Cuzco to Machu Picchu

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Hello again! As I write this the fires of Southern California are hopefully winding down. We have been trying to keep up with the situation there via CNN and the Internet, and we have heard from most of our San Diego friends that their homes have been spared. Thank you, Lord! However, we canīt imagine how awful it must be for so many people who are still waiting to see what happened to their homes or who have lost their home. We are so glad to know that our church body of the Shoreline Church in San Clemente is stepping up to help out the people who have had to evacuate their homes due to the fires in this time of need. 

On a less devastating note...
back to the blog. I feel like I am writing chapters of a book, and that each time I sit down to write I am picking up where I left long story! We started Jamesī birthday in Lima, Peru and ended it in Cuzco, Peru. We are so glad that we chose the 1-hour flight over the 20-hour bus ride. We only had to spend about $60 more for the flight and it was definitely worth it. Cuzco is a neat city with colonial architecture present via the cobblestone streets. I loved the Central Plaza de Armas area too as it reminds me of the many plazas in Spanish cities that make for great meeting spots, good areas to hang out, and lots of restaurants. We were overwhelmed much of the time by the constant barrage of "deals" offered us every time we walked anywhere in Cuzco. As you can imagine with Cuzco being the jumping off point for trips to Machu Picchu, there are TONS of tourists there so thus the many businesses and solo vendors aimed at selling us anything and everything. Massages, tours, paintings, jewelry, food, etc. One of the saddest "sales" we saw was a woman, her child, and their pet baby llama all dressed up in the traditional colorful weaved clothing and wandering the streets hoping a tourist would want a picture and then would pay them. It didnīt seem to be something they enjoyed, like they were proud to be showing off their culture, but rather it seemed such a desperate plea for money. And, as someone who enjoys taking pictures, it takes away from the art of it a bit when someone is ready and waiting to pose for you. For me,  so much of the joy of photography is to catch someone or something in the moment, without them knowing or changing for the camera.

We had another day in Cuzco to get acclimated to the high altitude before starting our 5-day trek that would take us to Machu Picchu. As many of you know, the famed Inca Trail is a 4-day hike that lets you march into the Lost City on your last day at sunrise. It is incredibly popular and nearly all young people coming to Peru have planned this trip. I giggle a little because this trail is known as "the Inca Trail" but in reality there are trails all over the country that the Incas made! Well, we were not some of the lucky many to do this trail! Despite all the research I did to prep for the trip, I did not heed the warning that it is best to sign up for the trail between 6 weeks to 3 months in advance (regulations have changed and nowadays the Inca Trail requires a guide with you and there are only 500 people allowed on the trail at one time). I started researching the trip about 10 days before we wanted to go! Oops! Fortunately, there are alternate treks you can do in the Andes Mountains so we joined a company called United Mice to do the Salkantay trail. It was a fantastic trip.

We had a great group of people with us...a total of 18 hikers, 1 guide and 2 assistant guides, 3 cooks, and 3 muleteers (the guys who packed the mules with our backpacks everyday so we didnīt have to carry them while hiking!). Our group was all young people from the U.S., Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, and Holland. We got along really well and had many hilarious and interesting conversations during our mealtimes and evenings. It was a treat for James and I too, getting to learn so much about other countries.
The first day of our hike was the most grueling. It was mostly all up hill (an increase in over 3,000 feet elevation in a few hours) and was cold! I needed a lot of rest breaks just to catch my breath. Not to mention my feet were stumbling over the littlest rocks which made me feel like a danger to myself. We only had to carry on us our day packs so that was a huge blessing. My travel backpack weighs about 25-30 lbs. so that would have been an extra challenge. The scenery we passed along the way on the first day was incredible. HUGE mountains, some covered in snow and a river running alongside us. The weather was rained only during our lunchtime when we had cover from the dining tent. The first night was a cold one, however, and we think that it must have dropped to freezing during the night. We had been warned about the cold night, however, so we had beanies, socks, and lots of layers along with a warm sleeping bag. Still, it was cold.
The next couple days were easier in terms of the hiking. We decreased in elevation and saw more tropical-type vegetation and warmer weather. We got to go for a dip in a natural hot spring that felt INCREDIBLE after a couple days of hiking and sore feet. We followed a rushing river much of the time and thus saw incredible canyons and loved the sound of the water. All the while, we were having great conversations with the various people on our trek, figuring out what we had in common and yet how different our lives are back in our respective countries. One of the gals I met, Laura from Australia, has been doing volunteer work in Guatemala for the past year or so. Turns out that about a month ago she went to the school Nueva Vida that I went to at the start of our trip (I described it in one of our first few blogs) and met Judy the woman who runs it. The speech therapist from the school is actually from the organization Laura works with! (I didnīt meet the speech therapist the day I visited, unfortunately). Small world! Another gal on the trip, Cheryl from Vancouver Island in Canada, is an occupational therapist!!!! That is wild because it is rare that I even meet people who know what OT is about! We had a great time swapping OT stories and encouraging one another professionally. James and I really liked Cheryl and her boyfriend, Dane, and we cannot wait to visit them in British Colombia.
One of the most fascinating parts of the trek was the homes and small communities we passed along the way. In the middle of our trek, miles and miles from a town, families live among the huge Andes mountains with no cars or TVs or radios or anything! Some of the homes seemed to have no neighbors either. They farm their land for all their organic food and trade some of it for different foods in the next closest towns. They live off the medicinal plants and often have long lives, so I am told. It was just incredible to be walking through their lives, trying to imagine what it would be like. It is just so different from the life that I know.
The 4th day of the trek we hiked uphill for a LONG time and got to a place where we could see across a valley to the backside of Machu Picchu! It was exciting and definitely made us very anxious to be at Machu Picchu the next morning. We ended our hike on the forth day by taking a short train ride to a town called Aguas Calientes that is just 8km below Machu Picchu. We awoke early and got on a 6:30 a.m. bus to the Lost City. We had a 2-hour tour with our guide, Alain, and then were on our own to explore. It is a very impressive place and much bigger then we imagined. Walking through parts of it felt like we were in a maze. The stones were all hand-carved which must have taken so much time, and the weight of moving them to form the rooms, temples, etc. must have been incredibly heavy. Our guide had lots of interesting information for us, however in the back of our minds we wondered, and still do, how much of it is accurate. From the little that we have read, it seems that there is a lot of mystery about Machu Picchu in terms of its purpose and function because it was never mentioned in the chronicles left by the colonizing Spaniards, whose writings often told much of Inca history. Machu Picchu wasnīt even discovered until 1911 when an American man (Hiram Bingham) stumbled upon the ruins.
We took a steep hike up about 45-minutes to the top of a taller, nearby mountain called Huaynapicchu so that we could get a birds-eye view of the city. When you see pictures of MP you only see the actual city, but the surrounding mountain scenery was more amazing than I had expected. The only bummer was that at the top of the climb there were a bunch of really noisy, obnoxious tourists that were yelling and being unreasonably loud (not Americans I am proud to say!). Being at a place like that, looking down on the amazing city built so long ago, offers such an opportunity for a peaceful moment to take it all in, but that was not going to happen for us that day.
We hope you enjoy our photos and can get a glimpse of how incredible the scenery is here in Peru.
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