Donna and Norbert’s Breathtaking...

EXPLORATION OF PERU

December 25, 2005 to January 6, 2006

It has been our dream for years to visit the ruins of the magical Incan city of Machu Picchu, and we finally have made it.  Our usual method of visiting a foreign land is to book the flight and land at the airport, Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel Guide and other travel books in hand .  We then either rent a car or find lodging and start to make plans on the spot.  To book anything two weeks in advance is "long-term planning", at least in our way of doing things.

So when we decided in September to finally visit Machu Picchu three months in the future it was quite out of character and even more so when we also decided on a packaged tour.  We chose G.A.P. Adventures, a Canadian company that boasted many different tours throughout the not-too-civilized world.  As the title suggests, G.A.P. caters to the backpack crowd and often expects its tour-takers to do much walking. 

We chose a tour that included hiking the famous Inca Trail (3 1/2 days), Machu Picchu (1 day), Amazon jungle (2 days), Cuzco (1 1/2 days) and Lima (2 days) for a total of 10 fun-filled days.  We were both in fabulous physical condition so the Inca Trail did not seem to pose a worrisome challenge.  But then unexpectedly Donna sprained her ankle and Norbert developed an ingrown toenail and we regretfully had to substitute for the hike three days in Cuzco and Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

We left from Newark Airport on Christmas morning and that night we found ourselves at the Hotel Colonial in Lima.  The following day, we took a Lima full day tour and that evening we met our tour-mates.  The O'Keeffes, very Irish... Conor and Freda and their children Eoin, Grainne and Ciaran .   The Brits, the boys from Bath who occasionally spoke a brand of English that we could understand...James and Nick

The following morning we were all off to Cuzco where, upon arriving in the early afternoon, we spent the rest of the day acclimating to the 11,600 foot altitude.  In the morning we were all off on what Koko , our guide, called the Inca Trail warmup , a tour through the Sacred Valley of the Incas along the Rio Urubamba with some challenging climbing of ruins.  It was quite do-able and it made us regret, for the moment, that the sprained ankle and ingrown toenail had forced us to pass up the Inca Trail.   That night we stayed at Ollantaytambo Lodge in the Sacred Valley. 

After accompanying our tourmates the next morning to the jumping-off place for the Inca Trail (Actually km 82 on the train) we returned to Cuzco to enjoy the luxuries of the city while our companions were "roughing it" in the wild.  We then spent a day at Aguas Calientes (hot waters) in anticipation of visiting Machu Picchu.  Much to our surprise, our tourmates had arrived from the trail, and we joined them that evening for drinks and dinner as they regaled us with tales of rain, cold and spectacular views.  This was New Years Eve and James, Nick and Conor said that they would be damned if they would let fatigue and being in a small town in the Andes keep them from traditional wassailing.  The rest of us allowed ourselves to be damned and went to bed early.

We were up at 4:30 AM to make the 5:30 bus trip up the mountain to the Machu Picchu site.  The view of these ruins at 6 AM , with the crisp mist scudding over the valley defies description.  We spent the better part of the day there and returned to Aguas Calientes for dinner with our tourmates.  The next day we returned to Cuzco for rest and sightseeing and anticipation of the trip to the Amazon River.

Well, it was not exactly the Amazon River but it was a tributary in the Amazon jungle.  We flew to Puerto Maldonado and took a four hour "canoe" trip up the Rio Madre de Dios to the Rio Tambopata arriving at the lodge at dusk .  After dinner we took our first walk listening to the music of the night creatures and inhaling the fragrance of jungle flora.  The group was up early in the morning for a trip further up the river and a trek through the wildest jungle .   In the afternoon Donna and Norbert visited a true jungle farm .  The main crops were bananas and corn, but they did not seem to be planted in any orderly fashion, but placed at random at the farmer's whim. 

We returned to Lima the next day for one last full day of touring.  The flight back to the good old US of A left at midnight so that by early the next afternoon we were back home.

We had been warned from all our reading that Peru was full of thugs and brigands who were just waiting to murder, or at least, rob us.  And we were also told that during our sojourn in the jungle we could be infected with many fatal or incurable tropical diseases .  I am pleased to report that by virtue of cowering in fear at the approach of any stranger and getting innoculated for everything we avoided these pitfalls.

Around Cuzco
Warmup for Inca Trail
Machu Picchu
Jungle
Tour of Lima
Lima