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Travels in Peru 1

We’ve just got back from four weeks in Peru and I thought I’d share some of the experiences. The highlight was the trek along the Salkantay route to Machu Picchu, which take five days and is hard walking; steep and at altitude. The mountains are, like all wild places, very special. Our guide told us that the local people considered the mountains to be gods, resting in the earth with their hair flowing down to the valleys. Many of them looked like gentle gods but Salkantay was snow-covered and steep, towering over the pass like a protector.

The walk up to Salkantay pass was steep and at 4600 metres was at considerable altitude. I took a horse up to the pass, as I didn’t want to hold back the rest of my group. The horses were stocky little ponies urged on by their owner from the rear. We had a rope to hold onto but no reins and we were perched on an uncomfortable saddle. The track was steep and wound up the valley for seven kilometres and over the pass. The horses liked to take the outside path close to the steep drop off and without reins I felt helpless to steer them to a safer inside course. Packhorses would pass every twenty minutes pushing their way forward. We passed walkers struggling for breath in the altitude, hugging themselves to the side of the mountain.

My fear of heights was overshadowed by my wonder at being in the Andes in Peru on a horse climbing up to a mountain pass. I had to just trust that the horse would take a safe path and give up my need to control. On reaching the pass we were rewarded with fantastic views of Mount Salkantay and surrounding mountains. We built a stone cairn to honour the mountain gods and the earth and drank coca tea to help with the altitude.

The trek continued for another few days towards Machu Picchu. Each day we were surrounded by mountains and wilderness and each day brought new challenges. The altitude remained a big challenge but my sore feet and aching legs reminded me that I am no longer as young as I once was.

Machu Picchu

IMG_2881Photos of Machu Picchu capture some of the wonder of the place but don’t do justice to the location. Machu Picchu is not just a unique archaeological treasure but it is located in a very special place. This ancient site is perched on a ridge between two mountains and is surrounded on all sides by more peaks, rising out of the jungle. On one side of the site is one special peak that stands by itself, looking just like a kneeling god with flowing hair.

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In the ruins I tried to connect with the spiritual nature of Machu Picchu but the crowds of people swarming around sitting on the walls and taking selfies made it impossible. It was only when I found a quiet spot with a view of the surrounding mountains that I could connect with the spirit of the place. Machu Picchu is a celebration of the natural world. The ruins themselves speak to the unusual advances in engineering of the Incan civilisation but for me the real achievement was in building in a location that pays tribute to the natural world that surrounds it.

Machu Picchu was never completed and it was only occupied for 100 years or so. There is still some debate about what it represents and why the Incan peoplebuilt it, as they had no written records. Unlike most other Incan sites, the invading Spanish never discovered it, so it remains relatively intact. Whatever the reason it was built and never destroyed by the Spanish I like to think it was left for us to show us how civilisation can be in harmony with the natural world. Here is a place high in the Andes, built out of local granite and a part of the mountains, which pays homage to the earth and her spirits. If we are to learn from ancient civilisations we need to understand how they lived in harmony with the earth and her cycles and how they worshipped the connection with the spirit of the land.

#Peru, #MachuPicchu, #Salkantaytrek, #wilderness, #trekking