I started writing about Peru over a year ago…and am finally getting back to it today.
Today we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. We almost missed it.
The night before we debated whether we should walk the road from La Playa to Santa Theresa or take a longer, steeper trail over the mountain to the Hydro Electric plant, then a car to Santa Theresa. I voted for the road–it was shorter, which meant more time in the hot springs. Plus, Wilbur said the trail wasn’t that great, we’d hardly see Machu Picchu, and we’d be there in a couple days anyway.
Talk about an undersell.
The group voted for the trail, and so we followed a dirt road for about a mile and half. After turning onto a steep, dusty trail, coffee plantations sprung up around us. We walked with Flavio, a 32-year-old man we met on the trail. He was on his way to see his mom, Theresa, at her coffee plantation.
We stopped with Flavio, met his mom, and the coffee drinkers among us bought beans to take home and roast. She didn’t have any Earl Grey for sale, so I poked around and took photos.
From there the “three hours of gentle climbing” Wilbur promised us turned into a steep, sweaty, slog. From what I can tell, this is de rigor for Peru–I don’t know why we expected anything else. At the top of the pass, it looked just like Oregon–big trees, ferns, very temperate rainforest-like. Again, I was amazed at how much the ecosystems change here, and how quickly.
Here in Peru, one sixth of the world’s plant life lives on one percent of the planet’s land. There are 84 of 114 Holdridge plant life zones. Peru has the world’s highest diversity of birds (1,800 species), butterflies (more than 3,500 species), and orchids (3,500). There are 6,300 endemic plants and animals, and about 30 million insects. It’s pretty diverse.
As we started down the pass we got our first view of Machu Picchu. This wasn’t just a glimpse. There it was across the canyon, perched on the top of a flattened mountain. What made it even cooler, is that we got to enjoy this view from a Incan storehouse that lined up perfectly Machu Picchu. On the summer solstice, sunlight shined between two rooms of the storehouse and Machu Picchu.
We lounged on the grass, stretched, and ate lunch. This was definitely worth the longer trek. There was a very special feeling about this place, one that was hard to find at Machu Picchu with all the other people around.
We walked down the very steep trail to Rio Aobamba after lunch. Across the way a waterfall came straight out of a rock wall. It turned out this was part of the hydro-electric plant�a huge plant at the base of Machu Picchu that supplies energy to most of Peru. It has the ability to supply Bolivia and Ecuador, too, once they get the transmission ability increased.
From the hydro plant, we took a collectivo to Santa Theresa and our campsite at a garage and brick-making plant. The next day we would take the cab back to the hydro-electric plant to resume our walk.
After dumping our gear and grabbing swimsuits, it was back into the collectivo and on to the hot springs–three big pools set in a rocky background. It was incredible to clean up and relax in the hot water. Beer and popcorn followed, then it was back to camp for dinner and sleep.
Plan your own trip
Are you reading along and thinking, “I want to go on a trip like this!”? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she’ll set you up. And it’s not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.