When in Peru, do as the Peruvians do
by Monica Pedemonte
For more than 20 years I dreamed of going to Machu Picchu. We chose to do the trip a few years ago with Peru for Less (PFL) and we found the personnel to be incredibly courteous and professional.
Our adventure began in Miami, where our late evening flight to Lima was delayed- (meaning that we would not arrive to Lima until 2-3 am). I began to worry that because of this delay no one would be at the airport to greet us but pleasant surprises are never to be underestimated.
Predictably, the Lima airport was quite deserted which may be the reason a man holding a PFL placard with bold letters spelling out my name stood out. My heart started to quiet down as our PFL escort introduced himself. Everything about his manner, the transportation provided and the travel folders said unequivocally to my weary and wary group that we were in good hands. He stayed with us as we checked into the hotel. Folders contained itineraries as had been promised by PFL personnel and our escort stayed with us until all of our questions were answered- including my questions about Peruvian authors that were a must read. He was proficient in both English and Spanish and gregarious in both languages. Our suite in Lima was spacious and clean with modern conveniences including central heat which was readily turned on as these Floridians were not comfortable with local evening temp of 40-50 degrees.
Our tour guide in Lima was equally professional, bilingual and delightful. In Lima we toured extraordinary historical sites constructed by the Spaniards, we were impressed with the integrity and beauty of the well preserved architecture. Even more magnificent were the breathtaking Inca ruins. So magnificent that we returned in the evening to a restaurant that overlooked these ruins which were dramatically lit for evening enjoyment. We were overcome with awe and joy as we sampled an extraordinary gourmet menu and relished the Inca ruins aglow with moonbeams. It was a magical evening.
Our next apprehensive experience took place in the pre dawn hours as we traveled to the Lima airport for a flight to Cuzco. The airport was closed or so it seemed until the PFL personnel cleared us with the military attired personnel at the gate. While passengers boarded on a timely basis, fight was delayed. The pilot alerted us to an emergency situation- a passenger had collapsed due to a medical crisis. As we witnessed flight crew attend to the passenger lying on the floor of plane, within minutes an ambulance taxied up to our plane and with medical efficiency removed the passenger.
Finally to Cusco. As we de boarded we were struck by the ubiquitous kiosks selling paraphernalia to deal with altitude sickness. PFL personnel were there with a placard with my name. The guide assured us we did not need to purchase oxygen tanks. She advised us to rest, move slowly on our first day. Elevation 11, 000 ft. Rest, drink the coca tea in the waiting room in the hotel available 24 hours. I readily availed myself of the tea expecting a delicious tasting herbal tea. Not. I persisted as I honor the belief when in Peru do as Peruvians do. Our guide was delightful, knowledgeable and professional.
Cuzco could not be more charming, picturesque or well preserved. Disney could not have carved out a more historic charming city. Breathtakingly majestic mountains enveloped this historic city which clearly was well attended to by the locals much to the gratitude of ancient kings and gods, I am sure. We felt safe walking around at different times of the day. The food and music were extraordinary. My party decided it was safe to honor their carnivorous palates despite being told to be careful about the meats. I however stuck with vegetables.
Then came the much awaited morning in which we headed to Machu Pichu. It began with the long hour van ride to the train station. Then we boarded the train which was modern, clean, with huge windows and sky lights. Train left on time around 9 am. It was a clear sunny morning in August. We had picked August as we wanted to avoid the rainy season. The three of us were seated comfortably around a table, which allowed for ease and comfort to enjoy the snacks provided. Our senses were fed with vistas of streams and mountains. Few hours later we arrived to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu. We checked into our hotel which overlooked the mountains. Rushed back to catch the 2 PM bus to the citadel.. Then came the 2 hour guided tour of Machu Picchu. It’s really hard to explain in word but the breathtakingly beautiful mountain vistas were just mystical. One feels the presence of the Incas…the gods. We walked in awe on these sacred grounds. A two hour tour clearly was not enough.
The pride of the Peruvians in their Inca heritage was pervasive. We were overjoyed to see their national pride and we gladly endorsed the ads that praise the magic of Peru.
P.S. One of us did get altitude sickness and suffered greatly for more than 24 hours with g-i discomfort. I might add that he was the only one who had not drunken the coca tea nor had he availed himself of meds from States for altitude sickness. I contacted PFL personnel. They were responsive, relieved my worries and offered to contact reputable medical support. Peru for Less, we thank you for making our adventure safe and magical.