I turned 40 in December. A (new) tradition in my family is to pursue a new life experience when you hit 40. I chose to go to Machu Picchu in Peru. I’ve wanted to go there since I saw the ancient city in National Geographic when I was 9 years old. I saw an ad again at an airport a few years back. I did some research and realized that the authorities would be ‘roping it off’ one of these days and tourists would only be able to look at it from a distance. The same dissapointing thing happened with the British authorities and Stone Henge. Timing really is everything. I am thrilled to report that I just returned home with 3 fellow Weapons from a whirlwind tour of Peru. We are still feeling the awesome ‘smack’ of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. Here’s how it went down…
We flew direct from Toronto to Lima, Peru (did you know they have 9M people in Lima??). The next morning we did a small bus tour of Lima and stopped a a few notable museums. We spent 2 nights in Mariposa – a very cool tourist-friendly part of Lima. We spent the evenings at a plaza built right into the cliffs overlooking the beach and the Pacific ocean. I had no idea how popular surfing was in Peru; there were tons of surfer vans, just like the beaches in California. They even had public workout facilities and jogging paths right along the sand – just like Venice beach in California. I really didn’t expect to see that. Impressive.
On day 3 we flew from Lima to Cuzco. Shocker! We left sea level and landed up in the Andes at 12,000 feet. With the air so thin, climbing a half flight of stairs felt like 4 flights. Whew. Our hotel in Cuzco was an old Christian monastery. They even piped in Monks singing for background ambience in the courtyards. We stayed for another 2 nights and our tour of the ancient Incan captial city of Cuzco was a nice warmup for the coming adventure. While in Cuzco, we even went to a textile factory and bartered a fantastic deal for sweaters for our wives and kids (sending pics via BlackBerry – having them pick what they wanted – shopping realtime across 5000 miles!).
Interesting facts: Peru’s largest industry is Gold… their second industry is tourism. Registered guides have to take 5 years of university followed by 2-3 years of languages. Apparently, in Cuzco—primarily a farm town—it’s illegal to herd llamas through the city. We were front row for a Peruvian police chase: where the cops were chasing a little girl herding her llamas down the street… then the llamas split up and the local cops didn’t know what to do. It was like a low-speed Keystone cops scene!
The next morning we headed to the train station and boarded for Machu Picchu. Even in the Andes, 3 to 5 bars of BlackBerry service almost the whole way! The mountains, rivers, and Peruvian farming communities along the way were straight out of the National Geographic magazine I remembered from my childhood. Wow.
When we arrived in the small town at the base of the Machu Picchu Mountains it was raining – hard. From there we took a death defying bus trip along some crazy (and I mean CRAZY) switchbacks up the side of the mountain and we safely checked in to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary hotel. In the heavy rain, our guide said, “hey, go relax, have some beers and I’ll come back around 2:00pm – don’t worry.” At the hotel bar, 8,500 feet above sea level, next to the lost Incan city, I was logged in to my Citrix XenDesktop, running all my apps (securely) from a bar-top internet cafe computer… Sorry, shameless plug!
2:00pm came – we headed out in our rain gear and met our guide at the trail entrance gate to Machu Picchu. “Don’t worry…” he said again. We were all feeling a little down about the weather; to have travelled all that distance only to be blanketed in heavy rain and fog – not expecting to see anything… sigh.
We made a 20 minute trek along an ancient path up switchbacks through the jungle. Then the most amazing thing happened, the rain stopped as we stepped out from the jungle onto a flat, well worn plateau. And ‘smack’, there was Machu Picchu, right below us, in all it’s glory. The word ‘awesome’ is so overused these days (even by me) but I tell you – that sight was truly awesome. And as if we had special ordered it – the sun came out and the fog lifted in minutes. Awesome.
We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the lost Incan city and absorbing the lore. I Slept like a baby at the sanctuary hotel that night. The next day we decided to go on a hike. We were told that it would take 40 minutes to hike up the actual mountain called Machu Picchu and that it was an ‘easy one’. Well, after 2 hours up the perilous trail we ran into a guy from Argentina who was one his way down: “we must be close to the top, right?” He laughed and told us we were about half way. That hurt. Someoned lied to us… or was the truth lost in translation? We were getting low on time and at 10,539 feet we realized we had 2 hours to get back to civilization! We rushed back for the insane bus ride to get to the train to get us to the plane to get us to the bigger plane, to get us home! After 5.5 days and a 13,772 Km whirlwind tour we were back in Toronto’s snow.
Good times with friends… Check
Recommend/Do it again… In a heartbeat