Getaway: Mysterious Machu Picchu
Remember those View Masters we had as kids? Ever since my father brought one home with pictures of Peru’s Machu Picchu, I’d always dreamed of visiting the site.
And when I received a travel brochure that included a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest, Cusco and Machu Picchu with Lake Titicaca thrown in for good measure, there was no doubt about where my next adventure would be. It turned out to be a fabulous trip with a diversity of sights from the huge Cieba trees that can grow to 230 feet tall, the Peruvian Amazon rain forest, to the mystical Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, to the people who live on reed islands right in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Such different areas, all in one country!
Our group, with Overseas Adventure Travel, landed in Lima, then flew to the town of Iquitos. Our route took us over the Andes and the Amazon River. The sight of the Amazon as it snaked through the rain forest kept my nose glued to the window. The gateway to the Amazon, as Iquitos is called, has the unique distinction of being the largest city in the world that can be reached only by airplane or boat — no roads lead to Iquitos. It’s a little seedy now, but it was elegant in its day, the early 1900s when it was a boom town mainly because of the abundance of rubber trees. The sap was used to produce automobile tires, waterproof shoes and clothing. It was a busy, hectic, noisy place — small cars, bicycles, motorcycles and three-wheeled rickshaws called moto-kars, all jockeying for position on the dusty streets. There were large fruit and vegetable markets at every turn with bananas and watermelons being the most abundant and visible fruits. After a harrowing ride on the moto-kars, we arrived at the pier where we took a 45-minute boat ride to the Cieba Tops Lodge, our home for the next five days.
The lodge was luxurious. The brochure stated that we would be staying at the Napo Lodge with its “authentic” palm thatched houses and “shower and \toilet facilities adjoining.” Fortunately for us, the Napo Lodge was being renovated and we spent our time in the luxury Cieba Tops Lodge with its air-conditioned comfort.
On one of our outings, we met the Yagua. According to legend, when the Spaniards arrived and saw the Yaguas wearing grass skirts, they thought they were all women. Therefore, they named the Amazon River after the Greek myth of the Amazon women warriors.
One of the highlights of our trip was Monkey Island (La Isla de Los Monos). A Peruvian conservationist brings endangered and orphaned monkeys from the jungle to this island. He breeds them and releases the young ones back to the jungle in the hopes that the population will increase. When the monkeys hear the boat arriving, they congregate on the dock landing because they know they will have playmates and food. They climbed on us, drank from our water bottles, swung from our walking sticks, chased each other, and the chickens.
After a flight back to Lima, we headed for mysterious Machu Picchu.
After a night in Aguas Calientes, we were up at dawn — 3:45 a.m. — and we packed a small overnight bag. The rest of our belongings went by bus to our hotel in Cusco where we would be in two nights time. When we visited, there was flood damage and much of the train tracks were washed away. We had a circuitous train and bus ride to the town of Machu Picchu. From the town we boarded a bus to the 15th century pre-Columbian Inca site. It’s amazingly well-preserved. There are as many reasons for the existence of Machu Picchu as there are tourists ... or guides. One story is that it was once a university nestled in the center of huge mountains.
Machu Picchu was engulfed in early morning fog when we arrived. It was mystical and magical. I just stood quietly at the site and tried to get a sense of the entire area. It was peaceful and serene. The city sits in a saddle between two mountains, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, with a spectacular view down two valleys. It is almost impossible to locate unless you are taken to the site.
When the sun came out there was a dramatic change. We were able to see the entire site with its storage areas, guard houses, baths and various other rooms and outbuildings. How the Incas transported the rocks to the site and shaped them is still a mystery. And what happened and why it became abandoned is another mystery. It truly was “The Lost City of the Incas.”
We began to hike up and then down the uneven large steps. These steps were certainly not built for my 5-foot-tall frame and short legs. Every turn presented yet another spectacular view. After our hike, we had a slower walk down to the park entrance. Our guide had a mock Machu Picchu stamp and stamped our passports. We chuckled when others, not part of our group, thought this was an official stamp and lined up to have their passports stamped as well.
The second day, after a hot breakfast, we were out the door and at the site by 7:15a.m. on a bright sunny morning. We hiked 1.2 miles at an altitude of 9,000 feet to the Sun Gate. This was all uphill and a tough climb, mainly because of the altitude. We stopped frequently to catch our breath. Again the steps were huge and uneven. Fortunately, two guides were with us to give us encouragement and a push when needed. It took us about two hours to hike to the top. The views were spectacular as we hiked, with wild irises and wild begonias dotting the paths. We walked a small part of the Inca trail — one of the most difficult hikes anywhere in the world.
Lake Titicaca was the next stop. We followed the Andes, along a road lined on both sides by mountains, with tiny villages every few miles, flocks of sheep, alpaca and cattle. We stopped for a photo at the highest point of our trip — 14,220.4 feet — and were pleased that we had no altitude problems except for shortness of breath. We continued south and soon came to the city of Juliaca, from where we were to fly home. It was busy, dusty and brown — just the main streets are paved; the side streets are all red sand.
We arrived at our beautiful hotel in the late afternoon. The next morning we boarded a small boat to visit some of the reed islands on Lake Titicaca. After about 40 minutes, we came to Uros, one of the 75 or so islands on the lake. Six families live on this small island built entirely from reeds. It’s somehow anchored to the bottom of the lake which is 50 feet deep at that point. Everything is built of reeds — homes, boats and furniture. The women do fine weaving and sell the weavings to tourists for income. Both men and women knit on very fine double-pointed needles. Children go to an elementary school on another island. They speak the Amyra language, and although some speak Quechuan, none speak Spanish. They were incredibly colorful in contrast to the bland looking reeds. After a 2 ½ hour boat ride down the lake, we arrived at Taquille Island where we hiked up to the village for beautiful views of snowcapped mountains and Bolivia in the distance. We had a delicious lunch of trout, beautifully prepared over hot coals, with potatoes and rice.
Contact freelance writer Charlotte Temple at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you Go:
Overseas Adventure Travel's Real Affordable Peru:
www.oattravel.com/rap or 1-800-873-5628. OAT specializes in small group trips for active seniors. There are no more than 10 to 25 travelers per trip.