An excerpt from my personal travel journal, circa 2014:
DAY 01: "It has been two solid months of backpacking South America. While the experiences I have had are beyond words, at this point, I am exhausted. This is usually the case by the end of a long trip. It is why often the last stop in a string of places tends to be my least favorite. I am tired, and I am hungry for food that I am used to, especially after the past two weeks in Bolivia.
As I exit the taxi in Ollyamtambo, Peru, I dumb my very heavy and very broken backpack on to the curb. I have been lugging it around and living out of its contents for a while now. And, let me just say, at this point everything in there should just be burned. I am passed the point of receiving help from a washing machine.
As I sit atop my backpack on the side of the road, I take a moment to catch my breath before looking around to take in my surroundings. The town is small. Perhaps, town is too broad of a term. The landscape is green, very green. Not green like Patagonia had been. This is different. The only landscape I have seen like this has been in photographs of Vietnam or Southern China.
Is this Peru? Are we sure that we are in the right place? Our taxi driver had not spoken English and without internet access our information sources are quite limited. As I look around, I spot a small cafe selling typical South American coffee which means it will be much too sweet for my liking. Nonetheless, this cafe offers wifi, and it is time I sit down and research Machu Picchu.
It is the off-season for tourists which has been working in our favor thus far. If it had been high-season, we would have never been able to land train tickets to Aguas Callientes. Machu Picchu is remote and difficult to reach. It's location is believed to be the entire crux of its existence. It was never meant to be found. With that said, the closest town to this ancient site is Aguas Callientes, and it is just as remote and difficult to visit. The best and only option is via a train ride.
After booking tickets on Peru Rail for the vista dome class, we unload our backpacks into baggage and board the train to Aguas Callientes. Sitting closest to the window, I cannot believe everything I am seeing. At some point, tea and a snack bar are placed in front of me, but I am too lost in the landscape to even notice. These are the tallest mountains I have ever seen and between the rock cliffs and the terraced farming, I am suddenly entering into a world unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Upon arriving into Aguas Callientes, we spot a small asian food restaurant that offers wifi. We commandeer a small spot in the corner of the restaurant where we research hotel options and bus tickets to Machu Picchu. This moment is utterly typical of traveling and planning on the go. After securing a room at a nearby hotel and purchasing a couple of the last remaining bus tickets for the following morning, I take a much needed shower and crash on the bed dreaming of what the following day will bring."
DAY 02: "It is early, too early. I am not a morning person. I need coffee and food ASAP. Unfortunately, our hotel won't be serving breakfast until 7am. Even if the kitchen was open, I already know what breakfast would be: over-sugared coffee with cinnamon and a piece of toast. I am wishing desperately that I had packed more granola bars for this trip. (A lesson I will be carrying along into my future travels.) Nevertheless, I get dressed into my athletic clothes. Most of which are covered in stains from living and working in a slum in Chile for a week last month.
As I finally make my way to the bus station, I notice the entire town is still sleeping. It is quiet and peaceful with the only hustle and bustle coming from other tourists making their way to their next bus stop adventure. The bus is quite packed but comfortable enough for the next hour or so.
As was yesterday, the landscape is stunning as we wind along the river and make our way to the base of Machu Picchu. With all of the tall tree canopies overhead and the grey clouds, it is difficult to make out exactly where the ancient site is in relation to our drive climb. Lucky for me, I had acclimated quite well to the extreme elevation changes in Bolivia. I didn't come down with elevation sickness then or now.
As we wind back and forth climbing higher and higher with every turn, I suddenly catch a glimpse of Machu Picchu. There are no words to describe everything I am feeling in this moment. 'Awe' is perhaps the best that I can come up with. It is breathtaking. Stunning. Vast. Mind Blowing. It is everything I thought it would be and so much more. It is truly unbelievable.
Have you ever had moments in your life where you felt like you were walking through Disneyland... a place so unique and yet completely fake? This is what I am feeling as I look out over this site. How could this place be real? It couldn't be. I half expect to knock my knuckles on the stone walls only to be met with hollow sound coming from a fake set design. But, as I run my hands over the ancient stones, I am suddenly taken out of my haze. This place is real. And, I am standing among the greatest archeological find of the last century, Machu 'Pinch Me' Picchu.
Words fail me when trying to properly express what it is like to walk these ancient ruins and to learn of its history. We went on to spend the rest of the day hiking and exploring this once thriving kingdom. We walked along a portion of the narrow and treacherous Inca trail. We stood among the ancient sacrificial stages and the troughs that once carried blood throughout the town. We touched the ancient sun dials and sat where, thousands of years ago, children had learned about the Incan gods. And, all of it, every single moment exploring here was captivating. I knew even as it was happening that Machu Picchu would go down in the books for me.
There are moments in your life that change you, humble you, and refine your character. For me, this was one of them. There are no words to describe the depth of gratitude I felt for the series of moments spent in this special place. Machu Picchu is stunningly beautiful and immensely vast. Seeing the scope of what once was is deeply humbling. It is a reminder, now imbedded in my being, that I am and always will be so small in relationship to our unbelievable planet."
'Go see it. Go touch it. Go let it change you.'