Saturday, November 9, 2013

Machu Picchu, check.

Before I officially decided to come to Peru, I read a book a friend gave me called A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. Or Thousand Miles in a Million Minutes, or something like that.  In it, Donald Miller outlines his quest to train and accomplish this lifetime experience of visiting the ancient city of Machu Picchu, one of the new wonders of the world. Reading it and hearing his conclusion about such adventures, it was a strange confirmation for me. Yes. I'm going. This place is truly a marvel, a wonder, even a mystery still tucked away far in the heights of the Andes. Absolutely breathtaking. 

Before our trip, i became the semi-expert, looking up tours, and guides, and trying to figure how it could be done on our own, price checking, and reading blogs. It was fun planning! It made getting there finally more like a triumph than just a tourist trip. There are 3 ways to get there. The famous Incan trail, 2 or 4 days, but is usually booked really far in advance; the Salcantay trek which is a 5 day trek reaching an altitude of over 20,000 ft before descending 10,000 ft where Machu Picchu rests; and lastly the Inca jungle trek including more adventurous activities like biking, zip lining, and rafting. This last one was the trip my friends and I chose. I went with the volunteers from my program, and we made a lot of new friends on the way, from all over the world. Travel connections? Yes please.

Our first day was mountain biking from Abra Malaga downhill for 2.5 hrs. Thats a lot of downhill, we descended about 9,000 ft. Weeeeeeee!!!!!! It was a blast. I really loved it. By the end though we were all soaked though flying through the rain and clouds. Totally soaked. We got to a little town called Santa Maria next, and I was feeling surprisingly amazing. Lungs, what is this? Full breath of air? Ohhh we're only at 4,000 ft!! the lowest I've been in months. My rib still hurts, but not constantly finally. Coughing is the only time I remember, oh yeah. But that didn't slow me down! We played in the small town there with some kids, enamored with my frisbee. An 11 year old boy donned in Rastafarian gear who we dubbed "Marley" invited us to his bar luring us with cervezas and a pool table. He even popped behind the bar to serve us drinks. Oh Peru. 

Little creep.
The next day was our jungle trek from Santa Maria to Santa Theresa. 6 hours of hiking, about 14 miles through jungle, up and down cliff sides, through the original Incan trail. This is where I met my monkey friends. One of them was a brat and bit off the end of my camelback tube, little sneaky biting pickpocket. I met a little one named Mono Lisa too. She had a mustache. Other animals of significance we encountered on the way were the bugs. Mutant mosquitos that feasted on all our foreign blood. I did my best to keep sprayed and covered and escaped with only minor bites, but boy o boy I did not envy some of the other legs I was staring at during the hike. I was armed with bug spray, even for everyone else. I think the Frenchmen thought I was weird, asking if i could spray their legs because it was making me so uncomfortable, their legs were more like french corn cobs at the end of the trip. Side note though, those frenchmen were a marvel themselves. Smoking at every rest stop, I swear they chain smoked through 2 packs a day and still were in the front of the group, astonishing the rest of us with their pulmonary capacity. The other humbling sight was when I would be huffing and puffing on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the nowhere mind you, and encounter a seasoned Peruvian, easily double my age carrying a load of plants or something heavy, with enough breath to say a full greeting and I could barely mutter "Bien" (sarcastically of course). We had to cross the river (twice, which seems strangely redundant) and the grand finale of our hike was paying a local man 2 soles, about 75¢ to pull us across the river. Very efficient. 

video

After an 8 hour day, 21 km, we straggled into civilization, feasting our eyes on the famed Santa Theresa hot springs. I don't know if it was because I was so exhausted, or they were as amazing for the well-rested soul, but I was in heaven. Imagine Havasupai, minus the waterfalls, but plus about 40ยบ warmer. Clean, clear, warm water, i felt like a million bucks.

The next day was zip lining. Some will say once you've done one zip line, you've done them all. Well. I'd never zip lined. and it was so so fun. Flying high above a rain forest canopy, on one of the longest and fastest zip lines in South America, i mean.. i was elated. One of the guides even said I was a "natural" as I came in to his platform. If ever someone could be a natural at something so unnatural, i guess that's me. I loved it. The rest of the day was a lot of stairs, walking along the train tracks, double rainbows, and constantly on mosquito defense duty. 

But the next day. THE NEXT DAY. WAS. INCREDIBLE. if you've been there you know how daunted I feel right now to write about a full day exploring Machu Pichu. Oh mercy. From above it you can see it is arranged in sections, with perfectly fitting stones, the mystery enough to keep your imagination running wild. We had a 2 hr tour, but every guide was pretty much saying something different. I chose to draw my own conclusions, theory on its purpose (see below). We hiked Wayna Picchu mountain, the tall mountain spire you see on the post cards. and somehow there were ruins up there as well. (those Incans* were crazy.) That was a harrowing hike, more steep than any I've ever done. It is limited to only 400 people a day because of its dangers and incredibly narrow passages.
video

*Everytime i write the word Incan I cringe a little because I know better. The whole world is under the wrong impression that the people responsible for Machu Picchu, the Incan empire, etc are called Incans. Well, technically, there was ever only 14 true "Incans". Only one at a time- the king. The people of the empire were actually called Quechua (Keh-chu-ah). I've been continuing that falsehood because saying "those incans were crazy" somehow sounds better than "those quechuans were crazy" Sorry. Lo siento. 
 
The view from the Sun Gate, the mountain driectly opposite is Wayna Picchu. The city of Machu Picchu is that lighter patch on the left above the road.
Anyway, from there I hiked to the Sun Gate which is the opposite side of the city, matching altitudes to the Wayna Picchu mountain, making for a very long day. It was a beautiful view from there, farther off, it was the portal to the city via the Incan Trail. I stayed up there for about an hour, thinking, marveling, praying. God really met me too, encouraging me in the quiet, His voice for some reason easier to hear closer to the heavens. I snickered to myself a little looking at this wonder of the world, and yes it was incredible, but i lifted my eyes to those mountains, their majesty declaring the quiet strong presence of God. It took 8 million Quechua people over 100 years to build this city, and my God created everything else around it. It started to look incredibly small from this viewpoint.

Lego House. see.
My theory on Machu Picchu? It's very scientific. I believe that it undeniably is a part of the Incan Empire, the Incan trail running right through it and everything. But it was hardly a royal village, or a university. Please, come on. It's so obviously one of God's lego sets. He made the legos out of the rock, and then went to town. (bahaha, get it)

It was the trip of a lifetime, except that I'm probably going to go again while I'm here. Why not!?