15,000km from sea level to 16,000 feet into the mountains, I’ve now motorcycled across Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, to the seat of the Inca Empire. Laying in a hammock far away from civilization, rays of warm sunlight find their way through the palm fronds and banana leaves to my face and arms, dappled light playing in the breeze. The rushing Santa Teresa river drowns out every other sound save for the birds in the tree to my side. If the Bolivian silver mines are hell, this part of the Peruvian Andes are paradise on Earth.
From Cusco, a city far larger than what I remember from a trip here ten years ago, we rode through the Sacred Valley of the Inca, stopping at the market in Pisaq. Gorgeous little girls in traditional indigenous clothing roam the streets cradling newborn lambs, posing shyly for pictures in trade for a few coins. They come down from the mountain villages, I’m told, to help supplement the family income. Or maybe this is the family income. It’s psychological warfare. They’re too beautiful to turn away, but you feel sorry they have to do this instead of playing in the fields unhindered as kids should have a right to do.
A tiny old lady hobbles around and nimbly demonstrates how to turn wool into yarn on a wooden spindle. She’s 85, and laughs and smiles a toothless grin at everything. Her flowered hat doesn’t even reach my chest. She too does what she can to help the family.
An old man, completely doubled over with age uses his cane to help guide himself across the street, trying to hurry as traffic approaches. Huge green mountains watch from above, terraces and fields on such extreme slopes that you marvel at anyone being able to farm them. I wonder if he’s worked those fields, bending down to harvest and sow seeds his whole life.We get turned around on our motorcycles in tight alleyways and ride through a marketplace, trying not to let our tires fall into the ancient drainage system in the middle of the path. No one gives us a second glance.
In Santa Teresa, after two days of winding mountain roads and hairpin turns, we book a room at the Eco Quechua Lodge outside of town. Our bed is covered with a white net, and one wall is completely open to the forest and eucalyptus trees, reminding me so much of Australia, high above the river below. Dinner is served by candlelight on white linen while tiny fruit bats flit through the palapa, so fast they’re barely visible. An opossum quietly creeps through the little tree just behind me, nibbling on a banana, and butterflies flutter by.
Waking up with the dawn, we hike 24km over a nearby mountain through lush forest and down to a steep and raging river, with views of Machu Picchu, first below us, and then as we descent, far above us. We follow the river all the way to the base of the Machu Picchu mountain, climbing it the next day to witness a real wonder of the world.