Dispatch from the Sacred Valley
“All of this will be an airport someday,” explained Vetor, our Quechua guide, motioning out to the fields beyond the Inca terraces and quaint Andean town of Chinchero.
“How soon is someday?” I asked.
“They say 2024.”
“Hopefully it will take longer.” I’m all for efficiency and progress down here, but this valley is considered sacred, historic ground, and at the least, I’d like to have the chance to come back and bring my daughter here before it’s paved over.
The particular hike + bike excursion from which we saw the future airport site is a bit steep for my now 2-year-old to do any time soon, so I’ll have to wait and hope that the construction of the planned international airport on the road from Cusco to the Sacred Valley of the Incas (en route to Machu Picchu) continues to be postponed until she’s well beyond toddler stage, to share this with her in the future. Today we hiked from Chinchero, at 12,130 feet above sea level, up to the top of Racchi, at 12,904 feet above sea level on a pleasant 3 mile trail; that part she could have easily done on my back in a hiking backpack. But the biking descent, taking on an elevation loss of over 3,000 feet through about 10 miles of hairpin turns – I’ll need at least a decade delay on that airport construction to do that with her, please. Better yet – this place is too beautiful – let’s just hope for an indefinite delay on that airport construction.
While the views were lovely looking towards Chinchero and the rolling hills that, if the plan moves forward, will eventually be flattened and converted to runways and air traffic control towers, the most “wow” vistas began as we came over the Racchi pass, heading north, and the towering snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera de Urubamba, one of Peru’s spectacular Andean Mountain ranges, came into view.
Nevado Marconi, Nevado Veronica, Nevado Helancoma, Nevado Pumanka, Nevado Siriwani, Nevado Sawasiray; Vetor rattled off the names of the glacier-topped apus ahead of us as we continued our trek to Machu Kolka.
Machu what? Machu Kolka? Is that a typo?
It turns out there are many Machus (a Quechua moniker for an old or ancient site) in this area, and while the most famous Machu, old Picchu, now receives thousands of visitors per day, we were completely alone at Machu Kolka; not a single other hiker had found this route, not even on a beautiful sunny day in the peak of high season.
After a picnic lunch at the foot of Machu Kolka, our hike was over, but our biking adventure was just beginning. Our van appeared and six Specialized mountain bikes were lowered from the rack, tuned up and ready to go. The stunning descent took us through dozens of white-knuckle curves and switchbacks, down toward the basin of the Sacred Valley.
Will this area really be overtaken by urban sprawl once the new airport is built? Are we the last generation to appreciate the Sacred Valley of the Incas in some semblance of its traditional state? If I take my daughter biking down this road in 2029 will the Quechua man I saw walking down the hill today, carrying bushels of oats on his back and chewing coca leaves, instead come speeding up the road, driving an airport shuttle and drinking a latte?
Your guess is as good as Vetor’s, or mine. But as I gaze out at the immensity of the Andes surrounding us, the Incan terraces that have endured centuries and the seldom-explored snowcapped sentinels in the distance, I feel hopeful about taking her to discover what’s sacred amoung these peaks and valleys, whether on these very trails or others yet to be discovered.