Adventure-moon: Machu Picchu

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For the active couple nothing is more magical than a journey to The Lost City of the Incas.
You cannot say the word “Peru” without someone immediately following it with a comment about Machu Picchu. This means two things regarding the Lost City of the Incas: It is a truly magnificent destination in South America and secondly, the biggest tourist magnet south of the equator. With this in mind and our constant desire to take the road less traveled, we opted to not hike the “Classic Inca Trail” (which is partly paved and packed to the gills) and started researching tour companies that could provide an equally cultural experience but also a little honeymoon luxury. After weeks of researching, all signs were pointing to Andean Treks and their Moonstone to Sun Temple five-day trek. With 32-years of experience leading adventures throughout South America, Andean Treks knows the ins and outs of the Incan back roads for the most intimate access to the ruins of the Sacred Valley.
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Traveling along the Royal Inca Road, which goes from the historic Inca capital of Cusco through the northern villages of the Empire, ending in the majestic Machu Picchu, we made our first stop at the sacred Inca shrine known as Quillarumi (“Moonstone” in the Quechua language of the Incas and the inspiration for our hike name). Here, our six new hiking mates share a smile and a bit of common jitters before we embark on our high-altitude adventure.
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We arrive at the WATA trailhead to meet our hiking crew, encompassing two guides, two chefs, four wranglers, and six horses (hey, you can’t go roughing it too much on a honeymoon!). We weren’t expecting such luxury for a camping trip but the team carried all of our bags, set up all the equipment, and always hiked ahead to make sure camp and meals are ready and waiting upon our arrival.
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The hike started along the west bank of the Huaracondo River. After an easy two-hour hike, we reached Huatta, a breathtaking pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge at 12,645ft. In the forefront of this shot you can see one of the burial areas for the high priests and nobility, and in the distance you can see all the mountains we would traverse in coming days, including the “W-shaped” 15,200ft. mountain pass.
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Each night our fantastic guide Desnarda would take out her fondly named “Andean laptop” and enlighten us with the history of the Incans, background on the ruins we would see the following day, and get our imaginations rolling. It was so impactful to learn about something the night before and actually experience it the following day–if only all classrooms could be this hands on!
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The Andean Treks staff was not only incredibly knowledgeable, their kindness and patience was through the roof! If someone was tired, Desnarda would teach us about a plant or ruin nearby while we rested, if you wanted seconds (even thirds!) on dinner it was always available, and most importantly if someone was affected by the altitude the staff knew exactly what to do. In the photo above the guides sensed that Liz was feeling the 14,500 feet and they took the gear off a horse and gave her a ride up the hill to the lunch spot.
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The mountains of Peru are like nothing you will see anywhere in the world–from jagged peaks, to glacier-encrusted horizons to the perfect triangle formations seen in the above photo.
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Considering the Inca trails have been in use since the 1300s, little villages have since formed around it. Though with their incredibly remote locations they are anything but mass-produced. We came across these classic adobe thatched-roof huts, often times built on vertigo-inducing cliff precipices.
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One of the most amazing parts of the hikes was the window it gave us into local life in the mountains, from women driving a herd of sheep to graze on a terrace to horses loaded down with the day’s potato harvest. We were very excited to hear that much of the food we were eating along the way was purchased from the local villagers who graciously allowed us to camp on their land. Andean Treks was very conscious of the footprint they leave on the land and its inhabitants, and they did everything in their power to leave the land better than they found it.
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Wow! Those three letters are really all you need to describe the magic that Agapito and Edwin would spin up in their portable kitchen/bakery/sauté station/grill and dessert bar. Two of their creations that will be forever implanted in my memory was the underground asado lamb with sautéed potatoes (Anne still pegs that as one of our top three meals on the entire continent), and the second was the incredibly unexpected and tasty birthday cake they made for me on May 9th.
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When preparing food atop 15,000-foot mountains in the cold after a long day, it would be easy to forget about fine presentation, but the Andean Treks team did not leave a single tomato uncarved (decorative garnishes were Edwin’s specialty) or a napkin laid flat (above you can see the origami-style condors). Their attention to detail was unprecedented!
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Oh, how we miss being woken up with morning coffee and tea service. It was so pleasant to wake up to smiling faces with tray of caffeinated treats, the sound of a babbling brook and the view of an Alpaca munching on the lush mountainside.
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Each day was adventurous and breathtaking, but we never hiked until we lost our breath, if you catch my drift. We took plenty of stops to learn about the Incan ruins we were passing, enjoy a hearty snack from the chefs and take in the scenery. Above, the team starts day three with a glimpse at Mount Pinkulluna and the towering Veronica Glacier in the distance.
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Descending from the campsite on day three was one of the most memorable legs of the hike. We followed the Inca aqueduct that supported the terraced farming and stone quarry above the Incan village of Ollantaytambo, marveling at this engineering feat every step of the way. And what is the fastest and most fun way down a river carved mountain? To hike along side the waterfalls, of course.
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If you are looking for a honeymoon where you lounge in bed all day and sip mai tai by a pool for a week, a five-day trek on the Inca trail might not be the perfect honeymoon for you. But if extreme natural beauty, rich history, exhilarating hikes, and snuggling under the stars sets your heart aflutter, then the trip to Moonstone to Sun Temple as unforgettable as a honeymoon gets. Somewhere in between? Stay tuned for Anne’s upcoming review of day 4 and 5 where she recounts our luxurious stay in the hotel of Agua Calientes (complete with a pool and mai tai) and the much-anticipated day at Machu Picchu.

Note: Andean Treks invited us to join them. Our excursion was comped; however, all opinions are our own.

Much love from Machu Picchu,

Mike & Anne
www.HoneyTrek.com

2 Responses to Adventure-moon: Machu Picchu

  1. Mike says on June 1, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Looking forward to hearing any questions or comments on the trip. It really was amazing. Ask us anything!

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