Published: May 16th 2012February 1st 2012
Rubber tires skid on asphalt; a sharp curve catches you off guard. The oncoming traffic is unpredictable; a bus driver neglects to use his horn on the turn. You’re feet away now; eyes locked on the bus. You jerk your bike to the right, it falls and it slips away from you as you drift the corner. Life doesn’t flash before you but heart beats reach astonishing rates. Somehow you manage to ditch the bike and keep your footing. Impressive athleticism or amazingly good fortune, who knows?
It is day 1 of Peru’s Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. A bus takes us up to 5000 meters. Step outside now. Bitter cold; fingers turn purple. Strap on helmet, adjust protective gear, listen to instructor’s safety briefing. You’re on a mountain bike now, heading straight down. Stoked. Fingers clutch gear shifts; they know where the brakes are.
We’re in the middle of an Andean rain cloud. Visibility is about 50 meters. Between droplets you catch glimpses of the surrounding countryside. Open spaces, jagged cliffs, greenery. Winding curves lead down a seemingly endless mountain pass. Lift your legs when crossing streams. I had no idea. Shoes are soaked now.
An hour of bitter cold and you’re wondering, “Why did I sign up for this?”
Sure enough, the fog clears. After your near-death experience you’re a bit shaky but warm weather calms you now. You're cruising, it's beautiful out. Riding, tropical fruits catch your eye; mangos, bananas, passion fruit. You’ve gone from 5000 to 1000 meters; Andean climate to tropical rainforest. Congratulations, you’re still alive. After 3 hours of biking you bite into a mango. Food is fuel; endorphins flood.
The group reconvenes and we hike to our lodging for the night; a cabin along the Inca trail. No windows, cold showers, mosquitos by the thousands. You don’t care; a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains makes these things unimportant. Close your eyes now.
Granite stones line a trail carved into sheer cliffs. Despite centuries of earthquakes, landslides, and erosion you can still step with ease. The Inca Trail connected the empire, it is at least 500 years old. The Incas reached their peak in the 1400 and 1500’s. It is possible, though, that they existed for 4000 to 5000 years.
Your imagination is running now. Questions flood your mind. As you step
you wonder, “How many Incas have walked this trail? How many died constructing it? How far does it stretch? How long did it take to build? Where did the granite come from? How did they move the granite? Why here and not there? Etc. Google will help you answer some of your questions later; others will undoubtedly remain puzzles.
Houses line parts of the trail. Thousands of feet up, no roads, inhabitants hike to and from their homes. An old lady sells drinks and snacks. Did she hike here? Eighty-year-old calves of steel! At a resting point I peak into one of the homes. Guinea pigs march the kitchen floor. The residents feed them scraps until the critters become food; sustainability at its best. Avocados picked today; you eat the best guacamole you have ever tasted. You wonder; did the Incas have guacamole?
You’ve hiked down and are at a river now. Sit in the cable car to go across. No electricity. Grab the rope and pull; feet dangling over rapids. Simultaneous unrest and ease; do you trust the shanty cable car or question its engineering. Oh well, you’re here now. Adventure, you make it across. Phew! A
two hour soak in hot springs ease your legs and your mind.
You’re alongside train tracks now. The river is to your right; raging rapids. Almost everything is worth a picture but your eyes and time only allow you to see so much. Rail road ties line the river for miles. Where do they lead?
A soccer ball at one of the rest stops comforts you. You’ve played your whole life and futbol is familiar to you. You love the game. Juggle, pass, shoot, gooooaaaaaalllll. You’re instantly a kid again; totally immersed in the moment. Restart your engine now. Take off.
Fast forward to food. ..creamy soup, still-simmering carne asada, fresh squeezed passion fruit juice. Get in my belly! You might need to take a Machu Poo-cchu soon. The meal is wonderful but leaves you sluggish; hammocks give you a place to rest. The curve of the hammock puts your feet over your head. You’re in dreamland now and your mind is trying to answer all the questions you have about the Incas. The blood leaves your legs and they are asleep now too. Tingling sensations wake you. Your first steps are how you
imagine your first steps were when you were a baby. Get your things now; it’s time to press on.
You’re physically weak. Seven hours of hiking have left you nothing short of pooped. How perfect is it then that the town of Aguas Calientes is in sight? Aguas Calientes sits at the base of Machu Picchu. You eat a nice meal, walk the town, and rest rest rest.
It’s 4 am, open your eyes. Today is the day. The snooze button on your alarm clock doesn’t exist today. It’s time to get moving. Sunrise at Machu Picchu is your motivation. It’s dark; your headlamp will guide you. It’s cold; the hike to Machu Picchu will surely warm you. Show your ticket and be on your way. Step. Step again. Foot after foot, shoe after shoe, you’ll make it. Five hundred meters straight up. Nobody said it would be easy.
Years of playing sports pay off; you’re the first ones up. 5:30 A.M. The gates don’t open for another half hour; perfect time for breakfast. Fast forward, gates open, you’re here now. A short hike takes you to the park…
It is difficult to
describe the beauty before your eyes. Although fog covers most of the park now, you are in awe. Granite walls look like they were cut with lasers; etched straight out of the mountainside. Terraced structures provided level fields for agriculture. A system of water canals runs throughout the park. The water runs today…and scientists still cannot explain how the Incas got it up here!
You picture the 800 or so inhabitants occupying the space before you; some farm, others hunt, others prepare food, speculation. The Egyptians made it easy for us with hieroglyphics; the Incas had no written language. Let your imagination run wild. A section of Machu Picchu is unfinished. You wonder, were the Incas just getting started? And…what if the conquistadors never arrived in Peru? How time unfolds…
Four days of hiking, 8 liters of water, and hundreds of beads of sweat have led you here. Was it worth it? You bet your ass it was! The fog clears and you see Machu Picchu in its entirety. It is nothing short of magical; well deserving of its title of one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
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