Saturday, December 16, 2006

Machu Picchu, The Quiet Way

I am headed back to Peru in May of '07 to trek up the isolated and relatively unkown Ankoscocha trail concluding at the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu....and I can't wait.
This is a 5 day trek over several high passes (14,000 ft)...where chances are good that we will not encounter another tourist over the entire 5 day trek...unlike the majority of other trekkers on the standard Inca Trail.

Below is a short story that I wrote for a Japanese Adventure Travel magazine, after my return from Peru...

As thoughts of my upcoming journey to Machu Picchu swam through my imagination prior to my departure for Peru, I was inundated with fears of having to share the 5 day approach trail with swarms of other tourists, all competing for the same camping spots, photo shots and natural silence. It was these anxious thoughts that lead me to choose a variation of the standard Inca Trail that 99% of all travelers take to reach the ‘lost city’ of Machu Picchu. I would happily refer to my pending trail variation as the ‘Huber Inca Trail’.

The usual packing effort behind me, I was on the plane and headed for Peru. After a quick swing through Lima, we quickly headed into the heart of the Peruvian Andes. Arrival into Cusco was refreshing to say the least. It is a city that retains its indigenous heritage while at the same time allows many elements of contemporary society into its colorful and bright way of life. The central square of the city vividly displays the place where native Quechan culture was dramatically and succinctly mandated with Spanish dominance and the subsequent Roman Catholic faith. The main cathedral contains effigies of a dark skinned Christ, stone carvings remarking on several prominent Incan holidays as well the expected Catholic pomp and circumstance.

Whereas Machu Picchu was the ‘summer getaway’ for the Emperor, high priests and scientists, Cusco was the established permanent home of the head of the Incan Empire as well as the large bulk of the Quechan civilization. Even in today’s often diluted society, Cusco stands out as a lovely city still retaining its native charm.

Cusco is full of remarkable historical places and memorable learning points and although I had spent four years studying Meso-American culture and received a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Colorado, a relatively significant semantic detail regarding the Incan Empire had eluded me. I was quite surprised to learn from my ever knowledgeable Peruvian guide that there was actually no such thing as the Incan Empire. The civilization that I had always known as the Incas was actually the Quechan civilization. He enlightened me to the fact that the Incan Emperor was referred to as Inca and for the purposes of history and teaching, or perhaps downright laziness, this term has often been blanketed to refer to the entire civilization. This was another wonderful illustration that one can spend thousands of dollars on a higher education degree, but the real learning will always take place in the world of experience.

The five days spent on the high trail were magnificent. As each day flew by I was required to finally believe that we really would not see another tourist for the entire journey. The only other contact we had from day to day was with several groups of Peruvian sheep/goat herders and of course individuals from some of the local villages that we gently crept through.

One of the joys of our trip was pre-arranging a community service project in the small village of Chilipaua. An entire day was spent painting the local school and celebrating cultural diversity with the locals. This was a vibrant and rich way to feel a part of Peru instead of just cruising through in a homogenous and segregated way. We enjoyed this activity immensely and I will include it in all of my Peruvian itineraries in the future.

It goes without saying that the scenery while walking through the Andes is remarkable. High mountain lakes and waterfalls are circumventing massive glaciated peaks along every step of the trail…all of this simply whetting your appetite for the grand finale five days later…Machu Picchu. Pulling into the ‘Gate of the Sun’ as the sun was just dropping behind the mountains that provide the barrier to the ‘lost city’, was glorious as it uncovered this lovely antiquated village nestled on its hillside. One can practically envision the hustle and bustle that must have taken place in this once active village 500 years prior. Just like it was just yesterday.

We headed back to our lodge down the road from Machu Picchu once it got too dark to take in the sites and sensations of this wondrous place, only to return back in the morning to spend four quality hours taking it all in with our knowledgeable Peruvian guide. A very special feeling comes from walking on this sacred ground. You get the feeling that the inhabitants of this place were way ahead of their time in regards to engineering, mathematics, farming, astronomy, spirituality as well as countless other nebulous concepts. I could only hope that some of their insight would find its way into me and the folks around me.

Check out Didriks site for many photos from this trip.