I am not a fan of overuse of common facebook phrases, but I can’t help it here…”Machu Picchu was the low light of my travels” – said no one ever. But honesty might be the single most important thing, honesty with others of course and especially with yourself; so I have to be honest.
It felt amazing to arrive in the Sacred Valley. I energetically felt the “sacredness”, especially arriving fresh and raw from the jungle. And in spite of this, I felt a gap, something missing (Hint #1). I had a strong feeling that I was meant to be sharing this with someone, a friend, family, a love. Someone to try on fun llama hats with me!
I returned to Cusco after my time in Pisac with hopes of meeting a travel buddy also seeking an adventurous, remote journey to Machu Picchu, to go it alone and really connect with how the Incas approached the land. Bonus if said travel buddy had a tent! No such luck, no such serendipity (Hint #2). In the mean time I enjoyed wandering the narrow, hilly streets of beautiful Cusco, full of eye candy, leg workouts and traditionally dressed women with llamas. It sure is touristy, but wow is it beautiful. It makes up for every tourist with another beautiful vista of tiled roofs, cobbled streets, ancient churches, bustling markets and a plaza that just makes you sigh.
Finally, against everything I know to be true about myself, I booked a tour. A tour! I have since realized that it is a form of travel that many people enjoy or even rely on. I respect that. I however, am not one of those people in most situations. I like being able to figure things out and explore, following my intuition, senses, my heart. It can be fun speaking to locals, seeking the details of how to go about an adventure, preparing for it, owning it success or failure. If you have ever camped, it is entirely easy to safely approach Machu Picchu on foot without a tour. And I intend to go back and do it. But for whatever reason, I went against my gut and booked a tour.
The girls I hiked with were super friendly and good company, although we had different hiking abilities and outdoor experience. The guide, on the other hand, had a serious case of machismo and often told me I was wrong when I asked questions and such.
“So I saw some Incan mummified children in a museum, who were sacrificed…” “No you didn’t.” Really, hmm.
“I read at the Machu Picchu museum…” “There isn’t a Machu Picchu museum.” Interesting because my ticket stub here says…ok whatever.
They proudly fed us way too much food which sadly reinforced this uncomfortable feeling I kept experiencing about feeding the perceived fat (bellies) while taking from the perceived fat (wallets) of the Westerner tourist in Peru.
But Hint #3 that this just wasn’t my time for Machu Picchu came from Mother Nature herself. After a gorgeous first day of a 5 day trek, we woke up to an equally gorgeous foot of snow. Beautiful for memories, devastating for our trek. We would be forced to return to Cusco (first time in 10 years they say) while stewing just as much over the loss of our money which would not be returned as the bitter reality that we’d be reaching Machu Picchu on a bus, quite different than the Incan approach.
I contemplated whether I should just count my losses and start over some other time. Ultimately, I did take the train to Aguas Calientes and walked the 400 meters of vertical steps to the entrance. I got choked up when I filed into the site and was able to find a perch overlooking her on time to watch the shadows transform to gold as the sun crested the peaks of maybe the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. (and I’ve seen A LOT of mountains!)
I spent the day using every ounce of strategy to navigate against the crowds and it worked as well as it could. I climbed Machu Picchu, la montaña, which is actually the name of a peak opposite of its striking sister, Waynu Picchu, the back drop to every Machu Picchu photo. It did offer stunning views and give me a sense for what the Incans navigated to create this sacred city. Man, they built huge steps for short people! This was a workout day. And ironically, it was 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky (although I did get a glimpse of snowy Salkantay in the distance, the namesake of the trek we had started.)
LLamas act as the landscapers at Machu Picchu, happily munching away on grass and posing for pictures. I tried hard to picture an Incan village/sacred site in action. I hope the central patch of perfect green grass was a futbol pitch! The masonry is truly astounding. The history, the views, the immensity of it all…it really is everything you dream about when you put it on your “Do Now” list (the term I like to use instead of bucket list).
In retrospect, I realized that I went from seclusion in the jungle with like-minded people, operating by sun and candlelight, following the rhythms of nature…to the most sought after tourist destination in South America. Oopsies! So maybe my timing was off, however, I have learned a lot in processing that and was still “wowed” along the way. Maybe it hasn’t been the highlight, but it did shed good light in my life and on this journey.