4/10 The Main Event
Here it was, the main event. This morning we rose at 4:30 AM and got in line (yes there is a line already!) for the first busses up the mountain to Machu Picchu. We were all excited to see the place as the sun rose about the sacred grounds. Just think of how great the photo of sunrise over Machu Picchu would be!
Whelp, to quote Andre 3000; you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather. As we boarded the bus, the still dark skies opened up. By the time we got to the top, and as the sky was starting to lighten, it was full-on pouring. Even worse, as the predawn started to crack, it was apparent that there was a heavy fog. You could barely see 10 feet in front of you, let alone the majestic view of the site I was looking forward to. I hoped it would clear eventually, and our guide Eddie took the time to drop some knowledge about the Incas under the shelter of a restored room.
Soon the fog receded a bit and when we walked into the urban district we found ourselves in some sort of fantasy world. As the sun crests over the surrounding mountain peaks, wisps of cloud dance around us. An ever changing ballet of light, cloud and mountain. We were on top of the world, and the sacredness of this place was on breathtaking display. The fog was showing her beauty, and slightly lessened the feeling of disappointment I couldn’t help feeling at not getting that iconic sunrise view.
Eddie continued the informative tour through the grounds and it was all captivating, but difficult to grasp the enormity of the site with the heavy shroud of fog. The desire for that postcard photo loomed in my brain. As quickly as it cleared, the fog returned and when it came time for free time we charged up to the iconic vista only to find a sea of pea soup. Visibility was close to 8 feet. I sat stubbornly at my chosen viewpoint for almost an hour. Desperate for that perfect photo. That Instagram gold! It became apparent that the clouds weren’t going anywhere. I felt a bit foolish for being so adamant for this damn Kodak moment, and figured I’d let it go to take in the full site on the ground level. There were other sights to see.
Reluctantly I headed up to the Inca bridge, a harrowing 15 minute walk up and around a neighboring mountain. As Mother Nature was royally fucking with me, on THIS side of the mountain it was perfectly clear, and I was WELL aware of the 6000 foot sheer drop next to the 3 foot “path” that leads to the bridge. Pictures don’t do the insanity justice. Most of the walk (especially when no one was looking), I was literally hugging the rocks to the left scared shitless. The bridge was cool, but I must sheepishly admit I was more pre-occupied by fear of heights and its lovely companion; vertigo.
Cloud cover not-budging, I backtracked up the official Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. As I sweated and gasped my way up the steps I still hoped in my heart of hearts that it would clear up. I liked the mysteriousness of cloud cover, and it was cool to literally be walking in the clouds, but….DAMNIT! Its like getting to Paris and the Eiffel Tower is removed for maintenance or something.
30 minutes later, drenched in sweat I reached the Sun Gate. I didn’t even realize it until I almost tripped over it because the fog was thicker than ever. To further piss me off, a group of tourists had decided to plop down in the middle on the ancient gateway for a rowdy picnic. I would be lying if I said I retained my spiritual bliss. I was fucking pissed. I’ve I crossed the world, and have been up since 4:30 and this is what I get!???! AHHHHHH?!?!? <insert multiple terrible curses>
I started back down. Defeated. I was literally thinking about coming back tomorrow for THE SHOT, when I got held up on the path by an elderly couple descending in front of me. They were American, or at least speaking English with an American accent. The woman was a well aged 70 something, and the man was at least 75. He labored with his cane and all free limbs to slowly but tenaciously navigate each step. If you haven’t been there, let me tell you that the walk up to the Sun Gate from Machu Picchu is FUCKING HARD. Even for the able bodied. I have NO idea how, or how long, it took for this man to get up here, or how on earth he was going to get down.
A member of their group (I assume), came around the bend and exclaimed her delight at seeing the couple up here. “Oh my gawd Bob! It’s amazing that you’re up here! You guys are incredible! Sure is a shame about this fog!”. “Bob” accepts her praise, leans against the rocks to our left, takes a look out into the fog, and blows my mind.
“Oh well. We sure are blessed to be here”, he says smiling pensively.
Goddamn. I was totally taken aback by this random exchange I heard I passed. This man’s positivity and sheer will to get up here! Fuck the photo, we sure are blessed to JUST BE HERE! Setting aside all benefits of upbringing, financial ability to travel, and gift of health; we are experiencing a day like many for Machu Picchu’s inhabitants. This is the real deal. She is a hidden fortress, not just by jungle, altitude and time; but by the clouds themselves. I spent the walk back down feeling like an idiot and counting my blessings.
As I came through the last tree line, and re-entered Machu Picchu proper I realized as I looked down that in front of me was the once in a life time, post card view I had only seen on TV and in photos. I literally ran to the nearest terrance, and looked down at Machu Picchu in all her wonder and glory. A life’s dream surprisingly laid out before my eyes.
I got my postcard photo (dozens of them!), but almost felt guilty as I relished the angles and exposures I was snapping. Machu Picchu showed me her wonder, but taught me a lesson first. She made me earn it. I’m kind of sick of the cliche “its about the journey, not the destination” sentiment, but I had so many amazing experiences during my Lares trek. No one bit should eclipse that, not even missing the money shot in the end. Experience does not require documentation (says the dude typing this blog). Just like a Lady she (Machu Picchu) waited for me to give up my selfish desires before revealing her full beauty.
So yes, Machu Picchu granted me my wish, but I was sure to thank her before I left. I put the camera away, and sat on a terrace to watch the swallows zip about. I listened to the Urubamba River churn thousands of feet below. I ran my hand alone the ancient stones to feel their story. You can feel the weight of the centuries. I lingered, wanting to do more to thank the Wiracocha (Inca supreme god) for setting me straight.
In the end of course I had to leave. Looking back, this was the moment this trip turned into an adventure. Can’t claim to have blazed any new trails as I followed the traditional Gringo Trail, but the exploration was of a personal nature. The Lares Trek had been a spiritual amuse bouche, but at this point I was full on taken by the wonders of this land. It was less about the sights and more about the feelings and revelations that came with them.
Machu Picchu, checked off the list; but my god what a gratifying experience.