I thought I would end this series with the Machu Picchu entry because it really shows the zonal changes. We took a 4 day hike up this incredible Incan trail and it was a real treat...and workout:) Bring some cash with you if you do the hike and plan one year ahead as there is a limit on how many people can hike up this ancient Incan trail.
Day one. We started on the trail over a rushing river through Spanish Moss, cactus, and cooler temps. It's a good way to start the trail as it isn't too crazy with the exception of your first "larger" hill:) We ended up in the woods near the river with our tent and again it was cold. I remember going to the bathroom in the middle of the night hearing guinea pigs squeaking from their pens. As you may or may not know, guinea pigs are a delicacy there:)
Day two. This was the day from hell. We walked one ridge and the landscape changed into cold barren grassy areas that had monster hills. I took my time climbing as the elevation was extremely difficult on me. Several people needed oxygen and felt as if they were having mini heart attacks.....but don't worry, there was a guide there who supplies you with the O2 if you need it:) My little sister suffered one of those little attacks. While you are climbing, the landscape surrounding you is just incredible and begging you to walk more. So even though there were times I would be cursing under my breath; I didn't mind because there were new plants just ahead of me growing in some unusual spots. The final blow on day two came from the MOTHER of all hills. It was very large and very cold and very high. This hill proves the most challenging aspect of the trail. It also shows you something people rarely see in this world.....a drastic zone change that will blow your mind away. When I reached the top of this cool, windy, grassy hill, I celebrated looking back down on it all thinking the worst was done....but day 3 was still ahead of us. The difference would be the vegetation. From the standpoint of this hill, you could see a major change in plant life. One side was dry and yellow with trees and shrubs while the other was tropical, wet, and cloudy. I had been exhausted, but seeing everything ahead of me...or down that steep hill, jump started my excitement again because I love all things tropical....and this cloud forest looked amazing.
We climbed down this steep steep hill on the craggy stone path. We arrived into this emerald paradise with swirling mists of fog wrapping itself around us. It was a great wall of divide separating two completely different ecosystems. Sure, here we have Mt. Lemmon and you can see the woods just by driving from Tucson.....but this was literally like crossing a line and seeing...actually feeling the difference by a couple of footsteps. Incredible!! We finally reached our destination on the bottom of the hill in a very tropical camp with bromeliads all around us. It began to rain and it really was a great way to end the day.
Day 2 The dividing line
Day 3. We ate breakfast and looked ahead and saw....another huge hill. If any day is mind boggling, it would be day 3. We would go from cloud forest, to a swamp like area, to a bamboo forest and back into a dryer rain forest....I know I mention forest here several times but there were several kinds of forest we passed through. For me, this day went by too fast.....it really just took my breath away and I flew down the trail by myself snapping photo after photo of plants because I knew other people wouldn't be interested in my hobby. My friends and family were talking about life and the pain and everything else that happens when you walk together for a long period of time.....I did that stuff as well, but I sometimes like the quiet. I was looking for combinations of plants together so when I got home, I could experiment.
I almost like to think of Day 3 as four distinct walks. The first we were in a wet cloud forest. The second part we went through a dry pondish area, and the third was on top of the mountain again in the wet cloud forest, but with bamboo all over. The final part was going downhill into a rain forest that was not as wet:) And throughout, there were ruins scattered amongst the forest....and you can only see them on the hike....if you take the train up to Machu Picchu, you'll miss out on these remarkable places.
Day 4, The final day. Everyone by this time is worn out because day 2 and 3 are killers. We got up early....I mean....early like before dawn at around 4'ish so that we could make our Machu Picchu destination. That was probably my only disappointment because I didn't get to see all the vegetation in the dark.....but I did get to see enough. It was a steep hike up on some very slick stone stairs that were extremely vertical and narrow. When we reached the gates, I couldn't believe my eyes....the city in the sky sat right there before us....again recharging me to explore!! Another 30 to 40 minute walk and we arrived to our final destination.
The city is incredible and worth the money to see. The gardens on these sacred grounds are amazing. I'm sorry but I have to make a reference here.....it felt like we were in Lord of the Rings....notice the pic with the single tree on the ground. There were chinchilla droppings indicating that these nocturnal critters lived amongst these ruins. There was a lot to see and do....we were also grateful to just sit on the ground and listen to our guide tell us the history about this great city. We spent a day there all grubby and nasty, but it was awesome and worth the hike. It was a way down for us to Agua Caliente....the tropical city of springs, but we made it.....it was a city stuck in the rain forest without any type of roads going in or out...it was completely surrounded by rain forest. The only way to get in was by train. We took that train back to Oyantambo by night and again, I wish I could have seen that drastic change between ecosystems because we went from a balmy warm site back into a cold and windy winter. The microclimates of Peru will dazzle you and give you some insight into your gardening practices. It also speaks to us about the importance of our homes and where you place a plant...whether it be the north side or east side or the sunny and hot western or southern sides.
Here in Tucson, most people love the northern and eastern exposures because you can grow your plants without the worries of the sun scorching the leaves.....but I find the southern and western side much more fun because you can grow a large variety of plants who are sunloving and tad more tropical feeling.....aka...the jacaranda.
If you plan on Peru, make sure you give yourself enough time to see the country....there is a lot to do and you need to give yourself that time to take it all in. Happy adventures!