PART I – PERU   BREATH-TAKING, in a word! I felt just like Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham who “discovered” this 15th century Inca refuge in 1911.  Hidden nearly 8,000 feet high on a mountaintop and surrounded by even taller peaks, Machu Picchu is truly a testimony to man’s ingenuity in constructing this sprawling engineering feat!  Depending on the theory to which you subscribe, Machu Picchu was a citadel for strategic and defensive purposes OR a ceremonial and regional administrative center.  In any case, it is estimated that about 1,000 people inhabited the site, but it somehow was not known to the Incas at the time of the Spanish conquest.  That is why the Spaniards never learned of its existence.  Today we see the massive walls of carefully and skillfully chiseled gigantic stones, steep terraced mountainsides for maximum agricultural productivity and temple ruins and other structures cloaked in mystery.  Endless footpaths appearing as thin lines can be seen all over the surrounding mountains.  Amazing!  The most famous path is known as the Inca Trail, a most ambitious, even treacherous, 4-day trek taken by the hardy to the high mountain pass of Intipunku, the Sun Gate, and on for 1 ½ hours more to the city.  After viewing the ruins in the afternoon, we rose early to hike out to this point just after sunrise the following morning.  Though we questioned the wisdom of this decision at the time, we appreciated the hike out to the gate in the coolness of those post-dawn hours because the sun beats down fiercely by mid-day.  High enough to seemingly almost touch the clouds, we hiked on the trail along the cliffs and I didn’t dare to look down for fear of reminding myself how terrorized I have always been by heights.

Recommended reading:  I read the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams while we were on the trip and found it fascinating. It is story of the author’s climb of Machu Picchu in 2011 which retraced and commemorated Bingham’s first ascent one hundred years earlier.     

STAY TUNED for PART 2 – GALAPAGOS ISLANDS in January’s newsletter!