Travel Bumps Are First Marital Test
On December 12, 2000 I married a man we’ll call Ric. We married at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
We decided to go to Peru to see the ruins of Machu Picchu over Christmas. We didn’t expect travel in that country to be easy. And it was not. On Christmas day and for the following three consecutive days, we spent from 4 am until 10 am at the airport just trying to leave Lima (a place that holds so much history and colonial grandeur but which our guide book said, "too bad travelers cannot avoid it") for Cusco, Peru.
We did manage for three nights in Lima to find the beautiful neighborhood of Miraflores. It is to this neighborhood that we returned each morning at 10:00 am following six hours at the airport trying to get a domestic flight to Cusco. Did I mention we tried to leave Lima for Cusco every day for four days? It was because of a domestic airlines strike. And, since it was Christmas time, every Peruvian was trying to travel too.
We finally secured a flight from Lima to Cusco on the third day in Peru. We flew to Cusco. From there, we took a helicopter to Aguas Calientes and found our hotel, a marvelously simple and majestic place that overlooked the Urubamba River, a tributary of the Amazon.
River travel is not the primary means of travel in this area, however. Though we flew to Aguas Calientes by helicopter, there is also a train from Cusco. Other than that, travelers arrive via alpaca (which Ric sampled while in Cusco).
Machu Picchu is one of a series of mountains in the Andes. The Inca ruins are built from one of the mountains within the range -- literally carved from the mountain itself. The “city” is a 30-minute bus ride up the mountain from Aguas Calientes. The mountain drive takes 14 hairpin turns. The distance is only 8 km. As you drive these turns, you see walls that rise 1000 m at 90-degree angles. Travelers are typically advised to spend 1-2 days acclimating in Aguas Calientes because of the altitude.
When we arrived in December, it was summer in Peru. And, with Aguas Claientes at 8,500 feet above sea level, you don't feel the intensity of the sun until after you’ve achieved a crispy sunburn.
Once at the ruins, one pays an entrance fee which is good for all day, at least the amount of time you will need. Our Italian tour guide gave a tour in English. It is easy to see why he was interested in language, culture, anthropology, astronomy and architecture. All these disciplines were “alive” at the ruins. We could almost picture Incans walking around the ruins as they must have existed 600 years ago. The remains of Inca (translated actually as the "son of the sun") seemed real and intact.
Ric and I returned to Machu Picchu a second morning to see the Sun Gate, the exact area in the city where the sun comes through during the summer solstice at one time during the day. The Sun Gate is the final portion of the Inca Trail, which some travelers walk for the five days before reaching Machu Picchu. After this morning hike and viewing, Ric and I returned by bus to Aguas Calientes to catch the train to Cusco where we were to stay overnight.
Alas, there was a great deal of rain during that train ride from Aguas to Cusco. It was dark too. So the train derailed.
The conductor came on the public address system immediately. He said staff would arrange for a taxi to pick up every train passenger at the door of each train car. He urged every passenger to remain on the train and be patient because the train had derailed in the land of the Shining Path, the Peruvian terrorist group. Most passengers cooperated. Only a few became impatient and departed from the train on their own. We don’t know how they fared.
Ric and I are still married. This was a good test of our stamina, sense of adventure and persistence. Mostly, it was a good indication that our journey would be spectacular, though with bumps to navigate.
And Merry Christmas to you too.
Adrienne Smith is President of Education and Workforce Consultants and has extensive experience developing employment and training programs in the U.S. and overseas.
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