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Where they went

Where they went: Peru

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
June 12, 2005

WHO: Gabriel Vazquez, 33; Birute Vazquez, 53; Brenda Gerardi-Guzzi, 61; and Lilia Gedvilas Chavez, 58; all from Worcester

WHERE: Peru

WHEN: 10 days in October

WHY: ''This was a lifelong dream of mine and a great adventure for all of us," Chavez said. ''I was a Spanish major, and in class when one of my Spanish professors said the words 'Machu Picchu,' I was mesmerized. It's where my interest in archeology and anthropology percolated."

FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Birute Vazquez and Chavez are sisters of Lithuanian descent who married Mexican men. Gabriel Vazquez is Birute's son and Chavez's nephew, and Chavez and Gerardi-Guzzi are childhood friends. All except Gerardi-Guzzi speak Spanish.

PLOTTING A COURSE: ''We went through a travel agent in Coral Gables, Fla., who is an American who has been to Peru many times and runs peruperu.com," Chavez said. ''We told him we wanted to focus on Machu Picchu and Cusco and see indigenous areas. He set us up with InkaNatura, and we had a minivan, a driver, and a tour guide." She called the trip an ''outstanding bargain" at about $1,500 each, including air fare. (InkaNatura, at www.inkanatura.com, is a Peruvian travel agency whose proceeds benefit conservation.)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ''Flying over the Andes in the daylight to Cusco was really remarkable," Chavez said. ''In the airport, the people looked like the National Geographic pictures, those iconic Inca faces. I felt like I was fulfilling an important goal for myself."

SACRED START: Their tour began by driving the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River from Cusco. ''We checked into the Pakaritampu Hotel in Ollantaytambo, which is between two dramatic mountain peaks," Chavez said. ''The Inca built extraordinary terraces and a massive temple [here] and the irrigation system remains a marvel."

UP AND UP: To get to Willoq, a small village off the tourist track, they drove up a twisting, unpaved mountain road. ''The housing was as they were living hundreds of years ago, with thatched roofs and dirt floors," Chavez said. ''We were invited into the home of one of the elders. It was a dramatic experience because we really saw how they lived. There was no heat. The people dressed in their colorful handwoven clothing. We lucked into coming on a festival day, with music and dancing. They were celebrating that the men had finished training to become porters on the Inca Trail. They really were open-hearted with us. Our guide had stopped at a village bakery and picked up tons of bread, and we gave it to the children as a thank you for being there."

MOUNTAIN HIGH: The drive from Aguas Calientes to the ruins of Machu Picchu was equally dizzying. ''Once you see the physical environment and the legacy of the ruins and how beautifully they've been restored, it's amazing," Chavez said. ''It has the most unbelievable technology. They schlepped these thousands of pounds of rocks up the mountain." On the second day, the foursome had a schlep of their own, a half-day hike up 8,860-foot Huayna Picchu mountain, which looks down on the famed Lost City of the Incas. ''Some areas, you had to hug the mountain. It was a remarkable thing we accomplished. At the top, it's very, very dramatic. It's pretty treacherous."

ALTITUDE REMEDY: ''We found the custom of drinking mate de coca very helpful," Chavez said of the coca plant tea used for elevation sickness. ''Within an hour, my headache went away and I could eat a full meal."

GRAND FINALE: In Cusco, ''an interesting blend of Inca and Spanish architecture," they stayed at the Emperador Plaza Hotel. It was across the street, at the Irish pub Rosie O'Grady's, that the Worcester travelers watched their beloved Red Sox win the World Series. They had tried all week to get scores, never imagining they could wind up watching the final game.

To see more photos of this trip, and other reader vacation snapshots, visit www.boston.com/wheretheywent. Send your story suggestions to ddaniel@globe.com.

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