Published: February 3rd 2010February 3rd 2010
Village in Sacred Valley
Typical hillside Peruvian village in the fertile Sacred Valley
Bright and early on Saturday morning, January 23, I departed the ship in Lima, Peru with 68 other optimistic travelers. We were off on a two night trip to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, located at 9500 feet in the Andes.
Initially the journey went as planned. We flew one hour from Lima to the city of Cusco, located at 11,000 feet and considered the gateway to Machu Picchu. We visited some minor Inca sites in the beautiful Urubamba Valley, the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Life for Peruvians living here is simple but rich with agriculture and beauty --- rather like stepping back 100 years in time. Having, theoretically, now adjusted to the altitude we settled into our Saturday hotel.
It had rained much of the day Saturday and our guide said that as of now, the beginning of the rainy season the area has already received 300% of last season’s rainfall. We should have known this was NOT a good sign.
Sunday morning we continued as planned, if not a bit damp and made our way by train to Machu Picchu for an afternoon visit. The skies cleared for our time in this truly
I Made It
Such an amazing place...I felt like an Inca for a couple of hours
magical ancient city. I will always be grateful to have visited here as it is without a doubt a place never to be forgotten.
As we were departing Machu Picchu en route to the village (Aquas Callentes) train station we learn that the train has been delayed due to mudslides on the tracks. There is no road access to the village nor is there an airport.
So begins our almost 48 stay in this hamlet of 3000 tourist (train visitors like us and hikers who have made the 4-day trek on the Inca trail to reach Machu Picchu) and about 3000 residents to live off the tourist trade.
Two times on Monday, our guide receives word that the train may be running so we trek to the train station only to ultimately return to our hotel, train less.
The river adjacent to our hotel has been raging since before we arrived and by mid-day Monday, Police order evacuation of the hotel and the lower part of this mountain side village. Locals pack up restaurants and shops and carrying crying children, pets and treasures head up the hill to homes and gardens on higher ground. Tourists are
Locals and tourists begin packing up and moving
hustled to the soccer field to await the helicopters which are rumored to be en route.
One small helicopter arrives on Monday and evacuates the most critical people but the rest of us are left behind. Fortunately the Tour Operator was able to obtain rooms for us at another (amazingly luxurious and undoubtedly expensive) hotel. We settled in for a second night, safe and fed but anxious about when and where our rescue helicopters might be, aware that “the natives are getting restless” in this no isolated village.
By this time most of us have acquired toothbrushes but as this was to be a day trip (our luggage remained in Cusco) we are by now a pretty motley looking crew.
Mid-day Tuesday the Peruvian military helicopters arrived. Some in our group speculated, likely with authority, that these were Viet Nam era army surplus but we thrilled to see them. They had reportedly been delayed because of fuel supply problems in Cusco.
Evacuation was under the supervision of a Peruvian General who left no doubt that he was in charge (seemingly to the dismay of US State Department personnel). Some of the helicopters were dedicated (undoubtedly through
At the Soccar Field
Those anticipating evacuation assembled...and waited
a financial arrangement with the USA) to transporting US citizens. Americans (and our Canadian, New Zealander and British comrades) were mustered in the jungle on path separate from where the Peruvians and South Americans assembled as they had little appreciation of our “preferred status”.
Tuesday night we spent in Cusco and on Wednesday morning flew to Lima. We were anticipating a quick return to the ship but it took another 48 hours to arrange the charter flight that took us “home” on Friday, January 29. There were complications because planes had been committed to the evacuation effort. Also Chile and its neighbor Peru are not on the best political terms so the red tape to arrange an international charter contributed to the delay.
As our buses pulled into the port at Valparaiso (port city to Santiago) we were greeted by band music, champagne, red carpet, balloons and about 100 crew members cheering our return. But the most enthusiastic member of the reception committee had to by Dick, who had spent six days worrying and waiting for our return!!
There are more photos below