Adventures in Peruvian Wonderland

Crossing the Bolivian border into Peru has provided us with even more incredible experiences and sights. Cusco, the oldest city in the Americas is located in a valley filled with stucco houses with Spanish tiled red roofs, gorgeous ornate churches and Incan ruins. Truly a hybrid city, ancient Incan stone walls provide the foundation for narrow alleys filled with old ladies in brightly colored skirts carrying days old baby llamas while Spanish colonial style wooden balconies seat chic and bohemian travelers sipping coffee and pisco sours over the Plaza de Armas. The city spirals outwards into the surrounding rolling hills, a winding, steep oasis in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I had no idea so much Incan architecture amd influence would still be so prevalant centuries after being conquered by the Spaniards. However, the Incan spirit is still strong even if there are no remaining Natives in the land. The rainbow flag symbolizing Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, and her abundance provided to them is still central to the culture. Most street vendors know their stuff about the Incas and their traditions, the gods they worshipped, their animal symbolism, and their pottery. It is with mixed feelings that one encounters this rich history of beliefs while remembering that they were brutally destroyed during the Spanish Inquisition. After a few days of wandering into art galleries and studios, watching craftsman make gorgeous string instruments and resting in the tranquil parks, we got ready for the epic trek to Machu Picchu.

Rather than spend an extravagant amount of money on the Inca trail, we opted for the do it ourselves route which proved to be quite rewarding. After a six hour bus ride to Santa Maria, we got in a packed taxi and drove through the jungle cloud forest along cliffs and over waterfalls before being dropped off at the edge of a cliff with rapids gushing below. We hopped on a tiny cable cart and were propelled across the water to the other side where we hoped to rush and catch a train to Aguas Calientes. We missed the train which resulted in trekking in the jungle at night for three and a half hours along the train tracks, often walking from track to track over large gaps with only rapids to catch us below. We emerged sticky and tired in Aguas Calientes starving and covered in bites. The next morning we began hiking up to Machi Picchu around 5 AM. It was still dark and our muscles ached from the previous night, but I was determined to reach the top before the buses full of tourists arrived at the top. The stairs were ancient, steep and unforgiving. We climbed those relentless stairs in the dark at first, and then in a mist of fresh clouds as the sun began to rise. Small flowers began to blossom with the new day and the jungle came alive with the sounds of birds and streams of small waterfalls. Short of breath and exhausted we arrived at the top. Unfortunately we did not beat the buses there, but the sense of accomplishment we felt more than compensated for this. After entering, an emotion that can only described as spiritual overcame me as I stood overlooking the misty Incan ruins assembled against the odds in the lush cloud forest of greenery and impossibility. We wandered through the stone wonderland, picturing the Incas as they once lived and admiring their tenacity for building such a place so far from anything and everything that it was at once everything and anything they could ever need. As the sun began to shine through the windows of ancient stone, the village lit up and the mysterious mist unveiled new perspectives. At one point the sheer beauty of a valley against Waynapicchu, a giant peaking mountain with the ruins on either side and cliff drops below broght me near tears. I found a small window to sit in and look out at the mountains where I wrote and meditated for a while. The silence was a rarity given the immense amount of tourists that pour into Machu Picchu daily, approximately a thousand each day! We returned down the way we had come up, our legs tired and our minds opened. The energy emanating from this mysterious, mountain village was one of a brilliant past, an incredibly intelligent and powerful people, and a tragedy for their demise.

Cusco from San Blas

Plaza de Armas in Cusco
Machu Picchu as the fog began to lift
Early morning mist at Machu Picchu

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