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Thomas: Spring break in Peru

October 27, 2011

For my week-long Spring break I set out for the indigenous nation of Peru, located in West-Central South America. I knew it would be a long and mostly spontaneous journey, so I chose to make it alone. My main reasons for traveling to Peru: experience one of the more indigenous regions of the planet and of course visit the ancient “lost city” of the masterful Incan Empire, Machu Picchu.

Day 1: I started my long journey by running to catch a bus to the International Airport here in the Buenos Aires Province, which is about a 30 minute drive from the heart of the capital city. After arriving at the Airport outside of the city, I jumped on a plane to Santiago, Chile. There I would experience a 4 hour layover until my next flight to Lima, Peru. I arrived in Lima at about 8:30 PM and my 3rd and final flight to the interior city of Cusco wouldn’t leave until 6:45 AM the following morning. I took a car into the bustling capital city of Lima to only sleep a few hours so I could be at the airport at 4:45 AM. I finally got to sleep in my 4th floor hotel room at around 11:30 PM to thumping music down below, only to wake up about 4 hours later to the exact same thumping. Lima is a very active city, with a thriving nightlife, which explains the loud music.

Day 2: I made it safely to Cusco, Peru in the morning and took a taxi to my hostel, which was located in the center of the city. Cusco is the old Incan Capital city and currently has about 300,000 inhabitants. It’s a beautiful city. My hostel was very nice as well. It had a gigantic courtyard in the center with rooms surrounding it. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and the staff accommodating. My 6 person room only cost $10 per night, which included a small breakfast and 24 hour tea. Upon arriving I took advantage of the complimentary Coca Tea, which helps with the extremely high altitudes of Cusco. Peru has long been a huge producer of the three coca trees used for chocolate, coffee, and coca (which unfortunately has been sometimes processed into cocaine and shipped to North America). For centuries, coca leaves have helped Peruvians with the altitude. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea has a similar affect on the body to drinking a cup of coffee.

Already on my first day I was able to meet people from all over the world and quickly become friends.

Day 3: I spent mostly exploring the city of Cusco with my new friends and hiking up a local mountain which offered great views of the city and Incan ruins. I would take the same hike all but 2 days of my time in Cusco. It was great exercise, even if it left you gasping for breath every step due to the thin air.

Day 4: I was asked to explore the countryside and more ancient ruins via horseback. Why not? My horse, Capricorn, was very tame and we were able to get along well.

Day 5: I decided to play futbol (soccer) with some people from the hostel. My team was horrible. Having never played soccer outside of gym class, I didn’t help much. My team consisted of 2 Danish, a German, a couple Peruvians and myself. We lost every game to our opposing teams which were made up of all Peruvian players who were actually quite talented. You could tell they have been playing for some time.

Day 6: Time for Machu Puccu, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I woke up at 3:30 AM to taxi into a small town outside of Cusco called Poroy. From there I would take a 4 hour train through the mountains and the jungle until the small town of Aguas Calientes at the foothills of the Lost City of Machu Piccu. I finally arrived in Aguas Caliented in the late morning and quickly wandered around until I found the buses that take people up the winding rode to Machu Piccu. If this sounds like a lot of steps, work, and money, you would be right. Machu Piccu is so hidden and deep into the jungle that it’s very difficult to visit and required a lot of work and different forms of transportation. A lot of people choose to hike the Incan Trail which takes 3 or 4 or sometimes 5 days and costs $300-600. Initially I wanted to try to hike up to Machu Piccu for the experience, but after doing some research I quickly decided against it. Also, you much book your trail hike close to 6 months in advance.

When I arrived at the gates of Machu Piccu, alone I had no idea what to do or see. I was alone, it was misting rain and foggy. There were tourists everywhere of course and it just seemed like a cesspool of people wanting your money. There is one restaurant and hotel next to the ruins where one can spend $20 for a burger, which would cost about $2 in Cusco, and $600+ on a hotel room. Seeing those things, the large crowd of tourists, and feeling the light rain at the gates put me in a soggy mood. Immediately, one of the many tour guides approached me for a tour of the ruins. He said I need a guide, because the city behind the gates is huge and complex. I realized then he was probably right, it would be no fun to wander alone with knowing what I was looking at. So I bargained with him on a price and he begrudgingly accepted my offer, even though I was still about to pay 10 times more than what other tourists were paying in their large group tours. Relatively, I paid a lot, but got a personal tour of Machu Piccu. To say the least, it was breathtaking.  The masterful craftsmanship, engineering, and pure genius displayed by the Incas is nothing to sneeze at. They somehow managed to build an extremely high-tech and well managed society on a mountain side, hundreds of miles from other civilizations with handmade tools and no heavy equipment. It was a nearly perfect city and perfect society. Amazing, indeed.

Of course, the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th Century brought an end to the empire and the city was abandoned. It was only re-discovered and publicized in 1911 by an American professor at Yale who was conducting research in Peru. Hiram Bingham was searching for a lost Incan City, needless to say, he found it.

Day 7: My own journey to visit Machu Piccu would come to an end eventually. Three flights back to Buenos Aires and school on Monday!

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