Jan 22, 2008
The last 10 days in Peru have been filled with vibrant cities, scenic vistas, ancient ruins, and frequent rain. After Nazca, we spent 2 days in Arequipa, and then headed to Cuzco.
Known as the white City, Arequipa is a beautiful metropolis constructed almost entirely from an off-white volcanic rock. It rests in the shadows of the massive El Misti. This active volcano is the source of the sillar from which the city is built. In Arequipa we strolled through the beautiful Monasterio de Santa Catalina and dined in the surprisingly European restaurants. It is a very beautiful city indeed.
Cuzco is a city steeped in cultural history. It is known as the capital of the all-encompassing Inca Empire of the 14th and 15th centuries. Although the city was mostly destroyed by the Spanish Conquest in 1533, many ruins of the ancient Inca city remain as the foundations for newer buildings. The narrow cobblestone streets take us back to a time before trucks and before the Europeans. Many ruins of ancient cities surround Cuzco making this city the most visited location in South America and also the longest continuously inhabited city. It was from Cuzco that Huayna Capac, the last great Inca King ruled his empire that spanned from Ecuador south to Argentina – The largest in the Americas.
Since the Spanish conquest, by far the biggest event to hit Cuzco was the rediscovery of the lost Inca city Machu Picchu in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham. This hidden city was never discovered by the Spaniards as it rested high atop an Andean Plateau. The Inca’s worked hard to keep the city a secret as it was considered the most sacred in the Empire for its location relevant to the sun, stars, the Urubamba River, and snow-capped mountains.
Our 4 day trek on the Inca trail to the lost city began on a cloudy day. We hiked 45 KM in 4 days. Along with the 14 foreigners and 2 guides, 20 local porters carried everything from sleeping bags to food to dining tents and propane tanks. We had multi course meals at every sitting and enjoyed the company of 14 travelers united to hike one of the oldest roads in the Americas. Each morning we were awoken by a porter with a cup of tea for us. We would eat and begin our trek while the porters packed up camp and passed us on their way to the next camp site. Along the way we heard endless stories of the mysterious Incas, roamed through countless ruins ranging from lookout points to agricultural and astronomical research facilities, and climbed thousands upon thousands of stairs through the cloud forest and Andean jungle. It was an absolutely amazing experience pinnacled by an 8 hour visit to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is the epitome of Inca architecture. It features active plumbing and shadow-less city planning. Devices for viewing the sun and monitoring the stars are built into its temples. Terraced microclimates gave the Incas the ability to harvest hundreds of different crops; all this from carved granite stones. It is unfortunate that so little is known of this once great empire. Amanda and I have been in awe of their amazing architecture and beautiful ancient cities. We will never forget our Inca trail journey and the many memories we made along the way.