Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins
I am at it again. This time in Cusco, Peru. After a non-stop from Atlanta and a bit of a layover in Lima we have finally arrived in the mountain town of Cusco. At 11,200 feet moving around can seem a bit lethargic and the next few days will be spent gaining some bearings on the local surroundings and acclimatizing to the new altitude before embarking on a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. Cusco is a very old city, situated next to the Andes Mountains and Urubamba valley. Cusco was the capitol of the Inca Empire dating back to the 13th century. After the arrival of the Spanish, many of the ancient ruins and temples were tore down and rebuilt as Cathedrals and Spanish civil structures. So, a very interesting mix of Spanish and Inca influence exist in the city, which even comes across in the local dialect.
Tourism flourishes here and there are hordes of European and American backpackers. It is a staple of the local economy and drives a lot of the restaurants, bars, and tour guide services. In fact, you cannot hike to any of the ancient ruins without hiring the services of a guide. A little disappointing given the fact that we normally prefer to adventure off the “beaten path”. So, I expect the trekking to be a little water downed in comparison the treks through Nepal’s Khumbu region. But, it should still provide some good opportunities for taking in the country side and some fresh mountain air. My pack is pretty light compared to my usual. Swapping out government issued military-spec gear for civilian gear, swapping the standard 1.5 gallons a water for a filter, and losing all the weapon and equipment weight goes a long way to lightening the load. In fact my 30 pound pack feels nonexistent walking around here.
I have had the opportunity to break in a few additions. Namely, my Garmin etrex Legend HCx. I added a topographic map package of the surrounding region before I left the U.S. Which was good, because finding paper topographic maps in Cusco has been completely futile. I am also packing a Canon Powershot SD990 IS. It is no substitute for a digital SLR (my next investment), but it does the trick in a pinch and is light weight. It is summer down here, but the high altitude makes it a bit cold. So, I packed a North Face fleece and Marmot rain jacket for good measure. Cusco is not really “third world” so finding supplies, hotels and/or hostels with WiFi is not difficult.
One thing that I have been lacking is a good Spanish phrase book. Being 6 years removed from studying Spanish and not really “brushing” up before I left have left some holes in my communication ability. You can survive on english down here, but knowing Spanish goes a long way on earning some points with the locals.
The political climate here is very tourist friendly. However, there have been some riots and instability as a result of the new President and the local mining corporations. At least as much as I can gather from the local newspapers and my inadequate Spanish. I have not really seen anything first hand and it seems Cusco has been mostly isolated from these events.
All in all, my first few days in Peru have been a very welcome change of pace. The food is phenomenal and I need to hit the trail soon before I get too fat on all the local eateries.