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  • Writer's pictureTommy Cicero

Adios to Peru

My trip to Peru has ended, but I feel like this new chapter of my life is beginning. While I was hoping the ayahuasca retreat would help me me to grow and heal, I understand it could also be the ayahuasca still working in me, but having the opportunity to be by myself in an unfamiliar and so stunningly spectacular place in so many ways, gave me more perspective and a deeper appreciation for life. I still can't even comprehend all of the beauty, rich culture, and love I took in over the past week. These past few days were especially magnificent with my excursion to the sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley tour began Thursday morning at 7:30 am. I was one of 12 who took a shuttle bus to our first stop, Pisac, about an hour outside of Cusco. The Pisac site is actually larger than Machu Picchu in size, and it did not disappoint, with some amazing views. We started by visiting the town in the lower valley for about an hour before taking the shuttle up to the Pisac ruins.

Town of Pisac, Peru

Wow! I was in awe by the sheer size of the Pisac site, which served as an archeological complex. I was able to walk/climb all the way to the top of the site and take in the stunning views, and of course take some great pics. I learned how their cemeteries were essentially built in to the mountainside, almost like a mausoleum where the dead were entombed. Pisac was a great start to the tour.

The next stop was for lunch in Urumbamba. The weird part was I ate by myself, and not by choice. I was literally the only one dropped off at this (what turned out to be amazing) backyard restaurant. The tour guide told me she had to split everyone up since it's hard to get large groups in at one place. While at first I felt abandoned, since I was the first and only one dropped off, I immediately became ok with it. The staff was super friendly, it was a gorgeous day out, and they had wifi, which I was not expecting. Since I was by myself, I was able to video chat with my mom, dad, brother Tony, and cousin Sharon. The scenery, food (trout), music (Jack Johnson and other chill songs), and friendly staff were all great!

There were no sites to visit in Urumbabmba, but we did pass by a guinea pig spot where there is a guinea pig statue and plenty of roadside vendors holding up their skewers of guinea pigs to sell. We didn't stop, although I was told by a local in Cusco that it was the spot to get guinea pig.

The next stop was Ollantaytambo, where we saw another ancient ruins site. It was much smaller than Pisac, but provided a similar historical and sacred vibe. It was much more crowded too, since it was the same town where everyone takes the train up to Machu Picchu. While I maybe saw a couple hundred people in Pisac, I saw well over 500 people in Ollantaytambo. It wasn't too crowded, though. Plenty of space to move around and take pics.

My group of 12 was very friendly, and warmed up to me by the end of the day. Even though most of them spoke Spanish, a few spoke English to me by the end of the tour. I was the only one in my group who spoke native English. There was one Canadian couple, but they were Chinese, and spoke Chinese to each other most of the day. They were very friendly, and were just starting off their "retirement tour" by visiting places around the world they have never been to.

The final leg of the Sacred Valley tour was an hour and a half train ride to Aguas Calientes, which is a 20 minute drive from the Machu Picchu entrance. It was a memorable ride, where I sat with another three Canadians who all spoke English, but it was not their first language. Two of them spoke French mainly, and the third person was a native of Peru, so his native language is Spanish. I have to say, I love me some Canadians. I get to interact with them a lot since the company I work for is located in Canada, and more than half my team is from Canada, but this trip gave me more appreciation for how friendly and warm Canadians can be.

The views from the train were amazing, as nightfall started setting in while we pulled into Aguas Calientes. I don't know why, but I felt like Harry Potter pulling up to Hogwarts for the first time. It felt like a magical place where I had just arrived.

I met yet another tour guide, Rosa, in Aguas Calientes (The company I booked my tour with was amazing). She showed me around town, where I needed to leave the next day, and even introduced me to my personal tour guide Christian, who would show me around Machu Picchu the next day. Rosa walked me the long way to my hotel, so I could see the main square, where to stamp my passport, and it was still less than a ten minute walk to my hotel from the train station. It's a small town.

Downtown Aguas Calientes

I checked into my hotel, which was very quaint, and had a view of the river that runs right through the middle of town. After checking in, I roamed around the town for about 15-20 minutes before settling on a spot for dinner. I had chicken brasa (Peruvian, rotisserie) and pumpkin soup, which were both so good. I can still taste both. I still can't believe how reasonably priced my meals were. It was usually around $15 for my meal with a drink, usually sparkling water or a fruit juice, like the local favorite, chicha morada. After dinner, I strolled around town for another half hour before heading back to my hotel to get some good sleep for my big day at Machu Picchu!

View from my hotel room

I woke up at 5:15 in order to get ready, eat breakfast and meet my tour guide in my hotel lobby at 6am. Breakfast at the hotel was so good, just like my hotel in Cusco. The cook was another person who knows basic English (only learning for a year so far), so we got to have a simple conversation in English and Spanish. I mentioned in my last post how I love that. I was able to pack some fruit and a couple bottles of water to go, while I walked with Christian to the bus top just a few minute walk up the hill from my hotel. Again, small town. Everything right there.

The line for the bus was loooong, since they did not start departing yet for the 7am group, which I was part of. Christian said the line would move fast once the busses started loading up, which they did. the busses hold up to 30 people and came every 2-3 minutes. There must have been a couple hundred people in front of us, but we waited for only about 20-25 minutes in line while Chrstian and I got to know each other. He has known English since he was 6-7, growing up in Cusco, where his mother ran a gift shop, and he wanted to learn English to speak with all the English speaking visitors from around the world.

Once we hopped on the bus, it was a quick 20 minute drive up the mountain to the Machu Picchu entrance. I was so excited to be there. The weather was nice. Probably in the mid 50's once we started, but got up to the mid-70's by the time I left. No rain my entire time there. It's the tail end of the rainy season right now. The wait at the entrance was only about five minutes. I had a 7am pass for Circuit 2, the most popular circuit, and a 9am pass for Circuit 4, which includes an optional climb up Huaynu Pichu mountain (only 200 tickets a day), the tallest point at Mach Picchu. I only had Christian for Circuit 2, and would eventually climb Huayna Picchu on my own, after we parted ways when completing Circuit 2.

It only took 10-15 minutes to reach the point where we could see the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It was foggy/cloudy, so we had to wait to see anything. There were maybe 150+ people waiting for the sky to clear so we could get a good view. After waiting (and learning from Christian) for about 20-25 minutes, we were teased with a clear view of the ancient ruins for a few minutes, until it disappeared into the fog for another 10-15 minutes. Then, almost miraculously, the fog lifted, and we got a permanent clear view of the ruins. This is when I started going photo crazy. I'm not a big picture taking guy, but I probably snapped more pics on that day than I have over the past two years combined. No exaggeration. I may have taken one too many Machu Pictures. 😁 It was hard not to. I wanted to capture every breathtaking moment and view, which were so awe inspiring.

After taking in the view from above, we walked down to observe the ancient ruins. this is where you could tell, as Christian pointed out, that Machu Picchu was never fully completed, as there were many large stones not set into place. Christian stated that it may have been 75-80% completed before the Incans abandoned it after the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. I'm a big history nerd for interesting facts, and Christian did not disappoint by dropping knowledge on me for the time I had with him.

The two hours I had with Christian seemed to fly by, as I was fully engaged with Machu Picchu, along with Christian's fact-filled, guided tour. Before we parted ways, Christian gave me instructions and tips for heading to Circuit 4 and climbing Huayna Picchu mountain. I truly lucked out with him as my guide. I honestly feel like I lucked out all week with my guides. Besides having someone to learn from, I was able to connect and bond with them at a personal level, which helped make each experience more meaningful and enjoyable.

Hanging with my tour guide Christian

I started walking to the mountain at 9:30am and started the climb around 9:45. It was not too bad at first. Lots of stairs, but not too steep. I also felt energized, and physcially and mentally prepared for the climb. It normally take an hour to climb, but took me about 45-50 minutes, since I was so excited to get to the top! This included stops to catch my breath and and take some amazing pictures. I noticed a lot of my pics are of the same famous ruins, but from so many different views and vantage points throughout Machu Picchu

Everyone along the climbing trail, whether going up, or coming back down, were super nice, helpful, and courteous. People from all over the world. I mainly heard English, Spanish and French being spoken, but heard other languages too. A lot of English speaking people. I thought it was cool how I would swap phones with others to take pics of each other. It seemed like everyone was as geeked as me to capture this journey.

Final stairs to the peak of Huayna Picchu

The final ten minutes of the climb were exhilarating. I could see how close I was to the peak. Also, people heading back down the mountain would tell us how close we were.

I'm going to end it here for tonight (I want to get this posted) and provide part two on Monday night, which will include the rest of my journey to Machu Picchu and my final day in Cusco.


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