May 7 — Despite the fact that it took just about every type of plane, train and automobile to make it happen, day one of my fourth-annual trek around the world in Machu Picchu was nothing less than breathtaking.
BEFORE I SHARE some of the details of this ancient Incan “lost and found,” let me try and give you a sense of what my life has been like these past few days.
We left the U.S. on Friday afternoon, shortly after I signed off “Today.” There were four of us in the departing traveling party, including the producer of the trip, a unit manager (someone responsible for all of the logistical details of the trip) and a public relations person. It took about seven and a half hours to fly from New York to Lima, Peru — delivering us in Lima in time for dinner.
Saturday morning I had an early wakeup to conduct an interview with Rhoda and Mark Berenson, whose daughter Lori (an American) is being held in a Peruvian jail. She is accused of aiding terrorists in Peru. This story has gripped the headlines in both the U.S. and Peru — and we had planned for an interview with Lori herself. However, the Peruvian government withdrew our permission at the eleventh hour. I was able to meet with Rhoda and Mark outside the prison where Lori is being held — an ominous stone prison with significant security.
By noon we were headed to the city of Cusco — the ancient capital of the Incan empire. A brief stop in Cusco put us on a helicopter that delivered us to Aguas Calientes, or “hot springs.”
A hike along a dusty wooden railroad track brought us into the center of town and our hotel. Aguas Calientes is about as far away from New York City as you can imagine. Nested in the depths of the Peruvian jungle, winding paths and cobbled roads are only for walking and a fleet of buses that take tourists to the Machu Picchu ruins. Dozens of makeshift booths line the “streets,” with vendors selling blankets, stone carvings, textiles and more. Children mingle with a variety of stray dogs — and virtually everyone seems to be at work at something — hauling materials, painting, sweeping and the like. All the while the sounds of rushing water can be heard from every point in town, as the river is a focal point of the town.
I made a trip up to Machu Picchu on Saturday afternoon to get the lay of the land, and was in awe of the beauty — and perfection — of the landscape. I was able to learn a bit more about the location, and our plans for the show, on that visit.
Sunday was spent in preparation for Monday’s show. In a place like Aguas Calientes, you cannot always count on some of the “basics” like electricity and water. We learned this first hand beginning Saturday evening when the town’s generator ran out of gas — literally. Candles were quickly distributed throughout the hotel, and dinner was at a local restaurant by candlelight as well. Early Sunday morning, I was fortunate to grab a quick shower when we had a momentary return of the water and electricity. That was it until power was finally restored late Sunday afternoon.
Rehearsals on Sunday for Monday’s show took up most of the morning, as we timed out the various distances I would need to travel to get between shots for my segments. I was also able to spend some time with Johan Reinhard who was my guest for Monday. His knowledge of the Incas and the ruins was fascinating, and I really felt like I had a great understanding of this amazing place as I prepared my final notes on Sunday.
A 4 a.m. wakeup call began my day this morning — and we were on our way up the windy dirt road to the ruins by 5 a.m. I started to get nervous as we got close to the site and there was a thick layer of fog enveloping everyone and everything. The beautiful terraced landscape and symmetrical stone temples and structures were shrouded in an eerie gray mist. However, one of the ancient Incan gods must have been a “Today” show fan because literally two minutes before air time, the blanket lifted to reveal that important opening shot.
I can only hope that the viewers could appreciate the magnificence of Machu Picchu from thousands of miles away. For me, this stop marks one of my all-time favorites for “Where in the World.” I’m now headed for day two — and I can assure you my adventures have only just begun.
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