A Shih Tzu in Peru: Part Two - Machu Picchu
Yesterday we brought you part one of Helen Fazio and her dog, Raja's adventure in Peru. In part two, our travelers make their way into the Incan citadel Machu Picchu -- a place that is usually paws-off for pets. --The Editors
Is hiking through the famous archaeological excavation of Machu Picchu in Peru better for your dog than hiking in the local nature preserve?
No, if you consider that dogs are not picky and enjoy any outdoor activities. Yes, if you, like many who visit Machu Picchu, believe that the location of the lost and found Incan citadel is a cosmic intersection of energy lines in the South American Andes.
I think its a bit of both, combined with the fact that my dog, Raja, hates being left behind at home when adventure calls.
What is Machu Picchu? Around AD 1400, an Incan leader began constructing an elegant, architecturally brilliant imperial citadel in the Andes Mountains of present-day Peru. There were fountains, drainage systems, temples, ceremonial altars illuminated by the rays of the dawning sun, a palace for the ruler, and palatial tombs for his ancestor, with mummified advisers sitting in their own sacred houses.
There were servants' quarters, and a field for games and processions. All roads were made of granite blocks cut with handheld hard stones, as the Inca had no wheels, no bronze, and no mechanical inventions.
By 1500, the Incas had inexplicably abandoned the site. For hundreds of years, the jungle overgrew the roads and walls and farmers grazed pigs among the rocks until American academic and adventurer Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911. A century later, the restored citadel is Perus most famous heritage spot.
Dogs are not permitted at Machu Picchu, but they aren't exactly prohibited, either. Look, nobody takes pets up there. Its hard enough to get yourself to the gates of Machu Picchu, let alone transport a doggy. They just arent covered in the entry rules.
The Andean spectacled bear, the chinchilla, the viscacha, and the llama might roam at will at Machu Picchu. This is their native turf, and nobody tries to keep them out. I suppose that to prohibit a small dog seemed almost ridiculous at the gatehouse.
To get to Machu Picchu, you might start in Lima, Peru's capital. Then you might fly southwest into the Andes to Cusco. Personnel at LAN Airlines may or may not be receptive to your dog traveling in cabin, but pets are officially permitted by the airline, although you may have to explain that to the staffers on duty that day.
NEVER book a pet in cargo on a South American airline. Many cargo holds are not pressurized, and the lack of oxygen at Andean flight levels is prohibitive. If your dog cant fly in cabin, you two will have a long hike from Lima to Cusco.
You will need to stay a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude. Cusco is at 12,000 feet. Pace yourself as you amble about town, visiting some of the glorious sights. You can purchase oxygen shots in local shops if your dogs tongue looks blueish. Raja is a Shih Tzu, which originated in mountainous Tibet. He was fine, but a Chihuahua from low-lying Acapulco might need a little whiff now and then.
Next, you will have to take a train to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to the site of Machu Picchu, unless you decide to take minibuses to the base of the Inca Trail and walk for four days to Aguas Calientes. A twenty-minute bus ride up switchback roads will get you to the gates. Enjoy the oxygen-rich air at around 8,000 feet. Suddenly you will feel almost great again.
Most visitors try to drag themselves out of bed at 4 a.m. to take the earliest transport to the gates of Machu Picchu to see the sun come up. That said, the sunrise illuminates the deliberately positioned altars and reflection points on only a few days each year, so you may be shivering outside the gate in the dark for two hours with no reward. Leaving at 6:45 a.m. is just fine.
Most of the travel guidebooks are incorrect about the Machu Picchu experience. Guards do not hassle you. Your checked items are not rummaged through. You may carry your own bottled water and a snack. Your Shih Tzu remains unmolested.
All visitors should know that the restoration of the buildings has been authentic and minimal. Unlike many restored ruins, Machu Picchu has no garbage cans, gaudy signage, quaint decor, or restrooms. Once you enter, you are like the ghosts of the Incas, roaming at will. You could easily get lost, dehydrated, or starve. Carry in what you need and carry out your trash. To access some remote trails, you must sign a register and cross your name off when you return. That way, if you get into trouble on a steep ledge, somebody might search for you later when they get around to it.
How about Raja? Im convinced that Machu Picchu was one of the high points of his life, literally and emotionally, even though he did spend a lot of time with his blue bunny firmly clamped in his jaws. (Well, I watched him and he watched Blue.) He got far less personal attention than he usually does in his travels. Machu Picchu is the main attraction, and a traveling Shih Tzu with a coif seems almost unreal among the stones and heights. "Did those people have a fluffy dog in a travel tote? No, Im probably seeing things."
As for the tote ... Machu Picchu is a perilous city. Its steps are steep, irregular, and worn by the elements. At almost every turn, you could step a little to the right or left and plummet at least 40 feet, while some ledges would get you back to Aguas Calientes on the banks of the Urumbamba River below in seconds. Until we reached the topmost agricultural levels where the jungle meets the corn terraces, Raja wasnt putting a paw down. We go together, or not at all.
After we returned home from Peru, Rajas naps involved more activity than before. He rolls on his back and paws the air. He sniffs and occasionally barks in his sleep. I think hes dreaming about the Andes and his adventures in the lands of the Incas.
About the Author: Helen Fazio and her dog, Raja, blog on pet travel and related topics at www.traveldogbooks.com. In their first book, The Journey of the Shih Tzu, Raja tells the wolf-to-woof story of the development of this amazing breed. They are working on forthcoming titles.