First off, I apologize for the blurry quality of the photos (most of them were taken on phones for convenience).
My first time in South America was March of 2012, on a school trip to Peru. While there, we visited the famous Inca site, Machu Picchu. Discovered in 1911, it lies 2,430 meters above sea level (I’ll get to this issue at the end of this post) and for me, its beauty contains an ethereal quality- possibly because of the clouds that constantly surround it.
For those that know me, I talk about Peru with a misty-eyed reverence similar to Emily talking about Brazil. It’s pretty annoying to say out loud, but I really do believe this visit changed my life in ways other places have not.
To get to Machu Picchu, most people begin by going to Cuzco (the Historical Capital of Peru). Once there, you can take a train to the small town of Aguas Calientes, used as the nearest access point to Machu Picchu. We went by PeruRail, which gave us amazing views of the Urubamba River and the villages by the mountains.
After arriving at Aguas Calientes, we checked into one of the many hotels designed to host the various visitors trickling through the railroad that runs through the small town.
Before we continue, let me introduce you to one of the greatest romances of my life. While hanging out outside of our hotel waiting to begin the hike to Machu Picchu, there was a disheveled, homeless dog that I promptly named Churro because he was so sweet (and we had just had some). After I fed him a little snack, he began to follow me around like a scene straight out of the Jungle Book. He literally would not leave my side.
On our way to Machu Picchu, we ran through some train tunnels with some very good timing- which I’m not sure we were allowed to do. At all. However, our guide assured us it was perfectly okay, so it was an experience to say the least- having to trust each other enough to run through a tunnel of pitch black darkness in unison after waiting for a train to safely pass by.
Once we reached the foot of the stair hike, however, I had to say goodbye to my beloved Churrito. If anyone is visiting Machu Picchu anytime soon, please tell me if you see this sweetheart roaming around.
Besides Churro, I made at least four doggy friends that day. It was a good day.
The hike was simultaneously horrible and wonderful, because on one hand I hate climbing stairs, but on the other I got to meet some local people who told me everything I needed to know about Machu Picchu and what it meant to them. It took a few hours, but we all made it (I was last).
There were different sections of the whole city, which I was told once hosted upwards of 1000 people. The first day we went, it was quite rainy, which made for slippery climbing. However, once the clouds and mist started to fade away I would quite literally forget to breathe as I stood in awe of the surrounding beauty.
On one of my favorite days up there, we spent a whole afternoon lying and chatting on one of the grassy terraces. I would listen to music, soak in the sun and think about the sheer history behind this place, so high up and hidden away from the rest of the world.
We went up there a few different times by bus after the initial day of hiking, which was another tour of how prepossessing every aspect of this country was.
When we were in Lima (the city’s height is about 1550 m), we were right next to the coast. Then we took an hour-long flight to Cuzco (3400 m, which is actually higher than Machu Picchu’s 2430 m), which nearly wrecked me.
The altitude sickness business is no joke (they would sell canisters of oxygen everywhere we went and some hotels offered “oxygen-enriched rooms”) and I suffered for a few days with symptoms of nausea and a general silliness.
In order to prevent this from happening, you should drink plenty of water and many places offer mate de coca (tea made from coca leaves, legal in Peru) which help immensely. Avoid caffeine and don’t overestimate your ability to walk around the various slopes and alleys of Cuzco.
This is the one trip I recommend that people should take at least once in their lifetime. If you ever have the opportunity, do not pass up this adventure. I came home with the comforting memory and knowledge that this peaceful city in the clouds existed somewhere out there waiting for my swift return someday.