Since the age of 25, Steven Tan has vowed that each year, he’d visit a place he has never been to. Only two weeks ago, he made his first trip to Peru, a 30-hour journey from Manila, via Narita and Los Angeles, to the South American country’s capital, Lima.
It was a destination that’s not usual for the well-traveled Tan, SM Supermalls’ chief operating officer, mainly because it involved trekking. Of the over 60 countries he has been to, Peru was most physically taxing.
“If you’re planning to go, my one advice is, train your lungs, work out like you’re training for a marathon,” he said.
While Tan himself goes to the gym five days a week, he said he still felt embarrassed that Inca women, much older than he, moved faster on the uphill terrain.
There primarily to see Machu Picchu, the archaeological remnants of the 15th-century Incan citadel in the Peruvian Andes, Tan said the highlight of the trip turned out to be the hike to Montana de Siete Colores (Rainbow Mountain) or Vinicunca, 17,000 feet above sea level, in the Cusco region.
The majestic Vinicunca is famous for its bright, psychedelic slopes—sedimentary rocks exposed by millions of years of erosion.
On Tan’s visit, the mountain was covered with 10 inches of snow, which made the climb even harder. What typically takes only 45 minutes took him two hours, including a ride on the back of a horse.
“Tourists usually take two to three days before they make the climb, just to acclimatize to the elevation,” Tan said. “But due to the time constraint—I had only a few days for the trip—we went the morning after we arrived.
“I was glad to have reached the peak, especially as people were turning back. It was marvelous at the top, and I felt that sense of accomplishment because, at some point, I was also tempted to turn back.”
‘Mate de coca’
It’s standard for climbers to bring portable oxygen tanks for the trek. To prevent altitude sickness, it’s also common to drink coca tea or mate de coca, derived from the coca plant, which Tan did throughout the trip to Cusco.
“It opens up your breathing and it relaxes you. I had some reservations at first, because what if I get tested for drugs when I get home?” he said with a laugh.
Tan also marvels at new strange eats he got to try on this trip, including the cuy or guinea pig and the chicha morada, a corn-based drink.
“I equate travel with adventure, and I’m definitely willing to try new things,” he said. “We ate whale in Iceland. I go to great lengths when it comes to food.”
At D.O.M. in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the Michelin-star restaurant of chef Alex Atala, “They served us a raw pork dish.
“When I travel for work I carve out time between meetings to check out the retail, F&B and general lifestyle scene,” said the retail executive, who’s at the helm of 71 SM malls here and a few more in China. “And when I’m on vacation, I also gravitate toward places that bring inspiration that I can draw on for work.”
In Lima, Tan and his friend dined at Central Restaurante, chef Virgilio Martinez’s flagship restaurant, listed sixth among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2018. “It’s nothing like any Nikkei cuisine I’ve ever had,” he said.
Tan also marveled at the colorful local markets, the woven fabrics and other unique knickknacks he found.
“In every place I visit I make it a point to immerse myself in the culture. This includes trying the local food and making friends. One must is to hit the local market. I try to do a sweep as much as I can.
“I try not to travel to be a tourist. I want to travel and dwell. Fortunately I have companions who share the sentiments, to the extent of doing travel pre-work and research.”
Tan prepared for this seven-day Peruvian adventure, staying in some luxurious hotels. A backpacker also has options for his budget, he said.
He’s flying to Paris, where he studied and used to live, later this month. It remains his favorite destination for sentimental reasons.
Next year, Petra in Jordan, and Egypt are on his list. Armenia is also in the works.
“I cannot think of any place I would not want to go back to,” he said. “Every place I’ve visited remains special. Not all places are comfortable but I’ve always thought that travel is committing to a new experience that might not always be within your comfort zone. You have to look at travel side by side with discovery and just embrace it fully.”
His advice for would-be travelers? “Be open, embrace the new,” he said. “Immerse yourself fully in each and every place you visit. If possible, try to dwell. There are the tourist attractions you should see, but also make time to discover tiny alleyways. When you travel, you open your eyes and your heart to new adventure and learning.”