Class of 2019
Waking up at 3 am to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song wasn’t exactly my idea of a perfect start to the last day of our trek to Machu Picchu, but I guess it worked out pretty well.
I understood that the early wake-up was to avoid the hordes of tourists that would overtake the archaeological site in the more reasonable hours in the morning, but even then my brain wasn’t convinced that it was the correct move. Nevertheless, I thinned my backpack and with the rest of my group, shuffled to the bus line that would take us to our destination.
Morning on Machu Picchu. Photo by Emily VanHaitsma.
Now, I understood that going to Machu Picchu was going to be a big deal. After all, it was the climax of this trip. Getting to see a Wonder of the World built by a civilization that existed over 500 years before I was even conceived, but even with all of that knowledge and preparation, Holy Moly, is that site still breathtaking to behold.
When our group first turned the corner of the path that allowed us to see it, the only thing I could really do was stare. The intricate layout and stonework sprawling over the mountain top, each feature serving a function to the Inca who lived in and visited the site, the incredible view of the path we had trekked on just the day before, and the fact that with the addition of just some roofs, it looked like people could still be living there, It was as humbling as it was beautiful.
“It was as humbling as it was beautiful. ”
As we walked through the site, our wonderful guide Pepe explained to us the history of Machu Picchu as well as the functionalities of the buildings and of the features within. He told us stories about the ingenuity of the Inca and about their tragic downfall at the hands of the Spanish and foreign diseases, the way that the site interacts with the sun and the magnetic fields, and about the discovery and preservation of the site. Our tour ended with an emotional farewell to Pepe, where when hugging me exclaimed that I was quite tall, while he was more “economically sized.” I’m really gonna miss that guy.
Next on our agenda was for a small group of us to hike up the Machu Picchu mountain, which was probably one of the most physically intense things that I had done ever in my life. A good way to describe the hike is a quote from Hendrik Willem Van Loon, where he said, “High up in the north, in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.” That hike felt like a year of eternity. Brooke counted over 2,000 stairs, and somebody’s FitBit said she had climbed over 300 flights of stairs.
It was physically grueling, and emotionally a struggle to stay motivated as it felt like every time you thought you were done, another endless staircase would await you. As our guide Juan said when asked about the difficulty of the hike, “It’s a mountain.” In the end, however, as I looked over the landscape of Peru with a tiny Machu Picchu in the background, even with my tired brain and sore legs, I knew that it was worth it.
Views from the mountain summit. Photos by Emily VanHaitsma.
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