I was in Bali and got an email from my friend Lisa West. She sent all the information about this trip that OAT was offering. It had an amazing itinerary at such an affordable price, it felt like it was meant to be so I decided not to pass it up.
Machu Picchu, also known as “The Lost city of the Incas”, is a mystical, sacred place nestled 7500 feet above sea level in the Andean Mountain Range above the Urumbamba Valley. Touched by the clouds, the ruins are one of the most enigmatic and beautiful ancient ruins in the world. Rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu (meaning ‘Old Peak’ in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas) was thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for the Inca nobility.
However, no one knows what the real purpose of Machu Picchu was. Some people speculate it was a prison and some say it was a defensive retreat, but the most common belief is that Machu Picchu was the estate of an Inca emperor. The dramatic setting in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes enhances the shroud of mystery even more. An absolute wonder of human heritage, Machu Picchu will touch your heart and soul in many ways.
We were home from our annual six months travel in Asia for just 3 weeks when I was once again boarding a plane to set out on another amazing adventure, albeit without my love, and travel partner. And on a tour not our normal independent travels. But still very exciting! I flew from Tampa to Miami the evening of September 26th to catch the 11:50 flight to Lima. I would have preferred a longer flight so that I could have gotten some sleep, but fortunately the people at OAT Travel took this into consideration. When we arrived in Lima around 4:57 am, they quickly got all of our luggage, got us on the bus and to our hotel (Miraflores district) to sleep until we met up for lunch at noon, and our afternoon tour.
Most of the people (16 max per tour) were on our flight from Miami, but a few had opted for the pre trip to the Amazon and we met them at lunch. After lunch we did our Lima tour including the Archealogical Museum. While many meals were included on the trip, dinner that night we were on our own so Lisa and I, along with TC and Shirley went out with our guide Raul. Sunday was an optional tour or do your own thing so I stayed behind, rested and did my entire Astanga primary series practice, taking my time and staying in each posture for at least 10 breaths. Two hours never passed so quickly. Feeling fresh, rested and that good fatigue feeling, I showered then met up with everyone for our briefing, which included a Pisco Sour (a creamy, frothy, limey cocktail invented in Peru useing a pisco (Peruvian grape brandy) that has a bit of bite). Very yummy. Then we were off to dinner.
Monday we were up at 5:00am, had bags outside the doors for pick up, made our way down to breakfast then our bus to catch our flight to Cusco. Beautiful flight and once we were out of the airport we boarded our bus and headed for an Apalca Shop. They showed us how to tell the difference between baby aplaca, old alpaca, and synthetics being sold as the real thing in the cheap and cheerful markets. But of course they also wanted you to buy from them. They were reputable so if anything were to happen to your item, you could return it. We also had our first cup of coca tea which is suppose to help with altitude sickness.
Coming from sea level this relatively short, physical walk was a good way to begin acclimating to the higher altitude in preparation for Manchu Picchu. When we came down from the ruins we spent a little time at the market then took our bus to our hotel Urumbamba, also in the Sacred Valley. The place was cozy, clean, comfy and a great place to be based out of for a few days. But we ended up being so busy we had little time to enjoy it. When I come again with Roger, I won’t have to fit everything into such a short time. But I can’t say enough about the way this trip was organized, what we ended up doing, our guide, who was the best, and when I witnessed others, had that validated time, and again.
After our luggage was delivered we got cleaned up and met everyone for dinner. Raul encouraged us to drink lots of water and they provided much of what we drank. But I always drink a lot so ended up buying more. Also, Gatorade, or power ade. I did everything he said, including drinking coca tea which was available at every meal, and only experienced a very mild headache between the eyes for a day.
Day 4 it was back on the bus for our our rafting trip and visit to Ollantaytambo, is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru some 60 kilometers northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 meters (9,160 feet) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Nowadays it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca buildings and as one of the most common starting points for the three-day, four-night hike known as the Inca Trail.
After a visit to these ruins we visited the house of Senora Emma for our lunch. This is part of the “Day in the Life” portion of the trip. Senora Emma and her mother had made lunch for us. We did get to join in preparing a few things and helping serve, then they, including her daughters, sat down and lunch with us. We had been enjoying some really great meals in Peru, but this was one of the best. And that was even without me partaking in the dining experience of eating guinea pig which is a vital source of protein in rural communities, a mainstay of Andean folk medicine and a common religious sacrifice. We had brought gifts for the children and Senora Emma to show our appreciation for their hospitality and these were appreciated, especially the school supplies, tasty treats and bubbles that I added to my list at the last minute. Kids have to play, too!
From here we went to see how Corn Beer was made and to engage in a game of Sopa which was a lot of fun, but few of us were good at. Then they took us to a local well known Artisan to see his ceramics, and how they are made. Yes, a long day and finally we headed back to our hotel in rickshaws, so that those that had never ridden in one before would get a feel for the local transport. Back at the hotel we cleaned up and headed out for another delicious dinner.
Day 5 was finally the day we had been waiting on. We had packed the night before and left our bags outside early that morning. After breakfast we piled into the bus and headed back to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Manchu Picchu. On the way we stopped at the local Wednesday market in Urumbambo, a place where everything is bought and sold including livestock, and other animals. It was festive, colorful and interesting. Not unlike the markets we go to in Asia. We arrived Aguas Calientes to rain but wasted no time. While our bags were being taken to our hotel, we got on the bus and began our ascent to this magical and mystical place.
Leading a tour is like herding cats but again, throughout this journey, Raul did a wonderful job of keeping us focused and on time, while maintaining a calm demeanor and delightful sense of humor. At the top we disembarked from the bus, went through the turnstill, had our passports stamped and regrouped where we were told. For several hours it would rain a few minutes then stop, then start again. This continued for awhile, and you would get glimpses of the ruins, and the mountains, sometimes hidden, sometimes peeking through, other times totally visible as the clouds kept moving, adding to the spiritual, and mystical feel. But by the end of the afternoon it was totally clear and we experienced Manchu Picchu a completely different way.
We left at closing time and heading back to town and dinner. The town of Aguas Calientes was so picturesque and beautiful, and all the establishments had candles adding to the atmosphere. Raul said it was because the power was out, but it certainly made dinner that night very memorable. As was the food, company, entertainment and fire that was lit in the pit where we ate. I didn’t care much that the power was out except that I couldn’t charge my camera battery, and for the most part everyone ended up being a good sport. Flexibility is important when you travel so why get upset over something you can’t control. After we ate we were all so tired that we could barely walk to the hotel, but we made it back, I downloaded all my photos and we called it an early night.
We were up early the next morning and I didn’t stick around to wait for the group. Me, Robin and Cathy took our tickets for the bus and went up to the 5 star hotel located at the entrance to Manchu Picchu. We sat inside, had a coffee and charged our batteries until our group showed up. Not long enough for a full charge, but enough that I didn’t miss the reason I came. So this fortunately worked out good. Today’s agenda was the Sun Gate which was about an hour and half climb. The sun was shining brightly, and everything was green, and gorgeous. The air so fresh, and clean. Once we were at the top we saw where people come into Manchu Picchu when they hike the Inca Trail. It was a magnificent morning and the walk down just as nice as the walk up, only easier. We left around 11:30 going back to the hotel to pack up and check out, then headed for our lunch before getting on the train, then our bus to Cusco. Another day, another adventure.
We got into Cusco a bit late and had time to shower before meeting everyone for dinner. They were working on the hotel and it was noisey so we ended up checking into another one the next day and were happy, it was even nicer than the one we left. Our hotel was conveniently located, we could walk a lot of places. But this tour we were on included a Cusco City Tour, a tour to Saqsay Waman, a 3000 hectare archaeological complex considered the first of the new seven wonders of the world. This huge construction was planned and built by Andean Man. The Incas called it the House of the Sun and the Spaniards called it a fortress because of its zig-zag shape and the 1536 revolution. The construction, which is made up of three platforms one on top of the other, was one of the most important religious complexes of its time. We partook in a spiritual cleansing by Healer Pedro, had a delicious lunch at a restaurant overlooking Cusco and went a few other places. Another day we had another ‘Day in the Life’ visiting a rural school in Raqchi, and delivering all the goodies we had brought. Other than Manch Picchu this was a highlight of the trip for all of us. We also visited Chinchero where Raul had grown up and he regaled us with stories of his childhood, and we visited a family that continues to practice the ancient art of weaving using natural dyes.
Sunday was our last day in Cusco and we had the option of visiting a local cemetary, and market with Raul. We opted for that then had the rest of the day to wander around and enjoy the city before meeting back up to the hotel for our dinner. The next morning we flew back to Lima, did a tour of the Barranco District then headed to lunch at a beach front restaurant. That afternoon we were on our own so opted to relax a bit in our hotel before we had to leave for the airport around 8:00pm. We caught our 10:50 am flight and made it uneventfully back to Miami, where we had quite a lay over. But by the time you walked from the plane to get through customs, baggage claim and to the domestic gate, we only had about 40 minutes before our plane took off for Tampa. We arrived Tampa safely, with new memories and wonderful new friends. Our group was absolutely terrific, and I am grateful to have had this experience with such amazing people. Fortunately my new friends from India live in Ocala which is very close to me so we can get together in person. For the others email will have to do for now. And I can’t say enough about OAT Travel. The entire way they operate is first class. Their people are amazing. The attention to detail. To REAL customer service, the best. Like it use to be everywhere.