Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cuzco and Machu Picchu - March 2011

I spent last weekend on a little trip for work. It was a 4 day / 3 night trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu - packed full of tours and hotel visits. I won't explain everything about this trip, but there are definitely some highlights worth mentioning. The ancient city of Cusco was the heart and driving force of the Inca Empire. Learning more about the history and power of this Empire is incredible; I highly suggest any history buffs out there to go do some reading about the rise of this colony and era. The architecture, art, intelect, spirtuality, and power of the Inca Empire can not really completely be understood until you are standing there in front of something like Machu Picchu. Breathtaking is truly an understatement. Looking down on this massive ruin temple you literally feel the energy and spirit of the place come to life. There is no doubt that the significance of this site can not be fully understood by us today. There are many unanswered questions about the purpose of this site, how it was constructed, and the capabilities of the people whom dwelt here. The fact that these Inca ruins have withstood hundreds of years of abuse - hidden under brush, withstanding several earthquakes, massive floods, and have been uncovered in nearly perfect condition is astonishing. Can you honestly imagine any buildings we build today will be standing in 500 or 1000 years from now? Obviously we haven't figured out how to build buildings that withstand earthquakes, yet the logic of building something at a 9 degree angle leaning inward to withstand any ground movements was very aparent to ancient societies. The architecture and manpower is absolutely mind boggling.

My trip had a very busy schedule with tours and hotel visits during my downtime.  I arrived at about 11:00am and had to begin my city tour that day at 1:00pm.  We visited the most famous sights in the city, including; Cathedral, Koricancha, Plaza de Armas, and several smaller ruin sights outside of the city - most importantly the Sacsayhuaman Ceremonial grounds. The next day I had a full day tour of the Sacred Valley.  The tour bus stopped at some beautiful viewpoints, a traditional yarn factory (with lots of llamas), Pisac Ruins, Pisac Market, Ollantaytambo Fort, and the village of Chincheros.  The full day tour left us just enough time to take a short tour of each place before moving on to the next.  Finally, I was able to visit Machu Picchu on my final day!  The train ride from Cusco was about 3 1/2 hours, but I was able to enjoy a 2 1/2 hour tour followed by almost 2 hours of free time exploring the area. It was a truly amazing experience! Although I was able to see plenty of Machu Picchu, I would recommend more time for anyone traveling here.  I would have loved to have been able to hike up the Huayna Picchu Trail.  I guess that saves something for me to look forward to the next time that I visit!

Another important thing I took away from this trip was the experience of being a tourist - and doing it alone. Of course I was on tours with different groups everyday, but it is a totally different experience to arrive somewhere and travel alone. A lot of people tell me I am very independent and brave, and I also like to think I can be at times; however this isn't always true. Being a solo traveler in a group, people are very receptive of you. I made a lot of friends and had some great conversations with travelers from all of the place. The other solo travelers tend to group together, and many other young and old adventurers become very interested in finding out how you got here and what your story is. I was definitely received much differently than I would have been had I been traveling with a friend or boyfriend by my side. I have a new respect for many of those people who head out on vacations and adventure treks completely alone. It is a totally different experience from traveling with friends, and I think many new doors are opened to you when you are solo. Although it may be hard to take that first step off the plane alone or walk onto a bus with no one to sit next too, I think everyone should try it. It is definitely not something I always want to do, but it really taught me a lot about myself and made me feel more confident. I am not in any way saying that traveling alone is better than sharing a vacation with a spouse or friend, but I honestly feel it is something everyone should experience.

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