Machu Picchu

It was 4:20am. The alarm sounded or I wouldn’t have woken up for another four hours. The sound of rain hit me next. Rain. Rain on the day I was supposed to hike up to see Machu Picchu with my brother.

I hit the snooze button, hoping the five extra minutes would stop that rain. Four or five snooze buttons later, my brother and I decided we better force ourselves up, up and out. Ah, but the rain.

We dressed, packed our stuff, checked out, and ducked into our $2 rain ponchos. We walked outside.

Ah, but the rain. It had stopped. I think somewhere in there, I’d prayed for it to stop, maybe multiple times, maybe even in the bathroom getting ready. It was going to be a good day.

Since I was a kid, I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of the most amazing sites in the world. Let’s review:

  • The Mall in Washington, DC in the United States.
  • The garden courts refurbished in Seoul, South Korea.
  • The royal palaces around the city of Bangkok, Thailand.
  • The Ankor temples in the jungles of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
  • The Statue of Liberty in New York City, USA.
  • The pyramids in the desert outside Cairo, Egypt.
  • The Nabatean-carved settlement in Mada-in Saleh, Saudi Arabia.
  • The Taj Mahal in mystic Agra, India.
  • The rock hewn churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
  • The tallest building in the world in Dubai, UAE.

I’m sure I’m leaving out a few.

There’s one, though, that’s been on my list to visit since before I even started traveling, one that captured my attention the very first time I found out it’s a real place as a kid: Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu captured my attention for a number of reasons:

  • It looked like a fort.
  • It was a secret, maybe even by design.
  • It combines nature and architecture wonderfully.
  • It required hiking or otherwise climbing to get to it.
  • It’s located in the mountains of South America, which by themselves are, to me, more beautiful than the areas immediately surrounding most other prominent sites.

All that to say, yeah, Machu Picchu was high on my hit list. And finally, finally, after multiple all-day bus rides, illnesses, and other travel fun, my brother and I made it, well, to the bottom of Machu Picchu.

The rain had stopped, so we decided to hike up the mountain, the original plan we made the night before the rain. Others hiked with us, reassuring us that we weren’t the only crazy ones. The walk to the base of the mountain and then the hike itself took over an hour, over an hour of of trudging and sweating, over an hour of gasping for breath and stopping to catch it, over and hour of wondering why this felt so difficult and whether or not it would prove to be too difficult.

But no, those moments faded fast. Up and forward slowly, we knew we’d made the right call. This was going to be one of the best bunch of moments in our travel adventure lives, the moments when we made it up to Machu Picchu.

Now, one thing about travel and visiting these types of sites is that if your expectations get too high, you can end up with a lot of disappointment. I try to counter this disappointment by keeping my expectations minimal. For Machu Picchu, though, I couldn’t curb my excitement.

Thankfully, when we reached the top and saw what we came for, it surprised me with extra wonders I didn’t even anticipate.

  • The mist: Clouds constantly circulated in and over the site while we were there. Sometimes, we could get a good photo of the whole thing, and sometimes we couldn’t. That made it better, more mysterious, and almost more mythical.
  • The vantage points: Lots of sites look impressive only from certain angles. This is a big disappointment sometimes, especially when, upon arriving, you realize that the best view you’ll get of the place is the view on the postcard. Machu Picchu isn’t like that. It’s almost like it was made to be observed. The Machu peak rises up behind the ancient site, allowing for views of the ruins, the other peak rising up in front of the ruins, and both sides of the whole mountain all the way down to the river at the bottom. It’s better in person than it looks on postcards.
  • The air: It’s thin and cool with a tinge of humidity from the rain. I thought it might be hot, with the high altitude and all. I thought it would feel uncomfortable sitting up there for more than an hour or so. In reality, my experience was the opposite. I wanted to spend the entire morning and part of the afternoon up there, just breathing it all in. And we did.

My brother and I climbed to various points, taking goofy photos along the way. We admired the roofless buildings, the greener-than-I-thought-it-would-be grass, and the alpacas carefully placed for tourists like us. We explored almost every one of the rooms, built with stones fit with modern precision. But none of it compared to stepping back, and up, the terraces that offered the best views of all, all the way across the ruins, across the valleys, across everything.

Machu Picchu, of all the sites I’ve visited, is the one I’ve wanted to visit the most. Yet even with my expectations swelling uncontrollably high, it didn’t disappoint me. The fact that I got to discover it with my brother as the last in a whirlwind of travel adventures over the past few years, pushed the experience over the top. It was – and is – spectacular, the best site I’ve seen in my life.