The flight from Lima to Cuzco takes us into the beautiful Andes mountains.They sparkle like they have been scattered with bits of gold or so much fairy dust. Upon closer inspection you realize that the roofs of all the houses are of a material that reflects the light. Knowing that does not render it mundane – it makes me curious. Do the people living in those homes know the effect they are collectively having on those of us flying high above them? If you make this trip, be sure to secure a window seat on the left side of the plane for the most dramatic views.
Arriving in Cuzco, we gather our belongings, meet our guide, Jonathan, stock up on the favorite high altitude remedy —coca leaves and coca candy—and find our way to our bus. Rather than staying in Cuzco at 11,200 feet, we head out of town and into the Sacred Valley, a much more comfortable 8-9,000 ft. above sea level.
The Sacred Valley stretches from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, cradling the Urubamba River, and providing valuable resources, from fertile farmlands to salt mines. Throughout the valley you can see terrace walls as well as village foundations built by Incas.
The most outstanding ruin is located in Ollantaytambo (Oh-Yan-Tai-Tambo).
As we descend from our bus, all 16 of us purchase collapsible walking sticks. These will become our constant companions for the rest of the trip. We begin our ascent to the breathtaking heights of the ancient ruins of Ollantaytambo, with spectacular views of the present day village below, and the granaries and terraces of the facing mountains. It is a well-preserved monument that is the perfect “teaser” for Machu Picchu. It is spectacular in every way, and gives us a preview of the energy, stamina, and oxygen it will take to enjoy all the sites on our journey.
At the top of the ruin, we pause to give the traditional offering to Pachamama, the Earth Mother. We each take three coca leaves and form them into a fan, called a quintu. While holding the quintu, silent prayers and blessings are imbued into the leaves through
three long slow breaths. Then the leaves are released to the wind that carries them into the mountains and the valley.
We have now created our relationship with the land of the Incas, and have permission to experience the glory and magic of Peru.
From here we visit the modern town of Ollantaytambo, which is the gateway to the Inca Trail that leads from here to Machu Picchu. It is 26 miles and a four-day journey at about 6- hours a day, that many hardy souls choose to experience. Alternatively, the only other way to reach Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu is by train—which is what our group will do the next day.
Before retiring for the evening we are met by a shaman, Francisco, who will create a despacho for our group. More about that next.