The Incas built magnificent Machu Picchu to connect with the gods but also for normal life. Some spiritually oriented people told me that Machu Picchu holds a great energy, ancient and uplifting. Was it really so? I can’t tell my experience aligns perfectly with that. We all feel different and perhaps my state of mind had something to do with it. Let me tell you what happened. Do great expectations meet the reality?
In my previous writing about Cusco I told how I got an unpleasant partner along, diarrhea. It squeezed some comfort and content out of my reach. Some people high-light the experience of taking an Inca Trail, 5 days hike to Machu Picchu. I didn’t even think that! You may guess why..
I considered myself lucky as I found a feasible all-included tour from Cusco-Machu Picchu- Cusco in two days. I even got a student discount with my international student card. I didn’t assume the ride was going to be convenient. I am an easily adaptive person so I thought I can cope with it. The trip lasted two days, starting in the morning and ending the next day at night.
In the morning a minibus Toyota picked me up from Plaza Del Armas (the main alley). I can’t really remember anything else from the passengers, except there were a group of Chilean students and pair of Argentinian students in the back . My seat was also in the back.
I felt lonely with my Spanish skills, so I was happy to see that some of them spoke a bit English. Chileans were young and they got interested in me. However, we couldn’t discuss that much because our attention was taken by the views. Minibus drove higher and higher along serpentine roads. We watched streams flowing on steep mountain sides whose peaks reached above the clouds. And there our bus was heading towards. I was amazed by the surface of mountains, the Andes. The water had created its passages along the surface during centuries and centuries, creating more or less deep valleys carved on the rock.
With the Argentinians I could talk about more profound issues and I got so excited that it extended to a monologue, typical for me. During a break they served me “ojas de coca” = coca -leaves, that was my first experience. They were used against altitude illness.
Minibus drove through little villages, going up and down along the serpentine roads. Eventually, the car slowed down and turned onto a little rocky road that neatly followed the steep side of mountains. In that point I figured out that a different phase of the travel was just about to start. On this narrow road other minibuses bypassed each other. I was stunned by the craziness and expertise of these drivers. Occasionally I saw vertical steep just next to the minibus and my skin got goosebumps! The radio played traditional Peruvian music of the Andes that intertwined with an amazing view. I felt like Inca, traveling through these endless mountainous landscapes. It was some sort of holy feeling. I started whistling and playing mouth harp without thinking at all. On one hand, I was alone with my feeling, but on the other hand, that wasn’t how I felt it. Machu Picchu is actually much lower than Cusco. Therefore, the climate was more tropical. Forested mountains greeted and surrounded us when we approached Hidroelectrica, last stop.
The trail along the river
Hidroelectrica has a train station if you wanted to take that towards a village named Aquas Calientes (Hot Springs). This touristy village lies below the Machu Picchu mountain. Those who didn’t take the train, walked along the rail road track. Sounds a bit scary and the train did pass us a few times.
Suddenly I was alone. The Chileans and Argentinians had already gone somewhere. Company would have been nice, but I was eager to start hiking and so I did. I tried connecting with fellow travelers, but due to my uncertainty with the language, I mostly walked alone. It didn’t bother me, however, because my senses were filled with nature. The power of Vilcanota -river rumbled beside me, steep mountains filled with tropical forest rose from the both sides. I related into the position of that Inca who once wondered that land, looking at the peaks of these mountains and realizing that there we shall build a place to connect with the gods. How did this Inca decide to do it here? I felt silence inside as the power of nature showed its magnitude around me. I felt myself so little and amazed.
Time lost its meaning and suddenly me and my fellow Chilean travelers, whom I found on my way, started seeing signs that we were reaching our destination for the day. Aquas Calientes, this village was absurdly touristic, but I certainly understand why. It would be more absurd if it wasn’t; the village was only place where you could accommodate conveniently and it was packed with tourists from everywhere. Mountains rose around like giants, protecting and also reminding of nature. On the top of one of the mountains, lied Machu Picchu.
Overall, Aquas Calientes was confusing. For an eccentric traveler like me, this place was just alienating. I adapted better when I focused on other travelers. We went eating. There was one french guy, who spoke lousy English and two Chilean women, who spoke a bit better English. Well, it was good for my Spanish skills to try using it. You may just guess how long time it took to try explain something.. but what was far more important, was the connection besides language; It is to do with eye contact, smiling, presence, touch and laughing. Overall my experience was that Latin Americans were more convenient with that level compared with Western travelers.
Up to Machu Picchu
Rising to Machu Picchu started 6 o’clock in the morning. Although I went sleeping pretty early, I was certainly groggy as the alarm rang; it was dark, it rained a lot and diarrhea banged inside. The French and the Chileans were with me. We walked towards a bridge that was the only passage to the path that rose to Machu Picchu. There was already a queue, but soon we could start rising, or actually me alone, because we walked with a different rhythm.
Views from the path soon revealed themselves, the powerful river was left down and the clouds came closer. Wherever my sight went, it was laid against forest-covered misty mountains. You could see some ancient terrace -farming grounds, reminding of ancient farming practices to use against erosion on a steep land. Many travelers and I were sweaty and their face was red and breathing heavily. It was quite an effort to rise but definitely part of the experience. You could take a bus, but that wasn’t an option for me. The path took me around 1½ hours to walk until there was a second stop.. A narrow gate.. and tremendously big crowd queuing through it. I had rose inside the clouds. It surrounded me like a mist and took the view away.
No wind to show motion, only eternal stillness echoing from these ruins despite the crowd walking on marked paths.
After the gate, path lead me uphill. I was in the clouds. Little by little, the ancient and sacred city of the Inca’s concealed into the mist and revealed itself. Walls and ruins of buildings made of granite on various levels along the mountain, terrace farming grounds and llamas grazing on them. Actually all the construction material was chopped off on top of the mountain, so there was no need to transport rock high up.
No wind to show motion, only eternal stillness echoing from these ruins
despite the crowd walking on marked paths. The sun tried to pierce the thick mist. The sun was the primary god in mythology of the Incas. They called it Inti. Somehow symbolic moment to watch how the mist slowly decayed away from the way of Inti. Eventually the mist was away and tremendous view was shown around us; meandering Vilcanota -river on the bottom, like a snake finding its route among mountain giants.
The guide showed us some plants the Incas used to use as medicine. Simultaneously a humming bird sat on the plants. One Argentinian traveler said me how it is believed that where you see humming birds, good spirits are present.
Confusion of Machu Picchu
I was deeply in my own thought loop, searching but not really finding what I was looking for. In the end I broke down mentally.
I was somehow confused. The instructions on the gate made me do extra work to get inside and meanwhile I lost my group with whom I was supposed to have a tour in Machu Picchu. I wanted to use as much time there I could but I hesitated and wanted to find my group. In the end I found them. Somehow the thought of not having enough time, desire to just explore around the place and to find a silent place for meditation took my attention. The place was packed with other people and we could only move slowly.
I was deeply in my own thought loop, searching but not really finding what I was looking for. In the end I broke down mentally. I went sitting down on to a cross road just watching the views. I felt failure, like a loser that I couldn’t enjoy and feel those divine vibes of Machu Picchu, that people had told me about. I stared and tears dropped from my eyes. I surrendered to my feelings, that I couldn’t fill the needs I came to look for and the expectations I had.
Empowerment of Machu Picchu
“Oh young man, the older you come, you come to realize that you never get out of that dilemma, out of choosing between two options without uncertainty. Life just is like that!”
After a moment of grieving, although many people passed by, my attention was taken by a blonde man who walked slowly along the path. He stopped where I was sitting, looked at me and asked how was I feeling. From his accent I deduced he is from US. I told openly how I felt. He nodded, seemed to understand and said: “Oh young man, the older you come, you come to realize that you never get out of that dilemma, out of choosing between two options without uncertainty. Life just is like that!” He smiled and clapped on my shoulder. We talked for a while and then he continued his way.
This brief moment of distracting attention from my emotions to another person, something had changed inside me. I realized I wasn’t in that hurry after all. I felt empowered. I detached from thinking of time and continued my way to the closest sightseeing spot. Although I was alone, it didn’t matter that much. I decided to focus on the beauty and uniqueness of Machu Picchu. I stopped searching and felt content. Suddenly I was loaded with energy and good feeling. I didn’t have enough time to explore the whole place but it didn’t matter. Everything was well. After a while I started heading back down.
Return to Hidroelectrica
On my way down I met the Argentinians from the bus. They gave me more ojas de coca and I felt even more energized. My whole presence was pure smile and I basically jumped the path down towards Aquas Calientes and started heading straight towards Hidroelectrica. I was alone the whole time and my energies eventually slowed down, but enough to get back to Hidroelectrica.
At Hidroelectrica I stopped for a lunch. It was served by an elder lady who was extremely kind and helpful. I could get vegetarian food. She brought me a sauce and said “picante”. After I realized it means EXTREMELY HOT! But I did enjoy it. The menu of three plates cost around 7 soles (less than 2 euros).
I was happy and relieved I could eat and slow down. Company would have been nice but most of the people around seemed to have their own groups and it would have taken effort to get myself into. I didn’t see that much single travelers. I focused on enjoying everything I had now.
Big bunch of minibuses had gathered close by. I searched mine. I didn’t see any friends there and I was tired. I just went inside, took a good spot and started looking at people from the window.
The painful ride
”Just few minutes”, I thought, ”and I will be relieved from this pain”
The minibus started its way. I was amazed again by the views, but eventually I just wanted the ride to end. My sick stomach combined with eaten food and bumpy ride wasn’t a good combo at all. Luckily we had some stops, but most of the time I was praying this ride would end. It seemed it took much more time than previously. In the beginning I could sleep and listen music, but in the end I just had to bear this awful physical condition. I was uncertain how long would this last, but it came to an end.
The bus let me out further than previously. I was about to explode but I didn’t dare to ask from restaurants to use their toilets, I just walked as fast I could back to my host. ”Just few minutes”, I thought, ”and I will be relieved from this pain”. And then, finally I got back to my host. The place was filled with people. They must have thought that this guy must be in pain as I headed straight to the toilet like a rabbit.
After few intensive moments, I stepped out as a new person. The battle was over, but the war continued. Other accommodators served me some medicine they had used. They were kind and caring. The plan of the next day was then: going to marketplace to search for medicine, with a local guide.
What happened in Machu Picchu?
Inner void was filled with power of nature, the Vilcanota River, the mountains, trees, ruins of an ancient culture and the views.
It was clear how strongly I was affected by Machu Picchu. The way I was confronted by difficult emotions and on the other hand, tremendous empowerment, took me to a big loop. I didn’t have company to reflect with, I was alone for the most of the time. I felt lonely but also autonomous. It was difficult to connect and resonate with other people, partly because of language and also that my physical state wasn’t the best one. I was shy and careful, sometimes like an alien. Despite these feelings, inner void was filled with the power of nature, the Vilcanota River, the mountains, trees, ruins of an ancient culture, the views. I wasn’t bored at all, just experienced desire to connect profoundly with other human beings. Instead I connected with other things.
My desire to share my experience there, my desire to feel eternity and explore without sense of time, wasn’t met but I saw afterwards how strong these desires were. And this is a sort of realization that needs to be experienced and raised up to consciousness to be aware of it. I still have them. Machu Picchu experience just revealed them to my sight. And after
confronting the disappointment of not meeting these needs, I could accept them and enjoy the experience even more. No wonder I was so happy after, filled with energy as I went back down. Thank you Machu Picchu. You gave me a precious piece of self-awareness. Thank you diarrhea. You made me realize how strong, crazy and stubborn I am… And I don’t like you!
A practical tip: If possible, take the longer trip, at least 3 days. Machu Picchu has so much to look for that reserve at least half a day to explore.