Machu Picchu: a modern explorer’s account…

So where to begin?

I have visited Machu Picchu – you have seen the fotografs, so where do I begin?

Do I begin at the beginning? The beginning of what? The Inca trail? Or perhaps the first day at Machu Picchu? Or maybe, right at the beginning?

Yes, let´s start right at my beginning. The beginning of Machu Picchu for me.

I dimly remember, through the age-old curtain of time, many many years ago, when I first laid my eyes upon that famous picture of that Citadel in the sky: Machu Picchu. It was in a thick heavy book titled ‘Lost Civilizations’. The picture was archetypal. It was the perfect image of what a long lost city ‘should’ look like: hidden perched atop a mountain top, surrounded by forests, and impenetrable on all sides. A city in the clouds. A citadel with sheer cliff barriers, known to only those few who dared. When you’re young you are impressionable, and I was more impressionable than most!

I remember spending many lazy hours dreaming over that picture. That crumbling city from the past. My eyes gazing over it like a love affair. I remember golden summer holidays away from school spent in my stifling bedroom, my mind rapt in dreamy reverie: the green terraces, that great mountain looming in the background, the Inca stonework, the cloud cover, the green impenetrable forest canopy, the temple of the sun. How wonderful it would be to explore such a place! To hack through the jungle and trees. To scamper on all fours across impossible rivers. To struggle up and down mighty peaks. And to finally reach Machu Picchu – eyes unsteady from the heat, feet and legs aching from the toil, clothes dirty, skin stung a million times by the little denizens of the jungle. And then once there, to sit and relax in that picture – as per the view, and let the mind wonder. At the mystery of the place. To commune with the ancients and share their lost secrets…

The mind can be a wonderful thing. So let’s play along with this conceit – Let’s pretend that I am an explorer! Oh yes! and that after four days toil I reached Machu Picchu. There was only me (and the angel Juliana). I was not part of some ‘group’. I was alone and I hadn´t paid a large sum of money to some tour agency to organise the whole thing including porters, tents and luxurious meals, and early morning coffees served in tents. Let´s just imagine…

Imagine with me…

 

“It was a rough and tough four days across impassable and vicious mountain terrain. Luckily I had the old Inca trail to guide me. The Inca trail is an amazing feat of human engineering – a series of stone paths, slicing across topographical nightmares, as if they don´t exist. Nothing stops the Inca trail. The trail scrambles precariously along steep ravines, across raging torrents, through jungle, through caves, up and down mighty inca steps. The trail was easy on the first day (apart from the last hour when it went up, up and up). The second day was the hardest – up, up and more up – to 4,200 metres, and then down, down and more down. My legs were hurting. My knee caps felt like a hammer had been at them. My spirit sapped, my energy drained – but I had an angel on my shoulder (her name Juliana), who kept me going. Through the trail we marched on. Slowly the two of us. Taking occasional fotografs when the vistas revealed themselves through the silky cloud cover. We were sustained by ‘Snickers’ bars (mainly MY Snickers bars). Ahh, Snickers bars – concentrated lumps of energy and taste! A welcome treat at the top of some wind-blasted, cold and oxygen deprived mountain pass.

The days wore on, the Snickers bars began to run out, and my knees and legs got worse – as did the smell of my socks. Every step was a struggle. Every step accompanied by beads of sweat on my brow. Every step like a giant leap – for mankind! Thanks to the angel known as Juliana, my backpack was minus some items. She flung open her angel wings and carried my extra items to her porter man – making the going easier for me, though still painful.

Then the final morning loomed. Waking up at 4am on the final day, Machu Picchu was just around the ridge and a few hours walk away – I managed to find reserves of energy and strength I did not know I had. We were going to make it! Me and the angel Juliana rushed to get to the fabled ´Sun Gate´ before sunrise – to catch a glimpse of the first rays, as they caressed the stonework – of that citadel in the sky! And then suddenly we were there. There it was, a childhood dream crystallised. There I was! Was I on my knees? No. How could I be on my knees for they were killing me! Did my eyes gush forth tears of joy? No. I am a tough explorer remember. Explorers don´t cry. Did I take lots of pictures? Of course! What a silly question to ask!

And it was so much grander than how I had imagined it to be. Because unlike the pictures, you now saw it in context. You saw it in panorama. You saw and heard the raging slither of dirty brown river below. You saw the wide protective sweeping arc of steep mountain-tops all around it. You saw the steep cliffs with the sheer drops on all sides of the citadel. The green foliage, the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the height, the stonework, the temple of the sun, and your aching legs – and the four days of tough labour, all heightened the experience (not to mention the coca leaves you´d been chewing).

Magical? Sublime? Yes! Yes! And yet much much more. I won´t describe it. I cannot describe it. My words are like crude scalpels that can´t do justice to it. Words can only give a taste – but the whole experience must be consumed in person. In the flesh”

 

What adds to the mystery and allure that has clung to Machu Picchu over the ages is that we still don’t really know why it was built. What was its purpose? Is it the lost city of the Incas as described in chronicles? Or was it merely – a summer retreat for the Inca hierachy? These are academic questions but they should not, and do not, detract from the simple fact of its majesty.

And the undeniable fact, that it is without doubt – one of the most amazing sights, my eyes have ever had the pleasure, to cast their gaze upon. It truly is spectacular, wonderful, amazing, awe inspiring, out of this world, out of this time – and many many other things. Touristic yes. But the truth of the place is for all to see – its truth resides somewhere deep inside of you, unreachable, inexplicable, hidden away from your conscious self – like Machu Picchu itself…

So the perfect place to dream in.

The perfect place to wander at the wonder, of things.

The perfect place for a man to awaken his childhood dreams.

Oh yes! Once there I felt what it is like to be a dreamy 12 year old boy again. And I’m not letting go of that feeling.

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