Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Prologue - Lima and Cusco

We visited Lima and Cusco before the 10 Day Trek.

Lima, located on the Pacific Ocean and with  a population of nearly 10 million, is the capital city of Peru.

We had one full day in Lima and visited the Miraflores District and the Plaza de Armas (Main Square).

Cusco, a world heritage city, was the capital of the Inca Empire, and our home for 3 1/2 days.

Located at an elevation of 11,200', Cusco sits in a bowl surrounded by the Andes Mountains.  Much of the city's buildings have red tile roofs so it reminded me of Santa Barbara.

Cusco is a wonderful walking city. We wandered the streets and neighborhoods for several days, so we got a pretty good feel for the city.

The San Blas Barrio, located above the main square and off the main tourist track, was particularly interesting.  You got heady views of the red-tiled city and surrounding mountains from its heights.

The confluence of Inca and Spanish architecture, the cultural mix, the almost daily celebrations or demonstrations, and the impressive culinary scene made Cusco an exciting city to visit.

A major Inca Ruin, Saksaywaman, sits high above the city with commanding views, a logical place to build a fortress.

Although the Spanish did their best (or worst) to destroy and eliminate much of the Inca heritage and replace it with colonial architecture, enough evidence remains making the city a really unique place in the world.

To view the Lima and Cusco albums, click on "Lima and Cusco" below photo:

From Prologue - Lima and Cusco

Ten Day Lodge to Lodge Trek to Machu Picchu

The main reason for my trip to Peru was the REI 10 Day Lodge to Lodge Trek to Machu Picchu on the Salkanty Trail.

Visiting Machu Picchu has been high on my "to do" list and hiking to it through the Andes Mountains sounded even better.  Given my progressive age, tent camping had no appeal and staying in mountain lodges was a very intriguing alternative.

Perusing the REI trek website, I was blown away by the photos of the lodges and mountain scenery.

Sign me up I say!

There are several trails leading to Machu Picchu and the Salkanty Trail is the only one developed with lodges.

Sleeping indoors on comfy beds, nice meals, and hot showers (3 of the 4 lodges even had hot tubs) sounded better than sleeping on the ground.

I was able to convince five other friends to join me on this trek - Dave and Kristina Vandershaf, Bill Staack, Kathy Douglas and Barbara Greenwood.  The Sactown Six as I called ourselves joined six other people on the 10 day trek.

The bottom line:  The REI trek was outstanding and will recommend it to others without hesitation.

The guides - Fernando and Johann - were friendly and experienced, the support was great (horses hauled our gear and cooks followed us for a part of the trek), the accommodations were outstanding, and scenery spectacular.

The total distance of the trek was 42 miles spread over 6 hiking day.  We were in high elevation most of the time with the high point of 15,213' at Salkanty Pass.  The guides did a good job getting us acclimated.

The trek is rated 4 out of 5 in terms of difficulty and I would say that is about right.

To view the trek album, click on "10-Day Lodge to Lodge Trek" below photo:

From 10-Day Lodge to Lodge Trek

Machu Picchu

After 6 days trekking over the Andes we arrived in Aqua Caliente, a small city at the foot of Machu Picchu where visitors usually stay before visiting the fabled sacred city in the sky.  Aqua Caliente is a land-locked city tucked in a narrow canyon accessible only by rail.

The itinerary of the REI Tour is to spend a day and a half at MP before catching a train to Cusco.

Being a fit group, we covered almost all of high-points of MP in the first full day - the Inka Bridge, the Sun Gate, and a thorough walk about of the main city complex.

Although I have seen numerous documentaries of MP, seeing one of the seven wonders of the world in person is an out-of-body experience.  It's hard to imagine how an ancient civilization could have constructed such an amazing city on top of a mountain without the aid of modern equipment and tools.

I kept kidding our tour guide, Fernando, that it was impossible for the Incas to accomplish such feats without the aid of extraterrestrial help.  It's totally mind-boggling to see the exacting precision of the stone work of the temples, buildings and walls on such steep terrain.

The logistics alone of supporting such a massive work force is amazing.  What makes it all the more remarkable is the Inca kings employed cooperation among the populace rather than slave labor to build its empire.

To view the album, click on "Machu Picchu" below the photo:

From Machu Picchu

Epilogue - Lake Titicaca Extension

After the 10 day lodge to lodge trek to Machu Picchu, Bill, Kathy, Barbara and I continued to Lake Titicaca on a four day extension.  The extension was also booked through REI.

From Cusco, we took a 10 hour train trip on the Andean Explorer to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  The train trip was long but was quite luxurious and comfortable and very interesting.

From Cusco's elevation of  11,152', the train climbed to a summit at 14,200' where we took a short break, then continued over the vast altiplano to Lake Titicaca at 12,500'.

The scenery of the altiplano is stark and dramatic and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

After one night in Puno, we then took a 45 mile boat trip across Lake Titicaca stopping at Uros Isle to visit a floating reed village, a stop at Taquile Island to visit the weavers, and a final stop at Andina Lodge on Suasi Island where we stayed for two nights.

Our time on Suasi Island was very relaxing and gave us a couple days of recovery after the grueling trek over the Andes Mountains.

It was an ideal way to end our Peruvian adventure.

To view the Lake Titicaca album, click on "Lake Titicaca Extension" below the photo:

From Epilogue - Lake Titicaca Extension