Out of the numerous, beautiful hotels we resided at over the course of the expedition, although it is hard to choose a favorite, I think we all utterly enjoyed spending the night at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a private, mountainside reserve in Aguas Calientes, a small village that sits right alongside the train tracks and the Vilcanota River. (Up against gigantic towering mountains, it is almost as if Aguas Calientes is a tiny toy town!)
Nestled cozily at the foot of jungle-blanketed mountains, not only was it an absolutely stunning inn, complete with beautiful outdoor plazas and stone-covered walkways, profuse and teeming with a vibrant array of delicate, blossoming flowers and native Peruvian decorations, but the Inkaterra was also a great educator–one that taught us all a meaningful lesson.
The rooms made us feel like we were lodging in a small, quaint cottage – a bungalow, really. The doors were made of tall, dark timber, and ivory-colored walls surrounded them. To our surprise, there were no doorknobs or key-card slots on the doors. There was a huge iron keyhole, though. We were each given a large metal ring with a single, old-fashioned key hanging from it to unlock our timber doors so that we could step inside our rooms.
The ceilings of the rooms were ashen, with coffee-colored timber rods and beams stretching across from wall to wall, like in a little cabin (they called the rooms “casitas”). Blanketing the beds were soft white sheets and a brightly checkered throw. A welcoming, comfortable set of brown chairs and a short wooden table sat in the corner by two tall windows overlooking the exquisite scenery of the hotel. The bathrooms were small and modest, consisting of a short sink, toilet, and crammed–but luxurious–shower.
Little surprises awaited us in tidy bundles throughout the room.
Unwrapping each package was like taking an early peek under the tree on
Christmas morning. On the foot of our beds were two small, white cloth
bags, with surprises inside. After untying and loosening the string to
one of the bags, I peeked inside and pulled out a pair of handmade
sandals, fabricated from inky-black rubber car tires. How cool is
that?! These sandals were for our use around the room (and of course,
if we wanted to buy a pair just like them to take home, we could
purchase a pair at the hotel gift shop). There were also snow-white
plush robes that we could wear if we wanted to. And the soaps in the
bathrooms were wrapped in fine, earth-tone tissue-like paper and twine.
Even the hair dryer was displayed on a shelf in a decorative and pretty
To my delight, there was a “personalized” surprise that awaited us in
each of our rooms. Sitting on our pillows were small olive-green money
bags the hotel gave to each Team Peru member so that we could have a
special and safe place to carry our soles, or Peruvian currency (using
foreign money was so much fun!). And there was a note attached that
read, “Enjoy your stay at our hotel within the cloud forest of the
Machu Picchu Natural Reserve, just below the site of one of the World’s
New Seven Wonders. Tomorrow you will travel to another exciting South
American Hot Spot. Wishing you all the best in your National Geographic
Kids Hands-On Explorer Challenge Journey!”
Lodging at the Inkaterra, although we were only able to stay there for
a short day and night, was wonderful. There was so much we could do and
see and learn. There were numerous excursions offered for our
enjoyment. Many from our group went bird-watching to spot as many
species of birds as possible. Unfortunately my mom and I missed that
adventure because we didn’t get a wake-up call from the hotel and we
overslept! But the kids that went said they were able to see several
species of indigenous birds. There was also an orchid excursion we
could have gone on, although I don’t think anyone from our group did
because they all went to see the birds. But the hotel is host to 372
varieties of orchids, including the world’s largest and smallest
orchids. Did you know that there are some orchids that are so tiny that
you get a better view of them when you peer at them through a
magnifying glass? Pretty cool! Although I didn’t get to go on the
orchid excursion either, I did get some good pictures of orchids on the
One excursion I did get to go on-and loved-was to meet two very special
creatures. We were taken deep within the surrounding, entwined thicket
(the hotel sits on 12 acres of rain forest land), past tea and coffee
bean crops (which was pretty cool to see), to meet two spectacled bears
(also called Andean bears), which are indigenous to Peru and are
increasingly endangered. The two bears we had the opportunity to meet
and photograph have quite a story to tell-if only they could talk!
As we walked on the trail we came around the last corner of a long path
through the undergrowth, and there we saw two very large, square cages
enclosed with fenced barricades (pardon the pun!) that stood towering
amongst the surrounding exotic trees and plants. As we neared the pens,
we saw that two ink-colored bears with thick tannish-white splotches on
their necks and faces were feasting amongst piles of freshly sliced
fruit and exotic leaves. We grabbed our cameras and swiftly tiptoed up
to the cages, awestruck by the beautiful, magnificent creatures that,
like many other species of animals, are sadly and slowly diminishing
from the face of the Earth.
And here we learned a very important lesson-we saw it with our own
eyes. Our tour guides talked with us about our impact on the Earth.
They explained to us humankind’s negative effect on the spectacled bear
species. Those magnificent gentle giants are hunted and killed for
numerous reasons–one being that hunters are afraid they will eat their
livestock, even though spectacled bears very rarely eat meat. And also,
some people think the baby bears make cute pets. Of course, baby bears
grow up, and then they get too big to keep and their owners abandon
them or worse. Our guides explained their effort in recovering bears
that have been negatively affected by human impact with the hope of
reintroducing them back into their natural habitats. They said with
expressive, almost anxious eyes, that they want to speak directly to
children–the young generation of our Earth. They told us that we kids
are the future, and that with the choices we make and the actions we
take, we can make a difference, not only with helping to recover the
spectacled bears, but even in the world at large. These words, if
heeded, can change our planet.
After taking countless pictures of the two beautiful bears, we all
headed back through the thicket to Inkaterra for the night. Exploring
the beautiful, flower-laden paths of the hotel, we found that it was a
perfect place for capturing nature on film, especially at the many
hummingbird feeders spread throughout the hotel, brim-full of
wine-colored sugar water-a special treat for the delicate little birds.
(In fact, the hotel is home to 18 different hummingbird species!)
We would all flock to the hummingbird feeders, crouching in odd
positions with our cameras at the ready, and wait patiently for them to
buzz up to us. We didn’t have to wait long. Many species would fly
gleefully to the feeders in masses of usually four or five hummingbirds
at a time. They’d sit on tiny tree twigs, frolic with each other in the
sweet, fresh air, and drink from the feeders. They were bold creatures,
flying all around us in streaked blurs of vibrant, shimmering color.
They were absolutely dazzling, and it was an amazing experience to see
them up close. I think we all could have crouched around the wine-red
feeders for hours upon hours, capturing those little beauties on film.
What perfection and splendor for such small little creatures!
During the evening of our stay at Inkaterra, we all gathered in an
exuberant dining hall of the hotel, positioned snugly between twisting
railroad tracks with trains whizzing by frequently. The restaurant used
to be a train station, so literally, it sits right between and VERY
close to two train tracks on either side. Before our food was served,
we had the opportunity to see pictures and to hear presentations by two
of the National Geographic photographers who traveled with us to Peru,
Bruce Dale and Amy Toensing. Both presentations were enthralling and
very educational. It is amazing to see and hear how photographers who
make a living taking pictures actually get unique and often outstanding
photographic images of people and places they encounter in the world.
Mr. Bruce taught us that when taking pictures, he sometimes combines
physics with photography. In order to get the best shots possible for
certain projects, he has literally employed mathematical equations,
laws of physics, and homemade devices that help him capture moments of
time with perfect precision. Ms. Amy taught us how a good photographer
builds meaningful relationships with people in a community, learns
their story, and captures that story in pictures that may ultimately be
shared with the world. Both Ms. Amy and Mr. Bruce share the same
perspective about being good photographers; and their pictures tell a
story and even lure people in to want to learn more. It was so neat to
get lessons on photography from real National Geographic photographers!
Lodging at Inkaterra was quite an educational experience. I personally
learned not only fascinating information about animal and plant life
indigenous to Peru, but I also learned a great lesson. From listening
to our tour guides speak fervently about the spectacled bear species, I
rediscovered that the little choices we make and the little actions we
take each and every day, whether positive or negative, are making a
difference in the world and will have a long-term impact that will
influence our Earth’s future.