Following the footsteps of the Incas

Spring has sprung or, on this side of the equator, autumn has come. Regardless of season, my feet are still wandering the land of Peru.

 The road from Huaraz took me to Lima, the busting capital. Here I spent a few days wandering around the historic center, admiring the pristine cleanliness of Miraflores, and spenting some time in the bohemian barrio of Barranco. I was lucky to meet up with Emanuel, a fellow teacher from Colombia,who had been living here for about a month. 

From Lima I ventured down south to Huacachina, the beautiful oasis in the middle of the only desert in Peru. Dune buggying is the main attraction there, and it is the most fun way (and the only way I will accept) to get sand permanently stuck to every part of your body for life.

My next destination was Arequipa, a city that’s one short letter away from condensed milk. I was planning on summiting Chanchani, the highest volcano in Southern Peru, but due to rainy weather and pretty much no visibility of any of the beautiful scenery around it, I skipped the trek. There will be more mountains waiting for me in Bolivia and Chile, so I packed my bags and headed to Cusco.

This is where the love affair began… Up till that point I wasn’t particularly enjoying my travels around Peru. Not that I wouldn’t recommend this country to people, it’s still incredibly beautiful with all its diversity and culture, but I just wasn’t feeling the same thrill of travel as I did in Colombia and Ecuador. However, the second I stepped off the bus in Cusco, it all shifted. I suddenly felt at home. I got that travel spark back. It was like a breath of much needed fresh air. And it was amazing.

The narrow cobbled colonial streets of the centro historico,the abundance of Incan ruins in and around Cusco, combined with the beautiful nature of Valle Sagrado brought out the nerdy archaeologist in me. I was determined to see it all. And I started with the star attraction, the Machu of all Picchu’s.

I didn’t reach it through the popular routes though. Both the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trek would have ripped my wallet apart. I opted for the cheapest way possible, which is taking a small bus to Hidroelectrica, and walking for 12 km along the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the Lost City of Incas. Aguas Calientes is a strange little town. It is build purely for tourists, with horrifically overpriced restaurants and wayyyyyy too many Machu Picchu themed souvenir shops. But oddly it reminded me of Phong Nha, a town in Vietnam, with its dark mountain and cliff silhouettes surrounding you from all angles. I took my well needed sleep for the night at Casa Paz, a very lovely and cheap (!) hostel just off the main square.

The next morning the big journey began. I made my way up the mountain, walking up the steep cobbled stone steps up to Machu. It was around 7am, and for the most part I was the only soul on the trail. With mist and lush green hills surrounding my walk, my excitement and anticipation grew stronger and stronger as I got closer to the top. At precisely 8:24 am, I reached the Wonder of the New World.

You know that feeling when you listen to that one particular song that gives you full body chills? Or when you witness something that you have craved to see for so long, it nearly makes you cry out of joy? That’s how I felt when I saw Machu Picchu. Both of those sensations at once. It was incredible. There really is a special ambience in the air as you walk through those ancient ruins and try to invision just how life was lived here several hundred years ago, and how it must have felt for the people who discovered it before anyone else. 

My next few days were spent in the towns of Ollantaytambo and Pisác, where I would wander around the ruins and fortifications that used to guard the people that inhabited these old Incan villages. However, the once important walls now are merely peacefully overlooking the new generations residing beneath them as life continues to thrive in these little pueblos at the heart of Valle Sagrado.

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