A Trip to the Serenity of the Soul

by Ekua on September 21, 2009 in Peru

“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicenter of the great circle of life. One more miracle.”
– Pablo Neruda, “The Heights of Machu Picchu”

July 27, 2009

Waking up at 4:30 am is easy with the knowledge that you are about to see a wonder of the world.  After breakfast, Claire and I made our way through the dark streets of Aguas Calientes to the line for the buses that would take us up to Machu Picchu. At 5:15 am, the line was already quite long. The palpable excitement in the air intensified as the first buses approached. The line moved quickly until it was our turn to board a bus. As we zig-zagged up the mountain, the rising sun revealed the beauty of the scenery around us. Our wish that the sky would rain itself out before our day at Machu Picchu had come true.

The line to enter Machu Picchu was much longer than the one in Aguas Calientes. Many people wake up even earlier than we did to hike to the entrance to have more of chance to hike up Huayna Picchu. They restrict the amount of people they allow to climb up Huayna Picchu each day so you have to be at the very front of the line if you want to have a chance.DSCN0141-2

When they finally started letting people through the gates, there was no pushing and shoving, but there was definitely a sense of urgency. We made our way through to one of the postcard image areas and had our first glimpse of Machu Picchu in the early morning light. After vying for a spot to take pictures, we went on to join a group for a two hour tour.

Beautiful sky

We found the guide who had come to see us the previous night at dinner. He did what I like to call the “Peruvian Pass Off”. He told us that he was leading a Spanish-speaking tour and another guy would be leading an English-speaking group. The other guy would be our guide for the morning tour. It wasn’t a problem, but I found it strange that he didn’t mention it to us the night before.

The chaos of organizing the tour groups makes it really easy for anyone person in the area to tag along. Ours was large and mostly consisted of people who had finished doing a trek. Unlike us, they hadn’t had the luxury of showering in a few days. We could definitely tell. Or should I say smell? At our first stop, we watched the “sun rise”. By that time, the sun was already up, but hidden behind the mountains that surrounded us.

We missed out on the Machu Picchu experience where it’s covered in clouds and suddenly the fog lifts to give you an amazing view. But we could not have asked for a more perfect sky. Last year I visited the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Even thought it didn’t win a spot in the New 7 Wonders, it remains the top wonder for me. There, the details of the ruins themselves are what make it incredible. In Machu Picchu, there is no denying that there is something magical about the ruins, but the setting is really what makes the destination amazing as a whole.

DSCN0177That morning, behind the mountains’ sharp peaks was a bright blue canvas for gorgeous brushstrokes of white clouds. The sun slowly rose and illuminated the clouds while temporarily darkening sky and the mountains. In that moment, I  felt incredibly alive and incredibly fortunate to be alive.

Our guide

The peacefulness of the morning did not last long. After our tour really began, we quickly realized that there was one guy in the group who was quite obnoxious. I will call him O.G. (obnoxious guy) for short. He had away of interrupting every quiet moment with his incredibly loud voice. He had an accent that we couldn’t quite place. With him were three American guys who I also wasn’t too keen on because they seemed oh-so American. I know, I know… I am American as well, but I’m a wanderer and I like to get away from I’m used to. But they seemed nice enough and were pretty apologetic about O.G. One of them said he had been like that through their entire trek. At least we only had to deal with him for two hours rather than a few days.

The tour was interesting as long as I was at the front of the group and engaged. When I was in the back, I tended to become bored if I missed what the guide was talking about. But there were plenty of photo opportunities to keep me busy. I’m never content to have just a few postcard images of a site, I love to find all the different angles and hidden treasures of the places I visit. At Machu Picchu, I was intrigued by the way the buildings clung to the hillsides, the texture of stones, and of course, the gorgeous surroundings.

Chinchilla

At one point during the tour, our guide asked us to lower our voices because there was a chinchilla ahead of us. As were silently checking out this half-rabbit, half-rat creature, O.G. burst on to the scene loudly and shouted, “HEY, what are we doing?!” But by that time I was no longer annoyed and found him to be quite entertaining. He was like a character from a movie. But when tour finally ended, I was happy to be done with the group and return to quietly enjoying the ruins. My threshold for dealing with guided tours can be quite low and I’d had more than my fill for the day.

DSCN0190We took off pretty quickly and wandered around for a while. When we were near the exit/entrance, it finally hit us that we were really tired. We took a seat where we had both a nice view of the mountains and the tourists coming in. It was a great spot for people watching. In the late morning, there is a huge rush of people arriving to Machu Picchu. Many of them were what you might refer to as “tacky tourists.” People who were dressed as though they were about to go on a safari, women in ridiculous stilettos trying to manuever down the steps, XXL tour groups with matching neon T-shirts, etcetera.

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What finally motivated us to remove ourselves from our amusing position was the idea of lunch and using the bathroom. There is only one bathroom at Machu Picchu and it’s outside of the entrance. You have to pay each time you use it. Where the money goes, I have no clue. Halfway through the day, the bathrooms were already disgusting and by the time we left, they still hadn’t been cleaned.

After an unpleasant but necessary trip to the bathroom, we went to have lunch at the only place that was selling food. There is a little restaurant by the bathroom affiliated with the luxury hotel next to Machu Picchu. The food was fairly tasty, but pricey by Peruvian standards. It’s the only option unless you bring your own food in.

Llamas!

After we felt nourished and more alert, we went back into Machu Picchu. We went back to the postcard image spot in the full light of day. We were looking for a nice patch of grass to sit and enjoy the view when we stumbled upon some grazing llamas. Llama sighting eventually become common place when traveling in the Andes, but in that moment, it was a novel experience.

We sat there for quite some time, feeling quite lucky to be able to lounge in a postcard image of a wonder of the world. The afternoon sun rays were incredibly strong and my sunscreen was nowhere to be found. Later, I discovered that I hadn’t even brought it with me, I’d left it at home. I took out my umbrella that was originally intended for potential rain and used it to shade myself from the sun. Nevertheless, I ended up with the second sunburn of my life!

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We eventually reluctantly removed ourselves from that prime location to head out and catch the bus back to Aguas Calientes. We made sure to get our Machu Picchu passport stamps on the way out. It’s kind of silly and wastes a page in your passport, but I was pretty excited to get that stamp.

Back in Aguas Calientes, we tried to fill the time by getting on the internet. Ten minutes later, the internet completely stopped working. We decided to get something to eat. We sat at the top floor of a restaurant over-looking the main square. This was also a great people-watching location as many people gather there while waiting for their trains arrive. A little band was performing in the square as well which was bonus entertainment. We took our time at dinner and then went back the hostel, hoping to relax before our train journey to Cusco.

No such luck. We’d had the wrong train time in mind and the train we were supposed to be on was leaving in a few minutes. We got our bags from storage and rain to the train station. They were pulling away the steps to get on the train and about to shut the doors, just as we got there. The girls sitting in the seats opposite us looked disappointed that someone came to claim those seats. I knew how they felt.

When we arrived at the train station in Poroy, there was an SAS travel van waiting to meet us for the journey back to Cusco. They dropped me off at my hostel first and I said goodbye to Claire. I’d booked the tour before I’d left for Peru so I didn’t know what to expect. I was lucky to have such an awesome tour mate. I re-entered the world of Loki and went up to the common room where I found a group of Aussies I’d met my on first night. I’d imagined I would have to start all over again with meeting people so it was nice to see familiar faces. That night I stayed away from the typical Loki happenings. The day had been long and exhausting, but overall, exhilirating. I climbed into my suspringly cozy top bunk and slept soundly and peacefully.

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