The Lost Empire – Machu Picchu

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This story is an excerpt from Ed’s book, ” A Casual Traveler

Why is it that all tours and excursions have to start so early in the morning? I boarded the bus for Machu Picchu at 7 a.m. sharp. It was quite foggy and I could barely see the mountains that surrounded the town of Agua Calientes, where I’d spent the night. It’s about a twenty minute ride from there to the Old Mountain (Machu Picchu).

The bus ride starts on the edge of town along the fast and swollen river, its water the color of chocolate milk.   The rocky road got steep quickly and narrowed to the point where I could only see thick vegetation on either side of the bus. Most of it grew right out of the rocky terrain.

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Various colors of Impatiens and Orchids grew wild along the roadside. I learned that there are twenty-something different types of orchids indigenous to the area. Brightly-colored orange flowers caught my eye, standing out against the dark green foliage and shrubbery.

The bus was so close to the rock wall on my side that the window got splashed by a mountain cascade as we passed by. The road weaved up the mountain, the switchbacks allowed people on both sides of the bus to gawk at the alpine scenery.

The fog thinned a bit, looking more like clouds, as we climbed higher and higher in the Sacred Valley. At the same altitude of the clouds, dark green mountain peaks made a ghostly appearance and everyone on the bus fell silent. Only the occasional whisper could be heard, it was like being in church. In anticipation of what lay ahead, I got goose bumps.

The bus dropped us at the gates to the park, where other tourists congregated and waited for their guides. I had time to kill so I found a perch and partook in one of my favorite past times, people watching. They were of all sizes, shapes and colors. Some folks were attired more colorfully than the wild flowers along the road.

I heard a lot of Spanish, but also English, German, French, Dutch, and a dialect from East Asia. A dog lay curled up—sleeping on the pavement in the middle of the mob of people, oblivious to our existence.Peru%2520054

I was told my guide would have an orange flag so I moved to join his group when I saw him raise it. Hmmm, seemed to me he had just been holding a yellow flag. Then the guide told me I had to join the group where another guy was holding a green flag.

Our group followed the green flag through the ticket gate, where we had to show a passport to gain entry. Once inside the gate the guide split us into English and Spanish speaking groups. He  directed me to follow the white flag. For Pete’s sake, I felt like I was in a NASCAR race.

The guide said we’d have a five to seven minute walk to the viewing platform where we all could get a spectacular picture for our Facebooks. What he didn’t explain was that the walk was straight uphill, with lots and lots of slippery steps. Even though it was my third day at an elevation of about twenty thousand feet above sea level, I was still feeling the effects of altitude sickness.

I had difficulty not only climbing, but breathing. It felt like I had a piano on my chest—I couldn’t quite catch a complete breath. Exertion only made it worse. I huffed and puffed and sweat like I just ran a marathon. When I saw an eighty year old woman keeping pace ahead of me I knew I had to suck it up and tough it out.

We climbed the stairs to an open area, or viewing platform that overlooked the entire Inca village of Maccu Picchu. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Nothing I’d read, nor the pictures I’d seen could do the spectacle justice. It was a special place, up in the clouds—almost like visiting heaven.Peru 018

The tour guide said he had a special connection with the Sun God. While standing there, trying to get a better view through the broken cloud cover, he proved himself.

Almost as if he had choreographed it, the clouds drifted apart and the sun lit the stage. It was surreal. I felt small and insignificant. It was as though our group was in church—you could have heard the turning of a page in the bible.

Finally, someone said “Wow!” The guide let us stand there, in awe, while he spoke about the Inca people. I don’t know about everyone else, but I absorbed it all—the mountaintop sunshine, the creative landscape, the history, and the moment.

Some heavy clouds remained, obscuring a lot of the mountain peaks, but they drifted off slowly, giving me the sensation I was watching a 3D movie.

Perfectly-cut terraces that the Inca carved into the mountains made the village look like it was created with giant green Lego blocks. I stood there trying to imagine flowers and crops growing on the terraces in a harsh and alpine environment. It was quite an accomplishment for the indigenous people.

The grey and white granite stones that comprised the ruined village, fit perfectly and precisely together, even though they were all chiseled by hand. The stark contrast between the granite and surrounding greenery was post card picturesque.

As if the sun god wanted to show off one more time, a giant  rainbow appeared—it arched from the mountainside where I stood, down into the valley, where it ended at the chocolate colored river.  Simply put, it was magical. It is no wonder the Inca called it the Sacred Valley.Peru 039

After seeing Maccu Picchu up close and personal, I was both physically and mentally exhausted. I must say it made me feel at peace—a soulful experience, to say the least. A fellow Canuck who was standing near me at the end of the tour said it best:

You just have to see this place to believe it.”


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