Can you do me a favour? Don’t worry, it won’t take long and I’ll have you back to the television before the ad break. But in these next couple of minutes I’m going to attempt to take you on a journey.
Now, close your eyes. Block out all noise (yes, mute the tv). Put your phone down and the tablet away. Take a very slow, deep breath in.
And now another one. A long slow deep breath in.
Imagine you’re standing alone, on the edge of a ridge encircled by the chill of the morning air. There is a light breeze bringing with it the scent of the fresh dew blanketing the surrounding trees. The sun is waking up, its glowing halo soothing the goose-bumps on your arms and illuminating the remains of a citadel once occupied by the Incan Empire over 500 years ago.
The oxygen in the air is thinner, yes, but it is the mosaic of ruins that takes your breath away.
That’s a glimpse into the emotions that flooded me when I travelled to Machu Picchu, and was faced with one of the most awe-inspiring panoramas I’ve ever seen. Now, you can divert your attention back to your prime-time program if you like, I’ll still be here when you get back. But it was nice, wasn’t it? To escape ordinary for a moment. Every time I think about these memories it takes me back to that lofty nirvana.
Machu Picchu. The journey begins.
The journey to one of the world’s ‘New Seven Wonders’ has been something high up on my bucket list, quite literally. The journey started with a ride on the Visadome Train.
Boarding in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo we then weaved alongside the Urubamba River overshadowed by magnificent glacier laden mountain ranges. It wasn’t long before we disembarked in the town of Aguas Calientes, a remote town accessible only by rail or on foot, and the set-off point for Machu Picchu.
Click to enlarge images.
Like most Peruvian towns, Aguas Calientes envelopes you with more colour than Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dream-Coat, and a warren of side alleys offering the best (or not!) of silver trinkets and alpaca woollen souvenirs. Once I had navigated through the labyrinth and had managed to keep my sol (the local currency, not my spiritual essence), I arrived at my accommodation and was lucky to drift off to sleep serenaded by the sounds of a meandering river nearby.
The day arrives.
There is a buzz in the air, not only from the mosquitoes planning who to strike next, but from the tourists either anticipating what awaits them or from those that are still coming down from the high (quite literally) of experiencing the wonder first hand. You’ll be more inclined to brush shoulders with travellers here in one of the many cafes or restaurants set up to accommodate Westerners. Do not be mistaken though; Cuy is still a delicacy here, so whilst they may offer you a burger and fries, just check that it’s not a McGuineaPig first.
The murmur of engines will catch your attention, indicating the bus stop you’ll need to wait at to hitch your ride up the mountain. Be prepared to wait in line for the bus, but I can assure you, this isn’t their first rodeo. It’s a very smooth operation but there will be tour groups, solo travellers, families and probably a dog waiting to get on with you, so just be patient.
There are only 2500 tourist permitted to access Machu Picchu each day, so not only should you purchase your tickets in advance, but plan what time of day you will go. If you get the chance, go twice! We first caught sight of the majestic Machu Picchu at around 2.30pm and whilst it was simply amazing, most of it was seen through the lens of my Canon EOS or my iPhone 6. I’m also confident a few selfie sticks “photo-bombed” my shots. But you are so overwhelmed and go from 0 to 100 and try to capture every angle, every ruin, every panorama and yes, every Llama.
I suggest to tour the sights with a guide and listen to what they say. There is so much history to be told and a lonely planet guide, whilst comprehensive, doesn’t evoke as much emotion as what a local guide will. We had a couple of hours to explore before making our way back to the buses and down the hair pin turns before the rain set in.
Click to enlarge images.
It was decided. I would return the following morning and chance the sunrise experience at what had been the most amazing destination I’d set foot in in 24 years. It’s risky. A cloud-forest situated at 2500m above sea level with constantly changing weather patterns isn’t going to produce a postcard-perfect sunrise 365 days a year. But…
what’s life without risk?
5:00am the next morning.
The alarm goes off at 5.00am, ready to set off from the hotel at 5.30am to join the hoards also embarking on the pilgrimage. We set foot in the ruins only an hour later seeking out the perfect spot to take in the moment. Racing the clock, we settled in a terrace just as the shadows lowered and like a theatre the curtain of cloud pulled aside, revealing Mother Nature’s best opening act yet.
I will now reiterate what I asked you to do at the beginning.
People surrounded me but I blocked them out and had that moment all to myself. For a moment I took no photos, spoke no words, and just breathed.
The ‘Sun Gate’ – the end of the Inca Trail.
Now you might think it can’t get much better than that, but it can! The trail to the Sun Gate snakes along the ridge line with Machu Picchu looming in the distance. An hour later, I found myself standing at Inti Punku, a site dedicated to the Sun Gods and the end point of the Inca Trail hike. From this point you can look over the entire sacred city, including Machu Picchu Mountain, Huayna Picchu Mountain, the Urubamba River and Putukusi Mountain.
When something of that enormity surrounds you, it puts a lot of things into perspective. It is a personal experience that no two people share and one that can never be replicated. It is a place I will long to travel back to, but the first time is something that I will forever treasure.
All photography © Alexandra Morton