Views from Peru’s vast mountain ranges

Peruvian peaks, featuring Machu Picchu – Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Thorpe

Started from sea level and now we’re here at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet. I was only slightly winded after hiking about a quarter-mile incline of the rocky path that led to Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. There it was in all of its vast, green, mountainous beauty, the iconic Inca civilization of Machu Picchu, Peru. Several mountains surrounded the ancient Inca estate of dry-stone walls and luscious greenery. The high elevation provided a remarkable view of endless mountain ranges with green brush and a few snow-capped mountains.

Junior Brylee Beverage was amazed by the creation and hard work by the early Incas.

“I loved it, the view; it was a lot cooler than I thought it would be,” Beverage said. “I thought it would just be a mountaintop with nothing on it, but Machu Picchu was very intricate with all the Inca ruins.”

The process of creating the Inca architectural masterpiece now ruins appeared to be intricate seeing that the trek up the mountain was not all that easy. The steep ascend was definitely a gruesome trek and the ancient Incans did not have the luxury of taking a bus to the top like tourists do today. However, for many visitors there is an option of hiking the “Camino Inka,” or Inca Trail, which according to locals was a four-day hiking trip. Many Semester at Sea students decided to hike their way to the top, rather than take a 30-minute bus ride.

Junior, Olivia Rohlk hiked the route that led up to the Sun Gate, which was at a higher altitude and had a view of the entire Machu Picchu mountain range from a taller viewpoint.

“It was really cool because, once we got to Sun Gate, our reward was this beautiful view of Machu Picchu,” Rohlk said. “We started our hiking day at 7 a.m. and spent a total of eight hours up and down. The following day, we [traveled along] the touristic route of Machu Picchu, but it was definitely not as rewarding as the first day. That first day we put so much hard, physical work into seeing the most insane view.”

The path leading up from the entrance also has another walkway going the opposite direction of the main mountain that leads to the Sun Gate view. I also trekked this rocky path for about 45 minutes, until I was greeted by several llamas and alpacas and the most remarkable, almost aerial view of the “Lost City of the Incas.”

Rohlk excitedly described that the view from the Sun Gate was unbelievable.

“It was crazy with all of the other mountains, with all of its vegetation surrounding the main attraction of Machu Picchu,” Rohlk said. “When we looked at the expansive view of Machu Picchu, it looked rugged, and it was awesome to have hiked through that terrain.”

There are also many historical cities of Peru such as Cusco, Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, and a Quechuan village in which junior Devon Aubert had the opportunity to explore.

“My family came to visit, and our tour of Cusco was very interesting because we learned a lot about the Incan history and how the Spaniards came in and destroyed all of it,” Aubert said. “It was a different perspective being told from our tour guides and gave us a darker side of the Latin American settlers.”

She also got to witness the Sacred Valley salt mines, “Salinas de Maras,” where the natural running water from Sacred Valley would sit in these pools made by local Peruvian villagers.

“They let it evaporate and harvested the salt out from the ponds,” Aubert said. “It was such a cool view to witness.”

But the views of Peru did not end with Machu Picchu, Cusco, or Sacred Valley. Rohlk and many of her fellow SAS friends took another excursion up to Rainbow Mountain, also referred to as “Ausangate” in Cusco, Peru.

“Rainbow Mountain, oh Mylanta, that was really nuts,” Rohlk said. “We left our hostel at 2 a.m. to drive three hours away. We got out of the van, and there were fields of alpacas and llamas everywhere with a glacier behind us. At first, I was like, ‘what did I get myself into?’”

Rohlk walked a total of eight miles in six hours, going from an elevation of 15,000 feet to just under 17,000.

“It was so hard to breathe, and it felt like my head was going to explode,” Rohlk said. “Physically, I was not exhausted, but I needed to stop several times in order to catch my breath from the high altitude. It was discouraging because we were struggling to walk, but I was determined to not give in to taking a horse up. I wanted that personal satisfaction of walking up on my own.”

Rohlk described this trek as one of the most amazing things she has ever done in her life.

“It was a unique experience because not as many people went to this mountain as they did Machu Picchu,” Rohlk said. “The entire hike had red and purple colored mountains surrounding us, but the particular mountain we reached had a variety of colors, like red, green, yellow, and purple at the top. It was a rock formation that had layers of different colors that resembled a rainbow, hence the name.”

Visiting Peru seemed to be a favorite moment among many SAS students and their families who visited. Whether it was visiting a world wonder, witnessing the creations of local villages, looking up at large mountain ridges from the windows of the train, or hiking a colorful mountainside, the many views from Peru did not disappoint.

Written by Tayler RV, Staff Writer