By Sherman Shifflett
Do you like wild and exotic places? Places shrouded in mystery? How about rugged and outdoor adventures?
Well, American explorer, Hiram Bingham, discovered such a place in 1911. Until then, it was unknown to the outside world.
Several weeks ago, one of my brothers, Ralph, invited me to join him on an excursion to Machu Picchu, Peru. I really couldn’t afford it, but I bit the bullet and packed my bags for my first trip to South America.
Machu Picchu is located high (11,000′) in the Andes Mountains. It was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It’s still a mystery what happened to the people.
Getting there is not easy. We flew from Richmond to Lima, Peru, with a stopover in Atlanta. From Lima, we took a short hop (one hour) to Cusco, Peru, where we met our tour guides.
The tour guide took us to the sacred Valley of the Incas, 40-50 miles away, where we spent two days getting acclimated to the higher elevation. A river runs through the valley. We visited a large market in Pisac, where I saw fruits and vegetables I had never before seen. Lots of other stuff too. We also visited an Incan fortification in Allantaytambo. There were 230 steps to the top, but Ralph and I scaled it.
On the third day, we headed up the mountain. A van transported us to the station where we boarded a train for about a two-hour ride up the mountain. We transferred to buses for an additional 45 minutes to our destination.
The tour guide spent about two hours with us, and then we were on our own. Despite several rest breaks, Ralph and I reached the top of the ruins, where we saw docile llamas grazing on the terraces. Standing at the top and looking down, the ruins of the stone structures were breath taking. It is amazing how the Incas cut, transported and fit the large stones without mortar. The scenery was spectacular, with majestic peaks rising above the clouds. We stood there for several minutes, mesmerized at what we were seeing.
We were in Peru for about a week. The people were friendly and the food was good: Lots of corn, potatoes and chicken. The flat bread was excellent. The potatoes came in various colors, butter too. I passed on the roasted guinea pigs.
Many local farmers still plow and cultivate their fields with oxen. We saw a lot of tethered livestock. Stray dogs were everywhere. There were lots of cornfields in the valley and pretty flowers. We saw some beautiful Peruvian Paso horses as well.
The tour guides with Condor Travels were excellent as far as service, but one did not speak fluent English.
IF YOU GO:
– Don’t wait to go until you’re our age (80 and 75)
– Go in the fall (Oct, Nov, Dec), less traffic, but rainy season
– Carry an umbrella and waterproof shoes
– One day on the mountain is enough. We had two days scheduled, but did not return for the second day.
– Drink bottled water.
– Protect your valuables. AAA has a shoulder bag with scissor-proof straps and pockets you can lock. Good place to keep passport, wallet, cell phone, boarding passes, etc.
If you have not been, put it on your bucket list. See Theo Fletcher at Charlottesville AAA. She’ll hook you up.