I've heard about Machu Picchu, seen the ruins online, and heard about the ingenuity of the Incans.
People have told me about the immense energy of the mountains and the incredible power of this advanced civilization.
I heard what they said, but always put it in the back of my mind as somewhere I should probably go someday. There have been whispers of Machu Picchu closing to the public, and something told me to go now or regret it forever. The opportunity to take advantage of experiencing Peru slipped past me 2 years in a row, but on my third chance, I knew I had to go.
With no exaggeration or hyperbole I say that pushing myself to take off work and make time for this trip changed my life forever.
My trip began with a 5 hour flight to Lima to catch my connecting flight to Cuzco. I didn't get to experience Lima much because I landed around 11 PM, but what I did see was stunning. From what I did see, it is a city on the coast of the Pacific Ocean; a maze of mountains, waves, cliffs, and a lot of people.
I awoke the next morning at 4:45 am and caught my hour flight to Cuzco. During and after landing, I was immediately blown away by the phenomenal landscape. It is a city built on the sides of mountains that slowly fade into smaller communities. Bigger, snow-capped mountains stand in the distance, with clouds often covering the peaks. Locals offer Coca leaves to help with altitude sickness, and it works wonders. It truly is a miracle plant outlawed for it's medicinal benefits, much like marijuana. But that's a different blog.
I met up with the group and we took a bus from the airport to the Koyllur Hotel. The roads in Peru are something else; a lot of them are so narrow and windy that cars only can go one way, and to top it off they are also on the edges of cliffs. The edge of the roads are only about 12-18 inches away from the cliffside, if that. So be prepared to "not look down".
The hotel was cozy and just far away enough from the center of the city to where it was quiet, but still close enough to walk. After I got myself situated, we went for a walk to an amazing vegan restaurant in the center of town, and made our way to the San Pedro market. On the way there was a plethora of massive churches, fountains, and Incan ingenuity that have stood the test of time.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing and wandering, wanting to conserve my energy for the 4-day adventures beginning the next day. It's also wise to rest on your first day so you can acclimate easier to the altitude. Seriously, take some time, and always stuff those Coca leaves between your gum and cheek.
The group and I awoke around 7 am on Wednesday to prepare for our tour of Cuzco. I was weary about being an obvious tourist in Peru, but trust me, it is completely necessary. There is so much history and rich culture in this country that you really do need a guide to explain what you're looking at and take you to the right places. We used CuscoPeru, and our guide Joann (pronounced Joe-Uhhn, or Jon for Americans) was the absolute best guide we could have asked for.
We began the tour walking from our hotel thru the center of town, going past the amazingly intricate and accurate walls the Incas created all those years ago. To this day, the stones have not budged & the walls are still smooth as they day they were carved. The pictures below don't do the architecture justice, but they'll give you an idea.
From there Joann took us to The Basilica Cathedral of Cusco in Plaza de Armas, and again, the pictures below don't do it justice, and for some reason we were not allowed to take pictures inside. This was originally an Incan temple named Kiswarkancha, but the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the temple and built this cathedral instead. This is a common theme in Peru unfortunately, the conquistadors destroyed a lot of the Incan buildings & culture in place of their own.
The inside of the cathedral is adorned with an incredible amount of golden statues, sculptures, and art. There is even a safe inside of the church filled with even more gold than displayed, which to me is nuts.
After the Cathedral, we hopped on a bus and scooted over to Coricancha, the Cusco Inca's temple of the sun. Just like the walls in Plaza de Armas, the architecture here was impeccable. There was one part that was so intricate it was almost unbelievable; a large stone sat around 15 feet away from a wall. It was broken from the conquistadors, but the remaining piece has a bunch seemingly random of holes bored thru it. Joann brought this to our attention, and stated that at one point when the sun or moon hit the stone just right, the night sky would be reflected onto the wall behind it.
There were also a bunch of carved stones and bricks displayed around the temple to show the ingenuity of the Incans, such as the pictures below. Aqueducts, hydraulic pumps, and walls structures without mortar are just some of the architectural feats the Incans completed due to the way they crafted the stones.
An intriguing story our guide told us is that there is miles and miles of unexplored tunnels underneath Coricancha. Years ago, people would launch expeditions into these tunnels. However the government made it illegal to search after a group of young explorers went into the caves and only 1 returned, dying instantly after exiting the tunnel with a solid gold ear of corn in his hand. Spooky.
The sun was beginning to set, so we headed to our last destination; Sacsayhuamán. This is known as one of the most important religious centers in history, and is one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Although the ruins were stunning and massive, the story behind the name is unsettling.
The Spaniards really destroyed not only the architecture of the Incans but also the souls of them as well. The name comes from when a group of Spaniards killed a whole village of Incans and left them to rot; they did not bury their victims. As a result, large birds such as Condors feasted upon the dead bodies of the Incans, giving the place its name "Full belly of the Condor".
On a lighter note, the largest stone they used for constructing these walls and then buildings weighs 125 tons. What's even more interesting is that the Incans had to carry these stones from a quarry over 3 km away. The way the Incans transported these stones is still up for debate, but I think it was obviously aliens.
That was it for our first adventure, and let me tell you I slept GOOD after all of that.
The night time view of Cusco from Sacsayhuamán
The next morning we had to wake up at 5am to catch our first bus to Machu Picchu. Even after all of that exploring the day before, I was not tired at all. It was probably due to the cocoa leaves I've been chewing on non-stop, but I also like to believe that it was the amazing energy I was receiving from Pachamama.
On our way to Machu Picchu, we stoppped at an animal sanctuary and reservation. There we saw AWESOME animals such as a puma, some unique llamas, but by far the coolest was the condors. Their wingspan was at least 7 feet fully extended, and one of them even posed for us as we left.
After this, we made another pit stop at some more ruins (they're everywhere), which is where I saw the famous 'lines in the mountains' that everyone talks about, where the Incans planted & harvested food. I will just let the pictures do all of the talking for this.
We then stopped at a beautiful place to eat lunch (the name escapes me) located at the base of a mountain on a riverbed with a few llamas to play with.
We made our final pit stop before catching our train to Machu Pichu; Ollantaytambo. In Incan times, Ollantaytambo served as a former Incan administrative center and gateway to the Amazon corner of the Incan empire. It was also the last Incan stronghold against the Spanish conquest of Peru. It is a sight to behold.
Each terrace, or 'giant step', is taller than the average person. The higher you climb the ruin, the more you understand just how massive it is. Once you reach the top, you can see for miles. Mountains, valleys, rivers as far as the eye can see.
What's pretty cool about this is that there are not 1 but 2 faces carved into the mountain side opposite Ollantaytambo, and they can only be seen from the middle-top area. You cannot see it from the ground. And just like the sun temple in Cusco, there are carved stones & bricks scattered everywhere showing the ingenuity of the Incans.
From there, we jumped on IncaRail, the only train that can take you back and forth to Machu Pichu. This was especially cool because the walls and ceilings of the train are made of glass, so you can see the jungle, wildlife, and mountains as you move towards Machu Picchu.
Arriving in Machu Picchu is beyond words. You're greeted with massive mountains, enigmatic cloud formations, and a feeling of pure wonder and awe. We walked our luggage to our hotel, and got a feeling for the city.
Just to name a few, powerful rivers and unassuming streams run thru the city, some still guided by ancient Incan waterways. There are statues of ancient Incans everywhere, some as old as the Incans themselves, most of them just artist renditions. There is color everywhere, accompanied by a delicious aroma of freshly picked and grilled vegetables in the air. Our hotel overlooked a robust river at the foot of an impressive mountain. It was like being in a jungle inside of a dream; unbelievable.
At this time it was dark, and we had to be up at 4 AM to catch the bus to the actual ruins of Machu Picchu, so I hit the hay.
The next morning we woke up and stood in line for the bus to the ruins. It looked like a long line but it wasn't that bad at all. I do have to tell you, the journey in a bus up the mountainside is very spooky. When I tell you there is maybe 16" between the bus and the mountainside as you speed up it.... You get the idea.
Anyways, we arrived at the Machu Pichu ruins just before sunrise. This was a gift. As we arrived, the mountains and ruins were covered in a heavy mist combined with clouds, seeing as we were so high up. As we moved thru the ruins, the mist and clouds lifted, revealing the might and awe of the ruins, like a lotus flower opening to reveal it's true beauty.
It was like slowly waking up from a dream
Imagine living here and waking up to this every day
The Machu Pichu ruins are beyond words, as is the energy I felt walking thru it. The history is so deep and the knowledge is so rich that I honestly don't know where to start. As above, I will just let the pictures speak for me, and let the guide explain everything to you when you go.
The coolest llama I have ever seen
Slowly she came out
I felt like I was in Jurassic Park
Pictures can never bring justice to the sheer power of the mountains
Victoria led us thru a yoga and meditation practice inside of the ruins, and it was like everything else on this trip; out of this world and beyond words. The energy emitting from the Earth was golden, pure, immense, powerful. Harnessing this energy during a meditation and yoga practice was like plugging your phone in on 1%, and being charged to 10,000% in a matter of minutes. I left feeling clear, humbled, full of purpose.
The ruins in all her glory
The rear view of the ruins
Right sided view of the front giant steps
A higher up view of the ruins
My feeble attempt at a panorama
After we left the ruins, we hung out in the city of Machu Picchu for a few hours, then left for our next hotel for the night. The city more like a tourist town, it doesn't have a city feeling. It is a collection of tiny buildings, houses, and shops scattered along the mountainside with a feeling of comfort and security.
We jumped on the IncaRail again, leaving the energy mecca with a sense of wonderment and curiosity of the purpose of life. After the train, we hopped on a few buses to take us to our hotel for the night. I honestly don't know where it was, all I can tell you is that it was in the middle of nowhere. To be honest, it was a bit unsettling being so far away from civilization. It was truly the first time I was really detached from society and thrown to the mercy of Mother Nature. It was invigorating.
We arrived at our resort, and I was not disappointed. It was so far away from everything that the night sky resembled the deepest, darkest black you could possibly imagine with silver and white glitter splashed across it. I saw constellations, galaxies, planets, shooting stars... I must have spent 30 minutes just watching the sky dance.
The next morning wasn't so rushed, we were able to sleep a bit and enjoy the resort and nature. There were 3 dogs there that were pets of the owner, and they took me (yes, the dogs) on a hike thru the forest and up the mountainside. No matter how many mountains I climbed, I was always equally amazed by the sheer immensity of the surrounding mountains and nature.
After the dogs were tired out, we walked back down the mountain with just enough time for me to pack my things, eat, and jump in the bus to our next destination; Moray.
Now let me be clear, all of the destinations are stunning and awe-inspiring, but for me personally, Moray was the pinnacle.
The second largest
The Synergy girls in front of the third
It is a combination of 3 of these giant, cascading, bowl-like structures. Their actual purpose is not fully known, but leading researchers and archaeologists believe that they were used for agriculture. The biggest, main one was used for regular, in season crops, and the two smaller ones were for new crops they would test. Other archaeologists believed that the larger one was to store water, seeing as Moray is located in a desert part of the mountains.
By far the aspect that completely blew my mind about Moray was the fact that I was pulling seashells out of the side of the mountain. This is because at one point in time, millions of years ago, these massive, sky scraping mountains were beneath the ocean, and the seashells are remaining proof of this.
After Moray, we drove maybe 10,15 minutes down the road to the Salinas de Maras, the salt mines of Peru. This is especially interesting because all of those pools of salt water you see in the pictures below come from 1 tiny trickle of water inside the mountain. The source of the salt is unknown, all that is known is that it has been providing salt well before the Incans and continues to do so today.
Oh, and be sure to get some salt for yourselves, because you can not buy it anywhere else in the world, and no, they don't ship.
After the salt mines, we shuffled back into the tour buses to take us back to Cusco for the night. We all had dinner together, and headed to bed early for some well deserved rest.
We had a half day to play around Cusco on Sunday, so we all did our own thing until the buses took us to the airport. Victoria and I went to one of the many churches that overlooked Cusco, had some vegan lunch, and then walked to the bus to take us to the airport.
Peru was, to say the least, a life changing experience for me. This is a phrase that is often over used and under appreciated, but I hope you believe what I say thru my description of my experience.
Having that said, words can not describe what I saw, felt, experienced. The entire trip was just like the feeling of bliss I receive after a solid asana practice or purposeful meditation, and it has stayed with me to this day.
If you are looking to improve your life, experience something new, travel to a new country, or experience feelings beyond words, go to Peru. If you decide to go with Synergy, I'll be right there with you every year.