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Jamie Bergford and Geoff Parkins, Peru

Peru and Galapagos: Understanding the world beyond our borders

We expected our trip to be a learning experience what we didn't expect was how much we would learn. It was a holiday of two different worlds - The Galapagos and then Cusco/Machu Picchu. We began in the Galapagos. Until you climb up Prince Philip's steps, it is difficult to comprehend how close you can get to the birds and other animals. You feel like an insider surrounded by wildlife that flourishes in areas that to the initial eye seem very desolate. Every day was different with new things to see and photograph. Experiencing, and therefore beginning to understand, the diversity that exists between the islands and the rest of the world was fantastic. I even felt akin to Charles Darwin, who did not realize the importance of the Galapagos finches until he got back to England (he thought they were all the same), for when I looked more closely at my photos back home, it suddenly dawned on me that a bird that I thought was a tree finch was really a woodpecker finch. Our enjoyment was further enhanced because we had 'no worries' in the Galapagos - the m/y Eric was excellent, the crew attentive and the food delicious - even for those of us who have special dietary needs.

Cusco and Machu Picchu, brought completely different and equally special experiences. The landscape is magnificent with steep mountains rising from the floor of river valleys. It only took a few days to get acclimatized to the altitude but visiting the Inca temples and terraces at Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Ollantaytambo was awe inspiring. You are left wondering - how was it all accomplished, how do you build terraces on a 45 degree slope, how were those ten foot high boulders put in place with not even a credit card gap between them?

Our guide, Carlos Vasquez Salas, and driver, Aquiles Santos, were superb. They took excellent care of us and through them we developed an understanding of the culture of the Cusco region and its indigenous people, the Quechua. The Quechua live a very tough existence in the mountains, farming at over 12,000 feet, but they have a quiet dignity and were very open and friendly. In particular, visiting the Quechua school at Patacancha with the children in their bright outfits was affecting. We later learned that the school (and its adjoining high school) had been built by the HoPe Foundation(http://www.stichtinghope.org/en/index.asp) that was started by two individuals 10 years ago - HoPe has collaborated with other villages to build over 40 schools. We believe much change in the world will probably come about because of the passion of individuals and smaller foundations such as HoPe. So, if you consider that Wildland Adventures introduced us to Peru and now we are introducing you to HoPe, then this chain of effect will continue to expand.

Machu Picchu still awaited us and after taking the train from Ollantaytambo, we disembarked at Km. 104 for the one day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. It proved to be a difficult hike but very rewarding - the views as you climb, the magnificent terraces of Winay Wayna, the final steep steps up to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) and the sense of accomplishment as you see Machu Picchu for the first time. Machu Picchu lives up to its reputation - it is extensive, in remarkably good condition and in a magnificant setting surrounded by mountains - you feel very close to the sky.

All in all, one of our best trips ever. The service at all the hotels was exceptional. Throughout our journey we felt that everyone we came into contact wanted to make our holiday better and who can argue with that. But mostly, we returned home with a better understanding of the world beyond our borders.