After arriving in Cusco following an overnight flight, our first stop was the Maras Salt Pans, a network of salt-producing evaporation ponds constructed in pre-Inca times. From there we headed to Moray, a complex of terraces used by the Incas for high-altitude agricultural testing. As we toured the grounds with the soaring Andes mountains in the distance, I knew we were in for an amazing week.
After watching the sun rise from the front porch of our mountainside chalet, some Sternies explored the colors and flavors of Peru at the Pisac market, while others opted to hike and zip-line through the mountains. We then boarded the train to Aguas Calientes, a town at the base of Machu Picchu. Winding alongside the Urubamba River, the train ride provided spectacular views of the Peruvian countryside, further elevating our anticipation for the following day.
March 12. Machu Picchu. As the bus climbed the 1,300 feet to reach the ancient citadel, I was practically shaking with excitement. Having looked forward to this day for months, entering the ruins of the Lost City of the Incas felt like a step back in time accompanied by a “Welcome to Jurassic Park” tingle. The Incas were technologically advanced, with their earthquake-proof architecture surviving centuries after the abandonment of the city. They were also a very spiritual people, with a deep reverence for the mountains, sun, and stars. While the mile-long hike to the Sun Gate tested our cardiovascular fitness, it also provided a glorious view of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu below. As we descended back to the city, I reflected on how lucky I was to spend my 30th birthday with such an amazing group in such an unforgettable location.
Back in Cusco, we toured the remains of Coricancha, the most sacred site in the Inca religion. As with many European conquests, the local places of worship were destroyed to make room for the spread of Christianity. Interestingly, however, much of the artwork within the nearby cathedral, painted by local artists of Incan descent, contains subtle signs of protest against Christianity and the Spanish. At the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins, we had our long-awaited encounter with Alpacas.
After Cusco, we headed to the coastal city of Paracas to enjoy some sunshine and warmer temperatures. Though we saw lots of wildlife on a morning cruise around Paracas Bay, the highlight of Paracas had to be the dune buggies and sandboarding. This heart-pumping roller coaster ride through the desert is an absolute must for any adrenaline junkie.
On our way to Lima, we stopped at the Taberñero Winery for a wine and pisco tasting. After stocking up on local libations, the three-hour party bus ride to Lima ensued.
As a global culinary destination, much of our time in Lima involved food. We visited a local market to sample indigenous fruits, among them the best mango I have ever tasted. We also learned to make the country’s famous pisco sour and traditional ceviche at a cooking class. At dinner we ordered a sampler of eight
unknown local dishes and progressed through them one by one. While the cow lung and chicken blood were not fan favorites, they did round out our Peruvian culinary experience. Of course, the trip would not have been complete without experiencing the local nightlife, and Lima did not disappoint. After dancing until 5:00 am in some of Lima’s top clubs, it was time to pack up and head home.
Though my body was running on fumes, the adrenaline-induced insomnia lasted most of the flight home. Exhaustion would catch up with me about a week later, hitting me like a ton of bricks, but the memories were worth it. Though these 700 words do not do the trip, the country, or its people justice, the Peru Trek was the perfect way end my time at NYU Stern and begin a new chapter of life.
Photos courtesy of MBA student Robert Francis.