Machu Picchu

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Dec 13, 2011

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What I did
Jungle Trek
vivential tourism

Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Friday, October 28, 2011

I am clearly way behind on my posts, so much so that I am actually back in the states and our wonderful journey to South America is over, however, I figured I should finish up blogging before I completely forget where we went and what we saw.

Despite our initial hesitation to go to such a touristy place, my dad convinced us that we couldn't leave Peru without going to one of the world's most spectacular ancient cities.  We were not disappointed.  Machu Picchu was even more breathtaking than everyone says and well worth braving the hordes of tourists.  
 Our journey to the ruins was pretty unique.  Rather than following the traditional Inca Trail, we joined a "Jungle Trek" (about a quarter of the cost!).  We started our journey at just over 4300 meters on a steep, windy mountain highway.  We were dropped off on a cold foggy pass, left with nothing but some old gearless mountain bikes enough knee, elbow, shin and head guards to make anyone wheezy.  I won’t lie; I was pretty freaked out at first.  Since moving to Alaska I haven't done much biking and definitely haven't done much biking down 55 km of curvy windy mountain roads where semis can't pass without scratching mirrors.  I pretty much thought that I was going to die.  However, after an hour or so of white knuckles and riding my brakes I eased up a bit and was able to enjoy the spectacular view as we cruised through extensive cloud forest.  This region of the Andes is spectacular because the mountains are incredibly rouged and huge like the peaks we have back home, but the bases are much smaller so you end up with these abrupt insanely high peaks that are shaped like fingers rather than fists.  Also the mountains are almost entirely forested except for the very tips of the highest mountains, so everything looks extremely green rather than bare like back home. 

After our bike ride we spent the night in the small village of Santa Maria.  From here we hiked through more cloud forest and sleepy mountain farms.  At times we followed trails built by the Inca that today are maintained by the famers in the region.  Along the way we stopped off at homesteads to escape the hot sun and buy drinks and snacks from local women. These ladies hike miles in rugged terrain to buy drinks and snack for hikers, then they hike home caring their purchases in five gallon buckets.  At twenty two I was put to shame, these old women could out walk me without so much as wheezing or sweating in their hot wool clothing.   
 At the end of our second day we stopped at a hot springs outside of Santa Teresa and soaked for a few wonderful hours before heading to the village.  I’ve been to a lot of cool hot springs, but this place was magical.  We had to ride in a cable car across a raging river just to get there, and then we sat in gloriously steamy water at the base of the Andes surrounded by dense cloud forest.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Our night in Santa Teresa was very interesting.  It started with our guide dishing out Inca Tequila to all the drinkers in the group.  Of course this was followed by a night dancing at the local disco.  It was here that we really got to know our hiking companions.  Everyone came out of their shell, some maybe a little too much.  There was Wayne the 50 something year old Australian who had no clean pants so wore his tights, which was fitting because he danced like Richard Simons.  Then there was Frenchy.  He also loved to dance, especially with Jesse.  After a few too many drinks he coined our favorite phrase, "porque no?" He used this to answer all questions: "Why do you want to dance with Jesse?",  "Porque No?", "Why do you keep chasing him around the dance floor?"  "Porque no?"  I don't think he really ever remembered the night and thus doesn't fully understand why he is the father of this phrase.  There was also a fantastic couple from Ireland, Shane and Leanne, who always brought a smile to our faces, not only because they were total sweethearts, but also because who doesn't love an Irish accent? Lastly there was Bevan who I spent the whole trip calling Debin, whoops.     
Our third day was my favorite, other than Machu Picchu of course.  We only hiked a short distance but spent the rest of the time zip lining through the cloud forest.  A-mazing!  We climbed to the ridge line of one of the mountains and then proceeded to take six zip lines (and 2500 meters of cable) back and forth across a deep cannon until we reached the bottom again.  Our guides allowed us to ride upside down, backwards, frontwards and of course like superman.  My breaking skills weren’t the greatest and I had a tendency to take out the poor little guides.  They just weren’t that big; I guess that’s what happens when you let a 6’2" giant from Alaska zip around the jungle.  Hope I didn’t leave any bruises.

From here we hiked the last few miles to Aguas Calientes where we rested up for our early departure to Machu Picchu in the morning.  We woke up at 4 am and made it to the gate at the base of the mountain by five.  We were among a few other early birds who wanted to beat the crowds at the ruins.  It took 34 minutes to get to the top.  Once we were there we had to wait till 6 for the gates to open.  Our first unobstructed views of the ruins were unbelievable.  What I found most spectacular was that the city is literally built on a mountain top.  They chiseled paths to their fortress across thousand foot cliff faces and over the very highest peaks.  It is as if the elevation (about 8000 feet) and steep slope of the mountain were of no concern to them.  They somehow were able to carry boulders and build terraces on a mountain that most modern day people have a hard time even getting to the top of with nothing more than their Dasani water and white bread sandwich.  Despite its rugged terrain, it was an honor to live in Machu Picchu and only royalty and people of influence were allowed to stay there.  At its height in the 14th century about 1200 people inhabited the city. These people were Priests, architects, mathematicians and astronomers.  Their structures gave them views of specific constellations which they used to predict the coming age.  They also kept a calendar and used the suns shadow on the wall of one of their temples to keep track of the winter solstice.  They were self-sufficient, creating a terracing system for crops with irrigation system so complex and perfect that they were able to bring water from a high mountain spring miles away to their fields.  They were so efficient that they were able to survive on their mountain top without outside assistance.  In fact when the Spanish invaded in the 15th century some Inca survived and retreated into the mountains to Machu Picchu and then off to another city that has yet to be found.

From 6 am till closing at about 6 pm we wondered the city exploring the rock structures and trails leading to the different temples.  We purchased the ten dollar pass to climb Wayna Picchu, the picturesque peak towering a thousand feet above Machu Picchu.  From here the high priest would walk every morning to demonstrate the rising of the sun.  From the top of Wayna Picchu we dropped down the backside for about 45 minutes (straight down, sometimes walking down stairs, other times by rope ladder) to the Grand Cavern, or temple of the moon.  As spectacular as the individual buildings were I was most impressed by the beauty of the countryside.  The landscape view of the spectacular forested peaks and the ancient rock dwellings created a picture I will not easily forget.  As we prepared to leave the sacred city we were blessed with a double rainbow perfectly placed over the city.  This view of the misty mountains and the rainbows made me realize why the Inca loved the Andes and built their fortresses in the peaks.  These mountains are incredible; their beauty is something that cannot be expressed through words…especially not mine.  I hope that you all get the chance to someday visit this special place!
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