The cherry on your SouthAmerican Pie
Trip Start Dec 17, 2011
8Trip End Feb 20, 2012
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Ladies in black high top hats and long colorful skirts are eagerly chatting amongst each other. Men in traditional red ponchos wave the Bolivian flag. Children are dressed up in their finest outfits and there is a band in the main square of the little town of Ollantaytambo. We had just arrived in this fabulous town and were on our way to see the famous Ollantayambo ruins but got curious when we saw all the commotion along the streets.
I ask a gentleman with a large mustache what the occasion might be and he answers very excitably: "ahhh que viene el presidente de Bolivia" ( the Bolivian president is arriving). We quickly scrap the ruins for this amazing opportunity to get a glimpse of Evo Morales. This incredible man is the first Mestizo president of the country and has managed to change the Bolivian constitution to make the country a better place for the native populationcocalero. Clearly he is admired beyond the Bolivian border and the Peruvians were beside themselves of excitement.
The crowd goes wild as a car with black tinted windows rolls in on the Plaza de Armas, followed by a SWAT team geared up with big machine guns. It is quite surreal. We get swooped into the mass of red hats and ponchos and end up at the local soccer arena. And there we are, the only gringos in town surrounded by all of Ollantaytambo's inhabitants watching a friendship game between Peru and Bolivia with Evo Morales on the field. Even though the Peruvian players seemed to have had better days, before bald heads and pot bellies (and the Bolivians pretty much crushed them), it was a fantastic game on a sunny afternoon with a backdrop of the majestic Andian Mountains.... Pretty cool :)
Ahhhh Ollantaytambo, what an amazing little town! Cobble stone streets and houses that has been inhabited since the 13th century. Inca and pre-inca ruins dot the surrounding mountains and the locals dress like their ancestors have been dressing for centuries, in brightly colored, hand woven, alpaca skirts and unusual hats borrowed from their colonial Spanish past . Even the men wear a rainbow of colors with all shades of pink. Pigs roam the streets while men sip on their chicha and ladies sell roasted corn at the plaza. We were recommended to stay at Casa de WOW and we instantly fell in love with the place and it's owners, Winn and Wow. Winn is a southern bell from North Carolina and Wow a native quechua from Peru. A winning combination! Winn makes fabulous eggs and tea in the mornings and gives us great ideas of things to do around town
Josh and I had some grand hiking in mind before we landed in Cuzco. The Inca trail is a four day hike in varied terrain that ends with the reward of an early peak of Machu Picchu. Now that sounds good on paper. but since December is the beginning of rainy season, the thought of mud and wet clothes kinda changed our minds. So, a skip hop and a breathtaking train ride away, we arrived in Aguas Calientes. This town could have so much going for it, but things just went wrong.
The setting is spectacular, squeezed in between jungle clad mountains with a river running trough it, but it's inhabitants decided to make this as much of a tourist friendly souvenir vortex as possible. Restaurants advertise tourist menus alongside shops with mock Adidas jumpsuits, spelling PE RU and an image of a llama, numerous alpaca shawls, blankets and the most interesting of them all... bathing suit rentals for the local hot springs. I think I would rather die than put on a used high cut suit ca 1982 with ruffles
We get an early start as we have learned that the trains from Cuzco arrives at 9.30am. The buss is snaking it's way up endless sketchy switchbacks and we ohhh and ahhhh at the spectacular scenery outside our windows. Thick jungle vegetation cover the rugged mountains, birds fly from one colorful flower to another and waterfalls cascades down the steep mountain face. I feel like I'm in a scene from Jurassic Park. Several jaw breaking hairpin turns later we finally arrive at the entrance.
Rain starts to fall, but we were prepared. We scramble up some steep never ending steps and the reward- the classic picture perfect view of the whole shabang. There it was, the ancient Inca empire: Machu Picchu It was every bit as magnificent and spectacular as I would have imagined. Surrounded by the tall peak of Wayna Picchu (among many other Andean peaks), thick green vegetation, lake Urubamba and a few floating clouds; his place is embodying mysticism. It is more than a Kodak moment. I bought the shoes I was wearing for this exact purpose: to hike the Peruvian Andes, over 8 years ago. And there I was, several years later, facing the South American continent's most famous archaeological site
Although know locally, Machu Picchu was unknown to the rest of the world until 1911 when it was re-discovered by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then most of the outlying buildings have gotten a bit of a face lift to give the one million tourists a year a better idea
of what it used to look like during it's golden years. MP was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For the next few hours, Josh, Liz and I explored every nuck and corner of the area. From the temple of the Sun and sacred rock to the sanctuary of the Condor and countless trapezodial windows. What a feeling to walk on roads that's been walked on by Incas, several hundred years ago. Stones, stacked to perfection, making smooth endless walls. Beautiful terraces flanks the 140 structures as well as courtyards, sanctuaries and temples along with the most photographed llamas in Peru happily roaming the grounds. Even if you aren't a religious person, a visit to MP will hit your spiritual Achilles heel and open your heart to the magic of Panchamama. MP is after all, the cherry on top of the South American pie
Peace, Love & Magical Moments
PS: If you are interested in reading more about Machu Picchu, you can download the classic "Inca Land: Explorations in the Highlands of Peru" for free at www.gutenberg.org