Machu Pichu -

Machu Travel Blog

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              I was sitting around Seattle one nice summer day thinking:  “I am about due for some real travel”.  After a lot more sitting then thinking, I called up REI travel and said “I have a lot of money and I don’t really need a rest.  Where can I go that is kind of cool, just a little dangerous and has cold beer”.  They recommended a hike through the Andes to the ancient Inca city of Machu Pichu.     

So at the end of September and after much shopping at the REI outdoor store for stuff I wouldn’t need, I boarded a jet plane for Lima, Peru.  There I met my trekking companions for the final flight to Cusco.  Cusco sits at 11,000 feet and is where we sat around for a few days and acclimatized to the altitude before we attempted the 4 day 30 mile hike over a couple of 13,500 foot peaks.  Cusco’s claim to fame is being the center of Incan civilization way back when.

A quick history; hundreds of years ago, the Incas had built a society of high culture and advanced science.  They didn’t invent the Internet or anything[1] but they did all right.  They are best known for their skilled tone carving, a skill that has not been matched since.  They were particular about their rocks too.  Somehow they talked (whipped) Juan Q Inca and a few thousand of his closest friends into hauling lots of rocks the size of a VW Microbus down one mountain and up another.  Then his other buddies, Paco and Julio, sculpted these stones into jigsaw shaped bricks that fir perfectly into wall and steps and roads and chairs and beds and toilets and pretty much anything you can think of.  If you think Martha Stewart is good at livening up a room, they had decorators that would make Liberace look straight.  Their motif of choice was gold and lots of it.  The plastered everything with gold and then for a little variety, layered on precious jewels.  Even their clothes were made of spun gold.  Of course, only the lucky few got to enjoy the benefits of all this opulence.  Besides the rock haulers and choppers, there were the farmers and servants.  Easy jobs you say.  Not really.  The Incas didn’t do anything easy.  They carved their farmland out of steep mounts with not much more then sticks and stones.  They then had to climb up and down the mountain everyday to tend the crops.  The servants had to haul the fat assed rich folks’ crap up and down the steep Inca trails that cross the Andes whenever said rich guy got a wild hair for a road trip.  A career path that I am happy to report still exists.  They are called Porters now and I am one of the fat assed rich folk.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

So these people were living more or less happily along until one day Francisco Pizarro and his merry band of Conquistadores came knocking like a Jehova’s Witness with a quota from God herself[2].  Somehow they were able to sweet talk them into trading all of their good stuff for Jesus, disease and general cultural extinction[3].  So after a few hundred years of generally nasty behavior by the various white folk that who came through the place, I show up.  I have my own pair of glasses and know how to use them.  At the very least I figured I would be able to talk them out of a precious stone or two.  But the Inca weren’t falling for that trick again and the ancient piece of pottery I bought was actually just a couple of years old and was purposefully buried in dirt to make it look ancient.  Oh well.

We spent 4 days in and around Cusco getting used to the limited oxygen levels that we would have to deal with during our 30 mile hike.  There isn’t much to do in Cusco except look at old stones and practice my Spanish.  If you have been putting off a trip to a Spanish speaking country because you don’t know the language, fear not.  It has been my experience that you can easily get by knowing only two words in Spanish;  Gracias and No.  Street kids selling faded postcards �" “No Gracias”, simulated authentic Inca jewelry? “No Gracias”, Pan flute music CD’s?  Believe me, “No Gracias”. Need a ride Senior? “NO Gracias”.  Picture of my Llama, Meester? No Gracias.  It won’t be long before you are fluent as far as any of the locals know.  I’d even venture to say that you can even get by not knowing how to get directions to the nearest bathroom by hopping on one foot then the other.  Just drink enough beer and wait long enough and the steps come naturally.  You’ll find that the “I gotta pee” dance is the same across borders and cultures and will always result in a knowing look and a finger pointing to the nearest restroom, out house, tree or hole in the floor. 

As interesting as being immersed in a foreign culture is, it is also good to retreat to recharge the batteries.  A couple of traveling companions and myself chose to refuel with several cans of Guiness at a local Irish Pub owned by a man named Raul.  Looking back, I think the whole Irish motif is designed to lull the white man into a false sense of security while they exact their revenge.  And exact they did.  I fell victim to the 2 for 1 drink special trick.  This one always gets me.  What cheap American can pass up a deal like that?  Hypnotized by the cost savings I was about to enjoy, I blankly watched as the bartender of obvious Incan heritage poured ice, some mystery alcohol, raw eggs and milk into a blender and served me up the slush from hell.  It tasted pretty Damn good too.  It wasn’t until I was on the Inca trail until I realized that I was carrying a time bomb set to go off at 12,000 ft.  Not to be too detailed, but that bomb went off every 15 minutes for the next 2 two days and to round out the third world experience included a night of severe Hypothermia and dehydration.  Luckily there was a group of what I thought were overpacked Texans in our group.  And even more luckily they overpacked enough Lomotil[4] and Cepro to keep me and half the white people in Peru trekking on in the face of extreme adversity.

The porters, we had two per person, fueled by a mouth full of Coca leaves were already carrying our tents, sleeping bags, a propane stove, dinner tent, dining table, chairs, and more kitchen utensils then even Martha Stewart could make use of to support 30 people over 4 days.  Supposedly, it was good food but I wasn’t in an eating mood for most of the trip, so I’ll just take their word for it.  I wasn’t the only one suffering from the affect of the Inca’s revenge.  By the last day of the hike, the porters were carrying most of our day packs too.  If the situation got any worse, they were going to be carrying me.  And to their credit, they probably would have.

As luck would have it, the drugs kicked in just as I was climbed the last of the 2000 stairs to the ruins of Machu Pichu[5].  There below me was what I came to see; lots of stacked rocks at the top of a Mountain.  Unlike Cusco, where they had to haul the multi ton rocks a distance that I wouldn’t carry a bag of marbles, the builders here took off the top of the mountain and built with the debris.  No one exactly knows who did the work, why they did it or where they went when they were done[6].  This lack of history allows for a wide variation of beliefs that are overheard as you come within earshot of the other tour groups.  Some say it is a royal resting place on the way to somewhere else.  Because only the remains of women were found on the site, some believe it was a tribe of sequestered holy women.  There are also those that believe a race of interplanetary travelers built it.  Me, I like the theory that it was created by interplanetary travelers.  Whatever you believe, even after a day dealing with the bus loads of tourists and school children trampling all over it  and the piles of llama turds (always noticed a second too late); this place is pretty cool.  Two thumbs up.

[1] We all know who invented that.

[2] Note the 90’s type of guy thinking

[3] Obviously, Pizarro had to be wearing really good classes to pull this off.

[4] Industrial strength Imodium guaranteed to lock you up.  Don’t leave America without it.

[5] And no, I didn’t count.  They picked that number because they know no one will really check.

[6] I am thinking that they should start the search somewhere flat with no rocks.

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photo by: Sylvie1