I got a lot to say in this post. But before I do, let me put it out there. I miss home. I think sometimes I portray my life as this ideal lifestyle where every day is an adventure. But, the truth is, it is not always, and I’m really excited to come home in a couple months. I’m excited to finally be close to my family (closest I’ve ever been in proximity, really, in my entire life). I’m excited to see my nieces and nephews grow up, and not just dismiss the birthday invites I get in my inbox. I’m also excited for the mundane…having my own house that I decorated, and to drive my car. I’m excited to not have to speak Spanish when I need anything, and not figure out the translation or if I’m making a fool out of myself. I’m also excited to see my friends: high school, Wooster, and Memphis. I miss them all and wish they all lived close to me. I know six months from now I’ll be craving my current life and longing for a vacation remotely like what I get to do every weekend, but for now I’m counting down the days, while also appreciating everything this amazing country/continent has to offer.
On to the fun stuff! Last weekend for Semana Santa (Holy Week), Becca, Emily, and I went to Peru to visit Machu Picchu! It might have been the highlight of our South American excursion so far. I really wanted to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but because of our limited time (we only had 5 days) we couldn’t. Instead we did an “alternative” Inca Trail called Huchuy Qusqo (Little Cusco). It might have been better than the real thing. We arrived to once Inca capital of Cusco on Wednesday. We explored the beautiful (if touristy city) for the remainder of the day, buying some obligatory alpaca sweaters, among other things. I wish we would have had more time to discover the subtleties of the town. But alas, time did not allow.
The next morning, after a 4:30 wake-up call, we piled in a bus. Before we knew it, we were eating breakfast and on our trek. We were with an amazing group of people from Ireland, Germany, Singapore, Australia, and the States. We really bonded with all of them over the three days. And what made it maybe better than the real Inca Trail, is that we saw no other tourists. On the Inca Trail, you can see up to 500 hikers a day. We saw sheep. Our hike started with beautiful paramo (above the tree line, below the tundra line…so, grassy) similar to what we’ve experienced in Ecuador at about 4,000 m (13,000 feet).
Then we passed through a stunning canyon, where the vegetation changed from grasses to all sorts of colorful flowers and other fun plants.
Before finally reaching our campsite, we emerged from the canyon to a stunning view of the Sacred Valley. I had never seen anything like it. In the panorama included rolling grassy mountains, rocky juts, and snow-capped mountains. Oh, and not to forget the rainbow or the Inca ruins and that it was about sunset. I wish these pictures did it justice.
Pretty spectacular place to camp for the night. Especially when the tent is already pitched, and the gourmet Peruvian meal is awaiting you. That night we played Mafia, one of my favorite games, before going to an early bed on full stomachs (FYI, Peruvians make some damn good soups).
The next day, the 14 of us, already feeling like close friends, hiked down to the Sacred Valley. But first, our tour guide James showed us around the ruins we were lucky enough to stay near. Apparently, this Inca nobleman thought this would be a pretty good place to retire, so he built a village. With that view, I can’t disagree. James was great, giving us a detailed, if at times skewed, history of the Incas (he even played down woman sacrifice, saying that they were so important to the Inca culture that they were “blessed” to the gods).
But one thing he did say, that really struck home with me, was how he explained their religion. Basically, he said that most religions always put a human face to their god (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) But the Incas did not. The sun was their god because it gave them warmth and light. Rain allowed their crops to grow, etc. It was magnificent, and they did not think to humanize it. I know I’m butchering this, and it seems pretty simple, but it struck me. Doesn’t it make much more sense to revere things like the sun, rain, and mountains which give us sustenance, rather than a human figure? In the words of a radio preacher from when I was growing up, “not a sermon, just a thought.”
So, after hiking down, we took a bus to our guide James’ hometown where we ate lunch and played a game called “ranas” “frogs,” a cornhole of sorts game (sorry for redneckifying a centuries-old tradition) where you try to toss gold coins into a frogs’ mouth.
From there, we took a snazzy train to the uber-touristy town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu. We beared a night here in anxious anticipation to see the lost Inca city.
The next morning we took a bus to Machu Picchu, and soon enough we were in the gorgeous ancient city, which luckily the Spanish never found (or else it would be covered in churches). It was exactly like I expected it, but it was real. That sounds strange, I know, but when you see images of something over and over, it doesn’t seem possible that it’s real. I thought I was walking through a 3D puzzle. It was amazing to see the intricacies of the city, from the agricultural terraces to the sacred temples.
After our guided tour, I had a ticket to visit Machu Picchu mountain (it’s a long story why I was the only one who had a ticket, and really not worth explaining). Most people climb Waynu Picchu, which is the typical peak you see in Machu Picchu pics, so there weren’t too many companeros with me. Also, fun fact: no one really knows what Machu Picchu was called back in the day. The American dude who “found” MP called it that because an indiginous man pointed up and said Machu Picchu, which means “Old Peak.” He wasn’t referring to the actual ruins, but the mountain…which is what I was climbing.
Of course, I decided it was necessary that I run to the top after James said if I was quick I could make it an hour. I made it in 28 minutes, camera, hamstring injury, and all. Nerd.
When I would pass people wheezing along on the trail, they would say in either English or Spanish, “que fuerte” or “you are fast!” I pompously responded, “Soy Inca!” (“I’m Inca”). (Uber nerd). When I got to the top, MP was a mere speck. It was a beautiful and serene moment.
Upon going back down, Becca and I took some silly pics, before calling it a day at old Machu Picchu.
That pretty much concluded our trip. We took our tour guide out for a couple drinks that night back in Cusco. We even got cool certificates. And, the next day we were on a plane back to Ecuador, wholly satisfied.