Sunday, July 26, 2015


Since my adventure buddy was just diagnosed with breast cancer, I've been thinking a lot about our recent trip to Peru.

We read Turn Right at Machu Picchu  before we left. It's a hilarious memoir by a travel writer following in Hiram Bingham's footsteps, tracing the 1911 jungle trek that led to Bingham's (re)discovery of Machu Picchu.

Going from 0 to 11,000 feet was horrible; we felt the effects of the altitude within 2 hours of our arrival in Cuzco.  We had 4 days to acclimate before starting on the Inca Trail, and there were plenty of things to see in Cuzco: the Qorikancha, the Sacred Valley (Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, Chinchera), and Saqsaywaman.  At every site, the ruins were a stunning testament to Inca engineering: amazingly precise stonework and astronomy.

And Peru is BEAUTIFUL.

On the road to Chinchera
On the road to Chinchera

The Inca Trail itself was not as difficult as we anticipated it would be. (I think Muir Snowfield is a tougher hike.)  But there were SO MANY STAIRS. It's completely mind-boggling that the Inca road system, which stretches across thousands of miles in 5 modern countries, could be made up of so many stones and stairways.

The terrain was breathtaking: desert to alpine to jungle in all varieties, over every other hill.

And the highest I've now hiked is now 13,828 feet, to Dead Woman's Pass on the Inca Trail.

There were several more Inca ruins on the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. Honestly, when our group got to the end of our destination, where a thousand international tourists roamed around us with cameras, it was a bit much - especially after being on the trail for over 3 days with few other people.

Huayna Picchu towering above
Machu Picchu
But then we climbed Huayna Picchu. In the rain. And though we didn't feel particularly bad-ass after the Inca Trail itself, we absolutely did after finishing Huayna Picchu. BECAUSE IT'S ALL STAIRS. 1,180 VERTICAL FEET OF STAIRS.

After the super touristy Machu Picchu experience, we headed west to Arequipa. There was a general strike going on in the region, so our plans had to be a little flexible. We took a tour of Colca Canyon, where we saw condors; the same tour took us to see more awe-inspiring mountains. And the bus sneaked up to 16,108 feet -- the highest I've been, period (even if I've only hiked up 13,828).

A condor flies over
Colca Canyon
Sabancay, the smoking volcano
El Misti
There was so much of Peru we didn't have time to explore: Lake Titicaca, the Amazon, the Nazca Lines, the foodie scene in Lima, other gorgeous hikes in the Andes.  But it was so beautiful, and the mix of cultures so proud and fascinating, that we just might have to go back some day!

And yes, I did eat a guinea pig....

.... Meh.