Thursday, March 10, 2011
Travel Photo of the Day: Dawn at Machu Picchu, Peru
In September 2006, two months after Luis and I first met, we decided to do a very brave thing for a new couple and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu together, an arduous trip under the best of circumstances. It was a true test of any relationship and luckily we passed it (more or less) with flying colors, having fallen out only once when we arrived at the town of Agua Calientes.
There are several trails to Machu Picchu and, since we had not booked in advance, we were assigned to the longer 5-day trek because the traditional trail was full. Hiking up the Andes Mountains for a week with acute altitude sickness can be challenging to say the least; I would go so far as to say that it was one of hardest things that I've ever done. I was in tears every evening, collapsing on the ground, bone-tired beyond any imagining, not knowing how I was possibly going to tackle the next day's hike.
But I got up relunctantly every morning and trudged on and somehow, miraculously, and with the encouragement of Luis and my fellow hikers, I did it, I arrived at Machu Picchu on the 5th day just in time to see the spectacular dawn break over the ancient city. I dropped onto the soft grass on my back, eyes closed, lying amongst the grazing llamas, unable to move, and as the pale yellow rays of the morning sun slowly washed over my face, I realized that I had experienced one of those perception-shaking moments in life when you understand deeply that you can rise to any challenge if you persevere and if you have a strong support group to cheer you on. I have often thought of that trip when I feel that I've reached my limit, I've exhausted all possibilities and can't possibly go on. The truth is, now I know that I can.
Machu Picchu (meaning Old Peaks in Quechua) was originally built as a mountain estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti in the 15th century. It was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, but the Spanish never discovered it because it is situated in a hidden place between high peaks and sits at an altitude of almost 8,000 feet. Machu Picchu is a survival story in itself, having escaped the notice of the detructive Conquistadores and remaining almost completely intact for 600 years.