South America – Peru- 1999 – Machu Picchu

We spent part of Christmas Day walking the city of Cusco, Peru.

It is the Catholics custom there to bring the baby Jesus out of his church’s and parade him through the streets to a home of a generous benefactor. The parades were colorful and interesting. Everyone seemed to be in a festive mood.

We were here to see the sights of Peru. We stayed in Cusco for a few nights, it is quite high in the mountains. We woke up gasping for air in the middle of the night.

The hotels keep coca tea in the lobbies for us to drink. The crushed leaves make a distasteful flavored tea, but it does increase the capacity of your blood to carry oxygen. The Peruvians have been chewing the coca leaves for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Our guide is a local of compact stature. He is of an Indian pedigree of some sort, though I cannot remember which one. He is a college professor and has made the walk up through the Gate of the Sun and into Machu Picchu many hundreds of times. He is a wealth of information. He picked coca leaves as a child for his father.

We are the only tourists on this trip into the mountains. Remember y2k. Yes, many people cancelled their vacations due to the nonsense about the computers failing. We came and were glad that we did. We stayed in a fine hotel in Cusco. It had once been a monastery. It sits in a perfect location to walk the city.

We took the train to the base of Machu Picchu and then were bused to the entry. But let me tell you of our train journey first. We happened to be in the first car. It had a picture window on the front of it for a grand view. The engine was off somewhere behind us. It’s location is unimportant to this story.

First let me say that Cusco is a large valley or bowl. The train station, as I remember it, is near the top of the valley and you can see out to the mountains and down into the city as you travel the rim. It is a great view.

There are houses right next to the train tracks and the children find it great sport to run along within inches of the train as it speeds past their homes, asking for pennies. I suppose I would have done the same, given the chance, at a certain time in my life. To put instant death within my grasp and then run away from it, quickly, must surely be fun. Thankfully, those days are behind me now.

As the train travels to Machu Picchu, we are descending. Cusco is very high in the mountains and Machu Picchu, is, you guessed, below us. The landscape is beautiful, with the bright red soil all around us and the high mountains now above us.

There is a cow in front of the train on the tracks now. Oh, never mind, she has flown away. Yes, like a strange bird, this cow, which was tied to the tracks is sent off into the Peruvian atmosphere. To land, who nows where. Our guide looks at us calmly and says, “The cow, she is fine. It happens all the time.” I think, “barbecue.”

So that was special and entertaining. I have never seen a flying cow before. I do not drink.

Soon the tracks are running next to a river and we descend deeper into the valley. In time, we arrive at the base of the mountain. We leave the train and are bused to the hotel. Yes, there is a hotel at Machu Picchu, and if you ever go there, stay at that hotel.

You see, the guests who stay elsewhere, leave in the afternoon and you have the whole place to your selves. The hotel is a fine one. One day we took the hike to the Sun Gate. It is along hike, but worth it. Then we explored the ruins off Machu Picchu. There is a longer hike of several days from Cusco down through the valley and then up to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. We saw may hikers coming up through the Sun Gate when we arrived there.

We were lucky enough to get up very early in the morning one day and walk over to the entrance. The fellow who washes down the cement path to the gate says, “go on in.” We did. We were all alone in the ruins of Machu Picchu except for these crazy little animals that looked like they were built by a committee that could not agree on what the animal was to be. They turned out to be wild Chinchillas. I suppose most of them are.

They had funny shaped bodies and crazy ears, and it was still a little dark, so it was a little creepy to see these strange creatures scurrying about. We had no idea what they were, having never seen one before. It was special to be in there all alone before the rest of the tourists appeared. The sun soon came up over the mountain and made everything clear for us. It is a fantastic place with many interesting carvings and stories.

Our guide was excellent, and as always we were sad to part when his job was done. We wish him well, wherever he might be.

If you need books to study up for your next vacation or for a gift to a friend and you live near Orange, California, call Anne at Book Carnival at 714-538-3210. We need to support our local businesses and especially book stores. Tell Anne that R. C. Hand gave you her number.