#Mike’sView on Peru

This is a new feature where my favorite travel companion gets to have a voice. This voice is mostly forced out of him by my begging and pleading and him acquiescing with succinct, begrudging answers.

Food in Cusco: llama, anything else weird you tried, did the price surprise you, was it boring/delicious/interesting/average?

Price – Food was cheaper, at least it should have been. We we’re magically in the tourist priced areas all the time. Overall, prices were lower though. Definitely had some great food that would’ve been $10 more in the US.

Food – Eating llama was normal, tasted similar to steak or the like. Other foods were different, but good. Not a huge difference than some things ive had in the states. The hiking companies multiple tea times and multi course meals was a surprise (super nice one). All that food was amazing.

Day 2 of hiking: the stairs (go ahead, hate on me)

Fuck stairs. I didn’t get tired, the lack of oxygen wouldn’t let me. Instead I would get light headed and unable to breath. We would stop every 20 steps to just breath, it sucked. Going downhill was so much easier, even though my knees had some close calls.

The atrocity that was the bathrooms

I’d prefer not to remember, but for others sake. Imagine a pure white tile floor in a bathroom. Now imagine it covered in dirt, so it’s all brown and black. Now imagine if you’re unsure what’s dirt and what’s shit. Then add in the smells of 20+ people all suffering from diarrhea or whatnot all shitting in one hole in the ground….knowing there’s shit around the hole as well.

It haunts me.

Hiking with a group (how did you feel about the porters, guides, other people versus when we went to the grand canyon)

We wouldn’t have survived this trip without porters. We would’ve run out of food, waters, or w/e. Moral would’ve sucked too, boy would’ve been a grumpy boy.

Everyone is nice, still can’t believe they do that every week.

The landscape: was it pretty, did it remind you of anything, did you get a chance to see it between panting/resting, did you wish you could move your office here, did the weather suck or was it cool?

I liked to say I wish my office overlooked some of those views, but that would spoil me. I was super surprise Scotland was located in the middle of Peru; seriously, wtf. Vast rolling plains with random rocks scattered around and livestock frolicking.

Plenty of time was spent viewing the views. Didn’t remind me of anything, it was it’s own thing (besides Scotland).

Traveling beyond the USA and Aruba (for the first time, sort of): Being in a third world country and seeing poverty, language barrier

I saw poverty like this in Aruba, but they had more options in Peru. Aruba was a super tourist island, so there’s little chance of self-sufficiency. At least in Peru they could have their own farms and get by.

The language barrier was fun, but annoying at times. If there was a serious issue like needing water or being seriously lost, it got stressful. If you’re just exploring the tourist area, where you have some chance to find English if you need it, then it was fun. Going from full English to no English immediately would’ve been really hard.

Whatever stories you told your parents/sisters

Peru was cool, try it sometime. Get a porter

Hiking the Inca Trail

Before I can talk about the Inka Trail hike in Peru, I have to back up and discuss how I almost killed Mike in the Grand Canyon. For Mike’s graduation trip, I had researched this super famous trail from the rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado river – it was well supported with camping sites, water sources, and even a restaurant at the bottom. Online, middle-aged, overweight men gave the trail five stars, beaming that “if they can do it, anyone can!” Mike had never set up a tent before and never been multi-day hiking. But I knew what I was doing (right?), I had the water filters and sleeping bags and tents, and this trail seemed so worn, it could be an epic, safe first hike for Mike.

We got there and the nice, known, amenity-filled, famous trail was booked. Every campground and trail permit in the national park was booked. The lady behind the counter instead sent us into the “wilderness”, the unregulated public land outside of the national park. At the Colorado river, we could hike back into the national park and stay at a real campground the second night. Seemed reasonable – and she reassured us that two other couples would be on the trail with us. At the last second, almost as an afterthought, we bought the topographic map to make sure we could follow the right trail. At $15 the map cost twice as much as our three day, two night hiking/camping permit – it felt like an extravagance.

But it turns out wilderness is actually wilderness. There can be no structures like signs, trail markers, water sources, and campgrounds. Other hikers had stacked rocks into guiding sculptures to point the way. This worked well until we came upon a landslide and got lost for two hours trying to discern the human-stacked rocks from the rock-slide pile of rocks. We didn’t run into a single other human the first day. Or find any water. We pitched our tent on a flat plane with sweeping, gorgeous views of the canyon. But the desert is eerily silent at night and I tossed and turned hoping the small stream below our perch on the map could give us water the next day. It felt like our lives depended on the suddenly not-so-extravagant purchase being correct.

We did find water the next day – but the entire hike had been way more strenuous than we expected: the first day was entirely walking down stairs which hurt Mike’s knees, the second walking beside the Colorado river (water! flat plane!) entirely exposed to the harsh sunlight, and the third day was an entire day of climbing “the cathedral staircase” which hurt my lungs. The exhaustion and worry almost outweighed the sweeping views, joy of finding a hidden, watery oasis, and sense of accomplishment in conquering the trail.

So this time was going to be better. We reserved spots in a guided hike along the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. There was no getting lost, no being without water, and no sense of isolation. Porters carried all the food, cookware, and tents so all we had to carry was a sleeping bag and change of clothes. Professional chefs cooked every meal. Guides waited for us, advised us, and showed us where all the best views were – no planning required. All kinds of people have done this trail for hundreds of years! It will be a breeze.

But it was still a trail full of stairs at high altitude and our poor, out of shape bodies were not worthy. The entire hike felt like days and days of stairs. Mike took the lack of oxygen particularly hard and at one point would climb a couple stairs, sit down and take a break, climb another couple stairs, sit down and take a break. After a day of this, Mike wanted to hire another porter to carry the rest of our stuff so that all we would do is carry our bodies up the stairs – but given the fact that porters were already carrying our food and tents, I thought that was wimping out. He wheezed up the stairs, dehydrated and suffering from diarrhea (a side effect from altitude sickness medication), pissed at me the whole day. Even now, if someone asks how the trip went, he just says “hire the porter.”

The safety and preparedness the guided hike provided (vs the Grand Canyon) came with not being able to go at our own pace, of not being able to feel like we “discovered” anything or properly, slowly, explored some place. Instead we were constantly trying to keep up with and almost race other people – it was a good day when we weren’t “last.” Between moments of truly basking in the landscape, we were racing to not be left behind. People were so focused on “finishing” when the whole point of hiking to Machu Picchu is the journey.

One of the best moments of the entire trip was sitting on the edge of the stone ruins of a terraced mountain, looking out over the valley with the Urubamba river snaking its way through mountains that were treated as gods. It was peaceful. A shepherd herded his llamas through the grassy terrace and Mike dreamed of telecommuting to work and never leaving this very spot. I think that made it all worth it – taking the slow journey, a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu instead of just a train ride. Although I should continue to work on not almost killing us so much, I do have this philosophy that the slow, sometimes painful route makes these moments all the sweeter. You feel more alive having conquered your self-doubts.

As a final note, I have been advised that we are not allowed to go hiking for our honeymoon – apparently a honeymoon is supposed to be fun and relaxing for some reason. I’ll see about that.

Hiram Bingham III

No right answer – thoughts that circled my head on the trip, most of which have no conclusion

Part III: Hiram Bingham III

Hiram Bingham III was a pretty crappy Yale professor who used his wife’s fortune to seek glory as an explorer. It was the early 20th century – when the West was exporting enlightenment via colonialization and before the Great War ripped apart it’s social order and idealism. Africa was being divided and conquered, the Panama Canal was under construction, ex-president Theodore Roosevelt was living the ‘strenuous life’ and canoeing uncharted rivers in the Amazon, and National Geographic stunned readers as the last corners of the earth were discovered. But it’s that word – discover – which is so heavy and contentious nowadays.

On the one hand there’s this narrative of Bingham as a daring researcher and explorer. Bingham was originally looking for the last city of the Inca where, after the Spanish took advantage of an Incan civil war and usurped power, the last blood relative of the Incan King hid out in the jungle and waged guerrilla warfare on Cusco and the Spanish for decades. Bingham poured through Cusco archives, hired indigenous guides to lead him through dense forest for weeks, and bribed anyone he met along the way for Incan artifacts and information. And he found what he was looking for: two cities, including one currently believed to be the last city, and dozens of other Inca-era sites; finally, on a hint from a boy, Bingham made a side-trip and discovered Machu Picchu (the Machu Picchu tour guides declare the boy the first tour guide and therefore their patron saint). National Geographic devoted an entire issue to the journey, featuring the first of what is now one of the most easily recognized views in the world: Huyanu Picchu spiked up toward the clouds with a city full of ruins and llamas below. Except in Bingham’s picture, the ruins had yet to be excavated and dense greenery made it almost unrecognizable to my eyes – like nothing much was there at all. Bingham returned for two more journeys in 1915 and 1916, this time taking the now famous pilgrimage route, the Inca Trail. The same trail the Incan God-King would have been carried from Cusco to his Machu Picchu retreat and the same trail (with some updates) that Mike and I set out to tackle.

Photo taken by Hiram Bingham. Retrieved here from National Geographic

I kept pushing our two guides for their opinion of Bingham. One of our guides, Marco, shrugged and put Bingham’s impact into a modern context. Decades ago, the indigenous language Quechua – one of the five languages that was part of the vast Incan empire – was beginning to die out. As people from the forest and valley moved to the big city where the Spanish language ruled, they stuck out like a sore thumb and were stigmatized as being poor, uneducated, and backwards. Their heritage was something to be ashamed of. Until tourism. Until the rest of the world saw value in their language and heritage and poured money into the region just to get a glimpse of it. Without Bingham, how would the word have gotten out? How would Machu Picchu have been restored and protected? Or declared a New Wonder of the World? Bingham led to celebrity which led to money which led to restoration of artifacts and preservation of a way of life. Now Marco, all of our porters, and all of the people of the sacred valley can speak Quechua proudly. And, unlike most other indigenous languages (3 of the 5 Incan empire languages are dead), Quechua looks like it will not die out any time soon: the next generation is taught in Quechua at school.

Our group: as many porters as trekkers with two chefs and two guides. Most porters are also farmers who do the trek as a side job a couple of times a month. In Quechua (and with our guides are translators) they introduced themselves to us: name, where you are from, married?, wawas (babies)?

Being unknown and unprotected puts a site at risk for plunder and decay; being too well-loved has put the site at risk for collapsing.

Our other guide, Raul, had much less praise for Bingham – I might even call it contempt. Within the first few minutes of arriving at Machu Picchu he asked: “where’s the gold?” Cusco – especially anywhere the God-King touched – was covered in gold. If this was the Inca’s Camp David and the Spanish never found this place – then where is it all? Raul’s conclusion: Bingham stole it. But let’s back up here: the real accusation here is that Bingham took artifacts from his dig site and brought them back to Yale. And now, within the past decade, Peru has asked for them back and Yale was like “nah”.  And Peru was like “I’ll see you in court.” And Yale was like “back then everyone stole artifacts, it’s fine!”. And Peru gave them side-eye and they went to couples counseling and now the artifacts have been returned to a small museum in Cusco. (A better breakdown of what happened can be read here though none of the artifacts contain gold).

So if we drop the discoverer term we can see Bingham as an explorer and the best tourism advertiser Peru has ever seen. And maybe his actions at the time helped preserve artifacts that could have been lost. But he was also in it for himself, not the locals – keeping in good graces with Yale, selling books, becoming famous – so maybe he did ferry artifacts out of the country without the government’s permission. What’s perhaps worse than whatever Bingham did is Yale refusing to stand by the contracts Bingham had signed for so long. An entire country should not have to sue a university to retrieve their heritage (don’t even get me started on the British Museum…).

To me, its not that Bingham doesn’t warrant a place in the Machu Picchu story, but he shouldn’t be the entire story, the only famous name associated with the site. Why not focus on the great Incan God-King Pachacutec, who is credited with doubling the empire’s size? Why not focus on a Peruvian anthropologist? If we don’t like the idea of first-world white males holding such power over indigenous sites, then lets change the conversation.

Natural Remedies Vs Modern Medicine

No right answer – thoughts that circled my head on the trip, most of which have no conclusion

Part II: Natural Remedies Vs Modern Medicine

An hour into our first day hiking the Inka Trail, our guides paused for a break underneath a shelter with thin wooden benches along the perimeter. I was now double my normal depth so my pack fit on the bench but my butt didn’t -so for a while I awkwardly leaned, refusing to take my pack off. An older woman sat on a wall with her ankles crossed working on some piece of fabric across the path from us. A stray chicken and a boy ran around the shelter. After an early pick-up and rushing to starting points and check points, it was a moment where we had nothing better to do than take a sip of water, breathe, and look around. The guides did the normal get-to-know everyone thing and 16 strangers began to try and remember each other’s names.

But then our guide Raul, changed direction a bit and asked “What happens when the people who live here get sick?” Bleakly, in my head, I thought “they die?” We are on a trail into the forest. There’s a train several miles away, but that’s probably expensive. There are no roads. There’s the Urubamba river, but that’s miles away and it doesn’t look like a tranquil float. Even if you do find transportation after walking miles, there’s only a small hospital (for tourists, mostly) at the base of Macchu Picchu in Aguas Calientes (at this point, that’s a four day walk away for us) or back in Cusco, a two-hour bus ride away at best. Even if they make it to a hospital, could they afford the bill and prescriptions? If you live out here, you’re probably a farmer eking out a living from the land – where is there money for transportation and care? But Raul takes a different tact that makes my foreboding thoughts feel true but naïve. Plants, he says. The locals make medicines from what’s around them. People don’t take obstacles laying down – they invent and learn and use the resources at their disposal to the best of their abilities.

Which brings us to literal herbal remedies. The Peruvian’s seemed to have a tea for everything. Upset stomach? I’ll make you a special tea. Diarhhea? I’ll make you a special tea. Period cramps? Headache? Sore muscles? Altitude sickness? Special tea. Special tea. Special tea. Special tea. And the favored tea? Coca. As in the leaves that are eventually processed and concentrated into Cocaine. At leaf level, the effects are not as deleterious and instead act as a sort of pain relief. (E.g. Coca Cola used to have real cocaine in it and was first advertised as medicinal.) The porters shove leaves directly between their teeth and cheek, sucking out the juices as they haul pounds of gear. All of us Westerners brought along mini-pharmacies for the hike. To cover our bases, we sampled from both our western pharmacy and local prescriptions. So for sore muscles it was Ibuprofen and special tea; for an upset stomach it was pepto bismal and special tea.

Mike nurses his morning coca tea as he tries to recover from the war-crime ridden bathroom

I have a lot of opinions on America’s healthcare system. Like how Mike’s altitude sickness prescription cost $10 with his insurance and mine was $50 and that only marriage or the kindness of my employer can fix that because insurance options (and Congress) suck. The U.S. has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world – maybe a Peruvian hospital stay is affordable; in the U.S., it’s the number one reason people file for bankruptcy. Though, obviously, I am more privileged than most of the world by sheer access to vaccines and medicine. But that’s not what I want to get into right now.

I had researched online that we should get altitude sickness medicine for our trip to Peru – that preemptively taking this drug would help us acclimate and avoid getting sick. What I want to get into is how that altitude sickness prescription made us feel. Diamox is the only drug out there that treats altitude sickness, everything else just attempts to mask the symptoms. Everyone used to sea-level quantities of oxygen feel lightness of breath at higher altitudes – but, for a random few, altitude sickness is like day one of the flu or the worst hangover of your life:  you are puking your brains out, your head is pounding, and even the thought of moving is too exhausting to contemplate. Luckily, Mike and I took our Diamox. However, there were side effects: first a tingly feeling like your hands and feet had fallen asleep and were now on pins and needles and then, for Mike, diarrhea. Which is not the greatest when you only see two (disgusting, brutally smelling) toilets a day and your next best option is a bush. (SN: don’t worry, Mike didn’t suffer alone – I got my period and was in a nearby bush – lol so much TMI right now). Those side effects are still way better than day one of the flu. But our beautiful western medicine that was supposed to cure all ails still came at a price – those pesky side-effects that are only mentioned in the tiny print. I don’t think any tea has been scientifically proven to stop altitude sickness, but it also probably doesn’t have side effects. Maybe masking symptoms is enough of a middle ground to get you through.

I have no idea if the Coca leaves or Ibuprofen got me through four days of hiking (probably the Ibuprofen). And I have no idea if Quechua tea, herbal pills bought off of Amazon (ran into a lovely Mormon Utahan couple who did this – but seriously, yall, who knows what’s in those?!?! They’re not regulated by the FDA!), or a prescription of Diamox ultimately solved people’s altitude sickness or other ailments (it’s probably the Diamox). There are ways to overuse and abuse western medicine – we could have taken less of it after a day or two at altitude to try and minimize the side effects had we known what they were.

And how bad is coca tea really? Could there actually be no medical benefit to it? If acetominophin can cause liver damage, are Coca leaves really that dangerous? Is this more of a social science thing of what substance could be more easily abused? – like actetominophin doesn’t eventually become cocaine…

Ok…I got sidetracked… what I mean is beyond the hype, I would like scientific progress and the search for truth to win. I would like pain relief and comfort to win. We still have a lot to learn from tea (and local remedies in general) though – I’d just like to observe their effects with repeatable, double-blind studies.


No right answer – thoughts that circled my head on the trip, most of which have no conclusion

Part 1: Haggling

At the markets in Peru (and around the world), you are supposed to haggle for whatever you want to buy. There are no stickers to mark an item’s price and when you ask, the answer probably depends on your skin color and how gullible you look.

With the right attitude, haggling that price down can be fun. It’s a battle of wits and stalling and forced compromises. It forces a traveler to speak and interact with a local who is not there to please them – not a hotel concierge or flight attendant or a travel guide – a real person who must be kind to tourists but is not directly in the tourism industry. Buying souvenirs becomes a living, breathing transaction instead of through a screen and a credit card. In Peru, the language barrier added another translation element to the sales where Peruvian Soles are converted to American Dollars and bids are tossed around in Spanish, English, or the Arabic numerals displayed on a four-function calculator. (My Spanish lasted for the numbers 1-10 and then sort of 11-20 and then very quickly died – the vendors, brilliantly, have realized they can sell more when they tell you the price/haggle in English – I call it “transactional” fluency even if there is zero “conversational” fluency.)

But it gets old. And I start over-analyzing. Because the price of something depends so much on your looks and nationality, it feels like you’re being taken advantage of. And I don’t want to be swindled! And how am I supposed to know what a good deal even sounds like? When negotiating the price of everything got tiresome in Pisac I just paid the woman what she wanted – like I am over putting time and effort into haggling over a pair of socks. But then for pricier items I went to the other extreme of feeling like I haggled too hard core. At one point this woman looked like she was about to cry because at the last second I tried to drop the price by 10 more Soles – and if it was a fake almost-cry to try and get me to buy the tapestry already, it was damn convincing desperation, as she tried to close the deal while corralling her toddler son as he peed into the gutter behind us. 10 Soles is the equivalent of about $3 US. I was haggling over three more dollars. Which begs the question of who is really the one being taken advantage of? Sure, vendors push us to pay more than the locals. And as a former starving-college-student-now-living-in-a-basement typical millennial, I’m keen on keeping to a budget. But even the over-priced goods here are still so much less expensive than in the U.S. Here, I am giving money directly to the person who will benefit from it, not Walmart. And in a couple of days I will return to one of the wealthiest countries on earth where clean water is plentiful and free (well, not in Flint…but you get my point) and where $3 doesn’t amount to much – and I have no idea where she’s returning to. Shouldn’t there be two prices then? One for the locals and one for us, the wealthy tourists flitting in and out of their country? On a moral level, sure. On an individual, person-to-person transaction level, it still feels dubious and confusing.

Airport Sparklers

Mike and I were sitting on the floor in line to board our last flight from Lima to Cusco when we heard a woman at the counter call our names. It was 8am and we had been flying or in airports from DC since 5pm the previous day – Christmas day. The lady looked worried and said in broken English we had something not allowed in our checked bag. One of us (not both, she stressed) would have to come with her, claim our bag, and take it out. Somehow she volunteered me as tribute.

I vehemently loathed the Lima airport. A loathing founded on irrational fear founded on my thorough confusion during a six hour layover here eight years ago. Eight years ago, no one spoke English or could interpret my charades; at one point I ended up on the curb outside the airport; I wasn’t allowed back into the terminal until two hours before my flight; I had to pay a fee to get back into the terminal I hadn’t even meant to exit (in Peruvian Soles no less which I had to exchange American dollar for and which were useless when I got to my real destination, Chile). To ease my fears this round, Mike had tried to google how to properly navigate the Lima airport, but the internet only returned threads where people suspected the Lima airport was ruled by the mafia. So…that image helped my anxiety. As I followed the airline woman down a set of dreary, dark cement stairs, through the underbelly of the airport, I wondered if she was part of the mafia and if I would ever see Mike again. I mean what is not allowed in a checked bag?

I arrived at what I pictured to be an interrogation room where the contents of our bag were spilled onto the floor: two sleeping bags, two backpacking packs, a variety of liquids, and a can of sunscreen. I immediately thought the spray sunscreen was the issue: maybe pressurized cans become explosive at certain altitudes? But they kept searching…until they pulled a box of sparklers out of Mike’s pack. Freaking sparklers! Dulles airport hadn’t caught it (when we first checked our bag), Miami airport hadn’t caught it (when we switched airlines and had to re-check our bag) – but a third world country that let us through security with our beloved water bottles, belts, and shoes caught the actual explosive devices we had mistakenly forgotten about. Good job guys. Happily, my bag was re-packed, and Mike and I were re-united sans mafia harassment.

Alas, on the way back, I grew to dislike Lima again. They lost (or took) my Machu Picchu dirt. And then didn’t think my dirt was important enough to file a claim. I miss my dirt. I want my dirt back.

Cubs Win, Airbnb Booked

It was the 8th inning of the 7th game of the 2016 World Series. Sprawled on the couch watching, I was also scrolling through Airbnb places in Cusco. One place had caught my eye – it was 10 minutes walking from all the tourist sites, had hundreds of positive reviews, and pictured this sunlit cabana overlooking a sweeping view of the city. But at $100/night, it was a splurge and not the cheap deal I should have been looking for. I decided to go to bed and sleep on it.

But then the Cleveland Indians scored three runs to tie the game. Did I just jinx the Cubs by trying to go to bed?!

So of course, I had to see the Cubs through now. I asked the baseball gods forgiveness for my errors and vowed to stay awake through extra innings and rain delays. In my bargaining phase of the nail-biting game, I pledged that if the Cubs won, I would go for the fancy AirBnb.

So, two months later here we are. The Cubs broke their 108-year curse and had a really cute SNL skit. And Mike and I have this view of Cusco as we watch the Emperor’s New Groove.

The AirBnb is actually brilliant. I was afraid at first when we were emailed very specific directions:

From the airport, I would suggest that you take a cab that is dropping someone at the airport; it will cost you three times less (between 10 to 15 soles or 6 us) than if you take one of the taxis at the exit of the terminal. Tell the taxi driver to go to the neighborhood (barrio) San Blas on the street corners of TANDAPATA and SIETE ANGELITOS (not San Cristobal district, it would be a detour to charge you more). Once arriving at the Plaza San Blas, continue straight ahead on the street Carmen Alto. On the first street (Siete Angelitos), turn right. Go up to the end of the street, to the corner of TANDAPATA and SIETE ANGELITOS where you will see a flight of stairs. Climb the stairs (the 44 steps). At the top there is a branch in Y, turn right and go up the other 10 steps, you will be on KISKAPATA. You are just steps from the house; we live at number 1000, fourth house on your right from the beginning of the street. (The house numbers are not sequential; they range from 335, 505, 999 and finally 1000).

Umm…what?…I need to say all that in Spanish (hey remember that time in Costa Rica I was super proud of myself for knowing what verde meant so I could catch the green bus?)…did he say 44 steps?…and why aren’t the numbers sequential?!

And yet…the directions were accurate and proved helpful. The older parts where we stayed (and where most tourists are) are ancient (pre-car and maybe pre llama-and-carriage?) and on a hill – so most streets are pedestrian only or barely wide enough for a car plus many ‘streets’ are really just staircases. Mike and I hauled our out-of-shape butts and packs up those 44 stairs (and attributed our breathlessness to the lack of oxygen, definitely not our physical fitness) and met a cheerful Denis.

Denis gave us restaurant suggestions and a map, made us a sprawling breakfast the next morning, found us a cab for an all-day personal tour of the sacred valley, and held our stuff while we were on the Inka Trail even though we weren’t coming back to stay another night. Thanks for the win, Cubs.

Paddington Bear

<I left grad school in Blacksburg, Virginia to start a job in Raleigh, NC – my fiance was staying behind and I needed a quick place to crash to start my new job until we figured our lives out. My aunt and uncle are AMAZING and let me move into their basement. The best part was hanging out with their three children – my cousins ages 5, 7 and 8. >

Me: “OK girls, I’m leaving for my trip today. I won’t see you for Christmas or New Years, ok?”

Chloe: “Where are you going?”

Me: “I’m hiking to Machu Picchu, remember?”

Chloe thinks for a minute

Chloe: “That’s in Peru, right?”

I’m shocked an 8 year old knows that Machu Picchu is in Peru – I mean I didn’t even really know it was in Peru until I started researching the trip

Me: “Yah! You’re right!”

The 8 year old is always right. She smiles, knowing this. The 5 year old starts to think for a minute.

Lucy: “Deepest, darkest Peru?”

Well…that’s a very precise phrase…

Me: “Sure”

Lucy: “That’s where Paddington Bear is from!”

Me: “Really, I thought he was from England?”

Lucy: “No let me show you!”

The 5 year old brings out her collection of Paddington Bear books. Apparently Paddington boarded a ship from Peru, ate a lot of marmalade on board, and wound up at Paddington Station in the London underground. Apparently ‘Paddington’ is much easier to pronounce than his Peruvian name.

We review what Paddington Bear looks like so that I can search for him (or his relatives) in deepest, darkest Peru. And we discuss ways to lure them out: maybe a jar of marmalade?

The 8 year old steps in and says deepest, darkest Peru must be the jungle and there’s no way I’d go to the forest – there are boa constrictors there. Hiking is through the woods, I respond.

With this new information, the 5 year old thinks finding Paddington is still way more important and tried to push her Paddington book collection on me for more thorough research. The 8 year old is convinced I’m going to die from a boa constrictor attack.

Our first morning in Cusco, we were served marmalade with our Airbnb’s breakfast and I considered keeping it as a lure.

On the last day of our hike, as we maneuvered Incan steps from the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu (the last 3 miles of our 26 mile journey), we spotted Paddington hitching a ride on a fellow hiker’s pack, decked out in rain gear versatile for both London and the Peruvian rainy season. We found him!

Inka Trails

The Incan Empire once stretched through modern day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. The landscape spanned from ocean to desert, the peaks of the Andes to freshwater lakes and fertile valleys. All were linked by an estimated 24,000 miles of trail – Inca Trails.

This vast network of trade could supposedly bring seafood from the coast to the emperor in Cusco – still fresh enough to eat. And a telegram system, set up like a long distance baton-passing relay race, ferried messages almost as fast as the pony express. Pre-Colombian america had no ponies that required flat and wide terrain – instead most roads contained lots of steep and narrow staircases which llamas (and humans) could handily traverse.

Our 26 mile journey from outside Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, along a road more religious than economical, is just one little Inca Trail artery. To us, however, completing four straight days of walking up and down stairs will feel much more… monumental