Machu Picchu!

We gathered on Thursday morning, January 26, 2012, at 7 a.m. for our bus ride back up to Machu Picchu. Even though it’s only about 5.5 miles, it’s a 20 minute bus ride due to the hairpin turns required to climb that high.

Our guides from the hike the day before, Puma and Lizbeth, broke us into two groups and gave us excellent tours of the ruins with the full history. It’s an incredible place.

As we found during the tour, the Incas really weren’t all that tall!

After our tours, we had free time to explore Machu Picchu on our own and/or head into town to explore the tourist area that is Aguas Calientes. We caught a 6:45 p.m. train back to Ollantaytambo and then boarded a bus for another couple of hours, arriving in Cusco around 10:30 p.m.

We were back up and ready for our 7 a.m. ride to the airport for our flight to Lima, where we had several hours to finish any shopping and catch a last meal, which is what I did. We went to Cala, which is a modern, upscale restaurant that overlooks the beach and ocean. This was probably our best overall meal experience of the trip, so it was fitting that we saved it for last.

Cody had a combination plate that was exquisite. The highlight would have to be the item on the far right – a charcoal grilled octopus that melted in your mouth.

I had one final serving of ceviche and was in heaven.

For dessert, Cody and I shared the Lúcuma Tirimisu, which was a chocolate sphere filled with coffee flan and Bailey’s over a vanilla mirror. Yum!

The students that were with us also shared a dessert. There were really too many to choose from, so they went all out and had the dessert tasting menu, which included five different desserts!

After this final amazing dinner, it was time to collect our bags and say our goodbyes. Augusto Chian, of Happy Tours Perú, was our primary tour coordinator and he did an amazing job putting together the trip of a lifetime for us. We were all so thrilled with our adventure that we all signed our UWO College of Business flag and gave it to him as a very small token for all he did for us. If you ever want to go to Peru, please call Augusto. He’ll make sure your trip is unforgettable!

Hiking the Inca Trail

We left the hotel in Urubamba at 5 a.m. to catch the train to km 104, which is the starting point of the one-day Inca Trail hike. It started raining almost immediately after we crossed the foot bridge over the Urubamba River and continued to rain all day with a short 2 hour hiatus over our lunch break and start of the afternoon hike. Our ponchos were our most prized possession during the hike!

We stopped for lunch at Wiñay Wayna. This is one of the ruins that was about 60 percent of the way into our day. To get there, we had to climb just over 300 steps. This was pretty much the end of the tough upward climb though. After lunch, we hiked on what is referred to as “Inca-flat”, which is a steady up and down climb versus constantly upward.

After lunch we continued our hike and found ourselves at the Sun Gate about an hour and a half later, catch our first panoramic view of Machu Picchu. It was incredible.

We didn’t get to explore Machu Picchu this day as it was close to closing and we still needed to hike down to Aguas Calientes town, which turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the hike. Needless to say, we all slept very soundly that night.

The Sacred Valley

This morning we packed up our bags and are officially in the “roughing it” stage of our trip. We could only bring with us what we can carry on the Inca Trail. And today was jam-packed with adventure.

Our first stop was at Awana Kancha, which is a large community of native people (420 families) raising llamas, alpacas & some vicuñas and weaving the wool using very traditional methods. We had a great time feeding alfalfa to the animals. 20120124-151033.jpg20120124-151049.jpg20120126-145838.jpg20120126-145849.jpg

We then had just a quick stop to see the stunning panorama of the Sacred Valley. 20120126-150147.jpg20120126-150154.jpg

Next we made our way to Moray, an Inca ruin, where we left our UWO mark. This was our first introduction to Incan hiking.

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After climbing among the ruins, we climbed on the bus for a harrowing, white-knuckled ride to Maras, the Peruvian salt evaporation ponds. There are more than 4,000 ponds that make up this area.

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From the salt pond, we hiked down to the town where we met the bus that took us to a little chicheria called Descanso, which means “I rest” in Spanish. We played a Peruvian drinking game and tried the Chicha, a Peruvian corn beer.

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We made it!

Just a quick update to let everyone know that we all complete the march on the Inca Trail from km104. Including the hike down from Machu Picchu to our hotel in Aguas Caliente, we put in around 12 miles. Our starting elevation was around 7,350 feet and climbed to a maximum elevation of 8,830 feet. We’re now at 6,750 feet and very tired! We’ll be exploring Machu Picchu tomorrow.

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Cusco!

We met this morning for our walking tour of Cusco city. The first stop was just across the street from our hotel at Qorikancha, otherwise known as the Convent of Santo Domingo, or in Incan times as the Golden Temple or Temple of the Sun. It is a vast fortress and has an incredible history.

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From there, we walked along many of the incredibly narrow Inca streets, marveling at the masonry craftsmanship of the city walls (no mortar!), seeing hidden shapes that were built into the walls. This walk was also a good preparation for our trek on the Inca Trail with all of the stairs we climbed.

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Along the way we came across a local dressed in full Incan garb. He was portraying a famous Incan named Inca Roca and was protecting the street. Of course we had to take pictures.

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We then continued our tour, climbing to the highest point of the walk. We were greeted with an amazing view of Cusco city.

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To finish the tour, some of us went to the market where the locals shop and were amazed at the vastness of the market. It was a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

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Puno to Cusco

Sunday was a pretty quiet and uneventful day compared to most. We departed Puno at 8am and everyone was anxious to get to a lower elevation. We did have a big luxury cruising bus, so most people had their own seat and could stretch out a bit for the full day bus ride.

Our first stop of the day was at Abra La Raya, which means “the knot.” This is a point where the two ranges of the Andes meet and offers a picturesque vantage point. As with every stop we’ve made, there was also a small market where several student found great deals on baby alpaca blankets.

I myself wanted to purchase the actual baby alpaca, but since that wasn’t for sale, I had to settle for a baby alpaca sweater.

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Our next stop was for a buffet lunch and a quaint little restaurant along the Urubamba River, also known as the sacred river that flows through the Sacred Valley of the Inkas and passes Machu Picchu on it’s way to joining the great Amazon River.

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The next stop was at an Inka runs called Raqchi. We had a short tour explaining the importance of Raqchi (a very large community within the Inka empire) and then had about half an hour to explore the ruins. Our tour guide, Roger, (pronounced ro-yare) was very knowledgeable but hard to understand.

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And once again, there was a market set up at the ruins where a local artisan did a quick caricature of Professor McGee and perfectly captured his essence.

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Puno and Lake Titicaca

We left Arequipa bright and early this morning with a 7am bus boarding time and commenced our 6,800 foot ascent to the highest elevation of our trip – Las Lagunillas – where we stopped for a picnic lunch. We were all feeling the effects of the high elevation, but nothing too serious, just a little shortness of breath and slight dizziness. The view was well worth it.

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We were also fortunate enough to spot some of the rare vicuñas that populate the Andes at an elevation between 3,200 to 4,800 meters. The very finest of sweaters and scarves are made with vicuña wool and are well outside of any of our budgets.

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We also enjoyed the immense beauty of the Andes Mountains.

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We then finished our day’s journey in Puno, which sits on Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable fresh-water lake and also the largest lake (by volume) in South America. Puno and the lake sit at just over 12,600 feet above sea level, so we were all still moving a bit slowly and either chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea to ward off the effect of the elevation.

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We went by boat to the Uros Islands, which are islands made by their inhabitants out of floating reeds. We were able to get off of the boat at one of the islands where we received a presentation on how the islands are made and then had personal tours of their huts and some even dressed up in the tradition Uro people attire. One interesting note is that they have limited electricity in their huts by charging a car battery by solar panels. The lady who showed us her hut was partial to watching soap operas.

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And before the end of our time on the island, we had 10 brave souls who can now check off swimming in Lake Titicaca from their bucket lists. During the summer, the average surface temperature of the lake is 50-57 degrees Fahrenheit. Watching them jump in was fun, but watching their desperate attempt to get out was even more amusing.

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And although the pictures are pretty good, nothing tells the story like a good video, which you can watch here. Believe me, this will be the best four minutes you spend today!