|Carol Lielasus, left, Marianne Page, and Dave Atchason explore ruins at Q'engo , near Cusco, Peru.|
WHO: Dave Atchason, 64, of Beverly, Carol Lielasus, 61, of Ashby, and Marianne Page, 62, of Derry, N.H.
WHEN: Two weeks in April
WHY: The friends, all hikers and members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, wanted to trek part of the Inca Trail to the famed ruins of Machu Picchu, 7,872 feet up in the Andes, and also visit the imposing Lake Titicaca, which sits at an elevation of 12,566 feet.
FIRST, TAKE A BREATH: Page, who is in training to lead hikes for the AMC, planned the trip online. The outfitter they used, Peru Treks (pe rutreks.com) , required hikers older than 59 to arrive four days early to acclimate to the altitude. "We could have stayed several more days visiting all the sights," Page said. They started in the capital, Lima, for just a day. "This older gentleman adopted us and became our tour guide," she said. "We were skeptical but he wanted nothing from us. He showed us the church with the catacombs and took us to the market and the river. We saw a local college group practicing Inca dances. They were very suggestive. No wonder those priests wanted to convert them."
A LOOK AROUND: Several days in Cusco were spent visiting ruins, museums, and markets where Quechua women sold hand woven goods . Page called the Sacred Valley of the Incas "a paradise of geometric fields surrounded by mountains. Ruins up on the mountain show the stonework mastery of the Inca nation."
ELDERS TO EMULATE: In a group of 16 guests, they would hike 26 miles over the three days to Machu Picchu, with porters carrying their gear. Page and friends were the elders in the mostly European group. The others ranged in age from 22 to 31. "The hiking was very challenging," Page said. "You have to be in excellent condition or really have trained for it. The younger folks had stamina and strength, but they didn't have our hiking experience." One day they climbed a peak at 13,776 feet. Usually, Page was happy to hang near the back of the pack with the group's botanist, who pointed out plants and explained his Quechua heritage. Part of the hike went along an original Inca stone trail in the jungle.
EXPANDING THE SENSES: "Having seen Cusco and then the Sacred Valley and ruins, and then being on the Inca Trail, by the time you get to Machu Picchu, it's almost too much, a sensory overload," Page said. "But you're still blown away." They arrived at 5 a.m. to line up at the entrance to beat the crowds, but the grounds never became overrun.
AND AT THE END, PARADISE: With the trek finished, Atchason decided to keep hiking for a few more days, while Page and Lielasus visited Lake Titicaca. "I thought I was in paradise," Page said. "I've never been to Greece or Italy, but that's how I imagine it. Blue sea, big cypress trees, terraced gardens, little stone walls, cows, sheep, pigs, alpaca. The harbor isn't that nice; it's covered in duck weed. But we took a boat cruise to the floating reed Uros Island and to Taquile Island, where the men do gorgeous weaving and knitting. The next time I'd like to stay there."