Peru was the final stop on our trip. Standing on any street corner in Peru, you are likely to see either a church, evidence of the heavy-handed Spanish colonization or some element of Incan architecture and engineering (be it a drainage ditch, a monolithic, earthquake-proof wall or something else). As a local tour guide we met in Cusco recommended, “You can see churches everywhere, but in Peru you should visit Inca sites to really understand this place.” For the most part, we stuck to the Inca and pre-Inca sites. Even after being in Peru several weeks, there was still more to learn about how a culture that didn't really rule more than a couple centuries managed to build such amazing, enormous structures and create a single cohesive culture from many unique cultures in a terrain that is so extreme.
Because Peru was the last country of our trip, we really savored it and tried to make the most out of every day. We spent a lot of time in Cusco, but the longer I was there, the more I wanted to get out of the big city and back to the small towns of the Sacred Valley. Towns like Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Pisac, which are surrounded by the Andes, ancient ruins, and cobblestone streets that are a thousand years old. In Ollantaytambo, we had a near crisis when arriving after a long day at Machu Picchu. We arrived late at night and our guesthouse was down a bunch of dirt side-roads in what appeared to be a dodgy neighborhood. There was lots of trash and drunk men walking by our car when we arrived at our guesthouse, and it appeared to be closed! After many failed attempts ringing the doorbell and trying to call, our taxi driver ran around the neighborhood and happen to find the owners hanging out at a nearby party. To our surprise, the place was nearly brand new and very nice! The next day, we stumbled upon a pottery maker who made wonderfully unique pieces from all the similar touristy ones. Despite the hanging laundry and chickens clucking in his studio, the pottery was very nice and he explained each step of his process in Spanish. In Urubamba, the flirtatious older woman who ran our guesthouse was very taken with my dad. Her beautiful garden in the middle of town was a surprising twist but not as surprising as when she pinched my dad's butt. In Pisac, two of my favorite pasttimes: ruins and markets! Pisac has one of the best markets in the Sacred Valley and some of the best Inca ruins.
We have seen so many amazing sites over the past year that its hard to describe Machu Picchu, the pinnacle of Incan civilization, as the incredible, distinct place that it is. However, my lack of creativity in words does not reflect a lack of appreciation. The setting, a mountaintop surrounded by jagged peaks, is really the source of the amazement. As a largely intact city built six centuries ago, the condition of it is very impressive. The truly remarkable thing is how the Inca managed to build such a beautiful city without modern technology. Most people would struggle to just walk the hundreds of steps from the river basin to the top of the city, never mind haul stones and tools up the mountain. Even though we were struggling to breath and protect ourselves from the sun, we decided to hike the extra two hours to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain, which was brutal on all of us. There were steep steps the whole way. Luckily, when we got to the top, the thick clouds had just cleared for a breathtaking, bird's eye view. Unfortunately, the top closed and we had just a few minutes to catch our breath before hiking back down.
Surprisingly, our final days saw our first major scheduling mishap. We arrived at the Cusco bus station at 10 pm for our overnight ride to Arequipa, only to find it had already left two hours before. We were incredulous at our mistake, which stemmed from not carefully reading the 20:00 departure time. So after yet another day in Cusco, we finally got on the next night bus and arrived in the “White City” of Arequipa, so called for its beautiful white stone architecture. Our final excursion launched from here, a hike into one of the deepest canyons in the world, Colca Canyon. It was grueling at times, but the views rivaled some of the best we had seen thus far.
Peru was perhaps the place I dreamed of the most before we embarked on our year. It ended up being our last place and it exceeded my expectations. The thrilling mountains, incredible food, riveting history and the bonus or rendezvousing with my family made it the best last spot on earth. Now, on to our next adventure...whatever that may be!