Adventures at Machu Picchu
It’s 4 AM, humid and dark in the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, the hidden city of the Incas. The small town is nested in the narrow, cloudy forest valley for the sole purpose of tourism for Machu Picchu, which gives it an odd, unreal quality for a town.
We took a train to get here that hugged the Urubamba River until we were surrounded on all sides by towering mountains. It’s very claustrophobic being enclosed like this and I’m excited to escape in the only direction we can go – up.
We take a bus up the mountain, zig-zagging extremely close to the unguarded edge and a perilous plunge. It’s still very early and my half closed eyes allow me to ignore the obvious danger.
The sun has not climbed high enough to peek over the surrounding peaks but the sky is lightening and I catch my first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It is everything the books and stories promised. A city on top of the world, beautifully reconstructed and awe-inspiring with respect to it’s conception. To think such architectural, astronomical and agricultural feats were accomplished in the first place is incredible but when you marvel at the location, it is truly wonderful.
When the sun finally rises over the mountain, it is a dramatic moment. You can understand why the Incas worshipped the sun and based much of their religion and life around its movements. It’s stunning to see the first rays illuminate the high peaks of Machu Piccu and then slowly rise to reveal the remaining ruins.
There have been many photographs of Machu Picchu over the years, and I wasn’t going to be the only one not to take the ubiquitous shot of the ruins and the peak of Wayna Picchu looming in the background. It was then that I heard you could climb this mountain. It looked impossible, but at closer inspection the Incas had built steep winding steps and paths winding their way up the rock. The climb was strenuous and dangerous at point. Most paths were on the very edge of a thousand foot drops. The lack of barriers and lack of legal protection in case of an injury, caused me to climb very slowly.
We realized the actual danger of the climb when we came across a lucky hiker. She fell about 20 ft, stopping her fall by grabbing some branches. Had she fallen any further she would have plunged all the way to the valley floor. She walked away okay, just scratched and shaken. After we talked with her, I embraced the mountain with every bit of energy I could. I hugged each rock like we were the best of friends, surely the mountain couldn’t expel such a devotee.
At the summit the view was spectacular. You could see the entire city of Machu Picchu. Wayna Picchu was the last stronghold of Machu Picchu and would be used in case of attack. It has verticle cliff faces that would make it impossible for an invading army to climb. What I found even more amazing was that there were structures crowning this mountain. There were terraces for farming, houses and temples that were actually built on the cliffs. I could barely carry my camera bag, let alone construction equipment. How did they do that?
We left Machu Picchu on foot, leaving the buses and walking down the path to the valley floor. On the way down we befriended a stray dog, something that I have discovered Peru is not short on. This one was friendly and joined us for the descent. I named him Picchu. Eventually we reached the bottom and walked along a dusty road used by buses. I was alarmed at the way Picchu would wait until the last minute to leap out of the way of oncoming buses. He would barely miss getting squashed by inches, much to his annoyance. He would chase the giant metal beast, barking like a wild animal. Luckily, the bus could outrun the animal (I would hate to see what happened if Picchu actually caught up). Picchu returned to our side, proud and placid as ever, as if nothing had happened.
We continued walking along the road (with Picchu walking in the middle). We could hear another bus coming and sure enough, the same scene played out. Picchu almost was hit and he rebounded by barking, growling and chasing the evil bus down the street. This happened several more times until we made it home. I can only imagine how exhausted Picchu was after that 30 minute walk, protecting the tourists from the evil metal beasts.