Peru & Machu Picchu by Marika Martinez

I was waiting for the dawn to break, but it was only 2am, still too many hours to wait for the warmth of the sun. Shivering in my sleeping bag, unable to sleep, my heart was racing. The outside temperature, taking into account the wind chill factor, was down to minus 17 degrees Celsius. I was wearing so many layers it was very difficult to move in my sleeping bag, quite apart from the effects of both the cold and the altitude. What a picture of loveliness with 2 pairs of thermal tops and bottoms, a fleece and track pants, 2 pairs of thick woolen socks, down slippers, a thick woolen jumper and woolen hat then add to that 2 sleeping bag liners (one silk and one fleece), then of course the sleeping bag.

In the morning the tent and ground was covered with frost. From here we climbed up to 4,700 metres and with each step, the heart is pounding so hard that it wants to jump out, the lungs are constantly gasping for breath, and the head feels like a vice is tightening up on it with each step. It was hell. At the time I had serious doubts that I would put my body through that ever again. I now cannot imagine how anyone could possibly climb Mt Everest.

However, the mountains were beautiful, absolutely breathtaking and the sense of accomplishment is one that I will never forget. Once we came down from that altitude to around 3,700 metres it was easy to walk amidst the awe-inspiring Andes Mountains. In Australia, we just cannot imagine the enormity and beauty of these mountains.

About Machu Picchu:

Everything about Machu Picchu makes you marvel that it ever came to exist. The lost city of the Incas is built on a saddle-shaped ridge slung between two giant peaks. Near vertical slopes drop away on either side, down to a massive bend in the Urubamba River. Machu Picchu sits between the mountains that mark the beginning and the end of the Andes and the Amazon Basin.

When you drive to the Sacred Valley you will realise what a fertile part of the Andes this is. This is one of the most populous regions of the highlands. The Sacred Valley has the Urubamba (or Vilcamayo) River running along its length. It is well worth the time spent in the Sacred Valley.

Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire, and was abandoned less than 100 years later. It was hidden by jungle since the 16th century until it was rediscovered in 1911. Machu Picchu, was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

Cusco, once the capital of the great Inca Empire, is at an elevation of 3,400m in the heart of the Southern Sierra. It is remarkable for the perfect stonework of its Inca ruins, and its many beautiful colonial churches and palaces.

Peru – the country:
Peru has a population of around 25 million – made up of pure blooded Indians (biggest group are the Quechuas, whose forebears were the Incas) and Mestizos – who are a mixture of Indian and European descent. More than half the population live in the largest cities – Lima, Arequipa and Trujillo.

With an area of 1,300,000 square kms on the Pacific Coast of South America, Peru’s main exports are minerals, petroleum, fish products, coffee, cotton and wool. It has a democratically elected government.

Geographically, Peru is made up of three distinct regions; the arid coastal strip, mainly desert and up to 60km wide; the great range of snow peaks and hills that make up part of the immense chain of mountains known as the Andes, running from Colombia in the north to the southern tip of Chile; the jungle from the Andean foothills to the pristine jungles of the great Amazon rain forest.

Lima, the capital, was the capital of the Spanish South America from its founding in 1535 until the early 19th century.

Best time to go:

Peru is a fascinating country in that it has four distinct geographical regions. Not many other countries can offer beaches, mountains, rainforests and deserts on one visit. Because of these distinct regions, there really isn’t a best time to travel.  June to August are considered the driest months in the highlands or Amazon basin and are optimal if your visit should include a journey down the mighty river. However, even during the rainy season in the Amazon, the rains fall only for a few hours at a time. In the Andes, the rainy season can sometimes just mean a bit of overcast weather.

Best buys:
  • knitted alpaca sweaters, mitts, hats (especially in the Puno and Cuzco areas)
  • woven ponchos
  • knickknacks made from totora reeds grown in the Lake Titicaca area
  • weavings (as wall murals) made from rolls of yarn stuffed with wool (you’ll know it when you see it)
  • pottery and carved gourds
  • handcrafted knives, pens and lighter holders all decorated in colourful stones
About The Author:
Marika Martinez, the brains behind the unique travel tour group, “Women’s Own Adventures”, presents us with her personal account of mystical Peru, the breathtaking Andes, and the magic of Machu Picchu.

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