December 9. to 15. 2015
The magic word. Who hasn’t heard of Machu Picchu and seen the Pictures of this Inca citadel on top of the mountains.. Many of our friends have been there, it is one of the most famous places in the world. The photographs of this mountain settlement of the Incas are breathtaking, traveling in Peru and not going there was not an option for us. Knowing how any place as famous as this was going to be touristy, we braced ourselves and joined in. We are no stranger to mass tourism and once we leave home to take a trip we are tourist too, tourists of a different kind though .
(Juneau, Alaska, our second home, is a perfect example of what we try to avoid on our travels. Cruise ships ply the waters of the Inside Passage and deposit thousands of tourists in our towns every day from May to October. They shop in mostly cruise line owned or affiliated stores and line up at the “Crab Shack” drooling as if they had not eaten in days. Back on board their floating “all-inclusive” hotels they happily line up at the buffets while their ship pumps their sewage into our fjords and switch to highly polluting bunker fuel as soon as they have left the harbor and rounded the corner, leaving a trail of brown smoke in/above their wake. Sorry, cruise lovers.)
But back to Peru:
Anna, my Cousins daughter from Oberstdorf was backpacking in South America this winter and we decided to meet in Cusco. She and her friends planned to do a treck to Machu Picchu.
We left the coast and stopped at the Nazca area to looked at some of the lines, one really needs to take a plane to see them and the extend of the area where they are located.
Then back up into the Andes, past herds of vicuña, through little towns and past beautiful lakes. The nights got colder as we worked our way up higher. The first evening we turned off the main road and drove into the hills to find a place to camp for the night. But the fields were fenced in with rock walls and finally we ended up in a little town called San Juan. We parked by the beautiful and very old little church and asked a lady if she knows a spot for us where we could spend the night. She and a horde of children directed us to a lot near the central plaza they called the “pampa”. There we stayed for the night and part of the next day, it was interesting to watch town life and we were being watched too. There are few cars and it was very quiet, we shared the “pampa” with some donkeys. A representative of the town hall came over in the morning to welcome us and wanted to know why we are here. The children hung out for hours and we let them come up the steps and look inside the camper. “Line up two and two” Günter told them, so we had a long line outside, two and two. We figured that close to 60 Children got to peak inside our “Casa Rodande” while most adults watched from a distance.
It took us three days to drive from Paracas on the Pacific coast to Cusco.
Cuscos historical center is very beautiful and worth a visit. Although we do not like to go to camp grounds and there are very few anyway, the one in Cusco sounded perfect for us since it is in walking distance to the center of town and right next to one of many Inca ruins in the area: Sacsaywaman was the site of one of the most bitter battles during the time of the Spanish invasion. The stone work is impressive and a walk through the ruins is very pleasant, with a great view of Cusco. We hooked up with our friends, shared a dinner and spent a nice evening together. The next day they were off to the Inca trail.
There are different ways to go see Machu Picchu, you cannot drive there however.
You can hike in or take the train. We visited a few places in the “Sacred Valley” on the way to Ollyotambo, the end of the road and starting point of the train.
They valley is pretty and has several interesting sites.
Dreadlocks are alive and well in the Sacred Valley, New Agers flock to different retreats for spiritual enlightenment, it is big business in some corners or the valley.
We hiked around the ruins and amazing terraces of Pisac, spent the night above the salt ponds of Salinas and finally left our camper at a litte hostal in the last town Ollantaytambo. From there we took the train to Aguas Calientes, spent the night and got an early start with the 6 am bus up to the ruins. People try to get there earlier for the sun rise, so when we left the bus there were already a few hundred people ahead of us. Ok, we hike up and around for a while and when it got fuller, we split up. Günter climbed Cerro Machu Picchu, all steps – it was not easy, but the expansive views from the top made it all worth while. While Wayna Picchu is more popular and one has to sign up ahead of time to climb it, it gets quite crowded and Günter was glad he chose the other mountain where he was the first one up there. I in the meantime I headed for Intipunku, the Sun Gate, part of the Inca Trail. There are a lot of steps at Machu Picchu and hiking poles are not allowed, I had to go all the way back down to the bus station at one point to got to the bathroom and then back up to where I had left off. Plenty of exercise and people to negotiate around.
The ruins are indeed beautiful and the location amazing, the morning was cloudless and even when a few clouds crowned the peaks around in the afternoon we could not stop marveling at the ruins and the surroundings. Most people head back to the busses around lunch time, so it was less crowded in the afternoon.
We left Aguas Calientes again that evening by train, a funny train trip with entertainment, the conductor doing some Inca dance dressed in a costume and the “train attendants” modeling alpaca sweaters and shawls for sale.
Back in Cusco we stocked up on groceries but did not go back to the camp ground since one of the German ladies there had been very rude to Günter. There were several German campers in the camp ground, retired couples mostly. When we first arrived there from the coast this woman had asked us for help with different issues (truck, laptop) because her husband was gone and Günter did his best to fix her problems on several occasions. The day we left she got really mad at him for warming up the engine of our truck for just a short time. She accused him of being “totally Americanized”, I guess that is supposed to be an insult, she told us we probably do not have children and grand children to worry about so we just pollute the environment. (Never mind that she and her husband drive a diesel truck camper around.)Oh well, we were so shocked about this ungrateful and insulting behaviour that we just turned around and left her standing there. The shame is on her.
We wanted to go camp by ourselves somewhere, where it is peaceful and quiet. It was time to move on and go south, to Bolivia.