Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Last Days

It's been hard to write this blog entry on my last day in Peru. It's difficult to put words to such mixed emotions. I'm excited for one more day exploring Lima with Ryan, but so sad to be putting this amazing experience behind me. I'm thrilled to see Jena soon, but sad to say goodbye to the Smedes. I suppose these mixed feelings are evidence of a meaningful, fun, and rewarding trip. I guess I'm glad to be sad about leaving, but being sad sucks nonetheless.

Machu Picchu stood up to the hype! It was spectacular. Photos really don't do justice to the setting, but I tried nonetheless. The journey to the site was difficult, but that seemed ok given the stunning beauty that awaited. I awoke in Cuzco at 5am to get ready for my 5:45 taxi pickup. The temp was below freezing, and I shivered my way from Cuzco to the train station in Poroy (about a 20 minute drive). The train left at about 6:52, and rolled through some gorgeous country side sprinkled with small family farms. Normally I would have sat back and enjoyed the show, but the train was not heated either, and I endured more shivering. I had some layers, but did not at all pack for sub-zero temps. And I really don't like being cold (sometimes I'm an authentic native Californian). I just kept the hot tea coming and the train staff was happy to oblige.

After the 3.5 hour 47 mile train ride, we arrived at the small town of Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. AC exists, from what I could tell, largely as a tourist hub for the millions of visitors to MP. The tour guide who met me took me through a maze of market tables overflowing with Alpaca-clad Peruiana. I boarded the bus for the climb up to the site. That drive took about 20 minutes on a road of switchbacks and alarmingly thin shoulders between the road and a long plunge... I stopped looking down.

At the site I was met by another tour guide, and set off to the site as part of a group consisting of myself, our guide, and a couple from Argentina. Our guide was a charming blend of factual knowledge and Incan tradition of questionable veracity. I loved it! As we walked through the maze of structures and stone steps, the ancient city came alive. I had read a lot about the history of Machu Picchu, so to touch the stone, smell the crisp air, and survey the stunning 360 degree setting in person filled me with satisfaction and joy. I had heard this before, but you really get a sense for why this peak was chosen when you visit in person. The city functioned kind of as a royal get away and worship retreat for the great Incan Emperor Pachacuti. There was a year-round staff who kept up the site, but it really was chosen as the sacred of sacred spaces for the most sacred of Incans. An undeniable aura permeates the site which sits amidst a bowl of mountain peaks. The sun was shining, the birds circling... it was a beautiful day, and one that left me full of deep gratitude for this experience.

The guided tour took about 2 hours, and I had another hour to wander on my own before heading back down the switchback to Aguas Calientes. I was pretty drained (and sunburned) during the long train ride back to Poroy. I had a pasta dinner in Cuzco (longing for the familiar foods of home), and headed up to my hotel.

At this point-- two days on my own at Cuzco-- I really missed Jena. We were able to text through the hotel wifi, but that really doesn't do the job. While in Lima, I had the warm hospitality and company of my friends to enjoy, but now the loneliness of traveling began to set in.

The next morning I had time for another stroll around Cuzco-- perhaps the most photogenic city I've ever visited. I really enjoyed this former Incan capital, and could sense the differences between the two main cities of Peru. Lima began and continues as a Spanish/European influenced major sprawling city, while Cuzco still bears a huge Incan influence after serving as the Empire's capital for hundreds of years. When the Spanish came, the center of Peru shifted to Lima, and while the new rulers made their mark on Cuzco architecture, the ancient layout and general vibe of an old city remain. It's very walkable, and exists on a manageable scale (about the size of Seattle). I'm glad to have spent a few days high in the Andes experiencing the best of Incan culture.

My next post will likely be my last on this blog after I return to the PNW. Just a reminder, I will share more about this trip in a couple weeks on Monday June 13th at 6:30pm at the church (7500 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle). Peruvian cuisine will be available, but an RSVP is needed so I order the right amount of food.