in Peru are not reliable.

The Avianca flight left a little late as usual, but we landed around 2 p.m., and Juan (our 3rd Juan?) was there waiting for us. We had about 8 hours to kill before our flight out of Peru, so we’d planned on having a driver take us around Lima to sightsee on our own. We ended up with a full-on tour guide. He took us to Miraflores first, an upscale area near the beach with shopping and restaurants. We’d originally planned on eating there, but we just walked a few blocks and hopped back in the car to our next destination. It was extremely foggy, so we couldn’t even see the beautiful views of the ocean.

VeryLastDayLima_017 copy

Next the driver took us to the city center, which was very historic, with cathedrals on every corner dating back to the 1600s.

VeryLastDayLima_015 copy

VeryLastDayLima_022 copy

We walked through a modern shopping district that reminded me of a less fancy version of Milan, but we weren’t given time to shop. Juan did buy us some tasty ice cream with three unique fruit flavors. Next we went to a tour of a cathedral with catacombs. We went below the church and saw thousands of bones, which had been dug up and organized – so there was a huge section of femurs, another of skulls, etc. Although fascinating, I found it to be slightly creepy and disrespectful.

VeryLastDayLima_025 copy

After that, we had to make our way back to the airport in crazy rush hour traffic. I’ve been to a number of countries with scary driving, but this was by far the craziest. Drivers didn’t abide by the laws at all, cutting across traffic, butting in, driving at high speeds, etc. The driver and Juan were even nervous, which is what made me nervous. That must be why you have to be 30 years old to get a driver’s license in Peru!

We made it to the airport around 7, checked in, and ate at Perro’s chicken at the airport. It was surprisingly delicious – I had a salad with lots of chicken, veggies (huge corn kernels), and avocado.

VeryLastDayLima_026 copy

Everything was overpriced at the airport. We spent 56 sol for our meal, then burned the rest of our money on two bottles of water and a tiny bit of chocolate at a gift shop. When we got to the American Airlines terminal, we were forced to throw away our water before boarding, even though we’d bought it after going through security.

The flight went smoothly – we slept for several hours of it, which made the time go by fast. We were only awake for drink service once, so I was thrilled to land in Miami and be able to fill up water at water fountains – free and safe to drink! Since we landed at 5 a.m., customs was almost empty, and everything went smoothly. We grabbed some yogurt to hold us over, flew to Dallas where we got McDonald’s breakfast, then had our last leg home.

By that point I was getting so antsy to see Lil Miss K! We landed around noon, and Mom, Dad, and K were there waiting for us – K holding a “welcome home” sign with a very solemn look on her face.

keira-home copy
Photo courtesy my parents

I swept her up in my arms and started bawling – so happy to be home. It was hard to be away from her, but it was such an incredible trip! I can’t wait to visit South America again some day.

MachuPicchuDay2_094 copy

Peru Vacation – Machu Picchu

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5
Catch up on day 6
Catch up on day 7
Catch up on day 8

Day 9: Wednesday, June 1

We woke up around 4 am, had a tasty hotel breakfast at 4:30, then lined up before 5 to take a bus up the mountain from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance. We saw tons of people walking by the hotel, starting a hike up the mountain in the dark to save $12 (or for the thrill of it). By the time we arrived at the bus stop just down the road, the line was already several blocks long.

MachuPicchuDay2_002 copy

The buses started up the mountain at 5:30, but despite the crowds of people, it didn’t seem to take long to make our way to the Machu Picchu entrance.

We, along with 20ish other people, met up with our English-speaking guide for a 2-hour morning tour. There were hoards of guided tours just like ours, bumping into and talking over one another. Around 7:30 the sun peeked over the adjacent mountain and shone right onto Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu – the iconic mountain next to the ruins. It was breathtaking!

MachuPicchuDay2_026 copy

MachuPicchuDay2_021 copy

The tour was really interesting – we saw the terraces, a garden, the lookout tower, sundial, sun temple, king’s house, many buildings, etc. Researchers think it took over 100 years to build Machu Picchu, holding 400-500 people. It might have been part of a pilgrimage. Despite popular belief, it is not the Lost City of the Inca. Hiram Bingham III was led there by a native boy when searching for the Lost City in 1911. According to our guide, because several thousand people walk on the ruins every day, it is slowly sinking. (I’m not sure if I believe this) He said there is talk of limiting the time guests can stay there, or even building a cable car so people just view it from above while crossing between mountains. If that’s true – I’m glad we made the trek when we did!

MachuPicchuDay2_049 copy
Sun dial

After the tour we decided to take a hike to the Inca Bridge. Unfortunately Machu Picchu tourism is designed to be one-way, so we had to go all the way down the steps and back up to get to the trailhead. (We’re talking many, many flights of steep, rugged steps.) Once we signed in at the entrance of the trail (to make sure everyone makes it back alive, I suppose), it only took us about 15 minutes each way. The scariest part of the bridge has been barricaded off since someone fell to his death a while back. It’s an extremely narrow section of the trail carved into a sheer cliff, connected by a wooden plank. If you follow the trail with your eyes, it goes up the mountain and disappears – never uncovered.

MachuPicchuDay2_063 copy
Inca Bridge

Even the last section of the hike prior to the cutoff point had a cable to hold on to, being quite narrow.

MachuPicchuDay2_071 copy
Narrow path to Inca Bridge

It was still late morning when we returned from the Inca Bridge, so we headed to the top of Machu Picchu and hung out on a terrace, watching a few llamas graze on the grass. The crowds were starting to die down a bit, so it was as picturesque and serene as you might imagine … until the guards ran all of us tourists off the terraces.

MachuPicchuDay2_081 copy

We decided to have an early lunch – hungry from all the flights of stairs we’d been climbing. We enjoyed a fancy included buffet at the Machu Picchu Lodge. We tried all kinds of dishes, including ceviche, which we decided we didn’t need try again. They also had ICE! I made myself an iced coffee and we took our time and indulged in way too much food.

After lunch, we went back out to explore on our own.

MachuPicchuDay2_087 copy

MachuPicchuDay2_094 copy

It was much less busy than the morning, so we visited every piece of Machu Picchu we could find, including some secluded areas on the backside. We took fun photos, ran into a chinchilla, and theorized about the big open area in the middle (possibly an arena?).

MachuPicchuDay2_101 copy

MachuPicchuDay2_103 copy

MachuPicchuDay2_114 copy
Chinchilla

MachuPicchuDay2_117 copy

We had to pay 1 sol to use the restroom, then we hopped on the bus and made our way back to Aguas Calientes in the late afternoon.

Back in town, we had to kill a few hours before our train left, so we walked through the market, ate overpriced ice cream, bought sandwiches for the train ride home, and hung out on park benches in the town square. (I got scolded by a police officer for lying down on the bench.)

MachuPicchuDay2_131 copy
Urubamba River running through Aguas Calientes

We took the 6:00 train to Ollataytambo, where someone was waiting with our names on a list to take us in a large van back to Cusco. The van sped through the windy, steep countryside, so it wasn’t exactly an enjoyable trip. We walked a few blocks to our hotel, finally arriving around 10:30.

We happily found our luggage waiting for us at the hotel, so we showered and made it to bed around midnight, exhausted after 27,000 steps and over 300 flights of stairs climbed.

Peru Vacation – Hike to Machu Picchu

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5
Catch up on day 6
Catch up on day 7

Day 8: Tuesday, May 31

Our early morning began with scarfing down some yogurt and fruit right when continental breakfast opened at 5:30, then catching the train literally right outside the hotel at 6:10. Boarding the train was pretty informal – nothing like an airplane – they just scanned our tickets right outside our train car. The train was nice, with skylights, big windows, and tables. We enjoyed a beautiful hour and a half ride, seeing mountains that changed from rocky and snow-peaked to tropical. The tracks stretched along the roaring Urubamba river. At “kilometer 104” we departed for our day hike to Machu Picchu. Some people start a four-day trek to Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo, most people take the train or bus all the way, and we chose a route in-between, just because we didn’t want to spend four valuable days of our trip just getting to one spot.

MachuPicchuDay1_017 copy

We crossed a long footbridge over the Urubamba river to the checkpoint, where you must meet a guide and show a pass for the Inca Trail. At 148 sol (~$50), it was probably our most expensive excursion of the trip. We started to get nervous, as we couldn’t find our guide anywhere. Finally another couple also looking for their guide found ours still waiting for us by the train stop.

Our guide Rossi was sweet and tried very hard, but her English was pretty rough, and she was very quiet, so it was hard to understand her. I felt bad, because she was fighting a cold/cough and still had to guide us along mountainous trails. We took a quick bathroom break and the three of us headed out onto the Inca Trail at a fast clip. I briefly stopped to take photos regularly, but other than that, we only had a few rest breaks.

MachuPicchuDay1_027 copy

The first half of the Inca Trail – all the way to our lunch stop – was uphill. For some reason I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be, because Machu Picchu’s elevation is lower than Cusco where we began. I guess I didn’t realize we’d be going up from the train at the base of the mountain, then have to climb over and around a mountain to get to Machu Picchu. There were a lot of precipitous cliffs and steep steps to climb (sometimes even having to use our hands). Although it was chilly in the morning, we got hot quickly, ready to shed all our layers at the first stop 45 minutes in.

MachuPicchuDay1_037 copy
Inca Trail with Winay Wayna ruins in the distance

I’m so happy we hiked at least part of the Inca Trail – the views were breathtaking! I guess I never realized how tropical Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains were – nothing like other mountain ranges I’ve seen. We saw beautiful foliage and wide-open views of the Andes Mountains and the Urubamba river below.

MachuPicchuDay1_073 copy

A couple of hours into our trek, to our surprise, we came upon a beautiful glacier waterfall. I would guess it to be a couple hundred feet tall! We took a few photos near the bridge in front of it and moved on.

MachuPicchuDay1_046 copy

There were a few ruins along the way, including the breathtaking Winay Wayna.

MachuPicchuDay1_041 copy
Winay Wayna

It’s built into a steep hillside overlooking the river and the mountains – so climbing the steps there proved to be almost the most difficult part of the hike. We had to stop and catch our breath multiple times. Once I realized how fast we were moving, I wish we’d spent more time exploring there. The ruins consists of many terraces, probably for growing potatoes and carrots, upper and lower houses that supported about 100 people, and fountains for the elite. There were also a few random llamas grazing there.

MachuPicchuDay1_067 copy
Exploring Winay Wayna

MachuPicchuDay1_055 copy

A short time later, we came to the day 3 campsite for people who hike the entire Inca Trail, so we stopped there for our box lunch at 10:40 a.m. After a bathroom break at the squat toilets, we continued on. From there, it leveled out for a bit, but we continued to enjoy beautiful views.

After a while, Rossi told us we were getting close, then we climbed some extremely steep steps (the kind we had to use our hands on), and when we reached the top – we were at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu!

MachuPicchuDay1_083 copy
Steep steps to the Sun Gate

Jerod was so tired he immediately sat down and didn’t even realize we were there. The Sun Gate, which was the entrance to Machu Picchu for travelers, was farther away from Machu Picchu than I realized, but it was still really crowded with both Inca Trail hikers and tourists who hiked up from Machu Picchu.

MachuPicchuDay1_088 copy
The Sun Gate with Machu Picchu in the distance
MachuPicchuDay1_084 copy
First view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

After sitting to rest and enjoy the view for a while, we began the 45-minute hike downhill on large stones, which proved to be pretty rough on our knees and feet. We approached a couple more ruins, including a cemetery, on our way down. After taking all of the standard obligatory photos of Machu Picchu, Rossi guided us down to the entrance.

MachuPicchuDay1_105 copy

I thought we’d get to explore since it was only 1 p.m., but we headed straight for the line for the bus. Each one-way ticket to and from Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu was $12! We finally found the tourist trap of the trip.

Rossi walked us to our hotel and gave us a confusing and contradictory briefing about the next day (telling us we needed to buy bus tickets and meals when we were told they were included), then went on her way. We tried getting ahold of our travel agent, but the wi-fi was horrible, so we finally made a phone call from the front desk. A while later, she showed up at our hotel admitting she was incorrect and asked to take our passports to get our bus passes. It was another one of those moments when I really struggled to put all my trust in our travel company. But sure enough, she got our bus passes for us and everything got straightened out.

The hotel was very nice, and it even included complimentary drinks in our fridge, so we finally tried out the famous Cusquena beer and Inka Cola – neither of which we liked. After lounging around at our hotel for a while, we walked all around the little town of Aguas Calientes. It was quaint with a touristy, yet cute square. Even though Machu Picchu seemed crowded, the town wasn’t too bad.

MachuPicchuDay1_134 copy
Aquas Calientes city square

We had an included dinner that night, and when we showed up, Rossi was there, so we invited her to join us. We tried to make conversation, but she didn’t understand the majority of what we asked her, so she’d answer with a completely irrelevant (yet somehow interesting) story. We did finally get out of her that she was staying the night in Aguas Calientes and going home via train in the morning – we thought maybe she’d had to turn around a couple of times to deliver information to us and missed her train home. Jerod and I ordered stuffed avocado and trout from the price fixe menu, which was pretty good. We went to bed early with another uber-early wake-up call ahead of us.