Too Old for Machu Picchu?




My mother found some cheap flights to Lima and got this crazy idea to take me to Machu Picchu before she croaks. For some weird reason she thinks it is something everyone has to see once in their lifetime. Why? I have no idea. What I want to know is, is it safe for a woman of seventy-two to go there? What’s the best way to see Machu Picchu when you’re not in the best physical condition?

Answer: Mom’s dead-on.

Hello! It’s only one of the seven wonders of the world, everyone should be so lucky as to experience this marvel.  Built in the late 15th century as a retreat for the nobility, and discovered only in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer and the inspiration for Indiana Jones, Machu Picchu teaches us many things, the most important one of all is humility.

The Incans were a very sophisticated culture and this can be seen by all of the below:

  • Architecture : Stone temples constructed by the Inca used a mortarless construction that fit together so well that a knife could not be fitted through the stonework. The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit made them extraordinarily stable.

  • Better than Bulgari: Though famous for their gold work, nearly all the gold and silver work of the Inca empire was stolen and melted by conquistadors.
  • Brain Surgery: Another thing that is pretty wild about the Incas is they performed skull surgery successfully. Anthropologists have discovered evidence which suggests that in the operation which involved cutting holes in the skull in order to alleviate fluid buildup and inflammation caused by head wounds, most skull surgeries performed by Inca surgeons were successful, with a survival rate of 80-90% as opposed to pre-Inca times, when only 30% of skull surgery patients survived the procedure.
  • Cocaine: They were also the first to discover the wonders of cocaine. Sadly the Spanish ruined it. The Incas revered the coca plant as being sacred and magical. They used them mostly for spiritual and medicinal purposes but sometimes in moderate amounts to lessen pain during work. When the Spaniards realized the effects of chewing the coca leaves, they forced the people of Peru to become addicted to it so they didn’t have to feed them while they slaved away in labor camps.

This culture on this hidden hilltop was so sophisticated, so ahead of their time and so pristine before contact with the outside world led to an epidemic of smallpox that wiped so many people of Machu Picchu out. It has a magical, transcendental quality to it that is unique and is something you and your mother will never forget.

But before you book your cheap ticket to Lima and plan your trip, you must be sure there are permits available. The Peruvian government only allows 200 trekkers a day so they go fast. Go to: www.andeantravelweb.com Also train tickets are booked way in advance during the dry months of April/May into September. Book ahead. www.perurail.com.

Beating Altitude Sickness

Coca tea for the altitude

Coca tea for the altitude

Landing in Cusco, located at about 10,800 feet above sea level, from a city where the altitude is pretty close to sea level can be hard for anyone. Only a person who has experienced it knows how hard it can knock you out.

The symptoms of altitude sickness can be first felt at about 7,000 feet above sea level. Some of the most common symptoms of altitude sickness are strong headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach illness, and sometimes nose bleeding all due to the low atmospheric pressure conditions which occur at high elevations.

Strangely being in optimal health does not stop you from getting altitude sickness, studies have shown that not everyone gets altitude sickness and no one really understands why some are more prone to it than others.

How to reduce the risks of getting altitude sickness?

  1. Over the counter medicine two days before going.
  2. Arrive three days early in a high altitude city before starting a high energy activity such as hiking the Inca Trail.
  3. Peruvians chew the coca leaf and drink tea brewed from it, go native, chew constantly!
  4. Drink plenty of liquids, avoid high energy activities the first two days, and avoid meat and  fatty meals.

First of all, acclimate to the altitude, which can be done simply by hanging out in Cusco for a few days.  Fly to Cusco from Lima. Each day there are 6 to 7 flights and they are 50 minutes long compared to the 17-hour bus ride.There’s the top of the line Hotel Monasterio with rooms that are “oxygen-enhanced”  at $700 a night and then there’s hostels for $16 a night and in between there’s a wide range to chose from. Take a day or two to enjoy this ancient city, first capital of the Inca Empire and then Center for Spanish Colonization and spread of Christianity and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

hotel monasterio cusco peru

hotel monasterio cusco peru

Getting there:

The Inca trail is arduous to say the least. It his high at almost 8,000 feet above sea level and it is tucked away inside the mountains which is why the Spaniards never found it.

Zigzag road to Machu Picchu

Zigzag road to Machu Picchu

inca trail

inca trail

There are two ways to get to the Lost City: By foot and by train. For most young people, trekking through the green valleys of Machu Picchu is a lifelong dream. And now with small hotels built along the way with rest stops and nightly bonfires, this is a super cool thing to do. BUT not with your elderly mom. With her you go by train. Which is a lot easier than you might think. Take a cab to the San Pedro train station in Cusco and board your train for Aguas Calientes . Hopefully you sprang for the Vistadome service.

new vistadome train

new vistadome train

Once you arrive at Auguas Calientes you board a bus to Machu Picchu which takes 20 minutes. This is a stunning trip with vertical drops, lush greenery and views of the sacred mountain Putucusi on the opposite side of the valley. Buses are clean, new and air-conditioned. The first bus leaves at 5:20am and people line up to get a view of the sunrise.

inca trail

inca trail

Once you arrive, guided tours are available or $20. If you want to really be luxurious book a night at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel adjacent to the ruins for $1000 a night.

sanctuary lodge hotel

sanctuary lodge hotel

And when you’re staring out at the ruins in this incredibly impossible place to get to, think of Neruda’s words:

“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicentre of the great circle of life. One more miracle.” – Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Machu Picchu.


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