I’m just wrapping up a 3 week journey through South America, taken alongside Scenic Tours and thought you may like to read a few notes on the trip…
After a 60 hour trip from home, with more flight delays than even a seasoned traveller like me could handle, I’m humbled to arrive in The Sacred Valley of the Incas. An hour or so outside of Cusco we check into a beautiful hotel that sits alongside the Urubamaba River, the beginnings of The Amazon. I sleep for 11 hours straight, wake to have as much Coca Tea (the natural leaf that helps to alleve altitude sickness as I’ve chosen to not take medication) as I can and set off for our first excursion. We’re off to a local school, Rumira, to meet the children, offer school supplies and begin our trip with a smile.
The children race to the bus, all yelling ‘Hola’ and you couldn’t wish for a more hearty, funny, warm welcome. Scenic vary the schools so,no one gets too sick of us tourists and they call ahead to plan how we can contribute to the schools needs. They never give money or sweets. I like that. Of course it goes without saying Scenic only use the best local guides and they’re completely respectful of those around them.
I’m surprised to learn some children walk an hour and a half to school, each way, each day. I also realise that the traditional clothes you see in the guide books, worn by locals, aren’t put on for show. They do indeed love their bowler hats, brightly knitted clothes and long plaited hair for the women.
Next, Ollantaytambo, one of the few Incan outposts that managed to hold off the Spainish Conquistadors. The massive stone archeological ruin is awe inspiring and I find myself saying what I’ll continue with for all of Peru ‘how on earth did they build that’? You quickly learn the Incas were remarkable on every level. Agriculture, engineering, cooking, astronomy, design. They were a highly sophisticated empire.
The central town is not only my first opportunity to shop (i buy some really lovely paintings), but I continue to go bananas with my camera. Wandering into the back streets, still with the open drains built by the Incas, the base of their homes still in perfect nick, I find so many gorgeous shots of humble locals. The love affair has begun.
We later climb high up into the Andes, literally amongst the clouds, to visit Pisac, another historic fortress. We walk slowly, slightly effected by the altitude, chew on Coca lollies, but you can’t wipe the smiles of our dials. We’re actually amazed to be up this high and still see local women bounding down the mountain from their villages even further above…they definitely would have buns of steel.
Later we climb down to lower Pisac for the markets there (shoppers will be seriously satisfied on this trip), which happen every day at Plaza de Aramas. You can bargain here, but not too much. They offer you a good price first, you take 20% off, they screw their face up and you agree on around 10 % off. Everyone’s happy. We buy baby alpaca (go for the softest you can find, not the synthetic mix), I fall in love with a felt hat and a beaded friendship band to wrap around my wrist. I have to wear the hat straight on my head to show I’m taken, if its to the side, it shows I’m available! I’m shocked to see Guinea Pig on sale to eat here. Peruvians adore it, my childhood pet is devoured as happily as chicken at home in Oz. My gorgeous guide Jorge admits ‘I’m addicted, yum yum yum’. We see a cheeky baker, worlds best smile, operating a huge bread oven and out of it comes some golden Guinea (I only see Harold my pet) and before you know it he’s plucked off a piece for me to try on camera.
It tastes good, not so much like chicken but more like rabbit or hare. I feign distress for the shot, but secretly I’m a little bit happy I can tell me Grandkids I gave it a go. I’m all for an inquisitive appetite when travelling, I’ve stopped taking the travel tube of vegemite with me and on this trip we are being fed like Incan Royalty. The diet is so healthy, lots of vegetables, alpaca, lamb, chicken of course and my new favourite Quinoa. It’s just the energy pump I need. Love it.
We meet the Scenic team for drinks that night at Tambo del Inca, a ridiculously gorgeous hotel right on the raging river, settled in around the fire, everyone is buzzing, after way too many Pisco Sours, to begin tomorrows dawn journey to Machu Pichu. The weather is fine, the energy up.
All abourd the Peru Train at dawn, this train is plush with glass ceilings so you can gaze from the river flowing to our left, high up into the snow covered Andes. Our noses are pressed against the window, in awe of the lush view, every so often seeing Incan remnants, waving at the odd happy local. I even manage to so some bargaining with a lady, for a magnificent woven wall hanging, when we pull in for 5 minutes at Train station (yes, I have a shopping addiction, but geez I’m good). There’s also the opportunity to buy on board when then staff break out into an Alpacan Fashion show. I can’t help myself and get up and dance with them. We even have a strange looking guy in dress up, doing a jig, to the pan pipes music. Don’t know whether to be scared or happy as he purrs along the centre aisle. Hey, it’s different.
After a great meal, we eventually pull into the town at the base of Machu Pichu, Agueas Caleates. I love this make shift town, its totally nuts, full of touristy markets, tourists and locals alike all bolting somewhere. In our case it’s to get the bus that will wind it’s way, to the top of the mountain to deliver us to the cherry on top for most South American travellers…Machu Pichu, the lost city of the Incas. 1000ft above the Urubamba River, thankfully protected by Unesco as now nearly 1million tourists each year descend on this place. Yet it’s managed to perfection, clean and somehow orderly. Maybe we’re all in awe, even the most dim witted teenage backpacker is hushed into place as you try to get your brain around the mystery of this location. Arrival is through a small stone doorway, massive stone plinths surrounding you, then suddenly you walk out into the open to be visually slapped in the face as the full scale of the Incan ruins lie before you. An entire city, lost to the world, discovered by accident by Hiram Bingham after a tip off from a local Farmer, is perched, seemingly hovering in the air stretching before you. We all go crazy with our cameras and for many it’s an incredibly emotional moment, the realisation of a dream, spellbound by man’s brilliance, humbled by the Incas and all with a touch of breathlessness due to the altitude. We are high on life.
Thankfully Scenic give you as much time as you’d like to take it all in. We opt to spend every spare moment here. For me the wonderful thing about Machu Pichu and indeed the Incas is its mystery. They never wrote their stories down, which consequently means there are no Historians telling you right from wrong, you add up the pieces, your imagination is allowed to run wild, everyone has their own interpretation, but all are humbled. You have to be fit to do this trip, don’t kid yourself, there’s a lot of walking. You have to be respectful of other cultures and people. Make the effort to learn your Spainish, be open minded to adventure and leave any whinging at home. This is a true Bucket List experience, that has to be savoured.