Peru 1.0

Three days in the Amazon, Hiking to Machu Picchu, and learning about Incan history

Day 1 - Start of the Adventure

The first day can only be classified as a travel day. A friend and I departed Atlanta on a non stop flight to Lima. Luckily, the Fall semester just began so it gave me plenty of time to read the text and attempt to not fall too far behind while I traveled around Peru. Once in Lima, we got our obligatory Pisco Sour before calling it a night before our morning flight.

Day 2 - Into the Jungle

After a short walk to the airport, we were soon off to Puerto Maldonado. From here, we were taking a motorized canoe to our jungle lodge. The specific one we were traveling to was the Inkaterra Field Station which would be our home for the next couple of nights. Surrounded by jungle, howls from monkeys and chirps from exotic birds never seemed to end. Also as someone who has lived in and around light pollution - I was amazed at how many stars are truly in our night sky. For this leg, we were grouped with three other guys from Austria who then dubbed us 5 'The Swamp Boys'

Picture of our plane after walking off the runway

A brief example of the noises we would hear throughout the day while in the Amazon

Lodging for our stay in the jungle. Luckily the other half was vacant so we got the deck all to ourselves.

Discovered a tree that 'kills' itself over time through providing housing for bats but then slowly dies from the guano.

Large termite nest with chutes to the ground filled with bugs.

The first activity on our schedule was to hike trails through the forest with our guide. During this initial hike we saw plants and trees that I would not believe existed if I hadn't seen them with my own eyes. Our guide was an expert in his field, even telling us what birds we were hearing. At one point we stumbled across a massive termite nest, where it was explained to us that in Peruvian history termites were seen as medicinal and could even be a snack food. In case you're wondering, yes, we did eat a few because as the saying goes 'When in Peru'.

That night, we boarded our canoe for a caiman tour. Unlike here in Alabama, these guys don't grow to the same size as a gator, but I still wouldn't want to swim alongside one either. I will admit, I was a little nervous boating the river at night not only for the caiman, but we were also informed of the piranhas.

Day 3 - Above the Trees and Through the swamp

After a quick breakfast, we found ourselves back on the trails to go on a canopy tours. Here we would (hopefully) see all sorts of exotic birds, monkeys, bugs, and plants not visible at ground level. We were not disappointed.

Eventually we learned first hand why we call it a 'Rainforest' when the first storm in about a month rolled through. We needed to rush through the remainder of the canopy walks to get down to ground level, then once back to our field station took some time to relax before we set off to canoe on Lake Sandoval. After a short mile hike from the river, we boarded our canoe and set out to do a lap around the lake - and pictures cannot show enough of the charm and beauty of the area. Parrots, parakeets, bats, exotic birds, otters, turtles....the list goes on. Our guide informed us this was one of the few places we may see endangered giant river otters, and as we were about to call it a day a pack came swimming alongside our canoes hunting for their dinners.

After watching the otters catch their fish and relay their excitement to one another for a while, we decided to head back to the field station for our dinner and our final night. The skies were as clear as possible, and this was the first time I got to see the milky way in person. I didn't pack a tripod since I had to limit my luggage, so my shoe had to do as a makeshift camera holder while I tried to capture what we could see after hours.

The 'Swamp Boys' after surviving a day above the trees and canoeing around the lake

After carelessly walking through pitch black forest, we watched the milky way cross the sky from the riverbank opening. Once covered up by the trees, we walked back to our lodge to continue watching the stars. It was remarkably easy to see each spot since power is cut around 9pm and the only light is by torch (which I had to blow out the ones around our building for optimal viewing).

Day 4 - Altitude Sickness Ain't Got Nothing On me

We concluded our time in the rainforest and headed back to Puerto Maldonado to catch one of the few planes that would take us to Cusco. Upon landing, we were given some coca tea to help combat any altitude sickness we may have and were released to the city for the remainder of the day. I will say this next part as a heads up for unfamiliar travelers. There will be a lot of stray dogs, but they are extremely friendly and smart (I saw one wait for traffic to stop and use a cross walk!). Also if you look like a tourist be ready for street vendors to rush you to sell some art or try to bring you into their store/restaurant by friendly force.

The city is absolutely packed with street vendors. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket you won't have a problem finding somewhere to spend it.

Adverse to the advice we were given, we chose to take our free night to visit the highest Irish Pub in the world....

....and as is tradition we both enjoyed a Guinness and could check an item off of our travel bucket list.

Day 5 - Incan History Lesson and appreciation

I'll be the first to admit that going into this trip I did not know much about the Incans. Outside some very simplified history lessons back in High School and Disney's 'The Emperor's New Groove' I had no real knowledge. As a tourist, I was impressed with everything I learned. As an engineer, I felt inferior to the genius of their time. Our agenda for today was a Cusco city tour and visiting multiple Incan ruins throughout the day. Our first stop began at Qorikancha - the 'Golden Temple' - within Cusco, where we were given a very detailed lesson in Incan architecture, history, and their astrological genius. The remainder of the day was filled experiencing Sacsayhuaman (A fortress overlooking Cusco with large stones fitted perfectly together), Qenko (temple dedicated to Mother Earth), Puka Pukara (the Red Fortress), and Tambomachay (a resting stop along an Incan Trail). Once back in the City, our time was spent touring Santo Domingo Monastery and the Cathedral at Plaze de Armas. A very busy day but worth the time. Once our tours completed the remainder of the night was exploring the city, trying peruvian cuisine, and getting a workout of our life walking on streets that felt like a 90 degree incline.

Large boulders placed and fitted perfectly at Sacsayhuaman.

The Cathedral at the Plaza de Armas. Pictures were not allowed inside here and the neighboring monastery, but the art and architecture inside is worth a visit.

This may not excite everyone, but my engineering brain could not get enough of seeing how these stones were carved to interlock with one another to make that 'perfect fit'

Overlooking Cusco from Sacsayhuaman

Day 6 - Sacred Valley Tour

After a morning pickup at our hotel, we set out to tour more Incan sites on our trek to Ollantaytambo through Sacred Valley. Before reaching Pisac, we stopped at a small village where locals were hand making clothing from alpaca fur and tools using Andean methods passed down over the years. As a side bonus, I was blessed with the opportunity to pet a llama seeing as this was also a farm.

After this brief stop, we set off to Pisac and given a history on Peruvian silver and how to verify authentic verses fake jewelry (This would have been a nice lesson before spending two days in Cusco!). After buying a few key chains, we set off to an ancient Incan fortress that overlooked the city. Up here, we could see the magnitude and size of terrace farming and were taught how the economy of labor worked within the empire. I do not envy those who worked these fields, but I could be happy seeing the view every day.

Finally we reached Ollantaytambo where we climbed the massive stairs at the ruins and hiked to an overhead view of the city resting in the quiet valley.

Incan Fortress above Pisac

Massive steps at Ollantaytambo

Open Market in Pisac - plenty of shops but significantly less aggressive shop owners willing to haggle

Day 7 - The Hike of a lifetime

After a week in Peru, the highlight of the trip finally came - the hike to Machu Picchu.

The hike was brutal, but the views and experience was worth the pain. If memory serves me right, once we reached the city and got to our hotels we crashed for about an hour to give ourselves a break before hunting down some dinner. Not only did we get to look out over an endless mountain range and see flowers that grew only in that region, but we also got to walk through more historic Incan sites - and after 3 days I was still amazed at what I saw.

The hike itself starts at KM marker 104 (seen on the left). Approximately 10 KM of hiking and reaching a peak altitude of 2750 meters - you reach the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

The trail varied from stone to mud, wide to narrow. At times a careless walker could easily take a tumble.

Winaywayna - An Incan inn along the path. With the stairs carved out to large sizes, we would climb a few - stop for air - and continue on.

Once you reach the end of the trail, you're treated with your first glimpse of Machu Picchu

Once we reached the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu, after an hour long train ride and 8 hours of hiking in the mountains, my friend and travel companion looked over the ruins then turns to me and asks "where are we" and honestly that will probably go down as one of the funniest travel stories I have.

We had passes to tour the ruins the following day, so for now we descended the mountain into Aguas Calientes where as already mentioned our bodies shut down for a much needed power nap. After that we awoke to explore the city, look at some shops, and enjoy a meal of my highly anticipated Peruvian dish - Cuy (pronounced 'kwee'). And for those unfamiliar with this meal, it's better known here as guinea pig.

We needed a smaller backpack for the following day in Machu Picchu so we spent even more time walking around a market.

If you knew how picky of an eater I was growing up, you would never have imagined me eating something like this as an adult.

Day 8 - The second hike of a lifetime

The following day we got our guided tour of the ruins along with a hike atop Huayna Picchu. The ruins themselves were crowded - which is unfortunate since I am a fast walker and being stuck on a stairwell waiting for the crowd to move forward was slowly killing me on the inside. Our guide went over the history of the ruins, explained how they were built to withstand the elements and seismic activity, the rituals performed, and its discovery by Hiram Bingham III in 1911.

If you haven't seen a llama by this point in your trip, have no fear - there are a number that live in the ruins that help manage the foliage and overgrowth. These guys are also fearless often walking along the paths and into buildings allowing tourists to pet them as they pass by.

While on top of the overlook, I ran into a fellow Saint Louis Blues fan. We had to celebrate the recent cup win by wearing our shirts for this grueling hike.

Overlooking Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu. Although this was a much shorter hike, it was just as difficult since it was mostly a straight incline to the top along narrow and muddy paths.

After a day of touring the ruins, and hiking the nearby overlook. We descended the mountain to clean up and catch our train back to Cusco where we had a free night to reflect on the trip and give ourselves some much needed relaxation.

Day 9 - Departure

Our trip's final day mirrored our first, early shuttle to the airport and flights back home. I managed to take advantage of our layover in Lima to finish my class reading allowing me to not be stressed and relax on the flight back to the US (let's be honest, we all knew I wasn't going to be doing classwork DURING the trip).

9 Days is not nearly enough to see everything Peru has to offer. Although it felt like we were continuously seeing new things, meeting new people, and enjoying new experiences - it can't help but feel like the tip of the iceberg. I've spoken with co-workers and friends who have visited this fantastic country, and each of them had an excursion and experience I could not fit into this trip. From visiting the Vinivunca Rainbow Mountain to staying on Lake Titicaca, Peru is a place of exploration. My places to go list seems to never get smaller - and I try to not revisit the same place twice to ensure I see it all. However, Peru is a place I will have to plan a second excursion too sometime in the future.