Links, Preparation, and Practicalities
The Machu Picchu visit was via Overseas Adventure Travel's Real Affordable Peru trip. OAT was great in all respects, providing us with a thoughtfully planned itinerary, great food, good lodgings, and a good guide. I really recommend them; I love the small group size. The group itself was great.
The Peruvian Amazon part of my trip was equally delightful, though very different. Again, the daily itineraries were well planned and the accomodations were good, thanks to the ministrations of the people at Explorama.
A trip for me is always divided into three parts: preparation, participation, and synthesis. Over the winter before the trip we exercised in preparation for hiking around the Andes, even if not on the Inca Trail. Our doctors gave us the go-aheads for high altitudes. I got shots and pills and made ready for malarial Amazonian streams. I always check the Center for Disease Control for recommendations - and go to a travel clinic for the latest info.
A docent is an educator, so it was second nature for my zoo docent friends to educate ourselves and each other by passing around a succession of books and travel guides. I read Hiram Bingham's account of his discovery of Machu Picchu again downloading it free from Project Gutenberg, and a biography of him by his grandson. I was greatly impressed by Eight Feet in the Andes, a delightful narrative by Dervla Murphy, who had followed the road of the conquistadores with her young daughter and a mule. For Amazon preparation, I read Sy Montgomery's Journey of the Pink Dolphins. I watched Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog. We spoke Spanish to one another at the zoo. (Libraries are the easiest resource for these books and videos or they can be ordered through Alibris or Amazon.) The official Peru site is http://www.peru.info/defaulteng.asp. Obviously there are many, many guides to be found on the net.
Packing: Always, always, I use David Dyment's OneBag as my source of ideas and checklists. I detest wheeled bags for travel anywhere abroad - they weigh too much and don't hold as much as a duffel or similar bag with backstraps, and he keeps uptodate on what ones are available currently, if you're in the market for a new bag. I check Magellan's and Travelsmith, of course, for clothes and gadgets.
Keeping in touch: unless you have an unlocked GSM cell phone, with a sim card bought in the country, you might as well just get a phone card locally or take an international one with you; they're for sale everywhere. In Peru cell phones didn't seem to be as omnipresent as they are in many countries. Email: Get a free account at Yahoo, or Gmail, and find internet cafes. Those are omnipresent.
Camera: digital, a couple of large memory cards - then expect to get them backed up onto CDs when you go to your internet cafe, so you can keep refilling them. Be sure to verify that the pics are actually ON the CD before you erase it. (and when you return home, be sure your virus protection is in place and current before you put that CD into your computer; you may need to clean the files!)
Journal, books to read, travel clock, calculator, phrase book, pics of family, music, games, etc: I've kept my inevitable journal and notes on everything from paper to a Brother wordprocessor, a laptop, and this trip, a pda - the inexpensive and theoretically out-of-date Palm Tungsten E. And unless I have more reason for a laptop than I usually do, the PDA wins hands down; it does all of these functions, at a fraction of the size;, weight, and cost of even a small laptop. I did get a keyboard for it, and an international power supply, but otherwise downloaded the accessories I needed. You don't need an expensive one; you'll just worry you'll lose it or have it stolen, and you'll be going to the internet cafe for your web fix. You can get Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie or Jane Austen or Shakespeare and pretty much everything in between, free, at Project Gutenberg, and download it in text format to read on the PDA. You can load .mp3 files onto an expansion SD card, and photos - Palm has a long list of cheap or free software to customize your pda. There's something to be said for sitting listening to your choice of music and playing your choice of game while you wait for that late flight in a grubby airport!
If you have other travel suggestions, do contact me!