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Two Concord residents enjoy trip of a lifetime when they visit Peru

During a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru, Donna Carter of Concord dances the Samba with a gentleman from Texas.

The ancient ruins of an Incan city known as Machu Picchu are ringed by volcanic sills and clouds near the top of the Andes Mountains. This Peruvian site is one of the main attractions for tourists.

For the Mail Call

Inspired by an article in a budget travel magazine in March 2001, a pair of Concord women took what would become one of their most memorable vacations ever when they visited Peru.

"When I told people I was going to Peru, they all gave me a blank look and asked 'why?''' traveler Donna Carter told the Mail Call. "It ended up being wonderful, one of my favorite stories to tell.''

"On a teacher's salary, you can't get too extravagant,'' said Sandy Sparks, Carter's traveling companion. "Every year this magazine I subscribe to recommends 40 'best buy' vacations and the trip to Machu Picchu is always among them.''

The women perceived their trip to Peru as a study in contrasts.

The study began on the trip into Lima, Peru's capital city, after their flight from the United States. From windows on one side of the taxicab they could see a variety of modern-looking parks. From the other side, they could see the ocean. As they wound their way up toward the city, they could see "Nasca Lines'' that define the various parks that appeared in their window.

The Nasca Lines in those modern parks were formed by vegetation planted in a way that reveals images of fish, animals or people when viewed from above. Made of earthworks centuries ago, ancient Incan Nasca Lines became visible only after modern man learned to fly.

"Lima was a contrast between the old and the new and the meshing of the two,'' Carter said. "They had all this traffic and modern cars, but they didn't have any stoplights. Traffic was controlled by police in these little booths at the intersections.''

Populated by descendants of the Spanish conquistadors, Lima residents look European, the pair said. In rural areas, residents' features and dress reflect Indian culture.

Like Spanish cities, Lima had a central square bordered on one side by a cathedral. At the other end of the square was the hotel the pair used as their baseiwhile taking day trips to other parts of the country during their stay.

After one day trip, the bus they were riding was stopped by traffic jams. When their driver informed them it would take hours to reach their hotel, the pair decided to leave the bus and walk toward the hotel that they could see from the steps as they left the bus.

They stepped off the bus into the middle of a political rally for candidatesiseeking presidential election.

"It was like a scene from 'Evita','' Carter recalled. "Oh, my God. The loudspeakersiwere blaring political speeches in Spanish.''

The pair found themselves trying to return to a hotel room on one side of the square with candidates' supporters pressing for control of the square from opposite directions and the police in the middle trying to keep them separate.

"Growing up, all I remember about Latin America was revolution, revolution, revolution,'' Sparks said. "It was an unstable part of the world. When we got back to our hotel and that political rally was going on, that history was there, right outside our window.''

Both saw cultural contrasts on the housesithey passed during trips to points of interest. They learned that the bull silhouettes that topped rural roofsiwere an Indian tradition. But each roof carried a crucifix as well.

"They were covered, either way,'' Carter said.

On one excursion, tour guides began dropping passengers at restaurants in small groups.

"They dropped us off in the middle of nowhere,'' Carter said.

"We walked through these gatesiinto this beautiful resort,'' Sparks said. "It was five-star even by our standards. It was Shangri-La.''

"That's where we first saw these people from Dallas,'' Carter said. "What's the name of the drink they had?''

"They had a bottle of Inca Cola. It was yellow,'' Sparks said. "We kept running into them wherever we went. We eventually got to know them. They were fun. They looked Asian, but they spoke with Texas accents.''

"I love to dance,'' Carter said. "It was another scene from Evita. He was a wonderful dancer.''

Twice the pair went to the ruins at the top of Machu Picchu. Both times the weather was cloudy and overcast.

"It rained on us at Machu Picchu,'' Sparks said. But it didn't stop them from exploring the ruins near the top of the mountain. They even climbed to the top of the signature rock outcrop that helps identify the area.

"They had this gate leading to a path that you could walk to the top of the mountain on,'' Carter said. "We took walking sticksiwith us up this old trail. There is no tour guide. There were some parts that were so steep that they put in these steel rods you used to pull yourself up with.''

"There were these big black fliesiswarming us at the top,'' Sparks said. "So we didn't want to stay up there long. We were able to say we climbed a mountain.''

"After we got to the top, we looked around and couldn't see anything but clouds,'' Carter said.

As their bus tour left the ruins, they were introduced to a brightly dressed young man in the parking lot. The dirt and gravel road down the mountain made numerous switchbacks and at every other turn there stood the brightly clad young man waving to passengers.

"He gets down the mountain before you do,'' Sparks said. "He's waiting for you when you get off the bus. Everybody gives him coins. It's a real cute thing.''

Rural Peruvians flocked to the tour buses.

"Children would pick flowers and stand on the side of the road and try to sell them to you,'' Sparks said. "They would pose for pictures with us and want a little tip for it. This is how they live. That's everything to them.''

But they maintained their dignity.

"A little boy was selling these clickers,'' Carter said, moving her fingers like castanets. "I bought a couple and then I gave him a couple of pens I had in my pocket. He walked away and all of a sudden he was back. He ran after me and gave me another clicker.''

"We had been told before we went that the school children just have nothing,'' said Sparks. "We took a bunch of pencils and pens over with us. They were so grateful.''

One bus ride provided the most striking contrast between the past and present when a local woman boarded the bus with her llama.

Llamas are a South American beast of burden, a cross between a camel and a mule.

"Everyone got a kick out of her bringing that animal on the bus,'' Carter said. "They're the happiest people. Im-poverished, but happy, wonderful, smiling people.''

"They're just like us,'' Sparks said. "They love their children, their families, their homes. They have pride in their country. They love for you to be there.''

"If you're ever thinking about a trip, put this on your short list,'' Carter said.

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