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Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier - Fine Chocolates Made by Hand

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The clouds lift at Machu Picchu

Wow, where to begin? I am fresh from my first trip to Peru. For nearly three weeks in May, I witnessed amazing scenery and met wonderful people.

The main purpose of my trip was to volunteer with the Becky Fund. The foundation raises money to buy and deliver school supplies to children in need in the remote areas of the Sacred Valley of the Inca, not far from the Peruvian city of Cusco.

New school supplies, smiling faces

If the countryside were not enough to stop you in your tracks, the children are. Most of these kids walk miles to school everyday in sandals made from recycled tires. With altitudes that range from 10,000 to 14,000 feet, it can be cold, cold, cold. The diet is mainly potatoes and people frequently sleep on dirt floors, doing the best they can with what they have. It is heartbreaking to see the kids in such dire straits. Yet when you hand them a pencil, a notebook and a toy, the smiles that lights up their faces are heartwarming. It was hard for many of us to hold back our tears.

Another aspect of the trip for me was a visit to the cacao growing area of Quillambamba. I met some great people, including an agriculturist who has specialized in cacao for the past 40 years and my new friend, Monolo. Monolo is working on buying wet beans from farmers to ferment and dry for more consistent resulting chocolate.

Visiting with a fellow entrepreneur

The entire trip took place on lands that made up the ancient Inca empire, civilization that dates back early 13th century Peru. No matter where we were, there always seemed to be some remnant of this ancient society that thrived over 800 to 600 years ago reminding us of its presence. From terraces built for agriculture to ruins of stone so perfectly cut that no mortar was necessary, the landscape was a history lesson made real.

What trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu? It began in a cloud … at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, it felt as if there could be no other beginning. Like a dream, within a few hours the clouds burned off and amazing views emerged. It was magical.

The trip ended as it began in Cusco, a gorgeous city in its own right. It was filled with parades and fiestas, and, of course, visits to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman high above the city.

A fantastic trip, it filled my dreams for at least five straight nights upon my return. I will never forget it. Traveling is great, but I am so happy to be home in Madison.

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