My alarm clock sounded at 2:00am on Sunday morning and I awoke to join hundreds of sleepy-eyed tourists waiting to be taken by one of the most remarkable archaeological sites on the continent – Machu Picchu. I had taken the train from Poroy (a small town on the outskirts of Cuzco) to Aguas Calientes (often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo) the day before. Aguas Calientes is as small as it is monotonous. By my count, there are as many massage parlours as there are restaurants. I jokingly refer to Aguas Calientes and Cuzco as the massage capitals of the world.
Minutes before 6:00am, I joined the already well-formed line leading to the entrance of Machu Picchu and secured my place hopeful for the opportunity to obtain one of 400 daily climbing permits to Wayna Picchu (offered on a first-come, first-serve basis). Because Machu Picchu sees thousands of visitors daily, (understandably) the queue for climbing permits to Wayna Picchu is hostile and unsparing. Tourists are eager to police the line both verbally and physically and by no means hesitate to out others for unfair play. Callous it might be, I happily walked away with my climbing permit to Wayna Picchu (choosing to climb with the second group at 10:00am).
I pushed through the entrance gates to Machu Picchu just before sunrise. I stood tranquil, for a while, watching the first rays of sunlight blanket Machu Picchu. I felt restored and inspired to piece together the thoughts in my head. Traveling, particularly on my own, encourages me to reflect on what it is I want in life. And what I want is a life rich in and rounded by experience. It is my hope to someday flip through the pages of my life and feel confident that I have opened myself up to every experience possible: the good, the bad and the ugly.
I spent a good couple of hours exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu before heading to the entrance gates of Wayna Picchu. The Wayna Picchu climb was as difficult as it was steep. The altitude alone is enough to take your breath away. However, those that make it to the peak are rewarded with spectacular views of the ruins and surrounding mountains (not to mention bragging rights).
I descended Machu Picchu mid-afternoon, my legs still aching from the steep uphill battle with Wayna Picchu. I boarded a late afternoon train for Poroy (4 hours), and sat back in my chair watching towering mountain ranges disappear into the horizon. It was about mid-way through the journey when I became acutely aware of the black fly bites on my ankles (foresight was somewhere lost in my excitement). [Though, I suppose this will toughen me for the infamous puri puri awaiting foreign flesh, when I make my way overland to the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela in November]. I arrived at the train station at 8:30pm and was surprised (but, at the same time, not) to find that buses were no longer running to Cuzco. Annoyed at the idea of paying for a taxi, I bartered with three tourists from mainland China for an impromptu “ride-hitch” into Cuzco. I could not have asked for a more interesting or better way to round out a fantastic weekend spent at Machu Picchu…
Cheers, Machu Picchu, to 100 years and 100 years more!