The trip turned out to be every bit as good as we had hoped, as you can see from the photo above. We left State College early on a Thursday morning, and by 9:00pm we were in Lima, Peru. There's no time change, so no jet-lag, a definite plus. Still, it was a long day, so when we collected our bags, we were pleased to see someone from Road Scholars carrying a sign with our name on it. He put us in a taxi and went with us to the hotel in Mira Flores, the upscale part of Lima overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When we arrived, we met our tour leader, nicknamed "Paco" and went off to bed. The next day we met our fellow travelers, two Canadian couples, a couple from San Francisco, and a widow from North Carolina, all experienced travelers and all ready to learn about Peru. We had several lectures about the geography, economy and politics of Peru, and did some sight-seeing in Lima. Throughout the trip there was a mixture of lectures by knowledgeable professionals and tour guides, as well as meetings with local people who demonstrated their skills.
The tour followed a logical progression historically, beginning on the north coast of Peru around Chiclayo, where there were pyramids and ruins that date back thousands of years built by the Chavin and Moche peoples. These temples have been buried in sand until recently, and are currently being excavated, although as soon as they are exposed to the elements they become much more fragile and subject to fading from the sun. Next we traveled to the Trujillo area, where we saw the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Most of these temples are thought to be burial grounds, and they have found many remains, usually with large amounts of pottery around them. They have also found large towns, like Chan Chan, where tens of thousands of people once lived.
Next we flew to the Cusco and went by coach to the Sacred Valley, and the photo below shows the view from the valley towards the glaciers. The Andes are quite steep, and for those intrepid enough to hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail (a three day trek) the elevations vary from 9000 feet to 15,000 ft and back again.
The scenery was simply spectacular, and Steve had a field day taking almost 1000 photos. He even became the official photographer for the group, and shared the best ones with everyone else.
Machu Picchu was, of course, the highlight of the trip. There is something magical about standing in the midst of a community like that, and imagining what life could have been like. The Inca were really only in power for a fairly brief time, but they had evolved their way of life from those who came before. Their building style is still a marvel, and despite Peru being in the ring of fire (meaning that there are periodic violent earthquakes), they were able to design buildings that withstood the tremors. When the Spanish came and destroyed the Incan temples, they would build European-style buildings on the Incan foundations, and often after an earthquake, only the Incan part would be left.
This trip gave us some valuable insights. First, it is energizing to go somewhere completely new and different, in part because it forces you to learn new things. The more we learned about the history of Peru, the more we wanted to know. The people were warm and friendly, and they very much want tourists to come to their country and learn about their history. Second, we met the challenge of the trip to a developing country with high elevations well. We opted not to take the anti-malarial medication because we weren't really going to areas where it would be a problem (e.g. the Amazon). We did take the altitude medication (diamox), which was very helpful and we would recommend it. They kept offering us coca tea which they say helps, but we found it rather unpleasant tasting, and we weren't sure it really helped. There was one couple on our trip who took prophylactic Pepto-bismal for fear of getting an intestinal infection, but we found that by vigilantly using bottled water for everything, including toothbrushing, we were fine. You have to use a combination of common sense and self-knowledge to figure these things out.* Third, by choosing to go on an organized tour to Machu Picchu, we had the information and support we needed to manage the physical challenges. When Judy felt unsteady, Paco was right there to provide the support she needed to get to the top with everyone else.
We're glad we took our own advice and broadened our traveling experiences. Now we're busy planning more adventures!
*For a discussion of travel medications, Jane Brody of the NYT, had a nice article recently: "Staying healthy while traveling the globe,"February 22, 2016, New York Times.