The great part about Clare and Kyle being in the Foreign Service is that so long as our health holds out, we’ll get to visit them in exotic places…like Bogotá, Colombia, with an add-on trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu, a destination on our Bucket List. After planning itineraries for so many years, it was a real treat for us that Clare expertly arranged the agenda. Another treat was that Andrea and her fiance Sean were able to join us!
Clare’s idea of fun these days is to take us on a hike up La Quebrada mountain, nearby her apartment, to see the view of Bogotá from above, and to have us climb the 740 steps up the monolithic formation east of Medellín called El Peñón de Guatapé. We didn’t raise her like this! We raised her to associate family get-togethers with eating, not exercising. I think she’s under the evil influence of her husband. Kyle was on the track team in high school, runs marathons, and bikes to work. Perhaps the exercise, though, is why I didn’t gain weight on the trip, despite all the tasty South American food I ate.
Speaking of which, Clare took us to Andres Carne de Res Restaurant in Chía, which in terms of an eclectically decorated edifice surpasses The Mansion in Dupont Circle. My brother Howie would love it, given that he has a stuffed bear on skies hanging from the ceiling of one of his Sticky Lips restaurants.You can see photos in my Colombia slideshow.
We also saw a church in a salt mine, visited Bogotá’s Museum of Gold, and went wedding dress shopping with Andrea. I took photos of her trying on fabulous dresses, but Sean isn’t allowed to see them.
Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, was made infamous by drug czar Pablo Escobar, who was killed back in 1993. The city is much safer now, with wonderful tourist attractions. We rode the metro system, which incorporates cable cars to serve people who live in the favelas on the mountains. What amazing views we had of the city as we journeyed up and over a mountain to the Parque Arví nature preserve.
Colombian artist Ferdinand Botero has presented Medellín with a plethora of his huge statues and paintings of huge, or at least, portly people. After you’ve seen a few, his work is easy to identify, and makes you smile.
Once we’d gotten as far as Colombia, we figured we might as well see Machu Picchu. To get there, you start out by flying to Cusco, Peru, elevation 11,500 feet, to get acclimated before descending to Machu Picchu, at 8,000 feet. It worked well that we’d already been in Bogota, at 8,700 feet, so although I was huffing and puffing during all the ups and downs, neither one of us had a heart attack, which I consider to be a major success.
Cusco is a charming town of picturesque buildings and museums, with great restaurants, surrounded by Incan ruins. It was also brimful of tourists who purchased selfie sticks from street vendors so they could snap pictures of themselves with women in ceremonial costumes and their llamas, for a small fee.
From Cusco we rode a Peru Rail train 3 ½ hours to Aguas Calientes. The train has windows in the ceiling for mountain viewing, and travels down to the Urubamba River valley through a series of switchbacks to lessen the grade. A spectacular trip!
We spent two nights in the small tourist town of Aguas Calientes so we could visit Machu Picchu twice, and enjoyed the outdoor hot springs the town is named after, where locals like to relax after work. From there, we and throngs of others boarded buses for the 25-minute climb on a winding road up to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is viewed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, with good reason: such a stunning site, in such an improbable location. It was built to last, on a foundation of chipped stones for drainage, with drainage grooves cut in stones on the floor level, and walls that were perfectly chiseled to fit together without mortar. The Incans surrounded it with agricultural terraces, and channeled a natural spring through a series of fountains. Yet it was probably planned, constructed, and abandoned within the 100 years prior to the coming of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s.
It’s hard to take a bad photo at Machu Picchu, so long as you remember to take the lens cap off your camera. Its mood changes depending on if it’s misty or the sun shines. (See the Peru slideshow.) The large complex and surrounding paths yield so many places to explore…but you’re rarely walking on flat terrain.
In sum, given all the hiking we did in the mountains of Colombia and Peru, I’ve dubbed this my exercise vacation, and if I never see another stone staircase again, it’ll be too soon! But I’m thankful for the good health that enabled me to take such an active trip.