Published in The Warrandyte Diary, May 2014
There are few places in the world that truly touch your heart and feel like a second home, and when you leave it seems as if you are leaving an important part of you behind.
I experienced this feeling as my taxi driver took me through Lima’s outrageous peak hour traffic on my way to Peru’s international airport. The beaches, street-sellers, houses and honking cars passed me by, and before I knew it I was on the plane home.
Peru is a destination that has everything you’re looking for in an adventure holiday. It offers lively cities full of Spanish architecture, surf beaches and delicious Peruvian cuisine. For the adventure traveler, there are ancient ruins waiting to be explored, and relatively unkown treks in the Andes, while toucans, caimans, and strange bugs surround you in the Amazon Rainforest. Then there are the snow-capped mountains and lakes of every colour imaginable – turquoise, lime, red and black, to name a few colours.
When you find a country as dynamic and interesting as Peru, it’s difficult to name just one or two highlights, but here it goes.
Situated on the top of a mountain in the Andes, surrounded by green valleys, clouds and rivers, it’s little wonder why Machu Picchu is one of South America’s most famous landmarks. Its history is fascinating and so is the story of how the historian Hiram Bingam accidentally discovered the site in 1911.
Most of the thousands of people who visit ‘the lost city of the Incas’ catch a bus from the small town of Aguas Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu, with many saying Machu Picchu was the highlight of their trip. However, in my case, the highlight was the journey to Machu Picchu – trekking the Inca trail and walking the same path that pilgrims took centuries before me.
For me, day one of the Inca Trail began at 4am with not even two and a half hours sleep and a backpack that was missing some essentials. After realising I didn’t have warm gloves and a poncho (very important when trekking through the cold Andes in March), I was lucky enough to find a local woman who sold me some. As for my friend who forgot his pair of pants and could only wear shorts for three chilly nights while camping, he wasn’t so lucky.
For most of the trek, our group – four Aussies, two Canadians, a French woman and a Mexican along with 15 porters and tour guide – hardly saw any tourists until the final night. Mostly it was just us and the surrounding wilderness, and it was surreal. There were times when there didn’t seem to be a single soul around as we heard waterfalls cascade down the mountains, or noticed alpacas curiously watching us from a distance. Then there were times when a long line of porters ran past us, effortlessly bouncing down the steep, narrow stairs. Us gringos would stand there in amazement, clutching our water bottles and at times struggling to breathe when we hit high altitudes.
The Inca Trail was not only a physical challenge and an adventure, but a special and almost spiritual journey. We not only learnt about the history and beliefs of the Inca people, but also how today’s Andean communities still continue with many of the old Inca traditions. Perhaps the most magical moment was when we stopped near Dead Woman’s Pass at an altitude of 4,200 metres and our guide, Freddie, started playing a traditional wooden flute as we rested and watched the clouds descend from the jagged peaks above and come toward us.
We passed ruins of temples and residences – once symbols of a peaceful but influential empire before a sibling rivalry caused a bloody civil war, severely weakening the Inca Empire before the Spanish invasion in the 1530s finally caused it to crumble.
Trekking the Inca trail gave us a deeper understanding of Machu Picchu and its significance to the Inca people. Also, because the Inca Trail was physically challenging at times, reaching the Sun Gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu, was rewarding. It was an accomplishment. We had witnessed such incredible scenery and during those four days we became a family.
Those are the memories, the feelings that you never forget when you board your flight home to Melbourne.
Some travel tips:
- It’s best to book an Inca Trail tour well in advance, particularly if you’re traveling during the peak tourist season between July and August.
- Before picking a tour company, do your research. If a tour sounds too cheap, it usually means the porters aren’t paid fairly.
- If you want to follow one of the less touristy routes to Machu Picchu, get off the beaten track and experience ‘real’ Andean culture, consider one of Apus Peru’s treks.