The New Ancient Inca Trail - Page 3

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Trekking Guide with Mountain Lodges of Peru
Your Guide: José-Luis “Pepe” Corpancho, one of MLP’s guides  (Nathan Borchelt)
What It Takes
I asked José-Luis "Pepe" Corpancho—a life-long Andean trekker, one-time star of a Peruvian reality TV show where contestants recreate the lives of the Incans, and one of MLP's best guides—what a potential hiker really needs to survive this seven-day trip. In addition to a positive attitude, he said:
1. You?ve got to be in physically good shape.
2. You have to love the outdoors.
3. You have to be a little bit crazy.
4. You have to be a little bit masochistic.
Plan accordingly.

Striking that sort of balance is a pretty stupendous feat, to say nothing of carving out a lodge-to-lodge system in one of the more remote regions of Peru, especially considering that MLP's approach to lodge construction is decidedly not cookie cutter. All told, the project—which was miraculously executed in a single year—involved over 3,500 mule trips that hauled damn near everything, including the hot tubs, the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and—to avoid felling local trees—over 43,000 board feet of sustainably harvested eucalyptus. And MLP's attention to detail definitely shows.

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Wayra Lodge, the second accommodation you encounter on your trek, lies just above treeline with windows that exploit the alpine horizon and a subtle interior décor that echoes the Incan goddess Mother Earth. Meanwhile, the more pastoral Colpa Lodge (the third in the network) resides on a grassy bulge in the landscape, with a river roiling below and interior decorations that play off the garden setting and Peru's traditional folk music. Though each lodge is unique in design and execution, all blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, creating the illusion that they've been there far longer than they have.

Each night, you find a hot-water bottle tucked inside your bed, and each morning your hiking shoes are out-of-the-box clean thanks to an industrious staff. They're ready to go, along with a cache of trail snacks (though honestly I seldom found the need to eat them, as the lodge meals were resoundingly delicious and filling).

Attention to such details certainly helps MLP stand out from any would-be competitors, but their dedication to the land and its people—an essential part of the company's philosophy—elevates them as one of the few socially-conscious tour operators in the region. To build and staff these lodges, MLP recruited from the Salcantay Valley itself. Today about 95 percent of its employees are locals, from the guides to the waiters to the cooks. All employees are taught basic English, learn a variety of skills in the hospitality industry, and are outfitted with contemporary hiking gear (though some still seem to prefer their Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers over Montrail day hikers).

In an effort to embrace the local community, MLP also established a nonprofit organization, Yanapana ("help" in the local Cetchan language), which trains locals in hospitality, offers medical care to the community and education to over 1,700 children, and provides micro-loans for things like assisting the sale of locally constructed textiles and handicrafts.

Such initiatives, as altruistic as they are, also translate into a more genuine experience for the traveler; try to find community outreach—much less a legit community—on the Inca Trail.

Access and Resources
A number of domestic airlines including American Airlines, Delta, and United fly to Peru, but your best bet is likely LANour pick for one of the best airlines servicing South America (and not just because they’re the first airline to employ a sommelier, but that doesn’t hurt). LAN offers direct flights to Lima and Cusco for around $1,000.

Mountain Lodges of Peru runs its Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge trip about 15 times a year. The 2009 rate is $2,500 per-person, and includes all lodging and food while on the trek, as well as transportation from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back.

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