A to Z of Adventure Travel: P is for Peru

1 05 2009

 

Whether your personal choice is culture, history, wildlife or simply pushing yourself to your limit, Peru is one of the greatest adventure destinations on the planet.

 

Peru is synonymous with Machu Picchu and hiking the Inca Trail to the former royal city is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for many travellers. The Trail itself is most easily accessed from Cusco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire and an ancient colonial city high in the Andes. At over 10,000 feet altitude, Cusco is also the place that most people acclimatise before tackling the trail or travelling the 80 kilometres to the ruins by train. Served by an international airport, the city is home to both Inca ruins and colonial architecture and hosts a number of spectacular festivals.

 

Most people who opt to hike to Machu Picchu start their trek at kilometer 88 or 82. Due to limits imposed on the trail to protect the environment, all hikers now require permits which are strictly limited and must be obtained from the authorities many months in advance. Most operators not only provide these permits in their tours, but also include local porters and guides thereby allowing trekkers to gain better enjoyment of their experience. The trek generally takes 3-4 days and although it requires no technical skills, it does demand a good degree of physical fitness due to the distances covered and the high altitude.

 

The final morning of any trek emerges at at the Sun Gate and provides the classic sunrise view of Machu Picchu below. Trekkers also have the advantage of being able to explore the legendary site before the crowds arrive by bus.

 

For those with less time, Machu Picchu can also be reached by train from Cusco through the Urubamba Valley with a stop in the small town of Aguas Calientes and its eponymous natural mountain hot baths.

 

Machu Picchu was started in AD 1430 on a mountain ridge more than 8,000 feet above sea level and overlooking the Urumbamba River almost 2,000 feet below. Built for the Inca rulers but abandoned a century later, it became known as the “The Lost City of the Incas” until  ‘rediscovered’ in the late 19th century by the outside world and then popularised by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.machu-picchu

 

Further south in Peru lies the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. At more than 12,000 feet altitude, the lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world. Although boasting many colonial buildings, most people use Puno as their staging point to visit Taquile and Amantani islands and the floating islands of the Uros people. For centuries, the Uros have built their floating island homes from bundles of totora reeds as protection from more aggressive neighbours. They are most hospitable to visitors and it’s also possible to arrange a homestay in the area.

 

For a complete change of scene from the Andes and ancient cultures, head west into the Amazon jungle. Starting in Puerto Maldonado, travel by motorised canoe and on foot to a remote lodge deep in the jungle. From there, spend your days exploring the thick forest and winding waterways or the evenings looking for caiman. At night, lie in your bed listening to the distant roll of thunder, the rain pounding your thatched roof and all the wild sounds of the jungle.

 

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s always cosmopolitan Lima, local markets, Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon and the rugged Pacific coast.

 

 

Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009





The Baggage Hall: Traveller’s Purgatory

2 10 2008

Tag, you’re it!

Your flight was delayed. The cabin was too warm. The person behind you performed ‘River Dance’ on the back of your seat. You’d seen the movie. They ran out of your choice of meal and left you with the gluten-free sodium-free minced soy-substitute spinach stew, and your bladder is exploding because you couldn’t climb over your slumbering neighbour. All you want is to collect your bag and get home.

 

Remarkably, you breezed through Immigration in record time and you’re so close to a nice shower and bed that you can almost taste it.

 

You sprint for the baggage hall. You find your carousel, grab a baggage cart and stake out the prime position that provides you with maximum warning of your approaching bag and direct access to retrieve it.

 

As others crowd around, you position your trolley as a perfect buffer between yourself and the hordes. The buzzer sounds, the light flashes, the conveyor starts to turn and the first bag bounces down. You eye the tags as they rotate by to confirm that it’s your flight. The first bags have ‘Priority’ tags but you are confident yours will soon follow.

 

You happily watch the cases with rainbow straps, the large cardboard boxes and the items wrapped in industrial cling-film. You notice cases that have been torn-asunder and which drag trains of formerly-white unrecognisable garments behind them. You read the addresses on the boxes to distract your growing impatience.

 

You start to count the pieces. Your bag will be the 20th one down, the 25th one, the 35th one…

 

The crowd around you thins. The person before you at Immigration is long gone. Your palms grow sweaty. The seed of doubt germinates. Will you ever see your bag again? You begin to recognise the same items going around and around and around. You fidget and pace from side to side. The others have the same apprehensive expression. You are united in your forthcoming loss. There’s a baggage bonding between you.

 

The carousel stops.

 

There’s an audible gasp. You feel compelled to hurdle the belt, climb the ramp, dive through the rubber curtain and retrieve your bag yourself. Then it dawns on you there’s a very real chance that your bag is indeed lost. Self pity descends. Why you? You only want to go home. It’s not asking so much. There are half-a-dozen people around you. You try to remember if they sat near you, if you saw them check-in, you grasp for any logical explanation for the unlawful separation from your possessions.

 

Your shoulders slump. You start to prepare a mental description of your bag and its contents and steel yourself to complete endless paperwork. You should have bought insurance.

 

The buzzer sounds, the carousel starts. Everyone perks up. No new bags appear. Shoulders sag. The same boxes pivot past, their owners evidently sitting in some netherworld along with your case. There’s a swish from the rubber curtain and a bag tumbles down. Someone to your right grabs it. Then a second…and a third. Your fingers are crossed. Your breath is held.

 

And then it appears.

 

As if in slow motion it tumbles down. You run towards it and embrace like Heathcliff and Catherine on the moors. You take it in your arms and hoist it skyward like a father playing with his toddler. You kiss it, twice, continental-style, and place it on your trolley, all the while caressing it tenderly and wiping a tear from the corner of your eye. You race towards the exit, eyeing your bag tenderly, its strap looped flirtatiously around your wrist.

 

You no longer care about the bed or the shower. You have forgotten the torment of your journey.

 

You are complete.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan