We had high expectations, considering the price we had paid to get ourselves here, but we’d never take back our experience of Machu Picchu, and photos could never do it justice. In retrospect, we’re glad we had the privilege of visiting this place, and were surprised by the many stories it had to tell.
We started our journey with a train trip to Aguas Calientes, which is sadly, a tourist-exploited town that sits in a valley below Machu Picchu. We were told the best way to see the heritage site was as early as possible, so after finding our hotel and some food, we wandered the streets, crossed bridges and strained our necks as we looked straight up the towering mountains around us.
It’s funny what you do and don’t remember about places, experiences, and pain. I’d been sick a few days prior, and had finally worked out, the night before, that the altitude sickness tablets I was taking didn’t agree with me. I’d hardly been able to walk for long before needing to lie down, mostly due to the pain I had in my lower back. I spent that night drinking huge amounts of water to flush out the diamox from my system, and praying I wouldn’t need to sprawl every few hundred metres the next day for some pain relief. I needn’t have worried – adventure kicked in and the pain became a distant memory.
The woman who sold us tickets for the morning bus told us to start lining up an hour before the buses were to leave (5:20am) and we thought she was joking. Well come 5:00am the next morning, we were already lined up, and then waited in line for the following 2 hours before we finally got on a bus. The road up wound back on itself, what felt like hundreds of times, as the bus chugged its way up each steep but short stretch. We found ourselves at the gates of Machu Picchu, shortly after opening, wove between the guides hounding tourists at the gate, marched past the slow walkers, and took a left as soon as we were through the gates, heading straight for the Sun Gate.
The clouds hovered over the mountains as the sun beams shot through the mist, dancing across the structures below. The site sits at 2430m above sea level, and as we’d only been at high altitudes for a few days, we panted and puffed our way up the trail, slowly but surely climbing up. Passing the occasional rester, we sat at the Sun Gate, just the two of us, and just watched the site wake up. Researchers say they are unsure why this site was built here, as it served no real purpose, but I think the Incan people placed a high value on feeling connected to the world. Here, you feel like an eagle sitting on the highest peak. The world below you is serene and quiet, and there is a connection to the earth around you that you won’t find in many other places. It’s almost like you need to go there just for a moment with the mountains. You’re so high above the world that you’re always feeling like maybe you could tumble at any moment. And the fall would be long, and would last forever.
We watched the hikers arrive from their four day hike in, and enjoyed a moment of solitude to just appreciate the site, as the mayhem of tourists and selfie sticks awaited us below. Finally we walked back down and explored the ruins. We listened in to the different guides as we passed group after group, all providing unique facts, each more outrageous and contradictory than the next.
The most surprising thing about this place is how accessible it is. You think, being from the other side of the world, that visiting Machu Picchu sounds exotic and only for the sound of body and adventurous spirit, but the incredible amount of people visiting this place, how accessible it is (think wheelchair access) and the variation in people, old and young, from all walks of life, was mind blowing.
Though we found ourselves overwhelmed by the crowds and were back to our hotel before lunch, the experience was unlike any other, and we’re incredible grateful that we were able to visit Machu Picchu, and see it in all its glory.