The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Peru)- part 1

“In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.” ~┬áHiram Bingham

With a trip to Peru on the horizon, we were thrilled and excited much like every other time we travel. Little did we know what awaited us on our first trip to South America. Having Machu Picchu on ‘My bucket is half-full’ list prompted our visit and the history and mystery of the site drew us in just like so many other visitors. Throngs of daily visitors take the Hiram Bingham Highway from Aguas Calientes up the side of Machu Picchu in a winding, 5 mile stretch but having such a love of the outdoors, the Wellners would have no part of it. Our adventure would start 26 miles and 4 days away on the Inca Trail.

When someone says ‘I’m hiking the Inca Trail’, they don’t mean that there is only one trail, rather, El Camino Inca is a system of trails that unite at Machu Picchu. There are places where the trail has obviously been reconstructed but there are many miles that feature the original stone paving. Cool. Many liken the trail to the ancient roads of Egypt and Rome, but the trail is often wider than these ancient structures, a point that Peruvians are more than happy to point out.

After an exhaustive search of trekking companies we were satisfied with the services and consistently good reviews of Llama Path. Sustainable tourism is the new buzz word in the tourism industry with good cause. The increasing level of people who travel to sites off the beaten path run the risk of destroying these sites before they can be properly experienced and explored. The Peruvian government took control of Machu Picchu and its surrounding area in 2000 and have made significant improvements as well as regulations to protect the trail, the site and those who utilize it as recreation or as their home. Yes, there are many people who still actually live in these mountains and have been for centuries. Imagine that.

In its on-going efforts to sustain the terrain, history and tradition of the trail and Machu Picchu, the government has imposed several new restrictions since their acquisition of the lands and services. Only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day. This number includes trekkers, guides and porters and compared to all the people who want to experience the trail, we felt very lucky to be a part of the system having booked 6 months earlier to secure our spot. The government has also implemented regrowth projects, trail maintenance as well as wildlife preservation and conservation to enhance the local eco system. On the human front, the treatment of porters is of great concern as many companies in the past have treated them poorly. Companies are now required to offer a livable wage, proper clothing, quality food and adequate accommodations while on the trail and porters’ packs are weighed upon entering the trail as to deter over-loading of any individual. Fines and penalties are strictly enforced so the tour companies are happy to oblige with the emerging regulations. With all these facts in place, we felt confident that we had made the right choice of tour company and were ready to tackle the behemoth before us. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu…

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