We are going to be in Quito, Ecuador for a short stay before heading out to the Galapagos for twelve days. I guess you’d have to call it a bucket list, but I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as de-stereotyping. I have images of places in my mind, and then when I experience the places (and people) for real, have to re-adjust. I am re-learning the world.
We just spent four days with 17 delightful people from various places: Colombia, Toronto, San Francisco, Australia, Singapore, Detroit … we got to know them all. There were no whiners as we walked 27 miles, climbed perhaps 9,000 feet and descended 11,000 over four days. Along with us were three Peruvian guides, and unseen during the day maybe 18 porters running ahead with the tents and setting up and cooking. Six of us in the group were over sixty years of age. We were no slackers. On the second day we climbed 4,500 feet to Dead Woman Pass, and my wife was the second one to the top. I was not first, and no, we were not competing. She was in that zone where breathing and energy consumption are in harmony.
My stereotype of Machu Picchu was that it was relatively small, and in a high place that required walking through desolate country to get there. It is none of that. It is massive. It is in a tropical jungle, and though much of the walk is in treeless areas, enough of it is in areas varying from cloud forest to alpine tundra-like landscape. The long valleys are farmed, most often corn is growing along with potatoes. Orchids abound. In the earlier stretches there are some small villages, llamas, alpaca, dogs, cats, and plenty of Gatorade for sale along the way. The last two days cover mostly uninhabited national park, and Inca ruins abound.
So we did the hike, slept in a tent three nights, got up at 3:30 on day four and walked three miles through jungle and mist, and up a staircase so steep that we had to climb on all fours, and we finally reached the Sun Gate. We are perhaps 1,100 feet above Machu Picchu, and cannot see it as the valley is covered in clouds. After four days we are a tight group, and are waiting to see if it was worth it. We laugh and joke and take pictures of one another and decide how long we want to wait.
My contribution: Freddy, our guide had told us the previous day of Inca law and custom. Stealing was frowned upon, and if a child was caught, the mother was required to take the child to a mountain top and push him off an watch him fall to death. During a lull I said “I wish my Mom could be here. She would so enjoy pushing me off a mountain.”
The clouds lifted. There it is. It is lush green, and Machu Picchu mountain itself is lush green too. (“Machu Picchu”, or “Old Mountain,” is the name given it by Hiram Bingham in 1911. No one knows what the Incas called it.) It is laid out to form a condor, with two wings and a head. It is not small. It is massive. I am so full of awe that I, like the others, simply stare in silence. It is a moment of a lifetime, damned few like that. Damned few. It is indescribable. It is magnificent. It is a wonder of our world.
Of course the camera is not working that morning. Too much humidity the night before, as I left it sitting out inside the tent. The telephoto lens had a mind of its own. I had to use the iPad for the pictures below. But the image that morning, being in that group, as the fog lifted and we ended our vision quest … that is permanently etched.