AMA Insider Spring 2018 / Over 55 - Page 30

peru: Machu Picchu or Bust Exploring the showpiece of the Incan civilization M tourists visit Machu Picchu annually— that’s almost 3,000 per day. I opt to get there aboard the Hiram Bingham Train. It’s a pampered journey that couldn’t be further from the experience of the train’s namesake. As an explorer, Bingham hit the jackpot. In July 1911, the 36-year-old Yale archaeologist set off with a mule train and a head full of dreams about forgotten ruins. Thanks to some fortu- itous encounters with knowledgeable locals, he laid eyes upon Machu Picchu and Vilcabamba, the fabled lost city of the Incas, after a few feverish weeks of exploration. He had no way of knowing then that his chance encounter would eventually herald a tourism bonanza for modern Peru. I board the train in Ollantaytambo, a bustling town crawling with taxis and tour buses. The conductor leads me to a table in the dining car and I’m soon staring down an appetizer of quinoa tabbouleh and roasted fava beans with Andean mint oil, followed by a main of grilled beef tenderloin. As the condor flies, it’s just 60 kilometres from 30 ore thAn A Million Spring 2018 AMA inSider Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, but by train, it’s a wildly beautiful three- hour ride that snakes through the Rio Urubamba gorge as it tumbles toward the Amazon Basin. Our endpoint is Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. It’s a town accessible only by train: With a little imagination, one can sense the remoteness Bingham must’ve felt here. Our appointed guide spirits us through the market and across a footbridge to a waiting bus. Our driver navigates the busy streets of Aguas Calientes and minutes later, we’re winding up the steep road to Machu Picchu, around impossibly tight turns. Before you tackle this natural won- der, be sure to book early: There are only 500 permits issued per day, and you can only get a permit through an officially licensed company like G Adventures. Go between May and September during Peru’s winter dry sea- son, especially if you’re hiking the trail. Though I’d visited the site once before, many years ago, I’m still left speechless by my first glimpse of the citadel, perched improbably on a sharp, terraced ridge. I quietly slip SEE IT WITH AMA ExplorE Machu picchu national GeoGraphic Journeys With G adventures This 8-day small-group trip (max. 16 people) allows genuine cultural interaction without sacrificing comfort— think of it as an “enhanced adventure.” The tour includes 2 days in the sacred Valley, including ollantaytambo, moray and Pisac. From $2,099/person (land only) march 2018-december 2019 departures FliGhts From $795/person call a travel specialist 1-866-667-4777 machu picchu, peru away from my group for a solo walk through the maze of walls. Studying the exquisite stonework, dry laid without mortar, I’m reminded of something I learned earlier in my trip: After the conquistadors razed Incan buildings, they built cathedrals, churches and villas in the Spanish architectural style. With each earth- quake that shook the city, Spanish buildings crumbled but the Incan foundations remained unmoved. I follow a path toward Inti Punku (“the sun gate”), where early birds can watch the sunrise. Ten minutes later, I arrive at the gate and gaze down upon the lush mountain valley. I can’t help but reflect upon the Inca’s understand- ing of astronomy: Not a rock was laid or building constructed here without consideration of its placement and alignment with the heavens. Marvels and mysteries like this form the enduring appeal of the Incas, a civi- lization conquered but never gone. —Andrew Findlay