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by Linda and Don Overend

We do a lot of traveling, as do most people in the travel business, and one of our recent trips took us to South America and included a visit to what has to be one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, Peru.

This visit was part of a delightful cruise on board Norwegian Cruise Lines' Norwegian Crown. Our cruise originated in Miami, and our first port of call was Grand Cayman, one of the gems of the Caribbean.

Our next day ashore was at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, where we were treated to a cable-car tour in and over the rain forest. The next adventure was a transit of the Panama Canal which gave us a full-day experience of this engineering marvel and its operation. Salinas, Ecuador, followed, then Lima, Peru.

At Lima, we departed the ship for three days and made a journey by air, train, bus and foot to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. We think this is the best way to visit Machu Picchu in a short time, but it would have been a less strenuous trip had we done it in a week tour beginning in Lima rather than in three days.

The distance from the coast and the extreme changes in altitude are the most stressful components, those that have no trouble with high altitudes are at a definite advantage for this trip.

Our ship was late coming into Lima, so we missed the only commercial flight to Cuzco. The staff on the Crown worked very hard to acquire the services of a charter plane or the trip would have been canceled.

Our plane turned out to be an ancient Russian-made cargo plane that had been fitted with seats, and although it rattled and wheezed, it did manage to get us over the Andes and to our first night's stay in Cuzco. Cuzco is a beautiful city of more than 300,000 people at an altitude of 11,400 feet, and our hotel was absolute luxury. As is the custom, we were immediately served tea made from coca leaves, which eases the adjustment to the altitude. And it really does help.

The following morning at 4 a.m., we transferred to the train station and boarded a narrow-gauge train for the next leg of our trip. Cuzco is surrounded on all sides by mountains, so our exit included a large number of switchbacks and a long ride along a white-water river to a tiny station at the foot of Machu Picchu and bearing its name.

The next leg of the journey was by minibus along a steep, narrow, winding road for 45 minutes, which ended at the entrance of the Lost City.

We walked along a pathway up the mountain and a sudden turn opened a grand vista of the fabled city. It was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911, totally overgrown by jungle foliage, and it has been in a steady state of uncovering and restoration since that time.

Its location among the mountains and clouds makes the setting one of awe and beauty. The difficulty of access to the city explained why the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu.

The city sits in perfect harmony with the slopes it occupies. Buildings and walkways are all of stone, with each stone, no matter how large, perfectly fitted to its neighbors and laid without mortar.

And some of the stones are larger than an automobile. Like the Pyramids, it is a mystery how these stones were moved and fitted with the limited tools of the time of construction. Few of the buildings are more than three stories, the highest being a "tower" topped by the so-called "Sundial" and the moon calendar.

The plane of the buildings is divided, the temples and royal apartments are in the higher portion of the city, the housing for workers in the lower part. Aqueducts, still with running water, are distributed through the city, and one immediately notices that there is no sign of furniture or household goods, and none were found at the time of discovery.

This is thought to indicate that the city was abandoned and, as the Incas moved away, they took their treasures and belongings with them.

Throughout the day of our visit, the clouds hung low over the surrounding peaks, adding to the aura of mystery and the beauty of the jungle greenery.

The last part of the day was spent returning to Cuzco, with a stop at an Inca fort, and some shopping in the evening. The last day was an entire day of travel to return to our ship by bus, and two flights to rejoin the Crown, which had cruised from Lima southward to Arica, Chile.

We were all tired and glad to get back to our "home," but the small group we traveled with were of one voice: that the Lost City was well worth the strenuous trip.

The Crown sailed on southward the next morning, and the cruise ended in Santiago, Chile, where we disembarked and, after a tour of Santiago, boarded our flight back to Miami, and Springfield. We chose this cruise primarily with the visit to Machu Picchu in mind, but the cruise itself was delightful, with excellent ports of call and numerous days at sea (the time to unwind) in warm weather in contrast to Missouri's winter.

The Crown was a beautiful ship with superb food, service and amenities, and we met several charming couples to enjoy. If you have natural curiosity about the ancient history of mankind and wonder at what they were able to accomplish, by all means visit Machu Picchu. The Lost City of the Incas is, indeed, a place of wonder and beauty.

(Linda and Don Overend are co-owners of Ozark World Travel, a full-service travel agency in Springfield.)

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