MACHU PICCHU: Owen’s Peruvian Adventures, Part 1, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Machu Picchu, Peru
Our friend Owen Floody is in the midst of a series of three treks in Peru, with two down, Machu Picchu (May 2015), Huayhuash (July 2015), and one coming up in mid-2017 (Cordillera Blanca.) Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He is a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is his report of his Machu Picchu trip and a few of his excellent photographs.

My Machu Picchu trip included three major parts: the several days prior to the trek that I spent acclimating to the altitude as I explored Cusco; the trek itself; and the two days spent exploring Machu Picchu.
Cusco was great and I strongly recommend that anyone visiting this part of the world not shortchange it.  The city presents a fascinating mix of very old and not-so-old streets, walls and buildings.
Stone wall in Sacsayhuaman; similar walls can be found in Cusco
I am not a museum enthusiast, but found several here that were very enjoyable.  One of these was the Pre-Columbian museum; I think that another favorite was the Museo Inka.  The restaurants were excellent, with the introduction to ceviche being, for me, a special treat.  
Some of the salt ponds at the Salinas de Mara
Finally, there are many very interesting sites on Cusco’s outskirts or within easy day-trip distance (e.g., the Sacred Valley, Moray Agricultural Terraces, Salinas de Mara.)  I could easily have spent a week exploring these and more.
On the trail to Machu Picchu
The trek was strenuous, covering 41 miles in seven days.  But it was the altitude (mainly 6700-12,800 feet, with a single pass at 15,200) that presented the greatest challenge.  Was this effort fully repaid by the scenery?  
Lake in the Andes
The scenery certainly was attractive.  Still, I would not put this among the few most scenic treks that I have done.  Bear in mind, though, that this was not the famous Inca Trail and I simply don’t know the relative merits of the two routes to Machu Picchu. 
Not being religious, I was surprised to react very positively to the opportunity our trek provided to participate in a ceremony in which we were blessed and our wishes conveyed to the Andean gods by a pair of Quechuan shamans.  This ended up being for me one of the trek’s highlights.  I found the symbolism fascinating and the ceremony overall very appealing, in no small part due to the gentle manner and charm of the shamans.  And who can complain about the potential divine reinforcement of one’s wishes?
Overview of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
Machu Picchu itself was wonderful, fully justifying any and all hype.  The setting is matchless, the ruins are quite a bit more extensive than I imagined, and the beauty and intricacy of the stonework are breathtaking.  Its extent and beauty more than justified the choice of REI as a tour operator: Whereas most of the tours that I considered included just one day at Machu Picchu, the one offered by REI included two and any less than this would have been inadequate.  Partly because of the extra day, our tour included a climb up Huayna Picchu, for the overview of Machu Picchu that this peak provides.  Of course, it also gave us more time to wander around Machu Picchu.  Especially effective in this regard was the opportunity to have Machu Picchu largely to ourselves in the late afternoon of our first day there, after the day-trippers had departed.

In sum, visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu are highly recommended.  

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