Peru: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Reed Islands

Last spring, my husband and I decided to aggressively attack our bucket list of places to see.  Machu Picchu has always been on the top of that list, however, we are not spring chickens and the thought of touring in altitudes of 12,000 and 13,000 feet always made me procrastinate.  But, in one of my braver moments, I put down the deposit on the trip and went forward to that goal.

We started out in Lima which is the capital of Peru and surprisingly the second driest city in the world despite the fact that it is on the Pacific Ocean.  Sightseeing in Lima took us to the convent of San Pedro, the Plaza Mayor, the Government Palace, and Larco Herrera Museum (the largest collection of pre-Columbian treasures).

A short plane ride took us to Cusco, then onto a bus to the Sacred Valley.  A lunch stop at Wayra Ranch, not only nourished us with fantastic food, but a demonstration of Peru’s Paso horses.  The ruins of Ollantaytambo were next on the list and its current village gave us an insight into the simple valley life.  Before moving onward, we briefly visited the studio of Master Pablo Seminario, who has gained international fame for his work in ceramics.  His work was on display at our Field Museum.

Finally, it was time for the main event – Machu Picchu.  Hiram Bingham, with the help of local guides came across the Lost City in July, 1911.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  Theory suggests that it was a country estate of an Inca ruler named Pachacuti, which means its golden age was in the mid-15th century.  The weather had been great until now, but as expected up in the mountains, fog and drizzle set in.  We stomped about the ruins for nearly 5 hours, clad with panchos and umbrellas, but relishing every moment.

The next stop was Cusco, visiting the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the Plaza De Armas, and their busy market place.  From Cusco we boarded a train for a 10 hour ride through the Andes, the highest point being La Raya at 14,150 feet.  We arrived in Puno in the early evening and had the pleasure of watching a sunset on Lake Titicaca.

The final highlight of our trip was visiting the reed islands on Lake Titicaca.  Here the locals create floating islands from the plentiful amount of reeds growing along the shore.  By gathering the reeds (roots and all), binding and compressing them, they make floating home sights measuring approximately one acre.  Groups of families or friends live on each island, their huts and boats also made from reeds.  Dozens of these islands drift about the lake making a large community.

To summarize, climbing and hiking in altitudes ranging from 9,000 to 13,000 was very challenging.  We and many of our fellow travelers did suffer from varying degrees of altitude sickness.  Thanks to a fantastic touring company and their extremely caring and competent guides, we survived with many memories to cherish.

The photographer Marlene Pietranek provided the details and images for the Peru destination.

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