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Kurt Kutay, Peru

Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek - We celebrated Wildland Adventures 20th anniversary in style leading the inaugural journey of our Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek July 2007. Following is a pictorial review of our experience with three Wildland trekkers: Cindy, a personal chef; Karen, a law professor specializing in indigenous peoples; and Rachael, a South African health care worker living in London on vacation in Peru. Every day is a celebration on the Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek through the high Andes of Peru. At the end of the trail awaits a pisco sour and gourmet meal paired with fine wine in a well-appointed lodge with an outdoor Jacuzzi and a cozy bed and duvet complete with high thread count! Cindy gets a lesson in making pisco sours at the bar in Soray Pampa Lodge. Twenty years ago I led one of our first treks in Peru camping with tents and sleeping pads over this same route. This time I was feeling lucky when I woke up the first morning at 12,000' sitting on the edge of my bed at the Salkantay Lodge looking at this spectacular view of Mt. Salkantay out my window. Our first evening at Salkantay Lodge we had an opportunity to talk to Enrique Umbert, the founder and visionary of the Peru mountain lodges who built them in the finest tradition of European-style hut to hut hiking. On this morning in July 2007, I woke up in a warm slumber watching a few backpackers outside emerging from their tent in the freezing cold looking for their hot camp porridge. As a privileged guest of the lodge, I on the other hand, was headed downstairs for a full breakfast buffet. You can't rush into trekking over a 15,000' pass so we plan at least one day in Cusco and another in the Urubamba Valley to acclimatize. Then you spend the next two nights at the Soray Pampa Lodge including an acclimatization day hiking up to a high ridge top overlooking a glacial lake before returning to sleep another night at the lodge. Trekking from lodge to lodge certainly makes the journey more comfy at the end of the day, but it doesnt make the trek itself any easier getting over the high pass. We take a few extra riding horses in case of emergency but also to help anyone feeling the effects of soroche get over the highest part of the trail. We all made it over the pass and the whole group united with a Wildland banner to celebrate in a snowstorm! The lodges were built with the cooperation of local villages and are staffed predominately with local people who were trained and hired to be involved in this low-impact sustainable tourism project. Here, Cindy is greeted with a cup of hot tea upon arrival at Wayra lodge after the long day over the high pass. Further down the trail, the Lucma Bamba Lodge is tucked into a verdant cloud forest near Machu Picchu. There are lots of opportunities to interact with local Quechua-speaking Andean people along the trek route. We learned about traditional weaving techniques in a local village. One day when I veered off the trail following the sounds of traditional Andean music, I found myself dancing to Huayno music with a local food vendor at a village festival! The next day Karen stopped to lend a hand to a local man carrying poles he had cut to build a shelter in his village. The local staff at Lucma Bamba Lodge helped us celebrate our last night on the trail and Rachel's birthday with a chocolate cake. Our Wildland guide, David Espejo, is a native English-speaking Quechua, and one of the most experienced trekking guides in the Peruvian Andes, having accompanied numerous archeological expeditions and documentary film projects in the past several decades discovering and documenting lost Inca cities. The last day of the Machu Picchu Mountain Lodges Trek we walk along a beautifully restored and protected Inca Trail over the last pass through a cloud forest to the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata. We bushwhacked our way into an unknown sector of the recently discovered site of Llactapata that only David knew where to find buried in the jungle just as Hiram Bingham had left it on his search for the lost city of Vilcabamba back in 1912. This amazing archaeological zone with a spectacular view of Machu Picchu across a deep valley, consists of over 80 structures including high status buildings, agricultural areas, lower status urban ruins, and a connecting road network scattered over several square kilometres. David indicated that archaeologists believe Llactapata is where workers who built Machu Picchu may have resided. The final day of the trek we stopped for lunch on a sunny meadow over looking Machu Picchu taking turns reading Pablo Nerudas Heights of Machu Picchu. Carol Geertsema of Twisp River Films documented our 20th anniversary inaugural Mountain Lodges Trek.