Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Machu Picchu and Huaraz, Peru

We are in Huaraz, Peru (10,500 ft). We arrived yesterday after a flight from Juliaca, near Lake Titicaca, and a long drive from Lima. Huaraz sits in a valley between the foothills of the Cordillera Negra and the towering peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. Many of the mountains in the Cordillera Blanca are over 6,000 meters high.

Today, we did a short dayhike in the Cordillera Negra up to Lake Walcicocha and a great view of the Cordillera Blanca. We were dropped off with our guide along the highway near a bridge across the Rio Santa. We crossed the bridge and initially followed a dirt road up the mountain. The road, and later the footpath, was lined with agave and other cacti, eucalyptus trees (invasive), and flowering shrubs. Our guide helpfully told me the Quechua names for them. Since I didn't write them down, naturally I have forgotten them.

The climb only took 1 1/2 hours to the lake. We took a break and took some pictures (which I will add later). The lake was filled with ducks and ibises. Nearby, sheep were grazing. After a short while, we continued on to a second, smaller lake where rust-colored ducks with blue bills were swimming. Below us, sheep and cattle were grazing and two Quechua women were spinning wool into yarn. We also passed several adobe farmhouses along the way. The hike down took about 40 minutes and put us back on the road closer to Huaraz.

On Friday last week, we visited Machu Picchu. We got up at 4 a.m. to hike up from the village of Aguas Calientes, hoping to get a 10 a.m. ticket to hike Huayna Picchu. They only allow 400 people to hike it a day, 200 at seven in the morning and another 200 at ten. We left Aguas Calientes at five and it only took us an hour to get to the gate at Machu Picchu, but there was a huge line by the time we arrived and the 10 a.m. tickets were already gone. Since we had a tour at 7:45, we couldn't take the earlier tickets. We were a little dissappointed, but figured we could find something else to hike there.

Our tour was really good and the site itself is amazing, if crowded. Our guide said there were about 3,000 people there, but during July and August, there can be as many as 6,000 visitors in one day. Next year they are going to start limiting visitation to 2,500 per day. The tour gave us a great overview of the ruins.

On our guide's recommendation, after lunch we hiked up Cerro Machu Picchu. It is considerably higher than Huayna Picchu and few people hike it. It is also a little bit longer hike. The trail is crazy steep in places, especially near the top. There were stone staircases where I could reach out and touch the steps in front of me without bending at all. On the way up, we saw at least five kinds of orchids and only a few other people. At the top, we had an incredible 360 degree view of the area. There were afew other people at the summit, but not many. On our way down, we passed some people hiking barefoot to, "better be in touch with the Pachamama (mother earth). Whatever works, but I wonder why getting in touch with mother earth requires bleeding feet.

All in all, I don't think we missed anything by hiking Cerro Machu Picchu and I think it was probably more pleasant for the lack of crowds. Machu Picchu is every bit as spectacular as the pictures and books lead you to believe.

Tomorrow, we are headed out on a nine day hike on the Cedro Alpamayo.

I wrote this post on my Ipod with a wireless connection, apologies for any spelling and grammatical errors.

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