Okay okay, I buy the statement, “It’s about the journey, not the destination”, but c’mon! Machu Picchu is one heck of a destination!
But I guess it was one heck of a journey, too!
After some research, I’d found that taking a the train to Macchu Pichu from Cusco would let you get to walk the ruins for a daytrip–which was perfect for my schedule!
After getting off the train (PeruRail, if you’re curious), I’d planned to take the bus to the entrance to the site to have more time around the ruins. But it turned out that it would have been at least an hour’s wait to take the bus up anyways. So with the purchase of an extra bottle of water and the encouragement of an acquaintance-turned-hiking-buddy I met on the train up, I enthusiastically breezed past the stagnant queue for the bus and started on the trek.
Yeah…that pace didn’t last long. Of course I was excited to get to the top, but every once in awhile, even though I was sweating profusely and trying not to twist my ankle and breathing past the pain of my burning muscles, I couldn’t help but to break out into a smile. I was hiking through the Peruvian jungle! The fact that I could say I was doing anything in the Peruvian jungle was surreal to me.
I find that any trip seems infinitely longer when you don’t have an idea of how long it’ll take, and this was no exception. Time stood still as we pulled ourselves up on steep, stone step after another. The air smelled like moist earth and body odor and bug spray and barely-restrained cuss words.
But, after an hour and a half of a seemingly near-vertical climb, we reached the gateway to the ruins. And y’all, let me tell you–when Maria and I reached the top of the staircase, we completed the loudest, the crispest, the most satisfying hi-5 ever known to man.
And then we entered.
(Fun fact: Just inside the entrance, you can stamp your passport with a Macchu Pichu stamp to commemorate your time there! Even more fun fact: I stamped mine upside down.)
Maria and I contributed to the droves of tourists, but the higher we went, the easier it was to find a peaceful spot–where people were more concerned with simply finding a place to stretch out in the sun instead of finding yet another angle to snap a photo of the ruins from.
I’d like to think I have a decent imagination, but the abundance of selfie sticks, pristinely manicured lawns, and faultlessly clean stones of the ruins made it hard for me to connect with the history of the place as I had hoped I would. I actually felt more connected with the masses of tourists who must have come through in the recent decades than with the fabled founders of the mighty citadel.
But that still couldn’t decrease the awe of the view.
We had toyed with the idea of taking the bus back down, but the facts that there was over an hour’s wait again and that we had already seen what our bodies could accomplish on the way up saw us head for the trail without a second thought.
Going down was hard in a different way–and my shuddering muscles, empty water bottles, and growling stomach made me more than eager to reach town again. When we got back to town, collapsing on a bench, inhaling a quesadilla, and drinking a pisco sour felt like Christmas. What better way to wait for a train?
While Machu Picchu was a glamorous excursion to be sure, I’ve also enjoyed my daily journeys in Cusco. In fact, I feel like Indiana Jones every time I have to jump out of a narrow street at a moment’s notice and flatten myself against the wall so that I don’t get flattened by one of the taxi cabs speeding through.
This city is so walkable, and every day I get the courage to venture out a little bit further from my homestay.
And although I’m kicking myself for not finding a way to squeeze in Spanish classes alongside the other languages I took in college, I enjoy finding a little bit more confidence with Spanish every day, feeling a bit more ease as the few words I know roll off of my tongue. They seem like paltry offerings, but many people are understanding–especially my 7-year-old host sister. Cute as a button and able to count to 100 in Spanish and English…which she showed me firsthand. Best 200 seconds of the trip so far.
As is becoming regular on this trip, just as I’ve become familiar with my surroundings, I’m off to a new place again. So I’ll say muchos gracias to Peru and fly off to Lima!