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Adventure in Machu Picchu

Written by Denny Custer.

Our MS Explorer completed its 11 day Amazon River trip at Iquitos, Peru. Happily we had also selected the 6-day post trip to Machu Picchu and, with 32 other shipmates, were flown to Lima to begin this new adventure.

Lima has been described as a very dangerous city, though locals would like to have you believe no more than any other large city. While the answer probably lies somewhere in between, we felt vastly more secure with a group and did not venture out on our own. Our group took an afternoon tour of Lima which included the Gold Museum. This museum is the one to visit in Lima with one of the most interesting items, to me, being the sword of Francisco Pizarro. The Swissotel in the suburbs of San Isidro provided a safe and modern sanctuary for us.

The next day we flew from Lima to Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire. Our hotel was the Monasterio, one of the small luxury hotels of the world. Renovated from an old monastery, it was superb. We were admonished to eat light, rest much, drink a lot of water (bottled) and not exert ourselves since Cusco is at 11,500 feet. Oxygen is kept available on the tour buses, in restaurants and the hotels for unfortunate tourists and we had a couple of immediate and a few later victims in our group. Fortunately for us, the good folks at the Travel Wellness Center in East Lansing had recommended pills for the high altitude. Taking their advice and the pills, we had no problems.

We had a day and a half to sightsee around Cusco and the region within a 3 hour radius. There were many excellent stops and we were all in awe of the accomplishments of the Incan builders. Our guide was just a superior person, who had grown up through the very prolific poverty of Peru. We learned very much from him, about the way of life in poverty. To personalize this, he took us inside the home of a family who also had come from his background. To make this extremely humbling experience more poignant he told us that he had once been to the U.S., to Bangor, Maine. He took some time to take a Greyhound bus from there to Los Angeles and back to Miami and just could not believe what he was seeing. He admonished us that we should never forget what a wonderful country we have. He emphasized the point by telling us that he would visit the US again this fall, helping with an exhibit about the Incas at Yale University in New Haven. He said his first act on getting off the plane would be to kiss the good ground of the USA. Wow.

We took a pleasant and scenic 3 hour train ride from near Cusco to Machu Picchu, a village at 6,000′. This is followed by an exciting 30 minute ride by bus up to the ancient Machu Picchu site at 8,000′. There is a hotel here, the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, which was our hotel for one night. A first class facility, it offers a couple of very valuable hours near sunset and also at sunrise where the day trippers have retreated to the valley and the hotel’s guests have the whole area to themselves. Highly recommended.

One’s first view of the ruins is truly one of the world’s greatest breath suckers. It is awesome. In two separate walking trips of about 2 hours each our small group and guide explored the upper and lower parts of the ruins. Llama’s and Alpaca in the ruins added to the photographic possibilities and of course, the stories of what Machu Picchu was believed to have been are most interesting. We purchased two classical books to read further in to the mysteries.

Up at 5:30AM, we began our walk to Sun Gate to observe the sun rise on the ruins. About a 650′ difference in elevation from the hotel, it was an hour’s struggle up mostly irregular steps. The view, on this clear blue sky morning was stunning and more than well worth the effort. Retreating for breakfast we were on our own until 2:00 when it would be time to take the bus down to board our return train. So Karen and I walked through the ruins again and then just sat and stared and stared and remained just awed.

The return to Cusco, flight to Lima, the long wait (we got a day room at the Swissotel in San Isidro) for our 1:15am flight, then two flights to get us back to Detroit were just the mopping up actions to two great adventures. We were both terribly sleep deprived, extremely glad to be home and glad to have done both trips.