the peruvian chronicles, machu picchu

10 Aug
It was 6:30 on the dot when out of nowhere El Gato, our Machu Picchu expert, appeared in the breakfast room, nonchalantly perusing the assortment of breads while impatiently urging the Garbage Bag Brigade to finish eating, lest we miss our 30 minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu, the crux of our trek up the Salkantay Trail.
 
At 6:30am the heat and humidity of the day were starting to beat down on the tops of our heads, baking into our sunburnt shoulders. As we waited to load the bus, newly purchased bottles of water were passed among us, now a group of 13.
 
The day before we said our goodbyes to Richi, one of our ever-faithful guides during our time on the trail. The goodbye was surprisingly touching. Although we’d only known each other 10 days, it felt like we were a family. Hugs and handshakes were shared, kisses on cheeks, slaps on the back and promises to keep in touch echoed through the train station.
 
During our time on the trail, Richi tried to explain the feeling that overtakes visitors upon arriving at Machu Picchu and each time he struggled to find the words that would allow him to verbalize the emotion. It was as if the feelings were not tangible, like Machu Picchu and all that it enveloped were surreal, unbelievable.
 
As Richi was boarding the train back to his hometown of Cuzco, he gave me one last hug, whispering in my ear “feel it with your heart, not your head”.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
The next morning, Richi’s words bounced around my brain as our chariot chugged and lurched up the winding road that leads up to the most celebrated Inca site in the world.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
30 minutes and 10 switchbacks later, we arrived at the entrance gates of Machu Picchu. We disembarked and El Gato fought to create a path through the throngs of tourists loitering outside the gates.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Finally. After a week of trekking through the Peruvian Flats, the Cloud Forest, coffee plantations and along the rushing waters of glacier fed rivers, we had made it to our destination.
 
Unfortunately, so had what seemed to be the rest of the world.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Like a superhero whose powers consisted of warding off other tourists, El Gato toured us around the site, brushing off “hanger-oners” and clearing paths with a wave of his hand, providing the GBB a precedence in the learnings of our final “Inca class”. El Gato pointed out the imaculately carved irrigation lines created by Inca architects, the perfectly layered grassy green terraces, the smooth stones and the notches in each wall that held the stones so tightly that “not even a knife” could slice through the seams in the rock.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As we finished the tour, El Gato thanked us for visiting his country and left us almost as abruptly as he joined us at promptly 6:30 that morning.
 
Wayna Picchu was our last climb of the trek. A winding, terraced climb of about a mile of carved “steps”, Wayna Picchu, rises up above Machu Picchu like a soldier laying claim to a conquered territory.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As we climbed up and up and up, clambering over slick gray stones cut into shallow steps, the Urubamba River winked and laughed as it looped around the peaks like a coiled snake, the tangled greenery of the jungle taunting the most adventurous of the Machu Picchu visitors to follow one of the numerous trails into its depths.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
Suddenly, as we rounded our final bend in the switch-backed terrain the Earth dropped away and Machu Picchu appeared below as if a mirage, the morning sun creating a halo that crowned the ancient stones and grassy terraces.
 
“Feel it with your heart, not your head”
 
As I pulled myself up those last few steps, the events of the last several days unfolded in front of me.
 
A slideshow of moments flashed through my brain. The stories that had been told each night during “Inca class”, the relationships that had budded and evolved into true friendships, the breathtaking scenery that did more than delight the eye, that touched each and everyone of us deep within our souls, the incredibly rich culture of Peru and its people and the brilliant history of the Inca people.
 
As the memories washed over me, my heart swelled with emotion and I came to realize that for me, the culmination of my trip, the heart and soul of it all, wasn’t all about visiting one of the Seven World Wonders, no matter how incredible the history. No, for me the experience of meeting the people that breathe life into Peru, the sumptuous flavors of the food that awakens your taste buds, feeling my soul open at the wonders of glaciers that scrape the heavens at a dazzling elevation of 20,574 feet, the happy chatter of what was once 14 strangers and the greens and yellows and pinks of the jungle mingling with the grays of the stately rocks of the Peruvian Flats.
 
For me, the culmination of this adventure did not begin and end with Machu Picchu. For me, my heart started feeling when I woke in Cuzco to the sound of the ancient city coming alive outside my window.
 
Peru, you had me at Haku.

mp

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