Climbing Huayna Picchu & Constructing Life in the Scheme of Things

We arrived at Machu Picchu via Inca Trail, explored the ruins on foot, then returned for a second day to climb Huayna Picchu and examine the site from an alternate perspective. Like many humbling places on the planet, the entire setting cannot be justly captured on film or photo; the three dimensional relationships are too difficult to represent in 2D. After visiting the ancient site in person, I’m still truly in awe. The following are images and thoughts from day two…(and then I’ll get off my Machu Picchu kick, I promise!)

Yes, we watched documentaries, read books, flipped through photographers’ collections, and fantasized about wandering the ancient terraces in person, but nothing truly prepared us to see Machu Picchu in the flesh (or in the stone and land, as it were).

After trekking for days and viewing other once-alive-and-now-as-shadow shelters and outposts along the way, I wondered: What makes this ancient site beat with energy all these centuries later?

As a landscape architect, I am called to consider relationships between natural systems, material elements, and humans who dwell in artfully crafted spaces.

While the layout and planning and masonry walls and terraces are masterfully executed, the deeply responsive situation within the natural setting elevates the ruins from impressive to profound.

Imagine: without Huayna Picchu looming in the background, would the world so quickly recognize the iconic image of the ancient city?

It is not simply the marvel of the stones, it is the glorious context of the design that makes Machu Picchu shine. Continue reading

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Rainy Season Flora of the Inca Trail

Do you know the secret of western Oregon’s beauty? The rain.

We natives either love to hate it or love to brag about our webbed feet, but more than that, we love to enjoy the sweeping vistas of indigenous green and the rainbow of ornamental plants that grow effortlessly up and down the Willamette Valley.

When Ted and I booked our Inca Trail journey for Peru’s rainy season, we were well-prepared with waterproof pants and jackets. What we weren’t prepared for was the surprise of beautiful wildlife growing lush along the trek. It makes perfect sense, though.

I only wish I’d had enough forethought to geek out and carry a field guide to Peruvian flora.

Instead, I captured photos of favorites for a future self-imposed research assignment.

This collection is dedicated to my design collaborator and fellow Oregonian, Gavin Younie of Outdoor Scenery Design. Enjoy the plants, my friend! I was thinking of you all the way…

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Reaching Machu Picchu

The last scramble along the Inca Trail to reach the Sun Gate fell into the utterly epic category. Up by 3:20am, packed bags, quick breakfast, squished along the bench at the fast-forming passport control line. We waited until the last six kilometers of trail opened at 5:20am, then bolted. It felt nothing short of silly to be so rushed, but the pressure of sunrise and the crowds of loud Argentinians following hot on our heals kept us in rapid forward motion.

The reward?

A spectacular circular rainbow at the top and the first glimpse of long awaited Machu Picchu…

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The Inca Trail: Footfalls and Photos

From initial brainstorm to final ticket purchase, a visit to Peru’s famed Machu Picchu ruins topped Ted’s travel list. It became a non-negotiable.

We spent time researching our options:

Go ultra budget and hitchhike to Ollantaytambo, hoof the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes, tromp the switchbacked road to the top of the mountains, eek out a few Soles for entry tickets, and smuggle G.O.R.P. inside the deep recesses of our backpacks.

Go medium budget and score cheap tickets on the train, pay for the bus to the entry gate, and visit Machu Picchu for the day.

Go money and sweat equity and sign up for three nights and four days of camping and trekking along the 48 kilometer Inca Trail to eventually arrive on the final morning overlooking the ancient ruins at sunrise, then augment the experience by purchasing second day entry tickets with passes to climb Hyuana Picchu for mountaintop perspective.

Go full bananas and helicopter in from the Sacred Valley, perching at the $1200/night hotel just outside the park entry.

I’ll bet you can guess which we *didn’t* choose to do.

The call of the trail pulled us in…

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Cusco, Peru: Acclimation and Recovery

After a nasty 21 hour overnight bus ride from the sea level of Lima to the 11,500′ high mountain city of Cusco, we were ready to stretch our legs and wander…

We made a march up from Plaza de San Blas to a hospedaje situated in the hills above the main center. The streets were narrow and interrupted with steps, keeping cars from making it to the front door and subsequently keeping costs down. For S/50 ($18.56) a night, we had a humble home for a three day stay. (Never mind that toilet seats apparently don’t rank as necessary amenities…)



We stood on the porch and pinched ourselves as the peaceful views unfolded each day. Less than one week from home and we were completely immersed in a new life… Continue reading

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Lima, Too

A split down the middle of circumstance divides society in Lima, and we were offered the opportunity to run headlong into the challenge of wrapping our minds around the schism between rich and poor.

For perspective, a Peruvian woman working diligently in the city as a maid in a high class household might make 30 Peruvian Soles per day, or S/600 per month. In US dollars, our current exchange rate puts that at $11.10/day, or $222/month.

A trip to the grocery store for Ted and me to buy olives, cheese, plums, a bottle of (cheap) red wine, and a few fresh baked rolls came to S/53.80, or $19.90. Nearly double a maid’s daily wages.

Our Servas hostess, Anna, arranged for us a visit with her housekeeper Dadi, to see her under-construction home and gain a clearer picture of life outside the capital’s popular districts. During our travels, it’s important to us to see beyond the tourist cityscapes.

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Good Morning, Lima!


After an uneventful flight to Lima, Peru and a quick first night’s stay in a guest house in San Miguel we awoke to explore the city and by that evening found ourselves pleasantly situated in San Isidro, just to the north of Miraflores District. We’ve been mostly without wi-fi, and we’ve left the computer in the bag for the past 48 hours in favor of leaping head first into the new surroundings. Rather than re-create the wheel, for tonight I’ll simply share a copy of Ted’s recent email update to our parents.

Happy eavesdropping…

Hello Dads and Moms,

We are having a great time in Lima. Through the SERVAS network, we were connected with a woman named Anna who invited us to her home for three nights. She lives in a very nice upper-middle class neighborhood. She is elderly but extremely well educated, traveled, and spunky. She is German by birth, lived in New Orleans for 25 years, and retired here in Lima. What a great person! Even though well off, she and her sister, who lives in a neighboring unit, are very aware of the slums. Anna’s maid (Dadi) has invited us to her home tomorrow on the hill. It will be a very different experience from this. Two hours travel by bus. Somewhat sketch, but we’ll be safe with her as we are her guests and she has been Anna’s maid (and friend) for years.

So far, amazing to see God’s perfect connections for us. Were treated to drinks by a father and son from Spain today. We met them during a stressful moment on a bus. All of us bought tickets to the top of a mountain, but instead, the company announced after departure that the lookout was closed and tried to take us on the tour of the city instead. There was near revolt. Everyone yelling and trying to get their money back. The guys from Spain stayed with us until we got our refund, took us to beers, shared stories, and have shared their contact info for while we’re in Spain (very near them actually). Good times.

The Peruvian people are SO gracious, very helpful. We accidentally got into a bad area of town today, and within 5 minutes, 2 Peruvians had come to our aid, one telling us to put our camera away quickly, the other helping us flag down a taxi to get our of the neighborhood. Very good folks watching out for us.

We are already sunburned and sore, but happy as clams. Monday we leave for a 21 hour bus ride to Cuzco before starting the hike to Machu Picchu on Friday. Can’t wait.

Love you all! Feel free to share…

Ted (and Bethany)

Fine Dining at Anna’s Home: fresh brewed anise tea, boiled sweet potatoes, cucumber & tomato salad, rolls from the neighborhood bakery, roast chicken and a traditional pastry for dessert in honor of Epiphany.
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