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Cusco/Machu Piccu – 4 Days in the Jungle

January 24, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Cusco & Inca Trail 

The time spent in Peru was surreal in so many ways, I am so excited to share what this incredible country has to offer. Our trip began in Cusco City, and ended with a four day trek through the amazon jungle and over the picturesque Andes Mountain range to one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. With all of the amazing food, unique culture, and trekking experiences we truly had the most wonderful time in Peru.

When first arriving into Cusco we could tell from the faint headache and shortness of breath we were definitely in a much higher altitude. Right when we got into the car for our hotel transfer the driver handed us coca leaves to chew to help with the altitude. We laughed and tried not to gag on them, but later that day as we went around the city coca leaves, candy, and tea were offered everywhere to help with altitude sickness. The tea and candy were actually pretty tasty, the leaves on the other hand weren’t too delicious… But all of it caused our headaches to disappear. The coca leaves are native to Peru, as they are grown in the jungle right outside of the city. The leaves have been used for hundreds of years by the native people while they worked  at high altitudes in the mountains and also for the yearly three week pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. The coca leaves are still used for that purpose, but are also widely sold to tourists to subdue the affects of altitude sickness. 

The food in Peru was by far our favorite in all of South America thus far. We could not get enough it from all of the fresh ceviche, corn, and other unique local dishes. Hundreds of different types of corn are grown locally, but this corn was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The kernels were enormous! They were so large that when it was served to us the first time cut off from the cob, we actually asked the waiter if it was corn or little potatoes. It was amazing. A meat often served in Peru is guinea pig. Shocking I know, considering they are pets in most of the rest of the world, but believe me when I say they are triple the size of the ones in the US. Being huge fans of Anthony Bourdain, we had seen the episode where he tried guinea pig in Peru and decided we had to try it for ourselves. It actually wasn’t bad at all, but I did feel extremely guilty five minutes after and decided to let Tyler have the rest. Another native meat served is Alpaca, which was a lean gamey tasting meat. One of my favorite native dishes was Aji de Gallina, which is chicken in a mild yet flavorful yellow sauce with hard boiled eggs and olives served with white rice. 

The city market was one of our favorite experiences in Cusco. This huge market encompassing an entire block was filled with locally made clothing, nicknacks, and fresh food. The market had different sections for each category and the vendors would sell fresh fruit, vegetables, olives, cheese, bread, and grains. Within the market were also stands where they made fresh fruit juices, soups, ceviche, and other local dishes. One of the local dishes served at this market was frog soup. They claim it can cure any cold or hangover, but we decided to take their word for it not trying any ourselves. We did taste the fruit juice, vegetable soup, and another meat dish, which was all very tasty and cost a total of five dollars for everything! 

During the few days we had in the city before beginning the trek to Machu Picchu we decided to take the Scared Valley tour, in order to better understand the history and culture of the Inca people. During the tour we were able to walk through a typical Pisca market where women and children were dressed in colorful clothing self-made from Alpaca and sheep wool selling handmade wooden figurines, clothing, and other nicknacks. The women often had a llama tied to their booth which they had used to help transport the goods to the market from their home. We also visited the small town Chincheros (located 15000 ft above sea level), where we were shown how the women make yarn from wool and dye it different colors using local flowers, plants, and herbs. For example we were shown that the shades of red and orange were created from tiny bugs found on cacti, which is also used as lipstick in their culture. During the tour we were taken to the Pisca Inca Ruins where we walked hundreds of steps to explore the details of these incredible ruins and learn how the Inca people built their homes and temples. The town where these ruins were located was also the beginning of the Inca Trail we were to begin very soon. 

After a few days of exploring the culture of the city and tasting the different food it was time for us to head out on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Known as the Incas “royal highway” to Machu Picchu. It is a four day trek over and through the Andes and through the Amazon jungle. Never in our lives had we done something like this, so I’m sure you can imagine we were extremely excited and nervous all at the same time. The trail began in the Scared Valley town of Piskacucho at km. 82. We trekked seven hours the first day down Urubamba canyon where we saw prickly pears and avocado trees. We then climbed up the Cusichaca Valley where we saw many hummingbirds and learned the native people use the hummingbirds to cure epilepsy. If someone in their family had epilepsy, they would cage a hummingbird in their home and during an attack force the blood from the bird in their mouth to be forever cured from the neurological disorder. We also learned in the Inca culture children are put to work as early as five years of age and by age fourteen or fifteen they are beginning their own families. As we walked through this part of the inca trail we saw men, women, and children from all ages working along the trail with donkeys and llamas, it was amazing to witness the real culture of the people in action. 

The second day of the Inca trail we trekked nine hours through the part they call “dead woman’s pass.” The name of this mountain was given for two reasons; one because when you saw the mountain from a far you could see the shape of a woman lying down on her back in the mountain, and two because it was by far the steepest mountain of the entire trek. Altitude sickness was risky during this part, but luckily we made it through with just a faint headache. As we hiked this mountain we were taken away by the gorgeous views of the mountains and the incredible views of the famous glacier “Veronica.” The mountains looked fake as if you were on the set of a movie. Through the day we also came across several picture perfect waterfalls and streams making ideal places to rest for a minute. It truly was worth the pain of hiking many hours for the picturesque views. We saw many different native people traveling through as we trekked this portion and learned that they are recognized from the town they live by the shape and color of their hat, and only certain people are allowed into the different towns or areas of the national forest. However, hundreds of years ago the people from different towns, classes, and professions would be recognized by the shape of their head. When a child was born the family would tie cloth around the child’s head to shape it according to their social status, making it easy for the people to recognize who was who in the Inca community. 

The third day we had a short four hour trek through the cloud forest filled with colorful orchids, bromeliads, mosses, and ferns to our camp site, which was only two hours away from Machu Picchu. Here we got to eat lunch and hang out with our group for the rest of the day and night. We were blessed to have an awesome group of people trekking with us through the SAS company. Everyone was young and full of personality making the four day trek with no showers and hole in the ground bathrooms fun in every way! We all went to visit one of the last Inca ruins along the way to Machu Picchu, where we found that it was more intact and intricate than the previous archeological sites we had visited along the way… Making us even more excited to see Machu Picchu the next morning. Later that evening right after the sun went down and the sky was blue the full bright white moon was one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever experienced. Everyone in the camp sight went outside to see it even in the misty weather of the night. The view was yet again breathtaking. 

The fourth and final day we had to get up at 3:30 in the morning to trek through the last few hours in order to be at the stone threshold of the Sun Gate to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. It had been raining all night long, making this portion of the trek high risk for landslides. Before we left the campsite my guide and I were talking and he told me he hadn’t slept all night as he heard multiple landslides around us. He then went on to tell me his friend (another guide) passed away last year at this time in a landslide saving a tourist in his group who froze when she saw a landslide coming down above her. He told me to pay attention and walk fast… He was really just trying to help me out but little did he know I was the LAST person to tell any of this to. I got extremely sick to my stomach and literally prayed the entire time not saying one word until we made it safely to the Sun Gate. We passed by at least five spots where there had recently been a landslide really making other tourists quite nervous too without even knowing how dangerous it really was they walked slow. Thankfully we had an awesome guide to warn us and telling us the truth, we made it through quickly and safely! Once arriving to Machu Picchu we were in awe of the beauty of this unique structure of ruins. It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment being able to see this incredible archeological sight getting closer and closer as we walked down the final mountain past the Sun Gate. 

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site believed to have been built for the Inca emperor. It is often refered to as “the lost city of the Incas.” It was discovered in 1911 by the Yale graduate, Hiram Bingham who then went on to discover the Inca Trail in 1915. The site was abandon by the Inca people during the Spanish Conquest, when the Spanish people came in search for gold. The Spaniards never found the site as the jungle began to grow over it and it was abandon for over four hundred years, making Machu Picchu an original Inca structure untampered by the Spanish when it was discovered.  The native inca people knew about this site for many generations passing on, but swore to never reveal it’s location or speak of it’s existence. Machu Picchu being an extraordinary ancient city is now known as one of the seven wonders of the world. This incredible archeological site watered by natural springs and containing agricultural terraces sufficient enough to produce food for thousands was willingly built by the Inca people with enormous white and grey granite stones. The intricate architecture and passion of the Inca people has allowed the site to remain so well intact since approximately the early 1400’s. The Inca’s built this empire as a home and a temple for the love of their people, not through slavery like many other ruins around the world, making it special for that reason alone. Seeing this site in the way we did was one of the most unforgettable experiences of our lives. 

As you can tell Peru was a very special and unique adventure for us, as we learned so many amazing things about the culture and history of this country. We are hoping Tyler’s computer will be fixed sometime next week allowing us to post pictures of this incredible experience allowing you all to better see it through our eyes. We are doing everything we can to make that happen and we will let you know when the pictures are posted. Sorry for the delay! That’s it for today… See you next time in Iguazu Falls, Argentina! 

Chao,

T+C

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6 thoughts on “Cusco/Machu Piccu – 4 Days in the Jungle

  1. Chels! I read your posts every time you put a new one up! I hope y’all are having an unforgettable time. After you’re done with your time in South America, let me know which country you two loved the most. Rob and I still want to move there at some point for about a year or so! :) Can’t wait to read the next post and see all the pics!

  2. I HATE the fact that this is my home page lol..but its really cool to read n check out..TB those are some sweet pictures. Chelsea the journalist, not too bad lady ha. Hope you guys are doing well

    • Blaine – I was SO glad to hear you homepage is our website. Make’s us feel a little better that people are actually checking it. Anyways, stay in touch, I want to hear about how everything is going back home. Tb

  3. HI Chelsea!! Wow, it sounds like you two are really seeing and doing some fantastic things on your trip. It is so much fun to read and keep up with you and your adventures. Know you are soaking it all up!!! Have fun- be careful!! We love you!! Susan

  4. You are probably learning more geography and history on this trip than you ever did in class. Loved your linking history to the remoteness of this wonderful place. Now our interest in Peruvian cuisine has been piqued>Kris and Ken

    • Kris – We loved the Peruvian food .. You’ll have to teach us some tricks next time we are in NYC. Hope to hear from you again soon! Tb

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