When Andy and I first began discussing the idea of spending four months in South America, it seemed more like a nice plan than something that might actually happen. I’m not sure why, but I had always assumed that South America would be too difficult, too far away, too foreign and complicated for us to visit. Maybe one day we’d plan a trip to Rio, Brazil or something, but I never thought we’d spend any real time in South America.
Which is too bad, because, of all the amazing sites in the world, I’ve always dreamed of seeing Machu Picchu. I’d seen photos of the ancient Inca city, and I’d thought it looked like one of the most beautiful things in the world. But, I never thought I’d see Machu Picchu for myself. So, last Friday, when we boarded the bus that would take us up the mountain to the gate of Machu Picchu, I was almost breathless with excitement.
In fact, I was so excited to see Machu Picchu that I was awake at 3am waiting to get ready and go. The woman who ran the hostel we were staying in the night before told us that a line started forming at 4.30am for the first bus up the mountain, which leaves at 5.30am. So, Andy and I got up insanely early hoping to be towards the front of the line. We may have gotten up a little TOO early… we were the first tourists in line, arriving at the bus station at 4.45am. I told Andy, “We’re the keenest beans in town” and Andy replied “Or the stupidest!” But I wanted to get there early to see the sun rise and beat the hoards of other tourists.
I wasn’t disappointed. Of all the stunning and important sites that I’ve seen over the years, Machu Picchu was the most impressive by far… beating the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge and the Roman Coliseum by a long shot.
Part of what makes Machu Picchu so impressive is the setting. The ruins of the royal city of Machu Picchu are set deep in the Andes mountains. The rugged green peaks surrounding the city make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time… a feeling that’s helped along by the swirling mists and total silence at the top of the mountain first thing in the morning. And then, there’s the city itself. Machu Picchu fits so effortlessly on the top of this mountain. It’s singular, unique and perfectly compatible with its environment. Nothing else could have been built there, and that city could not have been built anywhere else.
We spent almost five hours wandering around the ruins, scrambling up rocks and down granite staircases built before Columbus discovered America. At one point, we left the main trails and sat down on a ledge overlooking the back of the city and the valley below. We listened to the distant sound of the Urubamba River and watched the wind blow the clouds across the city and off to other mountains and valleys. It was so quiet and peaceful and you could almost imagine what it would have been like 500 years ago before the city was populated with chattering tourists, clicking cameras and beeping cell phones. It was a magical moment and the highlight of our time in South America so far.