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Exploring Machu Picchu

By Ivan Alexander Charles

In September 2013, Ivan Charles, owner and operator of the Eco Adventure Business – “Ieri Nature Adventures” in Trinidad and Tobago, had the distinct honour of organising and leading a 23-member, international adventure expedition to Machu Picchu in Peru.
The expedition team comprised of nationals of England, Scotland, Canada, Jamaica, Venezuela and of course T&T, who all departed our shores proudly travelling under our T&T national flag.
Here is his account of the adventure.
Machu Picchu is an ancient, mystical site in Peru which formed an integral part of the once majestical and flourishing Inca Empire.
Perched in the clouds on the ever picturesque, South American Peruvian Andes mountains at 2,430 metres above sea level, this Unesco World Heritage site is considered a place where dreams come to fruition.
Machu Picchu’s “base-camp” is Cuzco which can be described as the fairy-tale, capital Inca City nestled at 3,400 metres above sea level. A city lined with a labyrinth of cobbledstone streets, historical churches and temples dating back to 16th & 17th centuries and numerous Inca remains from time immemorial.
Here is also, “Backpackers’ World” where we all communed in a universal language to commence our pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. A few days later, upon returning, everyone sat in simple yet fine dining restaurants or cafés to eat and drink as we each shared our experiences from our odyssey.
Most people arrived at the base of Machu Picchu by train and then on an interesting bus ride that meandered sharply along most precipitous, mountainous slopes to the city’s gate. The other option was hiking and camping along the numerous, magical Inca trails. The most famous of all trials was the four days/three nights original Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
This is such an internationally respected trail and ascent that National Geographic listed this Inca trail to Machu Picchu as the third best climb in the world, ahead of Mt Everest at No. 4, behind Mt Khuiten No.1 and Mt Kilimanjaro No.2.
Trinidad and Tobago nationals are not internationally recognised as “big” hiking/adventure people. While T&T nationals have been to Machu Picchu before, with most opting for the train and bus route, this was the first time a tour guide/operator from T&T had embarked on such a large- scale, international hiking expedition. So one can imagine my elation after completing such a successful adventure.
For each person, this was a novelty expedition in many ways but the most intriguing aspect was in anticipation of how our bodies would perform at such high altitudes deep inside the elevated Andes Mountains. Altitude sickness is real at such heights and a few people did succumb. However, they recovered after a day or two and we all made it safely to Machu Picchu.
Hiking and camping the Inca trail is literally taking a journey back in time. Nothing much has changed on that centuries-old trail and one sleeps under the stars in portable tents.
Day 1 hike begins by crossing Peru’s famous Urubamba River and then parallels it on single dirt tracks as you pass many Inca ruins along this undulating trail known as, “Inca Flat” before the long, steep, mountainous climb begins. The views here in the mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, made ever more interesting as you pass local, native Indian farmers living in the original, mud-based houses their forefathers once did. The people here live proudly with their own identity, seemingly impervious to the worries, stresses and cares of the materialistic, outside world.
Day 2 was considered the hardest day and promised nothing but high drama on famously exalted, “Dead Woman’s Mountain Pass” at 4,215 metres above sea level. Here one is forced to be united with nature as a sort of cleansing process takes place within your being. This original, staircased trail meanders uphill through diverse forested systems ultimately topped with grasses and ice made by the hands of nature herself. Each adventurer on this second day would have had an emotional time slugging along as we gasped for air while starving our bodies of oxygen. Every ten steps one is forced to stop, recover and moreso, ponder on how small we really are in this universe and the greatness of life itself! We took heart by seeing our porters (short, light-weight, mountain men of native Indian ancestry who carried equal body weights on their backs) taking breaks, too.
Wild llamas were seen grazing peacefully on the slopes in their own little world. I remembered leaning back on a rock, gazing into the deep valley and saying to myself, “Ivan, you came a long way from the streets of my little Amerindian ancestral hometown of Arima nestled on the foothills of our Northern Mountain Range, to being here in the enormity of the Andes Mountains!”
All famous hiking nationalities are found on this climb and only then I truly understood what the children of our soil, Harold and Kwailan La Borde, must have felt in their little 40-footer setting sail from our tiny island dot in the ocean to circumnavigate the globe.
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