Travel account from our vacation in Peru the summer of 2001.

Some time in the middle of April we started talking about what to do for our summer vacation. We had the discussions with our friends Henrik and Kristina. After some contemplating we decided for Peru, the rainforest in Puerto Maldonado and Machu Picchu, and a pit stop on Aruba.

The four of us left for Peru the 17th of June and arrived in Lima 20 hours later. We had then passed the airports of Amsterdam and Aruba. After a short night in Lima, a bus came and got us and drove us to the airport. The next stop was Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon basin and the Peruvian jungle. Of course we thought is was going to be hot and humid and didn’t bring our warm clothes for this part of the trip. Unfortunately they had cold winds from Argentina, the temperature was only between 8 and 10 degrees Celsius and the weather was gray and rainy. Since we slept in a lodge at Sandoval Lake with only mosquito nets for windows we were freezing. I don’t think we became warm again until on the airplane back from Puerto Maldonado. Anyway we got to see some monkeys, birds, caimans and lizards. But with the cold weather and rainy skies neither the snakes nor the spiders showed themselves, which was something of a disappointment to us. We had been looking forward to the vast nature life but I guess the animals were feeling as frozen as we did and preferred to stay in their nests. After 2 nights and 3 days of hiking and sitting in a canoe on the lake the plane took us to Cusco.

Cusco is situated on 3.400 meters above see-level in the middle of the Peruvian Andes. It is one of the largest and oldest cities in Peru and was founded by the Incas. Coming to that kind of altitude severely affects some people. And some people actually get a bad sort of altitude sickness. The low oxygen level effected all of us and just climbing a stair was hard the first day. After adjusting for an hour we went on a bus trip in the surroundings of Cusco and among other ruins we saw the convent of Santa Domingo and the Temple of the Sun.  

Day 2 in Cusco we left for a lower altitude (2.700 meters), we went to the market in Pisac. It was very genuine with Peruvians in hats and ponchos, little ladies in 4 layered skirts and dirty children. The only thing breaking the peace was the mass of American tourists. After the market we went to see the last fort of the Incas. They had a fascinating building technique with no clay or mortar. Instead they used stones to carve other stones to a perfect fit. It was fascinating listening to the guide and realizing that even though the Incas civilization lasted until the 15th century they never reached further than to the bronze-age. Of course this is one of the reasons that the Spanish managed to extinguish them, considering that they had guns and iron armor. 

We spent that night at a hotel in the Urubamba valley and the next day we went river rafting at the Urubamba River. It was our first time and it was great. In the evening we went back to Cusco again and this time we were a bit more used to the altitude. The next day we had kind of a free day, just shopping and watching the parades. When leaving Sweden we didn’t know that we were going to be in Cusco for the exact days of the winter solstices. That meant a big festival in Cusco with carnivals and lots of extra people in the city.

We were out shopping and around 4 o’clock in the afternoon Daniel felt a bit dizzy. Or at least we thought so. When we came back to the hotel our friends were in an uproar. Apparently an earthquake hit Peru this day. Since we had read in the guide book that small earthquakes often hit Peru we didn’t see any reason to panic and we decided that it probably wouldn’t be reported in Sweden so we didn’t call our parents. A bit of a misjudgment it turned out. The earthquake was a 7,9 on the Richter scale and fortunately for us the epicenter was in Arequipa 300 kilometers away. 

On the 24th of June (the next day) the festival culminated with the offering of a lama at the temple of the sun. We missed this since we left for the Inca trail this morning. After 3 hours on the train we arrived at a train stop in the middle of nowhere at “kilometer 88”. Here we got together with the rest of the group that were going to walk the Inca trail. It was the four of us, another Swede called Thomas, a man from California and his 25 year old son, Celeste from Seattle (30 years old) and a couple from Washington DC working for the energy department (Steve and Susan).

In the afternoon after arriving to the first camp the guide took us on a trial trek to check if we were up to the task. Even this short walk was hard work for desk-jockeys like us.

After a night in a tent we were finally starting our hike. Actually it was kind of an expedition, It was the 10 tourists, 22 porters, 2 guides, 1 chef and his assistant. If you ever are going to hike the Inca trail (which I can recommend) I sincerely recommend this kind of group expedition. The trail started at an altitude of 2.500 meters but the first day we walked up to second camp at 3.800 meters a total of 1.300 meters (about 4.000 feet). At this altitude it is quite enough just carrying your own weight and a daypack.

Day 2 of the actual hike we started to walk through a pass at 4.200 meters, then we went down in a valley at 3.500 meters and up to 3.700 meters again. This was all before lunch. After lunch we went up another 200 meters and then down again to 3.400 meters only to walk another 200 meters up again before arriving at our night camp. We walked for about 10 hours each day and passed through a beautiful landscape, with mountain passes, cloud forests (like rain forest), lamas and Inca ruins and of course stairs made of stone. Because that is what the Inca trail actually is - a bunch of stairs up and down the mountain. The guide was an interesting man who told the villagers fortune by reading the coca leaves. 

The porters and the chefs were great. Each morning at around 5.30 the chef’s assistant were standing outside our tent asking if we wanted coca tea or regular tea. Of course everybody chose the coca tea since it is said that the coca tea is good for everything between altitude sickness to tiredness of voice. 30 minutes later, after drinking the tea in our sleeping bags someone said the word water. And outside the tent there was a bucket of water to wash in. After getting dressed everybody gathered for breakfast in the meal tent. One day it was pancakes and another day scrambled eggs. The food was always good and tasted fresh and I guess the porters carried all the water. When the group started walking the porters stayed behind to put down the tents and after some time they passed us on the trail, “running” ahead to make lunch and later on to put up the tents. Lunch and dinner was also excellent (by Peruvian standard) and usually consisted of a bowl of soup or salad, a main course and some dessert.

Day 3 was mostly downwards, some upwards, passing the Gate of the sun and finally arriving in Machu Picchu. The weather at this altitude is rather cold in the night, around freezing but the weather during the day is perfect, around 15-20 degrees Celsius and mostly sunny. Perfect for hiking. I believe that the hike was the best part of our whole 17 days trip and even though Machu Picchu is a great architectural construction the saying about the journey and not the destination being the best part is absolutely true.

After the best shower in years, a great night in a hotel and another look at Machu Picchu we took the train back to Cusco. After another night there we flew back to Lima and after that to our final destination. You see we ended our trip with 4 days in Aruba, just relaxing, sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling – GREAT! With sore feet, legs and tired bodies we really felt that we had accomplished something (in spite of the porters, guides and chefs).

Daniel & Anna

Copyright © 2002  Daniel Hedström. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 12, 2003 .