After exploring the world of the Inca around Cusco and Machu Picchu, we knew that our time in Peru was coming to a close. But before we headed into Bolivia (arrived today!), there were a couple of things left in Peru that we wanted to see and get done.
One of the seven wonders of the world and rightfully so, the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu is on many people's bucket list. But as picturesque, breathtaking, and mysterious as it is, in recent years it has become a tourist hot-spot, and an expensive one. And I'm not just talking about the ticket price. The Peruvian government knows that they can get more than twice the ticket cost out of every visitor because Machu Picchu is inaccessible by road, which forces everyone to take overpriced train rides there (from Ollantaytambo it's $45 per person one way, from Cusco it's $75 one way!).
For many people this is fine, as they have been saving up all year to spend a weekend in Peru seeing the sights, and the train is certainly the quickest and most comfortable way of getting to Machu Picchu. But for long-term travelers trying to keep to a budget, getting there can be such a headache and a dent in the wallet, that many are now missing it simply for the cost involved. And that is a real shame.
In the 15th century, it was the largest empire in the world, and it still captures the hearts and minds of people today. Though the Inca Empire didn't last long, it made its mark on South America by reshaping the landscape and creating structures that are still marveled at by people from around the globe.
Getting up-close and personal to Peru's Incan past has been a dream of mine since I was a child. And now that Tim and I finally found ourselves in Cusco, the old Incan capital, I could just feel the excitement mounting inside me. I wanted to see and experience it all.
And so we made a plan.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there who celebrate it! Even though it's another year where we're unable to eat turkey with family, at least we are in the beautiful and historic city of Cusco, the old capital of the Incas.
When it comes to Peru, the Inca steal the show. Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Inca Trail are all things that usually come to mind when thinking of Peru. I certainly never pictured glacier-capped mountains and strikingly-blue alpine lakes tucked amidst them. But I do now.
Only the local Peruvians who have been farming these high-altitude slopes for centuries, overlanders like ourselves, and the most adventurous of travelers ever delve into this region. It's called the Cordillera Blanca (meaning white mountain range), and has some of the highest mountain passes in the world.
I now believe that anyone who comes to Peru just to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu is only seeing the face of Peru, the one in all the postcards and brochures. But they will be missing out on the heart of Peru, the one where it's only you and the llamas standing between stone ruins of long lost civilizations, and where red-cheeked babies peek out from the colorful swaddles on local women's backs. It's where white-washed peaks blend into the clouds and turquoise lakes dot the landscape.
I often look at the pictures we take and think, “Wow! We really are having the adventure of our dreams!" For us, there is no greater lifestyle than traveling around the world on a motorcycle, and sometimes we stand next to our bike with a jaw-dropping vista in the background on some crazy winding dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and I just couldn't be prouder of how far we've come.
Unfortunately, this is not one of those moments.
Yesterday Tim and I found ourselves hobbling around the Peruvian town of Huaraz, me on crutches, him looking pale and sickly with four cotton-ball bandages on his arms where the nurses stuck him with needles and IV's, and I couldn't help but think that whatever superpowers we may have once thought we had, they're certainly gone now.
Nothing has come easy for us in Peru. From underdeveloped road conditions, to people just shrugging their shoulders when telling us that the road is closed, and then still others simply making things up when we ask for directions because they'd rather say something than nothing, this place has definitely tested our patience.
But alongside Peru's challenges come great rewards, and we firmly believe that despite the obstacles, this country and its incredible people are worth it. And the perfect example of that has been the sites and cultures we've seen here in the north, or as I like to call it, the Land of the Dead, for reasons which I will explain later.
As many of you know, we were on the road to Peru two weeks ago when our monoshock broke and we were forced to haul the bike back to Cuenca, Ecuador, to get it fixed. What we didn't realize at the time was that the particular stretch of road between Cuenca, Ecuador and Jaén, Peru is cursed.
Check out our newest book: a Road Guide to Peru