Prior to El Regalo
“I want to celebrate my 50th birthday atop Machu Picchu”
-Tina Martin (Brian’s sister)
Well, that didn’t happen but almost one year later, we made it!
The trip began by receiving a wedding invitation from Tatiana, a fellow Haggar colleague. JoDon asked if I was willing to take some vacation time and fly to Peru for the wedding and I said, “Yes,” with one condition. We must make a side trip to Machu Picchu," the ancient Inca winter palace in the Andes Mountains. JoDon had already been there with her younger brother, Casey, and I did not want to miss the chance of a lifetime. Of course, we could not go there without taking my sister; she would have been devastated to get left out. Robert, my brother-in-law, goes with the flow so he too would join the adventure.
Tatiana was very surprised that we were going to fly to Peru to attend her wedding and was most gracious in extending two more wedding invitations. So, off we went.
The four of us met in our Lima, Peru hotel for a day of sightseeing before heading to the high mountains of Cusco. Lima is a desert coastal city. We had the good fortune to be there during a parade. There was electricity in the air
with marching bands, drum corps and it seemed that everyone had a whistle. The noise was deafening but our eyes were filled by a display of bright colors and smiling faces. Everyone had a great time but even asking many locals, in Spanish, I never could really decipher what they were celebrating. Also, it seemed odd that there were so many Indian
(pagan) costumes within the starting point of the parade, the Catholic Church.
Lima is also the capital of Peru and has its share of government buildings and cathedrals. The morning parade was the highlight but it was followed by a great seafood lunch, including several bottles of wine, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And this was only Day One.
The following day we flew to Cusco, the historic capital of the sun-worshiping Inca Empire. Its altitude is around 10,800 feet making it a breathtaking experience when first arriving. Hotels offer the traditional local tea drink made with coca leaves (as in cocaine) to offset altitude sickness. After several cups of tea I was ready to climb the mountain tops.
The Rise and fall of the Incas: In the fifteenth century, the Inca state began to expand under the rule of the emperor Pachacutec. Other cultures were conquered and assimilated to create the most powerful empire in the New World. At its peak the Inca Empire stretched for 5500 kilometers from what is now southern Colombia down through Peru to central Chile. But the Inca state was doomed. From the time of its expansion the emperors, who were revered as sons of the sun, ruled their remarkable
empire for only around one century. The violent destruction of Inca society came at the hands and weapons of Spanish conquistadors.
We hired a tour guide and visited the many historical sites in and around Cusco including the fortress, Sacsayhuamán. The fortress name is hard to pronounce but our guide gave us a great tip, “Just call it Sexy Woman.” The Incas were master stonemasons whose achievements still confound archaeologists. Although built
without mortar, their walls were virtually earthquake-proof. The structure is built in such a way that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the limestone blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco.
The following day our guide and driver took us through the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley has stunning views of rugged terrain with cultivated fields in the valleys. There are numerous ancient ruins throughout the valley and we thoroughly enjoyed driving through the mountains and valleys. The highlight for me was
eating a local delicacy at lunch, a guinea pig that had been roasted on a grill.
Our guide left us at our hotel located on the far end of the Sacred Valley for the long drive back to Cusco. The next morning the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu made a stop and we boarded at the side of the road, no train station. The train at one time was very run down and undependable. During JoDon’s first trip the train encountered problems on the return trip to Cusco and most of the passengers were bussed back to Cusco. JoDon and her brother were at the front of the train so they had to remain on the train, stopping every 30 minutes. They finally made it back around midnight with snow falling. A French company has since taken over the train operation and has made many improvements. The new train now has skylight roofs so you can look up to the snow capped mountains as we snaked our way through.
There is a tradition to hike to Machu Picchu using men to carry most of the gear during the four day trek. Thanks, but no thanks; I was happy riding in our train car.
Machu Pichu, “Old Peak” in native tongue, is one of the New Modern Wonders of the World. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire. It is 8,000’ altitude (2,000’ lower than Cusco) so it became the winter palace of the Inca emperors. It was built around the year 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. One theory is the city was devastated by smallpox before the arrival of Spaniards to Machu Picchu. The city was abandoned so the Spanish never ransacked the city. It was re-discovered in 1911 by a Yale professor (the original Indiana Jones) who was actually looking for another city. It is now Peru’s most famous and popular tourist attraction.
Most tourists take an early morning train to Machu Picchu and return the same afternoon. We decided to spend the night. On our first day, while the tourists were storming up towards Machu Pichu, we hiked the Sacred Inca Trail up an opposite mountain for a spectacular view. Wow! Was that a hike up the mountains! We were constantly short of breath and although the ancient path was fully stoned and stepped, it was still tough going. Once when we had stopped to catch our breath, two local guides, carrying fully loaded camping gear and supplies, jogged past us. The two “mules” were wearing sandals and their big toes were huge from walking (jogging) up and down the mountains. We were totally shamed. While atop the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, I called my parents. We live in a strange world that you can use your own cell phone on top of a remote mountain in Peru and have a crystal clear connection. I tried my best to describe to my parents the magical view below but there are some things that are unexplainable. That was the second to last time I spoke with my father on the phone, he passed away the following week.
By late afternoon most of the tourists had boarded their train so we hired a tour guide to shows us around the site. We had Machu Picchu almost entirely to ourselves. The next morning we got up very early (even Tina got up early) to watch the sun come up over the mountains and the ruins. Afterward, JoDon and I climbed Waynu Picchu, the mountain located on the far end of Machu Picchu for some stunning views. The climb up the steep trail was difficult and
treacherous, but well worth it. Not wanting to do the same trail twice we took an alternate course, got lost and walked almost all the way down the mountain only to have to walk up a muddy trail half way back up! Oh well!
After touring Cusco, The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, it was time to get to the wedding, the whole point of the trip. We took a plane, this time north, to Tatiana’s birth city, Piuria, Peru. Piuria had once been one of the cotton growing centers of the world, famous for its long stranded fibers. Unfortunately, a socialist government confiscated the big farms and gave them to the peasants. With no money to buy seed or repair the farm equipment, the irrigated fields reverted to desert and the Piuria economy was ravished.
The wedding was one of the most beautiful that we have ever attended. The cathedral was packed with people and the Piuria Country Club was transformed into a magical kingdom. We danced the night away with a salsa band that never stopped. Wow! A perfect night. The following day was a “going away afternoon BBQ” that included roasted pork, seafood, folkloric dancers and a demonstration of Paso Fino horses.
What a wedding and what a special trip! A special heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to the Bride’s family, Max and Baby Lu, for making us so welcome and being such gracious hosts! Thank you!