Our trek along the Inca Trail in May 2012 started off as a natural follow up to Kilimanjaro in 2011. Granted, it wasn’t a summit per se, but it certainly was a well-known hike, seemingly had a degree of challenge, and besides, we were able to convince our daughters, then 19 and 21, to accompany us. But what we didn’t realize was that the trip would be as much of a cultural experience as it was a climb. Many mountains are remote and you are more exposed to the insular world of the mountaineer and whatever wildlife lives above the tree line than you are to any local residents. But Machu Picchu surprised with the many, many people we saw every mile of the way – from the beer hut on day 2 or so to the women riding donkeys with bushels of cut herbs on their backs.
The trip began rather inauspiciously – for some reason the husband and two girls thought that Mexican food and margaritas at the Orlando airport was an appropriate way to kick off a trip to Peru. Not so, and all I can say is they suffered quite a bit for it, while my salad and wine seemed to agree quite nicely, thank you very much. We flew on Copa Air – the Panamanian airline, and like most non US airlines, it was quite pleasant – although we had bad weather in Panama City and landed with quite a bump. Ran to the next gate and just made our flight to Lima, where we landed about midnight. But you would never have known it was the wee hours of the morning from the hustle and bustle of the Lima Airport. It might as well have been late afternoon on a Saturday of holiday weekend. All the shops open, people dining.
Had to recheck our bags at the LAN counter – our airline for for the trip to Cusco – and got to the gate about 2 a.m. Together with a number of other intrepid travelers, we each found a section of seats to crash on for a few hours, backpacks within touching distance. We arrived in Cusco in early morning, and could feel the change from sea level to 11,000 feet. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Marquesas – a 16th century residence converted to hotel. A courtyard in the center; walls about a foot or more thick. The husband and I had a balcony overlooking the street from which we could see the cathedral. The girls had an interior room that felt like a cave. Because we had arrived so early, the rooms weren’t ready and we were immediately offered – and accepted – coca tea – which does in fact help with sudden altitude change.
Travel hint. Only bring new bills to Peru. Currency exchanges will not accept anything with creases or tears. And they are serious about it. Sight seeing was the order of business for the first day or so. The cathedral’s wonderful painting of the Last Supper where a guinea pig substitutes for the bread embodied for me the peculiar marriage of local and foreign cultures. And the food! For lunch I had potatoes in a red pepper cream sauce. (Peru has, I believe, more varieties of potatoes than anywhere else in the world.) Dinner – chicken stuffed with goat cheese and elderberry sauce; local trout; poached pears with cinnamon ice cream. And you can’t forget the pisco sours – like a gin fizz made with a brandy.
We spent the next day on a bus tour of the Sacred Valley. Although it was supposed to be for both Spanish and English speakers, we seemed to be the only English speakers and it was remarkable how ten minutes of Spanish could turn into about two sentences of English. Nonetheless, the ruins were remarkable, the Andes amazing, and we were struck by the authenticity of the people and places we were driving through.
That night the four of us did a mini gear check, getting ready for a van to pick up us up at 5:30 am to drive to the fabled Kilometer 82 – the start of the trail. Next post – the start of the hike.