VIENNA - After traveling the U.S. for years, Parkersburg residents Matthew Smith and his girlfriend Ali Pearce decided to see Peru.
"We turned 40 this year and a friend of ours, who has traveled to South America before, put a feeler out on Facebook for friends to go with him," said Smith, owner of Bodylogic spa in Vienna. "Ali and I had already decided that instead of buying each other gifts for our birthdays that we would take a trip and this just came up at the right time."
Neither Smith nor Pearce had been to South America, but they often travel the United States.
Matthew Smith of Parkersburg stands at the summit of Machu Picchu, the ruins of a 15th century Inca city in Peru during a tour of the South American country last month. (Photo Provided)
"I like to travel and see different things," Smith said. "If it's within seven hours of home, we will go."
For this trip, Smith and Pearce not only joined their friend Jason Hottle, but also 10 more of Hottle's friends.
"Most of these people we had never met, but it was nice because we didn't have to do everything together as a big group," Smith said. "We got group rates on hotels and things but if some didn't want to do something there were usually others who didn't want to, either, so we often toured museums and parks in smaller groups."
The group spent three days in Lima, the capital of Peru, where Western culture has had a large influence on the city.
"The food was all over the place," Smith said. "There was Italian and Chinese that were very good but also American fast food, which we didn't touch."
The group then went into Peru's mountains and visited small village and large cities that had held on to their heritage.
"Cusco was very international with a lot of worldwide travelers, but it maintains its heritage," Smith said.
One issue the travelers had was the altitude of Cusco, which is the ninth highest city in the world at 11,152 feet above sea level.
"It took half a day to acclimate," Smith said. "One guy got really sick; you just feel awful until your body gets used to being at that level."
From Cusco, the tour went to Macchu Pichu, the ruins of a 15th century Inca city built on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, which is about 50 miles northwest of Cusco.
While at the site, everyone climbed the mountain to the summit at 7,970 feet above sea level.
"There were Inca steps to use to get up and down the mountain, but they were very steep and narrow," Smith said. "It was difficult at times, but worth it when we reached the summit."
Macchu Pichu is often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas and was believed to have been built in the jungle around 1450 for one of the Incas' emperors.
It is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World with the Colosseum in Rome, Italy and the Great Wall of China.
"It was amazing," Smith said. "The whole place was very curious because there are modern buildings on top of old foundations."
To get to the mountain in order to climb to the summit, the group took a three-hour train ride through the jungle-covered mountains.
"The train ride is really cool because you go from being in the high, dry mountains to being in the green jungle pretty quickly," Smith said. "It was interesting to see."
The popular theory about places such as Macchu Pichu and Stonehenge in Solsbury, England, are they are mysterious and give those there a sense of awe.
"There is a sense of wonder and awe about the whole place, but it was so packed with people that it was hard to experience those things," Smith said.
Smith and Pearce returned from their 10-day tour on June 17 and are already planning to return.
"Next time we will definitely go to Titicaca (a lake in the Andes Mountains on the border of Peru and Bolivia)," said Smith. "We can't wait to go back."