In The Footsteps of the Inca, Guest Post
Fit To Ride
As promised yesterday, a guest post from a traveler who has done Machu Picchu both virtually and IRL. Welcome fellow blogger Been There, Done That. Previous guest post [Safety Doesn’t Have to Be Ugly: Helmet-Hat Debut]
Stay safe. Stay sane.
Last winter, I knocked two items off my bucket list: the Panama Canal and Machu Picchu. The Panama Canal merits six or seven blogs all of its own; the construction, the weather, the location, the birds, the weather, and the respect generated for the men who actually built the canal. It was winter, the weather was 85 with 90% humidity, and one couldn’t help thinking of yellow fever, malaria, cholera, and no air conditioning at the time. But that’s for another time.
Machu Picchu was amazing. Back to Peru in a minute – bear with me. The summer before the trip, I learned that an individual whom I detest does the Peachtree 10K. Peachtree 10K is the largest 10K in the country, run through Atlanta on July 4th, and has been for 75 years. The individual in question is, shall we say, fitness-challenged, and, in a moment of kindergarten bravado, I declared that if she can do it, so can I. No sooner said than done, I started training, found a training buddy and started entering 5K race-walks. This made my dance partner happy (staying in shape and fitting into my ballgowns). Buddy and I logged 5 total 5Ks. Then the lockdown. (Just another minute – bear with me.) [ed. For ballgown image, see BTDT: Dancing with horses, dancing with guys]
Buddy and I were looking for motivation, and Katherine pointed me at The Conqueror website. This is a virtual fitness challenge where one can earn medals for completing specified courses. The site offers satellite imaging so that you can actually see where on earth you really are. And you can track your progress across the landscape. Sounded interesting, especially since one of the challenges offered was the Inca Trails Virtual Marathon. (See, told you we’d get back to Peru.)
Buddy and I signed up for the Inca Trails marathon with another partner, thinking it would be fun. Following the trail with real images of the landscape brought back memories. When I hit the real-life Inca Trail, it wasn’t on foot. We rode the 26 miles to the trail-head (which is what the young and insane hike) in a luxurious train with a five-star lunch! The scenery is jungle, even though it’s at 12,000 plus feet. Green and vines and orchids and birds of every possible description. We crossed the actual Inca Trail (the Peruvian equivalent of the Appalachian Trail here, only shorter but much more vertical) on several occasions, watching the young and insane struggling along.
At the trailhead, you are dropped at the entrance to the actual site, and from there, it’s on foot. They have made several very intelligent changes to the routes the Inca actually built (the trail is still the one constructed in the 1300s and is beautifully preserved), the most impressive being that the trail is one-way only. For those of us who are of, shall we say, mature years, this is a definite plus, since we don’t have to deal with young bucks bulldozing down while we are struggling up.
The trail itself is a series of switchbacks; three miles of switchbacks with 2500 feet vertical gain – and you’re starting at significant altitude. Our guide was fabulous; she’d find something of interest to point out at the end of every switchback, discreetly waiting until we had stopped panting before taking us to the next switchback and finding something else to wonder at.
The climb was worth it. The view from the top is exactly like the posters. And it is spectacular. The Inca were master builders; the walls still stand in spite of earthquake and weather, and you cannot get a knife blade between the unmortared stones. The air is incredibly clean and it’s amazingly quiet. We were in the last afternoon group – apparently the major tourist rushes are for sunrise.
Everything is lush and green; again, even with the altitude, you are barely below the equator in tropical environments. Would have been really satisfying just to sit down and meditate on the builders; the site was abandoned in the 1500s and no-one really knows why. There are no major artifacts; everyone who left took their stuff with them. But it is spectacular.
The trick, I found, was going down. The Inca didn’t go in for hand-rails, and the stepping stones can be interesting. Fortunately, there were a couple of muscular young men eager to assist a “grandma” who wasn’t quite sure of her footing, and I made it down intact. There is a lovely little café at the trailhead which serves delicious coffee and pastry while one is waiting for one’s transportation, and you can even get your passport stamped with a Machu Picchu visa! The café, incidentally, shows up on the satellite imaging for the virtual marathon if you look carefully. The other images are true to the landscape and are a really fun way to remember a breath-taking (in more ways than one) trip.