Follow Every Inca Trail, ‘Til You Find Your Dream

I Dreamed a Dream in Days Gone By…

When I was a little girl, I had a subscription to a magazine called Children’s Digest. It was like Reader’s Digest, only for kids. It had book excerpts and informative articles about different countries and cultures. I devoured every single article. (This was back in the days before pre-teen magazines were all about ‘Make-up tips to make you look like a high school senior’ or ‘Get a bikini bod in six weeks.’)

One memorable issue talked about ancient civilizations, specifically the Inca. And there were pictures of Machu Picchu. I was completely spellbound. I thought, “One day, I’m going to go there.” Well, for a little girl in small town Ontario in the 1970s, this seemed like a pretty far-fetched dream.

We Climbed Every Mountain, We Forded Every Stream…

And yet, here I was, at 5 a.m. on a Tuesday in November, getting ready to visit Machu Picchu, something I’d wanted to do for 45 years. So perhaps you will have some idea how excited I was.

Our group met in the hotel lobby at 6:30. I’m sure everyone was just as excited but outwardly we looked like we’d still rather be sleeping. We set off in the rain across the bridge over the Urubamba River, to the bus station, past non-yet-open cafes, and recently closed bars, and markets that were getting ready for the bustle of the day’s commerce.

The bus careened along narrow mountain roads, with sheer drops to the cliff bottom next to us, only one poorly-timed wheel turn away from certain death. I was beginning to rethink this ‘lifelong dream’ thing. I hunkered down in my seat to avoid seeing the void below, except for when the distinct lack of shock absorbers made me bounce close to the roof.

We Followed Every Inca Trail…Until I Found My Dream!!

At the summit, looking slightly rattled, our group disembarked the bus and then, the moment was upon us. Our guide, Felix, took us on a guided tour. The rain had stopped, but it was overcast and cool. Our week’s worth of training came in handy. We climbed up and up, hauling ourselves up steep Inca steps and dodging the occasional llama while Felix explained the history of the rise and fall of the city.  Suddenly we were on a plateau, and directly in front of us, there was the quintessential view of Machu Picchu. It was still early morning. The throngs of tourists had yet to descend upon the place. The ruins were enveloped in a swirling mist. Unfamiliar bird song broke the muffled silence.

The mists receded as the morning went on, giving us an ever-widening view of Machu Picchu that seemed to grow every thirty seconds or so, like an unseen hand parting a curtain, until the whole panorama was displayed:

Once we had seen the view from a distance, it was time to explore the ruins up close. It is an absolutely massive excavation, and you could really wander for hours if you had the time. We walked down into the main part of the ruins, and then back up the other side. Here are some photos to give you an idea of the sheer size of Machu Picchu.

It became much more crowded by about mid-morning, as our tour finished up.   After looking around a bit further, we decided to climb back up to one of the first lookout spots we had visited and have an early lunch.  (A bag lunch had been thoughtfully provided by the hotel for those who wanted to explore a bit longer instead of having lunch at the hotel).

We sat, eating our sandwiches, watching llamas in the distance, and looking out over a once-in-a-lifetime view.

There was a profound tranquility on the quiet hillside. We were filled with the exhilaration of a goal met, a hard physical task completed, a dream achieved.  I cannot adequately describe the emotion of the moment, but it really was one of life’s best ever. A true Hadrian’s Wall Moment.

My “I can’t believe we’re actually having a picnic at Machu Picchu!” moment

After lunch we decided to take a short and reasonably unchallenging hike to the Inca Bridge.  This was perhaps the easiest of all the available hikes, but we didn’t mind. Some of our group opted to climb the very challenging Huayna Picchu, the looming peak that you see at the far end of the photos of Machu Picchu. But we declined.  We had just spent a week seriously challenging ourselves physically and today was not about maxing out our meager reserves of energy. We had nothing to prove. (Mind you, if we had just taken the bus up for the day without the preceding week’s trek, we would have climbed it as our ‘because it’s there’ challenge.)

Our group members who made the climb were rewarded with a stunning view of the ruins far below.  But most of them pronounced the climb arduous and more than a little scary–for those of you who are thinking about it.  From a much lower viewpoint, the longer lens on Steve’s camera provided a low-effort way to view the grueling trail up to the peak:

Huayna Picchu

The trail toward the Inca Bridge lookout was gloriously flat.  Some of the hikers we saw along the path seemed to be a little freaked out by the sheer drop-off on one side, but after a week of hiking through the mountains it didn’t bother us at all.  The Inca Bridge itself is (of course) ancient so it’s closed off to hikers, but we could get close enough to have a good look at it.  Much more narrow than the trail we’d come down!

About halfway along the trail, we came upon a breathtaking view of the mountains opposite Machu Picchu. It was then that I had another massive Hadrian’s Wall Moment.  To me, at first, they looked like just random mountains in the distance. But then Steve pointed out to me that the white speck on top of one of the mountains was the restaurant where we’d had lunch at the previous day, and the weaving lines far, far below were the train tracks  at the station we had hiked down to.  At that moment, the enormity of what we had done really hit me.  It’s hard to see the big picture when you are concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other.  So here, let me show you what made me say , “Whoa, cool!”:

…and this was just one part of one day’s hike…

Dream Achieved!

Our time at the magnificent Machu Picchu drew to a close. We returned by equally bumpy bus ride to Aguas Calientes, where we toasted each other for a job well done.

Very well done, indeed!
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