"We both felt we
had earned the right to see Machu Picchu."
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
We need to go to Machu Picchu
One evening last fall Steve was reading
his weekly Economist when he suddenly announced, "We need
to go to Machu Picchu for our vacation this year." This
came as somewhat of a surprise to me, since Steve's attitude
towards our travels is usually to find out from me on the way
to the airport which country or state we are visiting this time.
It seems, however, that he had read of the possibility that the
Peruvian government might authorize a tramway to be built up
the side of the mountain to Machu Picchu. Already overcrowded
with tourists during the dry season, with tour buses winding
up the narrow road every 10-15 minutes, the grandest construction
of the Incas could soon rival Atlanta freeways for the long lines
waiting to squeeze through in jam-packed frustration.
After hearing this news, I researched
the subject on the internet, and discovered that the appalling
project had been put on hold, at least for a while. Such a construction,
although presumably bringing millions more tourists to Peru,
could also lose Machu Picchu its World Heritage Site status.
One can always hope it will never be built. Nevertheless, I agreed
with Steve that we didn't want to take a chance on getting there
before it was too late, so I immediately started to collect the
books, web sites, and assorted information I would need to plan
our trek for this summer.
The general information in the travel
books about our neighbor to the south, coupled with State Department
Bulletins, CDC warnings, and general gossip, would easily convince
you that you should never stray from your living room. For the
very intrepid, maybe south Florida -- but South America? We were
warned about nefarious taxi drivers, malaria, pickpockets, yellow
fever, the Shining Path, drug smugglers, corrupt police, 27 types
of gastrointestinal disorders, dangerous roads, rickety buses,
high winds, lost luggage, medical evacuations, rabid dogs, and
tropical diseases with unpronounceable names. And that's just
What we found instead was a beautiful
and incredibly varied country; warm, friendly and highly industrious
people who were very solicitous of tourists; buses, trains and
planes that ran precisely on time; delicious food (and drinks),
frequently accompanied by spirited music and dancing; exotic
wildlife; a system of terracing and hydraulic engineering that
is unequalled in the world; and a fascinating cultural and political
history that reaches back for thousands of years.
We traveled to four main areas in Peru,
besides the capital, Lima. First, we headed south to the driest
desert in the world; then we visited the intellectual city of
Arequipa and the world's deepest canyon; next we made our pilgrimage
to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu; and finally, after
all these meaty exploits, we gave ourselves four days in the
Amazon basin jungle for dessert.
We left Atlanta, after our obligatory
three hours enjoying the comforts of Hartsfield International
Airport, about 4:30 pm, arriving in Lima at 10:30 pm the same
evening. The really nice thing about travelling to South America
is that you don't have the jet lag you get when flying east or
west. Peru is actually in the same time zone as Atlanta, although
the absence of daylight savings placed it one hour earlier. The
other nice thing, if you are leaving an Atlanta summer, is that
the season south of the equator is winter. And since you are not
very south of the equator, it's a very mild winter. Steve did
have a hard time getting used to the fact that the sun went the
wrong way and the shadows all followed in the wrong direction,
but in general I felt very little dislocation.
Responding to the warning about taxis
in Lima, I had arranged with a travel agency for a transfer from
the airport to our hotel, and another transfer to the express
bus the next morning. The transfer drivers were friendly and
polite, and spoke about as much English as I do Spanish. Unfortunately,
we both learned the same 2 dozen words, so our sentences tended
to be fractured constructs of 1/2 English and 1/2 Spanish., with
lots of smiling, nodding, and helpless hand gestures all around.
Our pocket Spanish-English dictionary proved invaluable.
Next month: Why would anyone want to draw hummingbirds the
size of football fields?
Marcia Brandes. All rights reserved.