Machu Picchu: The Lost City of The Incas

Wednesday

Huaynapicchu: The tallest mountain peak in Machu Picchu
One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, the ancient city of Machu Picchu, sits about 8,000 feet in the Andes and is a testament to the stamina and skill of the Incas who built it of rock and stone in the 15th century. Over 600 terraces are in place and a water system running about 1 km remains. Incredibly, many building walls are still standing after years of earthquakes that plague the area.
Founded in 1911 by American archeologist, Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu is surrounded by mystery and speculation. Zones for farming, commerce, royalty and sacred practice have been identified.
Witnessing sunrise in Machu Picchu is a crap-shoot. Arriving before the crack of dawn, many have been disappointed when greeted by the rain, fog and drizzle typical to the area. The good news is that the fog moves quickly and visibility does improve.
There are those who enjoy the luxury Machu Picchu experience. If you can afford it, take the Hiram Bingham train R/T from Ollytambo. Peru to Machu Picchu ($1000/pp) and stay at the five-star Sanctuary Lodge, located at the base of Machu Picchu...where your basic room will run about $1000/night. I would think at that price, the room should include a private, guided tour of Machpicchu but .... who knows? We didn't stay there.

We, the 'moderately-priced' travelers booked a tour group ... South Adventure Peru Tours. They were great and took care of the details all for about $600/pp. Offering an array of treks and tours in the area, they are honest and pleasant - we highly recommend them.
Hiking The Inca Trail is another option for those who are into that sort of thing...it takes about 4 days and is at altitude, so being physically fit would be helpful. South Adventure Peru Tours can outfit you for that pilgrimage.

Day 1 -  We were picked up at our room in Cusco, driven to the train station in Poroy, given our train tickets to Aguas Calientes, entry tickets to Machu Picchu and lunch and dinner details. After the 3.5 hr train trip, we arrived in Aguas Calientes and were met at the train station by a rep who walked us to our hotel room.
Peru Rail
Day 2 - The bus station in Aguas Calientes is just steps away from the train station. About $20 R/T. Walking to Machu Picchu was an option - but not for us. It's a very steep and winding climb - we opted to reserve our energy.

Arriving at Machu Picchu, you are required to show your passport along with your entry ticket - once inside, we met our guide who oriented us to Machu Picchu and its highlights. Be prepared to climb - a lot.
Intihuatana
One such highlight was "Intihuatana" (place where the the sun is bonded) - this stone was used as a way for the Inca to determine seasons and time and is considered to be sacred.  Legend has it that if you touch your forehead to it, your vision to the spirit world will be unblocked. Unfortunately, the practice became so popular that concern for the stone's preservation grew and a guard was posted to protect it.

After spending the day in Machu Picchu, we returned to Aguas Calientes and caught the train back to Poroy where we were met by our driver from South Adventure Peru Tours who dropped us off at our room in Cusco but also made plans to take us to the airport the following morning.

Exploring Machu Picchu was a dream come true. The wonder and mystery of how The Inca were able to transport boulders weighing in excess of 50 lbs each, up hill without the use of the wheel or iron tools, and how it still stands considering the stones are not mortared into place is astonishing.

It was one of the most special places I have ever visited. 

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Thinking about how vast our universe is, all the while, gazing out into the night sky, I have often thought that I am but a speck of dust in the big scheme of things (see Spacing Out). Then, I witnessed the Loggerhead Sea Turtle nesting on the beach.

Her instincts were awe-inspiring

While Mr. Something and I visited friends on the eastern coast of Florida,we learned that the threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtle nested in the area, annually.

My ignorance was palpable.

I had no idea how big they were...up to 375 lbs (170 Kg), and that after reaching maturity of 17 years, they return to the same beach where they were hatched in order to nest and lay their eggs, and that the baby sea turtles have a 1% chance of surviving to sexual maturity.

Who knew?

So under the cloak of darkness, we venture out into the night - armed with a flashlight and camera, only to be amazed by the precision of Sea Turtle nesting habits...
Turtle tracks
Photo credit: www.seaworld.com
Turtle tracks are unmistakable.
The back flippers create deep grooves into the sand from the sea. 
Quietly, we follow the tracks to where mama builds her nest.

With her rear flippers, she scoops sand out repetitively until her nest is a uniform, bucket-shaped vessel approximately 1.5-2 ft deep. 
Mama sea turtle then begins laying  her eggs.
Sea Turtle Laying Eggs
Photo Credit- Laurie Penland / Sea Turtle Conservancy

Laying about 100 eggs (called a "clutch")
- we lost count at 75 -
she rhythmically covers her nest with sand.

The whole process takes about 45 minutes. 
It's a lot of work.

If you go out to watch the hatchlings leave their nests...do not use a flashlight. 
The baby turtles will become confused as they are searching for the light of the moon to guide them back into the ocean. 
Lord only knows, with a 1% survival rate, they can use all the help they can get.

And then, she returns to the sea until next year...
...and my thoughts of being but a speck of dust in our universe emerges once more...
and I like the feeling.


The Road to Machupicchu

Saturday

Machupicchu
Our travel to Machupicchu began with...
  • a one hour flight from Lima to Cusco (Cuzco)
  • overnight stay in Cusco
  • 20 min drive to Poroy station
  • early morning train trip from Poroy to Aguas Calientes
  • overnight stay in Aguas Calientes
  • early morning bus to Machupicchu

Needless to say, I really wanted to go. 

A little background... Back in the 90's my dear friend, Rob and I visited Sedona, Arizona. While there, we learned that some people believe there are places in the world that are known as high energy hot spots or 'energy vortices'. Sedona, Arizona - Calgary, Alberta Canada - Machupicchu and Stonehenge were right up there on our list of places to 'get energized' at. Sadly, Sedona was the last trip Rob & I took together. He died 8 weeks later. My trip to Machupicchu was - in part - a tribute to him.

Cusco
Being warned that Cusco was at 11,000 feet above sea level, we were advised to walk slowly and (in order to prevent altitude sickness) start on Diamox. Good advice. After a short walk in town, climbing a hill or two and up a flight of stairs, my blue finger-tips and shortness of breath indicated I was mildly symptomatic - some people require hospitalization and supplemental oxygen -my personal remedy was to continue on Diamox, drink a lot of water and rest. It worked.
A natural preventative to altitude sickness: Coca Tea
And by-the-way... Peruvian pharmacies are great. I was like a nurse in a candy-store. You can get your choice of antibiotics, diuretics, salves and ointments...all without a prescription. The Pharmacist is the official drug gatekeeper - he and I became instant friends - and I stocked up. Diamox? Yes, please. Bactrim? Sure! Anything else?...let me look around... most medicines are easy to I.D. if you are familiar with their generic names.
Our accommodations in Cusco were perfect. A rustic room with private bath close to the city center, in a section known as San Blas.WiFi was included and Coca tea served on arrival. Who could ask for more? It was comfortable and quiet. Perfect.
Having to be up and ready to go by 5 am in order to catch a train to Aguas Calientes, we were all snug and asleep when the music started in our room from the bar, across the street. Normally, the option would have been to just suck it up or join them but we had a long day ahead. Earplugs didn't cut it. So, in the best Spanish that I could conjure up, I asked our elderly landlady if she knew what time the bar closed and tried to explain that we had to get up early. She apologized and then as if by magic...the music was taken down several notches. I'm thinking she marched herself over there ...

The following morning, we were picked up at our door by South Adventure Peru Tours and recommend them highly. We were driven to Poroy, where we caught our train to Aguas Calientes. The city itself has no need for cars as it is entirely walk-able. I had read somewhere that 'AC' was an armpit. True enough, but it is safe and there are a few quaint streets - that's about it. Our wake-up call in AC was needless as the dogs howling, cats wailing  and roosters crowing did the trick.


Visiting Machupicchu would be a dream come true 
... and Rob would have loved it.

Lima, Peru - Part Two

Wednesday

You can quote me on this...
"Travel is all about the people you meet and not necessarily the places you see"
Mr. Something and I, Kike, Patrick & Aurelio
Arriving in Lima, we had arranged for a driver to pick us up from the airport and had reserved a cute apartment in Miraflores. 

It didn't happen.

Wifi doesn't exist in Jorge Chavez International Airport unless you find the Starbucks on the level above baggage claim. We found Starbucks and after three hours of not receiving any response to the multiple texts we sent the guy who owned the apartment and who had arranged for our driver, we had to face facts.

Nobody was coming to get us.

We decided to call it a day and book a hotel room in the same neighborhood. 

My last text to 'the guy' was..."We are sorry but as we have not heard from you, we have no other option but to find another place to stay.We are disappointed that we could not stay at your place." I included the name of the hotel we were staying at in case he had any questions for us and left it at that.

That night, the hotel desk clerk woke me up from a sound sleep to tell me that we had a visitor in the lobby. Bleary-eyed, I met 'the guy' in the lobby. His name was Kike and he was there to pay our hotel bill.

Kike was one of the warmest, most giving people I have ever met. 

Profoundly apologetic for the confusion, Kike explained that a couple from Korea saw the sign that our driver was holding for us, with my last name "Young" written on it. Their name was "Yung". They got in his car and were taken to Kike's apartment.

You can't make this stuff up.

The following morning, Kike came to our hotel and brought us on a personal tour of his city, introduced us to his husband, Patrick and good friend, Aurelio. 

After the tour, he treated us to the most fantastic lunch at 'Altamar', a wonderful Peruvian restaurant with our new friends.






As if that was not enough, he arranged and paid for a driver to take us to the airport the next morning as well.

What a "guy"!

Sometimes it seems to me that when I've been disappointed with how I had hoped things to go, I end up being placed directly into the path of something good.

This experience was the best!

Lima, Peru - Part One

Tuesday

Larcomar
If you want to see Machu Picchu, then, most likely, you will start in the Lima. The capital city of Peru, Lima is not for the faint of heart. A fast-paced metropolitan area divided into 14 neighborhoods and comprised of approximately 9 million residents living within 324 sq.miles, Lima lacks the public transit systems of other major cities its size - but we understand that they are working on it - and its traffic congestion is infamous.

Know that Lima is not immune to petty crime, pickpockets and the like but that their taxi drivers have also been known to rob newcomers as well. We were told by locals that the Lima police are open to bribery and many are corrupt. Somewhat shaky ground to start our trip on.
Lima Airport Security: These boxes are at every security check-in.
 If you look closely, they are filled with sharp objects and potential weapons.

Taxi Green is located in Jorge Chavez International Airport. The tourist info people say they are the only taxi service to trust. We didn't have any problems with them but... if you can arrange for a driver or van from the place you are staying,..you are better off.

Miraflores: Is where we called 'home' during our stay in Lima. A clean, upscale neighborhood of Lima its known for its safety, restaurants, cafes and beaches. Walking around Miraflores, we came upon a park that was literally teeming with cats.
Parque Kennedy commemorates JFK and is a haven for stray cats. They run, play, climb trees and sunbathe here but are also petted by various citizens who keep food and water available to them. It's really a cool sight to see. Other places in Miraflores to check out while you're there...

  • Iglesia Virgen Milagrosa
  • Parque del Amor
  • Larcomar
Our trip to Lima started out in a less-than-outstanding way. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport. He didn't show. We had arranged to stay in an apartment in Miraflores. We didn't connect. We tried getting a WiFi connection in the Lima Airport...no luck.

It wasn't looking good. So, as we occupied space in Jorge Chavez International, fending off offers of ground transportation, Mr. Something and I just shrugged our shoulders and chalked it all up to what happens sometimes when you travel. 

God love him. He is the best travel partner I could ever hope for.

Santiago, Chile

Saturday

Our view in Santiago
When arriving in a unfamiliar city with luggage, I am reluctant to navigate the local transit system until the luggage has found a home. Experience dictated this practice. There is nothing like the comfort of not having to carry bags on and off buses, up and down stairs and through hoards of people. It makes for less-frazzled travellers.

Time, being of the essence, we arrived in Santiago Chile - via bus from Valparaiso - with a plan to see it's highlights with 24 hours. 

As if.

Hopping into a cab, we made it to our AirBnb (more on that, in another post), checked in and were on our way to discover the city. This is where the fun starts. 
Armed with a tourist map and our lists of places to see in Santiago, we venture down, into the Santiago Metro, and purchased a "Tarjeta Bip" card from one of the kiosks inside the station. Stations are everywhere and the kiosks translate to English. This is how we roll.

The Santiago Metro is really extensive...for some great travel tips go to ... http://www.ilovechile.cl/pepes-chile-santiago-chile-metro-map/
http://www.ilovechile.cl/pepes-chile-santiago-chile-metro-map/
Santiago was wonderful. Clean, vibrant and sophisticated. Our brief stay included...
  • - Barrio BellaVista
  • - Catedral Metroplitano
  • - Plaza de Armas
  • - Castillo Hidalgo
  • - Parque O'Higgins
Going to the Santiago Airport?
- Take the Metro to Pajaritos Station. Get off and look for the "CentroPuerto" bus to the airport. You can buy your ticket (about 1200 CLP) on the bus. If you can't find the Centropuerto bus just ask anybody...

And then were were off to Lima, Peru. 

Valparaiso, Chile

Thursday

Valparaiso
A Unesco, World Heritage site the city of Valparaiso is nestled on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Once a busy commercial center and port of call for cargo ships arriving from the rest of the world, Valparaiso's economy took a tumble after the opening of the Panama Canal created a new route for ships to travel to the Pacific. Now, it is a city on a resurgence with an active arts, food and cultural scene.
Street Art
If you are planning on  touring Valparaiso on your own, by foot - get a tourist map and pocket-change. You will need to get on an "Ascensor". Believe me when I tell you this.
Ascensor
Valparaiso is built on a hill. A steep hill.  "Ascensors" are manually-driven elevators that take people up and down hills. There are 22 of them scattered all over Valparaiso and their locations are easily found on any tourist map. Also, choose a round-trip fare. If you don't use it , you might be out 25 cents.

Also.. there is a light rail metro that runs east/west along the coast - it's limited in distance but better than nothing.

We arrived by cruise ship and found taxi's to be OK - they are metered and will give you an approximate estimate to your destination upon asking "Cuanto cuesto...?" 

1000 Chilean Peso's = about $1.50 US

Speaking of money - Valparaiso is poor. Really poor. That being said, we were surprised by the noticeable lack of street beggars. Being warned by locals - repeatedly - to beware of pick pockets and robbers, our index of suspicion was at an all time high but our anxieties were soothed somewhat when we were assured that "they won't have guns". Money was securely tucked away into my (ahem) bosom and Mr. Something was in charge of picture-taking - while I stood 'on lookout'. We were fine - and probably just paranoid. 
Chilean Vineyards
Leaving Valparaiso for Santiago, The Pullman bus fare from Estacion Rodovario was 6,500 pesos each (about $10 US) - not bad for an 80 mile trip!


Our overall take on Valparaiso? It's a beautiful, rustic and interesting city, where the food was good, the wine was plentiful and the views, unforgettable.

Paranoid in South America

Anticipating travel to South America was both exciting and scary. Admittedly, reports of muggings, kidnappings and police corruption go...