This article is from the August 2019 Issue of Forever Young

By Steven Tuck
Photos: Roy Gillespie and Steven Tuck

feature aug 2019 
 

It has been at the top of my “bucket list” for years, to go to Machu Picchu. I knew my wife would not even consider going because she is terrified of heights! Traveling to the Andes, where places like Cusco are two miles up in the sky, is not something she would do! My buddy and physiotherapist, Roy Gillespie, and I talked about my dream, and he told me he had been there 30 years ago with a friend when they graduated from Dalhousie University. Would he go back again? Sure would. And, as fate would have it, another friend, John Swatridge, told me he had just returned from Machu Picchu and could put me in touch with a travel agent who is a specialist on Peru! I connected with Anas Rana, owner of Off The Map Adventures, and we discussed a budget, places of interest, and he built a custom tour for Roy and I!

Everything Anas planned for us was perfect. We flew to Lima, Peru, via Vancouver and Mexico City, and arrived mid-afternoon. Jose, one of Anas’s drivers, met us at the airport and took us to the Casa Andina Premium hotel in Miraflores, an upscale and very safe neighbourhood in Lima. That first night, Jean Paul, who heads up Anas’s Peru operations, came to our hotel and took us to dinner. We soon learned that Lima’s reputation as a “food capital” of the world was true. Furthermore, that “cerviche” is one of the classical dishes of Lima. It is raw fish that is marinated in citrus to “cook”. Roy being from Nova Scotia joined me in ordering the cerviche with scallops. It was delicious.

But I am going to skip Lima and come back to it. Let’s go forward four days and fly to Cusco where we were met by our guide, Efrain (Abraham) and his driver, Ronnie, who took us from the airport to our hotel in the Sacred Valley. It is part of the acclimatization process to get people used to being so high in the Andes, and actually we went down from Cusco into the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. While we stayed in Urubamba and we were treated to --- of all things --- a pizza resto that evening! It was one of Anas’s favorite spots and was a real local haunt. The pizza really was superb, not like anything we’d ever had anywhere else. It came with the best garlic toast and a side of French fries, that I had seen and longed for from another table. One other thing we learned was that dining in Peru is quite inexpensive. We also learned that potatoes originated in Peru and they have more than 400 different varieties!

We spent a day touring the Sacred Valley and climbed to the top of another major Inca ruin --- Pisac. Pisac features all kinds of architecture --- agricultural, hydraulic, military, residential and religious. But little is known about it as the Spanish never mentioned it in their writings. The view from the top was breath-taking! That night we were treated to dinner at a colonial mansion where Roy, the more adventurous diner, tried guinea pig --- the national dish dating back to the Inca royalty --- and I had alpaca steak. Guinea pig is usually eaten on special occasions, like our Thanksgiving!

 

This time in the Sacred Valley had got us used to being way above sea level and so we packed up our cases and our driver took us to catch the train in Ollantaytambo, the last town before the Rio Urubamba plunges through steep narrow gorges on the way to Machu Picchu, which is surprisingly lower still. There are three different trains that take the route, we were on the mid-priced one which is a domed-car. The views were spectacular. The train takes an hour and a half and the mountains go straight up from the narrow valley and are frequently snow covered and glacial. The train took us to Aquas Calientes (Hot Springs) where we again were met and escorted to the bus that would take us to the top --- Machu Picchu! Again, we have to say that Anas’s team arranged everything and we were met at every stop along the way. The escorts made sure we were safely on board and looked after. The bus ride to the top is unbelievable! S-curves with no barriers, frequently passing another bus, backing up to let one go by and beside the bus thousands of feet drop into the river valley below. This is no trip for the anyone with fear of heights!

Our guide, Vilma, met us at the top and we found ourselves climbing stairs way up and finally reaching our destination and looking out over Machu Picchu! WOW! It is everything one could have imagined and more. Our tour lasted about 3 hours and is highly regulated, after all, there are now as many as 8,000 visitors per day in the high season. I think the realization that this was only discovered by Hiram Bingham as late as 1911 is amazing and no doubt has led to Machu Picchu being called One of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World. This is high up --- about 7,700 feet above sea level --- and at the beginning of the rain forest jungle. Indeed, there were orchids and other jungle foliage in bloom when we visited in July, which of course is winter time in the Southern hemisphere. There are many theories about the origin of Machu Picchu, and archeologists continue to search for answers. But it is thought that this was a winter retreat built by Inca Pachacutec around 1440. It is thought to have been a refuge from the winter rains in Cusco, the centre of the Inca Empire. We marveled at the construction at the top of this mountainous region and were not disappointed in any way by anything. With Anas’s team’s help, I had finally visited the site that was on the top of my “bucket list” with my close buddy, Roy, along for the trip!

We descended by bus to Aquas Calientes, where we were treated to a buffet lunch and then boarded the train for the train ride at dusk back along the Rio Urubamba. Magnificent scenery all along the trip! We were met by our driver, Ronnie, at Ollantaytambo and took the hour and a half drive in the dark up the Andes to Cusco. Our next destination and top notch hotel --- the Sonesta --- with a fifth floor balcony overlooking a lovely water fountain/park, was awaiting our arrival with our luggage!

Machu Picchu was the high-light of our two days spent in the Sacred Valley and we had to thank Off The Map Adventures for arranging our custom built excursion. Nothing was missed. Anas even telephoned us numerous times to make sure everything was going perfectly. I don’t think I have ever had such wonderful host treatment! In conclusion, if you have ever thought of going to Peru, make sure you contact Off The Map Adventures and talk to Anas!