I finally made it. After being inspired by an image in a book over fifteen years ago, a year’s delay and six months wait after booking, I reached Machu Picchu – but not without incident!
Coming out of the bathrooms after getting up at pitch-black 3:00am, I hit some warm soapy water that had been dumped on the grass verge, and flew straight off the path. I managed to hit a tree sideways after a six foot drop and felt (and heard) my ribs giving way. After shouting out for help and pulling myself back up on to the path, I was somewhat relieved to know I could still breathe and that my ribs weren’t sticking out of my body. Things weren’t going to be good for the rest of the hike though as even a little breath, sent searing pains through me. I did get it together enough to get packed up and my trusty hiking poles kept me upright, while we all waited for the gate to open and the final 5k stretch to begin.
Every step I took, was the most painful I’ve had in my life yet in some ways, it’s a confrontation with myself that I welcome. I’m always trying to find ways of learning about my own mind, how far I can push myself and how to gain focus when I think I don’t have any. With sweat pouring off me, unable to take deep breaths and flashes before my eyes for every step, I powered on, passing the few people that had made it through the gate before our group. If I ever doubted my own pain tolerance or my ability to do anything, this was telling me I had been wrong.
Finally after the insane steepness that leads up to the Sun Gate (Intipunku), the majestic morning sight of Machu Picchu lay below. As I stopped to reduce my heart rate for a moment, some Australian guy slapped me in the side on my damaged ribs, congratulating me on my arrival. I had to explain that he needed to not be so friendly with the injury but he just said ‘oh‘ and moved on.
There were a few others in the group that were not stopping and making a mad dash for the Guard House, to get the best view of the Machu Picchu ruins for when the Sun popped over the horizon. Not one to be happy staying with the crowds, I pushed on and eventually caught them up for what was the most perfect morning, with very few people to spoil the occasion. It always befuddles me how people can take a four-day hike to get to this place and yet be too busy chatting or getting in peoples camera views, to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle. I found the perfect spot for my video camera and set it up with uninterrupted view, enabling me to step back and soak up the air.
Too soon for me, the rest of our group turned up and it was time to head down into the actual ruins for the walking tour with our guides. As much as I’ve enjoyed the tours, at this point – especially with the injury – I would have preferred to stay where I was and spend a few hours meditating. Oh well, down we headed and as always, enjoyed a tremendously interesting and fully loaded discourse from Flavio.
The second guide had headed off by now, to go and pick up B from the train station. Her tour had been merged in to this last day of mine and we both met at the end of the walking tour, she drained from being ill for four days, and I hardly able to breath with my cracked ribs. We did hobble around together for an hour or so, before the heat of the day, the mosquitos, and the increasingly pushy crowds started to get to be too much. Off to the exit, a short stop for some ice-cream and the final bus around the rough switchbacks to Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes is an interesting town, with the sole purpose of being an entry/exit point for those visiting Machu Picchu. The railroad cuts right through the middle of what could be considered the high street and the terrain has unique beauty amongst the hard rocks and deep greens. After hitting one of the restaurants for a beer and food, I picked up my porter bag that had been left in storage, and we both headed to the train station to just chill for the remaining few hours. Both feeling like crap at this point and neither of us needing to purchase any trinkets from the market.
The weather turned from blazingly hot to a lightening storm and torrential downpour, literally as the sky had turned to night. There was then some bizarre mix-up with the train, where the platform attendants gave conflicting reports that our carriage didn’t exist, then it did, then it was labeled different, and then we were bounced answers between two available carriages. Finally, one of the group had enough and got some kind of straight answer, so we were all making our way on to the train a short time after. Amusingly, the staff were trying to hold up the gutter of the platform with a broom handle as the rain was so heavy, it was pushing it downward and drenching anyone who wanted to alight to their seat. After just about everyone was on board, the driver finally worked out that if he moved the train a few feet, it would avoid the broken gutter;30 minutes to work that one out and even more delay to leave.
Finally off and the train was probably the most uncomfortable riding experience I’ve had in Peru! The seats were hard and you felt every bump. I couldn’t breathe much as it was and every movement, was like a knife in my spleen. Some basic boxed food was handed out and then an impromptu show of a kid with a goose puppet, followed by the two attendants putting on a fashion show of some Alpaca clothing. The only other distraction was the storm still raging outside and the co-driver hopping off the train, to manually crank the junction to switch tracks. Terminating in Ollantay, it was a mad rush to push through the sea of taxis shouting ‘Cusco! Cusco!‘ while attempting to find our bus. With bus located, B commandeered seats at the front and I managed to get comfortable for the final ride back to the hostal in Cusco.
The sole reason for me coming to Peru in the first place was to get to Machu Picchu, with everything else considered an expendable detour. It’s been more than I thought it would be (not always on the positive side) but then, I’ve taken so much more away from here than I’d ever hoped. Something that’s enforced for me is that I need to travel a lot more to experience everything that defines humanity as well as shaping my own existence. It’s also just as important I recognized, that I don’t have to travel at all to have the inner dialogue I keep searching for – it’s always with me, whenever I need to speak to it, but I still need to keep working on the triggers.