ALL ABOARD! MACHU PICCHU AND THE INCA TRAIL AWAITS: PERU, PART 7

Overnight bag in tow, hiking poles ready, we take our leave of the Rio Sagrado and Urubamba and make our way to the train station to board our train that will take us DOWN to Machu Picchu which has an elevation of ONLY 7,972 feet.  Our excitement builds as we reach the platform:

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We settle in for the 90 minute ride.  Most of us will be taking the train to Agua Calientes, the town closest to the ruins, but our guide Edgar and one intrepid fellow traveler Carolyn will be getting off the train at “kilometer 82” (referring to its location on the rail line between Cusco and Machu Picchu).  It is there that the two will begin their 8 hour grueling (this is a gross understatement) hike along the Inca Trail that will rise in elevation by 1500 feet.  Edgar is carrying oxygen tanks just in case, along with a medical emergency kit.  This is serious stuff.  Before moving on – let me provide a brief description/history of The Inca Trail:

The Inca Trail – There are actually almost 25,000 thousand miles of Inca built trails connecting Machu Picchu all the corners of the empire, from Quito in Ecuador down to Santiago in Chile and east to Mendoza in Argentina.  Most hikers today take specific paths from various archeological sites across a 27 mile section of mountain trails and these have become known as the “Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.” This section is strongly regulated to protect the environment and only 500 hikers are given permits daily.

We of fainter heart (and lungs) will take a shorter but still arduous hike the following day.

The train takes us through spectacular views of mountain ranges with its many glaciers:

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We soon start to see more lush vegetation as we “descend:”

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In a rather disconcerting moment, the locomotive engineer stops the train and actually gets out to walk on the tracks and pull some switches so the trains stays on the proper rails:

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Soon we are approaching kilometer 82:

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After sending off Carolyn and Edgar with our sincere wishes that they do NOT break a leg we continue our train journey and soon arrive in the quaint town of Agua Calientes (Hot Water):

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Of course to get to the Inkaterra Hotel we must hike UP ramps and steps – but our breath wasn’t taken away until our arrival.  This is just the entranceway to reception:

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The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel sits on 12 acres of natural paradise in the heart of Andean cloud forest and every effort has been made to promote sustainable tourism.  The hotel complex has been built in harmony with the surrounding jungles and rain forests and it really feels like an integral part of the surroundings.  Of course this means that rooms are sprinkled around a series of stone steps (what else) so every room has a private feel.  For example take a look (and listen) at our room’s private “back yard:”

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You know how I loved the shower at Rio Sagrado – but I really went gaga over our fireplace.  Each night there was a basket of logs and a pot of deliciously smelling firestarter moss by the andirons with additional logs in a larger basket outside our door.  It does get fairly cool since we were in the valley so every night I happily lit our fire:

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After settling in my friend and I decided to take a jungle nature walk with a guide provided by the hotel:

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Before setting off, he advised us to go to into the ladies’ lounge and smear ourselves with their own special citronella to ward off the mosquitoes and other biting insects.  We did this, but alas we got no more protection than with the slinky anti-insect bracelets we had purchased in the states – there are no photos but believe me every area of skin that was exposed elbow to wrist became lunch – thank goodness they left my face and neck attack free.  The buggers even managed to get inside my boot, leggings and socks to add a few bites on my feet.  Fortunately these critters are just annoyances and do not carry yellow fever or dengue – but their bites itched like hell – so much so that i soon visited a nearby pharmacy to get extra strength cortisone.  Ah, relief!  I will definitely have to do some serious reserve on insect protection before my Africa trip next year.

Enough downers – this was a magnificent walk with lush vegetation, flowers and exotic birds and some hearty exercise navigating tree roots and of course the obligatory roughly hewn and worn stone steps (not pictured since as before I was more concerned with not careening off into who knows what.

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Wild orchids and berries:

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Cannaindico flowers and seed pods:

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Ferns with black dotted spores:

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I was so happy that the insects we did see – mostly butterflies were the pretty kind:

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While we did come upon a very large spider web we never met its owner:

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Although a quick glance at this strange plant brought a few heeby jeebies:

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I did face my fear of bees getting a bit close to this:

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We caught a few bird sightings although I think there are over 540 varieties of birds to be found at Inkaterra.  A side note that our resident birder, Ginny specifically arranged a birding tour with a local guide – not only did she not see ANY birds on this 4-hour travesty,  the guide brought her to such a dangerous area that she fell and got a large gash on her knee.  What a WTDGAP moment.  Happily for Ginny, the hotel sent her on a similar nature walk to ours the following day and Ginny clocked many beautiful birds – so glad there was a happy ending.

Our sightings – Ginny, please let me know if I mislabelled any of these beauties:

I think this is a swallow:

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A yellow flycatcher:

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This hummingbird flew so fast I couldn’t get a clear enough shot for identification:

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But the very last sighting was my favorite – a chestnut breasted coronet hummingbird:

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Not bad for a city girl.

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