Our trip has been fantastic, but there's been a part of me that could hardly wait to go home. Peru has been my turning point. I can hardly wait to go back! We are moving on to Spain and Europe in a couple of days, but if it weren't for the kids I would stay in Latin America. My Spanish is improving enough that I no longer feel dependent on Ivo. Most of all I love the heart of Latin America. Peru has captured me the most!
I fell in love immediately with Peru. I don't know if it is from reading Paddington Bear books when I was a kid (he's from darkest Peru) or the Peruvian Dark coffee from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters I've been drinking all these years, but it was immediate.
Cusco is a beautiful city at nearly 11,000 feet. It was the Incan capital, and I can see why they chose this place. There is something indescribable about the energy here. Legend has it that the first inca (king), Manco Capac, was ordered by the ancestral sun god Inti to find the place where he could plunge a golden rod into the earth until it disappeared. This spot would be deemed the navel of the earth (qosq'o in Quechua language.). Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas.
I had heard that Peruvian food was delicious and it is certainly true. The food was terrific, and healthy, too! I didn't have a bad meal until our stopover in Lima on the way out (not terrible, but not what I had come to expect. I found a great cookbook, The Art of Peruvian Cooking, so I will be inspired when I get home!
Neither Carolina or Sean really wanted to come to Peru. I haven't written yet about Ecuador, but while very rewarding, it wasn't easy and the kids were feeling done with Latin American traveling.
Both kids ended up loving it in the end. Carolina's turning point was the Quechua girls leading baby Llamas around Cusco, sometimes with baby goats in arms. For a sole or two, they would take a picture with you. Sean's turning point was our day trip to the Pisaq ruins. We hiked around the ruins, then hiked for about two hours down to the town. Sean doesn't recognize it yet, but once he gets moving in nature, he is much happier.
We spent our second day in Cusco wandering around the city. We visited the Inca Museum and had lunch. Our third day, I arranged a day trip to the Pisaq ruins, about an hour from Cusco (yes, I arranged it all in Spanish!). Machu Picchu is the most well known of the archeological sites, but their are ruins everywhere! The only difference is that Machu Picchu wasn't discovered by the Spanish and pilfered for stones like the others.
We made the mistake of not getting a guide to explore the ruins, but all the same they were beautiful and incredible. Our hike back to town was longer than we expected. The wildflowers and mountains were beautiful and there weren't many people on the trail. Our other goal was to get the cobwebs out of our legs before our long trek to Machu Picchu.
Cusco the colonial city is built upon the foundation of Cusco the capital city of the Incan empire. The streets are still laid out the way they were more than 500 years ago. The energy is incredible, I can see why they chose this site for their capital. The streets are laid out to take advantage of the sun at the solstices.
The Spanish destroyed much of the city, then build their churches on top of the stones they could not move. The stones they could move, they did. By destroying the Inca's physical buildings, they hoped to destroy their religion. They had difficulty, though, because while they did have statues, gold and silver, these were not what they worshiped. Their spirituality was based on Mother Earth, Pachamama, Father Sun, Inti Tayta, Mother Moon, Mama Killa, The Spirit of the Mountains, Apu and other natural divinities. They believed that all things had a spirit worthy of great respect and veneration.
How would our world be different if the Spanish hadn't by luck come at the end of an Incan civil war. I will learn more when I read my big thick book, written by son of an Incan Princess in the 1600's, but looking back I see a culture that worshiped the earth and were able to feed all of their people.
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
Let me say that this trek is the highlight of our journey, possibly even the best trip I've done in my life! I felt magic and energy in Peru, I can't know for sure where it came from and I can hardly wait to come here again. I organized our trip to Peru in a very short amount of time. We were going to skip Peru because of time, money, and who knows why, but at the last minute I just had to come!
I arranged a trip with Salkantay Trekking on an alternate route to Machu Picchu. It is much less crowded, cheaper, and easier to do at the last minute!
We left Cusco at 5am, driving 2 hours to a breakfast stop and two more hours to the beginning of our trek at Sayllpata (11,646 feet). We hiked 7km to our camp, Soraypampa (12,834 feet). We had a delicious lunch, a short nap, then some of us hiked to Humantay Lake, another thousand feet up and 7km round trip.
Salkantay Trek - Day 2
This day was billed as being the toughest, we climbed from 12, 834 feet to 15, 255 feet over 7km to Salkantay Pass, which took about three hours. This was followed by a two hour decent to our lunch spot. We then entered the cloud forest for the remaining 10km hike to our camp, a nice low elevation of 9022 feet.
We decided to give the kids the option of riding horses to the top of the pass. Twenty-two kilometers would be a long day for us, and we did want them to enjoy the experience. It was bad enough that they had to wake up at five every morning.
Lunch was another delicious affair. The cook and his assistant passed us with the food and our bags on horses and had lunch waiting for us. The kids had to hike down, their horses went back to the valley.
Some of us needed a short nap after lunch. Sean wasn't feeling so hot (maybe some altitude sickness, so we were able to arrange for him to go on the cook's horse to camp for the night. Normally, we can't even keep up with him.
Salkantay Trek - Day 3
Our third day was filled with adventure. The rain that started on the last hour or so of our hike the night before continued for many hours quite hard. Our walk was along a road instead of the trail on the other side of the river. They don't even attempt the trail during the rainy season.
We considered crossing the road, but the stream crossing it was much deeper and faster moving than it looks in the picture. So we crossed this bridge, instead. I held my breath most of the way across and managed to step over the missing planks. One person at a time please!
Life got more interesting. A huge landslide happened overnight. By the time we got to it, the cooks had already schlepped all of our bags, tents, cooking supplies and food across the slide. We only had to get ourselves across. We all made it safely, we just had to get on with it. Ivo and the kids went with the cooks after the slide. I felt a little safer on my own two feet.
We only hiked about 15km to camp and it was enough. Not only did we have another delicious lunch, but we got to drive to a hot springs as well. The most scenic hot springs I've ever been to!
Salkantay Trek - Day 4
This was the last day of real trekking. Ivo and the kids went along with cooks for another hair road trip. We were lucky to have no rain the night before, as the climb would have been cancelled (too dangerous going down the other side.). Although, we climbed two thousand feet in about two and a half hours, this hike was much different than Salkantay Pass. At a starting elevation of 6500 feet, the air felt thick, both from humidity and increased oxygen. The first half hour we were passing homes and small coffee farms. Our guide, Sergio, greeted most of the inhabitants by name. They clearly love him as much as we did.
It was nice for me to have this time to myself, away from family, but as I'm writing this, I'm disappointed that the rest of the family didn't do this part. Not only was Ivo kind in letting me go, but he was also nursing some blisters he couldn't stop for on the second day in the rain. We also wanted the kids to be fresh for Machu Picchu. Incan ruins exploring requires a lot of climbing!
Last spring, I read the book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu, then recently, I read the book, One River, by Wade Davis, which chronicles the botanical expeditions of Richard Schultz and later his protege, Tim Plowman, through Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. As I walked up this trail, I was feeling a bit like I was walking in their shoes. An excitement coursed through me the past few days, as I was walking in the high Amazon rain forest. To think that all of these rivers find their way to the Amazon river is mind blowing.
I had a feeling that our fearless leader, Sergio, was messing with our minds a little, as he refused to answer anyones question about how far to the top. We were all surprised when we reached the top, then descended a little to Llactapata Inca site, across from Machu Picchu. It is theorized that this site would have been used as a look out for Machu Picchu, a resting place for messengers, and a storage place for food. Did I mention their complex agricultural system and their surplus storage? This especially impresses me in this age where we seem incapable of feeding everyone in our country.
The trail down the other side of the mountain was beautiful, but slippery and steep. I can see why we would have skipped it if it rained. It took us a couple of hours followed by about an hour along the road to Hydroelectric, a bit of a village formed around the 300 foot waterfall that supplies Cusco and many other places with electricity. I met up with the family for lunch, they had been waiting quite awhile. Then I skipped out on my group by taking the train the remaining 10km to Aquas Caliente. Sorry, but I only felt a little guilty about not walking that last bit along the railroad tracks!
Day 5 - Machu Picchu!
The day finally arrived! We thought our 5am wake up calls on the other mornings were early. This morning we woke at 3:15am to meet at the bus stop at 4:15am. We all decided to skip the two hour walk up the road to Machu Picchu in the dark. We were in line early enough to be on the first bus up at 5:30, the gates open to Machu Picchu at 6am.
I was a little worried that Machu Picchu wouldn't live up to my expectations. It definitely did! The site and the mountains surrounding it are amazing. Our guides, Sergio and Henry, were so knowledgeable and it was very helpful in trying to understand the history. No one really knows, it's all theories.
The architecture of Machu Picchu is very interesting. The archeologists still don't really know how the Incas accomplished what they did. Machu Picchu has many different building techniques. The mountain was the quarry and in many buildings such as above, the natural contours were followed. It is thought that there may have been other tribes there before the Incas. Our tour was about two and a half hours long, but really you could go and go.
We were lucky that the rain held off, by about ten there was a steady drizzle. We had planned to hike to the Sun Gate, up above Machu Picchu, where the Inca Trail comes in. Carolina wouldn't go, she couldn't see the point, as it was raining. Sean and I hiked up just the two of us. Ivo talked Carolina into walking to the Inca Bridge instead.
We only stayed until the early afternoon because it was a bit cold and drizzly. I want to come back again, I'd like to climb Waynu Picchu since we didn't book early enough to get the special tickets. We took the train from Aquas Caliente back to Cusco that evening and flew back to Bogota the next day.
I can't capture in words the energy and sacredness of this place. My heart is full when I think of Peru and I really can hardly wait to return for a much longer trip.