Lost City of the Incas Machu Pichu
One of the benefits of being a teacher is the amount of time off one gets. March was fast approaching and I was trying to figure out where to go for Spring Break. For quite some time I had wanted to climb in the Cordillera Blanca (White Mountains) of Peru. After I did some research, Peru really appealed to me, but alas, March was a bad month for climbing, being smacked in the middle of the rainy and storm season. However one of the true wonders of our planet, also in Peru, seemed like a good alternative -- Machu Pichu, the ancient city of the Incas, hidden away in the remote valleys of the Andes. It took the English explorer Hiram Bingham, years of exploration and significant effort to locate this hidden treasure. Little did I know that I too would have to overcome significant obstacles for Machu Pichu to appear to me!
I arrived at San Francisco airport, ready to board my flight to Houston and then onward to Lima, Peru's capital. As I retrieved my passport, I noticed something unusual -- the numbers seemed off. How on earth could my passport number have changed? On closer inspection it hit me like a lightning bolt -- I had brought an expired passport by accident! Thus started a domino effect that soon went wildly out of control. I took a taxi home, got my passport, missed my flight (of course) and got re-routed (miraculously) via Newark. As a result I missed my connection in Lima, to Cusco, where my tour would begin. I spent an unplanned night in Lima and got a flight to Cusco the next moring at 5:30am. I went straight from the airport to the bus for the trailhead. It was a miracle. If I had arrived a few hours later, I would have missed the opportunity to see Machu Pichu since permits are rigid and one must enter the trail on the designated day and the reservations are full months in advance.
Once on the bus, I had this feeling that I needed a vacation from my vacation. It's a terrible feeling. The stress of urban life and dealing with civilisation can only be dealt with in one way -- leave civilisation behind and enter the wild. I was longing to be on the Inca Trail for four days of walking with nothing but green valleys and hills and the uninhabited remains of civilisations of yore. Once we started the hike, I felt quite at home. I was carrying a huge pack and walking uphill with the help of a stick. All around me were green valleys with snow-capped peaks jutting out and teasing me. My group was a motley crew of a few English, Irish and Americans. There was plenty to talk about and learn about each other.
Machu Pichu can be reached by train - so if one chooses, one can forgo the hike and simply tour the ancient city. I chose to take the way of the early explorers who reached Machu Pichu by foot. It was a strenuous climb and would have been more so, if it weren't for our porters who were carrying tents and equipment for us. I was extremely distraught when on the first day I saw tents being set up for our lunch. And from nowhere there appeared a table and 12 stools. Now this was camping in style! To be honest, I was not quite expecting this and it took away from the "wilderness experience". However, I happily munched on the delicacies our cook had prepared -- pasta, fried rice, fries, potato soup it was all very good!
During the rainy season it is not unusual to get poured on. However, we got extremely lucky. It only rained a little bit on our second day. And then, on the last day of the trek it was awful. At 5 in the morning the skies were weeping heavily. It was dark, cold and we were wet. I had full protective rain gear, but the rain has a way of making everything damp straight to the bone. Two hours of walking and we were at the Sun Gate. This is where we were supposed to get our first sight of Machu Pichu, but it was thoroughly clouded in and we could see nothing. Our guide Kenny said that the clouds would open up -- we didn't believe him. And we kept going, trekking towards an invisible goal. An hour later there was a faint outline in the horizon. As we inched closer, it became more distinct and all of a sudden, the clouds parted and before my eyes was the most wondrous architectural feat in South America -- the lost city of the Incas -- Machu Pichu. It was vast and organised, fortified by hills and adorned with green terraces.
The Inca Civilisation was actually one of the last of the Native American civilisations, and they had contact with the early settlers who managed to destroy the civilisation along with its people. Machu Pichu because of it's strategic location as a fortress, fortified by hills and only accessible by days of walking along steep valley trails, survived the onslaught of the invaders. I was thrilled to have finally made it here, against all odds.
I spent the next day recuperating from the four- day trek and then departed on a trek of the Sacred Valley. One of the most interesting moments of my trip was during a local bus ride to a remote town. I was clearly the only non-Peruvian on the bus and the bus driver was playing disco tunes from the 80s and all of a sudden I heard "Disco Diwani". It's hardly believable that I was in a bus full of Peruvians in the Peruvian countryside and I was listening to Nazia Hassan singing "Disco Diwani"! I had a major bout of nostalgia.
I soon returned to the confines of big-city life re-charged for the next few months, looking for that next grand escape -- maybe to a snowy mountain, may be to an ancient ruin, or maybe to an unexpected tune from the long distant past.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005