Few people are lucky enough in life to get to see this for themselves. It is not on the beaten path, not somewhere that you can bop down to for the weekend. It is a journey to get to, that is for sure. And actually, I think that is one of the things that makes it so incredibly amazing. It is not cheapened by convenience. Nestled deep in the mountains of a country steeped in ancient culture an tradition, the journey to the top of this sacred mountain is as incredible as the space itself.
I visited Machu Picchu in 2009, while on an archaeological dig during college (I did not excavate there, I was working in a small town called Pucara). I was with my family for a few weeks before the dig, my mom, dad, and little sister. It was actually by the grace and stubbornness of my mother's gypsy spirit that we made it there in the first place: it was on her bucket list. I should mention that this same wanderlust has already taken her around the world and back numerous times.
My sister and I were crassly awoken by our alarm at around 4 am on the morning of our ascension. You have to get to the bus station EARLY if you want to get your butt on a bus and make it up to the top by sunrise. Rubbing our eyes, we stumbled out onto the tiny cobbled streets of Aguas Calientes, a city with plenty of alpacas but not a single car (unless you count the busses that shuttle masses back and forth to the top of the mountain).
The stories were true. Even this early, the lines were crazy long. But we were on a mission. And if you know my father, you know that he has a (not so) mysterious way of moving through crowds. It is not unusual to get left behind if you get distracted for even a moment. A few elbows thrown here and there and voila! We were on our way. The bus driver (like ALL other drivers in Peru) threw caution to the wind as a rule. The bus careened wildly up a series of impossibly tight switchbacks, and, if we weren't awake before the drive, we certainly were now. Nothing like fear for your life to perk you right up. After we surprisingly reached the upper parking lot in one piece, we were herded off of the bus, and hustled up to scout a viewing area. We didn't have long to wait. The light was getting brighter, and the sun was only minutes away. I was practically pushing people out of the way of my camera's viewfinder...I knew this was something that I did NOT want to miss, and I certainly didn't want my visual memories of the experience to include large German tourists.
In the end, the sunrise was so awe inspiring that I forgot the supposed importance of digital memories and just took the moment for myself. It was the feeling of knowing that you are witnessing something truly special, that few others get to see, and that you will only experience this one time in your life. There is nothing like that feeling. It was the most beautiful morning, the sun came up quickly as wisps of fog crowded through the high mountain jungle and across the dramatic green peaks. Pictures of Machu Picchu are incredible, but unless you are there in person there is no way to describe the scale of these mountains, and the drop offs that await you on all sides of this ancient getaway. I live for moments like these, I relish them, and I hold on to them to examine later when things get boring.
Later that day my mom witnessed tourists being stampeded by llamas. (How's that for a closing note?)