Machu Picchu

 

Just getting to there is worth the trip in itself. This is not an overstatement. We left the United States from Fort Lauderdale airport for the five hour flight to Lima. I don’t know how they knew
we were coming, but a multitude of taxi drivers greeted us upon arrival. First there were the pretty women with signs at baggage claim then a ton of them once we exited the terminal. There was no line so each driver tried to convince us to go with them. There are the official drivers and if you turn left once outside the terminal and follow the sidewalk to leave the airport you find the “unofficial drivers” at a cheaper rate. Of course, there is also Uber.

The $25 ride to our hotel was a primer on Lima’s chaotic traffic. Almost every car we spotted
had some kind of damage, most likely from cutting off cars trying to squeeze into the next lane.

Most of the nice hotels are in a section of Lima called Miraflores (back to that in a bit), but we stayed near the historic center of Lima.

The next morning we were able to walk to the various plazas that serve as the centers of government. At the Palace of Government we were treated to a changing of the guard ceremony complete with brass band, but minus any horses as you might find at Queen Elizabeth’s house in England.

Just as we were getting a feel for the splendor and craziness of Lima we jumped in a taxi for a short ride, but it felt like we had gone to another planet.

The district of Miraflores seems more like Santa Monica than Lima although it’s still part of the greater city.

Like Santa Monica it overlooks the Pacific, features chic shops, fancy restaurants and high rise hotels. This wasn’t the Peruwe had expected.

The version ofPeruwe had in mind was an hour and a half plane ride away. We landed after dark, but the charm of Cusco was easily visible

during a stroll through town. Wooden carved balconies hang over the Plaza de Armas, the main square.

The Spanish left their mark in colonial architecture, but here and down the narrow streets the indigenous culture is visible. The women wear hats reminiscent of the derby style so common on women next door in Bolivia.

At 11,152 feet Cusco is one if the highest cities in the world with a population over 100,000. Restaurants feature such local delicacies as alpaca (delicious)and guinea pig (can’t tell you, didn’t opt in).

Even from Cusco our destination of the “lost” Incan city of Macchu Picchu was still a bus, train, and another bus ride away. Booking tickets in advance guarantees a spot on the 4 hour trip. A tour bus first took us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley where Incan ruins and souvenir stalls are framed by dramatic mountain landscapes.

It’s here in Ollantaytambo we boarded for what must be one of the world’s great train rides.
The magnificence of the sculptured peaks is visible through not only the side windows, but through overhead glass on the train cars.

PeruRail and Inca Rail run on the route to Aguas Calientes. Some trains feature wrap around windows
while the ultra high class Hiram Bingham is much like the old world charm of the Orient Express.
We were on Inca Rail’s “Voyager”, which was definitely nice enough with plush seats and windows above for views of the mountain peaks.

After a couple hours of nearly overdosing onPeru’s beauty we arrived at Machu Picchu village.
It’s just below the hot springs of Aguas Calientes, but even now still a 24 minute ride away from the Incan citadel we came so far to see.. The bus zig zagged its way up a mountainside to where we finally reached our destination.

Entry to Machu Piccu is restricted to 2500 people a day. Each ticket has a time of entry to be shown with your passport.

After passing through the entrance we made the climb to an overlook that takes your breath away (figuratively and literally at 8,000 feet).
Despite years of seeing the pictures of this place I still was not prepared for being there in person at this world renowned site.

“Awe” is probably the best word to describe the feeling. How the Incans built this place is amazing. The stones used to construct the many of the buildings must have weighed a tons. How they got them up the steep mountainside is a tribute to their strength and ingenuity.

This city was believed constructed around 1450. It’s thought to have been a defensible haven for the Incan emporer Pachacuti.

Despite all the back breaking strength that went into it Machu Pichu was abandoned about 100 years later at the time of the Spanish
conquest.

There it stood in its ghost like existence. It was the Yale professor Hiram Bingham, with the help of local
indigenous farmers who is credited to bringing it to the attention of the world in 1911.
Now a luxury train bears Bingham’s name brings tourists to a city that if it was ever lost, is certainly
lost no more.

This story and photos are courtesy of my friend, Richard Sallinger

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