Machu Picchu, Back After 31 years – Cuzco, Peru

Machu Picchu, Back after 31 years
Cuzco, Peru

I was here in Cuzco Peru 31 years ago with 3 friends. We were 20 years old. Here I am again at 51.

Machu Picchu: Then and Now
Machu Picchu: Then and Now
11,400 ft altitude, considered the oldest inhabited city in the western hemisphere, 13 degrees south of equator in high jungle. It’s spring time here but still cold, 55 degrees and its been raining and hailing a lot. Cuzco is a lot larger than it was 30 years ago, 330,000 people now, but I think half may be gringos. There are a lot of gringos, and not just the typical pink-bellied kind you find in Mexico or Hawaii, but permanent world travelers, explorers and researchers.

Cuzco is the ancient capital of the Inca civilization and the main access point for both gringos and Incas to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca site and the main attraction on all of South America. I brought along a photo I took 31 years ago of me standing in Machu Picchu. My photo has been quite a hit with people, especially those who are under 30.

There are 2 ways to reach Machu Pichhu, 1) 4 day, 24-mile extreme elevation trek with guides and porters (passes are above 16,000 ft) or 2) via a train.

Inca Porters
Inca Porters
I took the train, roughing it by going 2nd class. I met up with some of the porters as a trek was just ending. These are real live Incas!! Descendants of the people who built Machu Picchu. They were fascinated by my photo and we spent an hour talking while we all waited for the return train to Cuzco. The guy on the left in red won the Inca Trail Marathon…he did 24 miles in 4.3 hrs. Porters carry all the equipment for the gringo trekers and actually run ahead so camp is all set up and tea is waiting when the gringos arrive. With 2 porters:1 gringo, a typical trek cold have 80 people. The trail is restricted to 500 people per day.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Cuzco is not without a local gringo community. My fist night I befriended Jeff, from Ohio who has owned a pub here for 8 years and is really into Norton motor cycles. Richard, a 65 yr old gringo has even written a book,, which I am finding a good read especially since I now know a lot of the characters (Jeff is “Duffy”) and the places. Reminds me a lot of Barra de Navidad, our little spot in Mexico.

I also booked a 5 day amazon tour into Manu National Park, check out for more details. This is supposedly the most untouched area in all the world. They claim there are even peoples living here that have never made contact with western civilization.

Facts and things I notice (in no particular order)

– Inca Kola is still the country’s most popular soft drink…banana flavored, now in diet. I still have an unopened bottle from 30 years ago at home, locked away for safe keeping. I originally thought that this beverage sourced from a natural spring up at Machu Pichhu but our guide assured me it is made in Lima in a factory. ( Dennis & John: Sublime chocolate bars are still around but now owned by Nestles with slick packaging)

– Bush reelected. How did this happen? How could this happen? Are Americans really that stupid? I struggle to explain to all who ask such questions, and most do. Needless to say I have not met one Bush supporter. Can anyone help me out here? What the hell happened?

– Light switches. Electricity is produced by a hydro power plant near Machu Picchu. (Those Incas were very smart.) But because everything is built from stone ( and concrete in newer buildings ) retrofitting electrical wiring in a building is often a compromise. In my shower, the light switch is on the ceiling inside the shower. I have found switches on the floor, behind paintings and occasionally where you might think they should be. Perhaps its just a technique to conserve energy or maybe the locals have very good night vision.

– Coffee. For a country that grows a lot of coffee this is troubling how difficult it is to find a good cup of coffee. Usually its Nescafe instant. . Coca leave tea is everywhere though.

– Example Prices in US $$
– Avocado (softball size) 17 cents
– Pollo (chicken) $1.20 lb
– Coke $.60 cents
– Cerveza $.60 cents
– 3 course Peruanan meal $1.10 or less (meat, soup and potatoes)
– 3 course Gringo meal $5 to $15 (anything you want is here and nicely prepared…it’s an eaters paradise)

– “Cuy” is guinea pig and is a common meal…No thanks

– Street Kids. There are a lot, some in gangs. Sad. One foundation has established a hotel, Los Ninos, where the income goes to take care of them and get them off the street. 20 kids work in the hotel. $30 night and very nice.

– My hotel room, $6 night shared bano, no toilet seats but agua caliente.

– Cell Phones. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has one. Cell reception was even good at Machu Picchu! How do people afford it? Simple, they are cheap, $35 for the phone and 1 year worth of service…but the catch is they only receive calls. Its a sight to see traditionally dressed older native indian lady on her cell phone. I will try for a photo.

– Internet. Most amazing, $0.48 cents per hour. Post card vendors are hurting. Dozens of caf�s everywhere. Filled of course with gringos like me (as I write there’s an Aussie on one side downloading his photos of Lake Titicaca and a Dutch couple on the other looking at newly taken photos of baby sent from home) and young IM-ing chicas. Like in the US, these young girls spend endless hours glued to the screen burning up the keyboards and shrieking every now and then. Addicted. “Will work for internet time” – the internet, bringing the world closer.

– Language. Last year I went to Spanish language school in Oaxaca, Mexico. Now I go to learn at the main Plaza de Armas in Cuzco. Just sit on a bench and in no time I have people joining me to learn English while I practice Spanish. Kids and vendors offer a no pressure experience. Que Bueno. BTW, The original Inca language, Quechua, is still widely used and there even Quechua language schools in Cuzco.

– The XXX Moche culture. The Moches people created pottery that world rival anything in an adult bookstore. The Larco museo in Lima had an entire wing devoted to this important, but controversial collection of artifacts. Our 20 year old Senorita guide, all red faced just said, “go on in, I don’t need to esplain anything”. Amazing, could it have been the equivalent to our “Joy of Sex”? I even think I learned some new positions. I was very impressed with the find detail and realism…

– Last but not least, the latest application of technology, Video Movie Houses. Cuzco has at least 6 clubs/restaurants that have been retrofitted to be a mini movie house. Eat, drink and watch a new release DVD. They’re great, but I am sure illegal. They use the projectors like the ones used at the out door cinemas in Bham. The annoying thing is you aren’t guaranteed which movie you will see. They list two movies for a certain time, then once enough people have arrived, they take a vote on which movie to watch. I have lost out, and walked out, twice so far. Watch for this venue to make it to the states.

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