Machu Picchu: An Intern's Trek through Peru
Sunday, August 10, 2014
After nearly four weeks in Peru as emiLime’s media intern, I began my trek to Machu Picchu. I hadn’t planned on going by myself, but that’s what was going to happen – a prospect I found mildly terrifying. Getting to Machu Picchu is quite the process, whether you hike it or not. Here was my plan – a plane from Lima to Cusco followed by a taxi to Ollantaytambo, the earliest morning train to Aguas Calientes, and finally a bus to Machu Picchu. And so my journey began. I arrived at the Cusco airport, slightly overwhelmed by the flow of people and instantly barraged by eager taxi drivers. I tried the calming breaths my mom kept texting me to practice. She had sent instructions in case I forgot how to breathe, which I nearly did as soon as I reached the dizzying city of more than 11,000 feet.
I picked a taxi and negotiated a price to Ollantaytambo. My Mexican grandfather taught me how to bargain, but after weeks in Lima I was even more of a pro than before. I tried not to fall asleep in the car, but that trick parents use to get babies to sleep - it works on me too. I kept pinching myself, remembering a terrible movie I was recently subjected to when stuck on an overnight bus – Taken. The moral of the story was that young girls traveling alone should be careful in taxis. I fell asleep anyways but was happy to wake up mid-ride surrounded by literally breathtaking countryside.
I arrived at my hostel anxious to walk around the little town of Ollantaytambo. Cobblestone streets, ice cream stands, and the sound of rushing water from the river charmed me instantly. My skin soaked up the first sunlight I had seen in weeks, seemingly nonexistent in Lima’s overcast winter. But something was not right. I was like the nun in Madeline with her sixth sense for things that went wrong. I checked all of my documents and realized that I had made only a reservation for Machu Picchu, which expired after 6 hours – I had no ticket and there was not a single one remaining for the following day, as they are limited to reduce erosion. A horrified version of myself returned to the hostel for advice on what to do next. The manager let me know that there was no problem at all. Apparently, the ticket limit is considered more of a suggestion, much like traffic signs in Lima. Crisis averted. I went to bed at 8:30 and woke up at 3:30 and caught the earliest train to Aguas Calientes.
I arrived to a rainy, eerie morning. The town wasn't crowded yet. The feelings of solitude and peacefulness that come with traveling alone were heightened by the clouds and quiet. I bought my ticket and got on the bus to Machu Picchu, breathing normally for the first time since I had arrived. I found a tour guide, something I highly recommend for a first time visitor. When I walked thought the gates, I expected that postcard picture view, but I couldn’t see much beyond the clouds. What I could see was striking. I was looking down on the sky, each mountaintop peeking through a glowing cloud. As the sun gradually overpowered the rain, it revealed the ruins in the distance. After developing a recent obsession with alpacas and llamas, I was amused to hear my guide say that most of the llamas in Machu Picchu were placed there in the ‘80s to increase tourism. But mostly, I was amazed by the careful and thoughtful organization of an ancient empire, as well as struck by the majestic beauty of a hidden mountain city. I wandered through Machu Picchu until my train came… and went. Despite this little mistake and about 15 others I had made along the way, I had gotten myself to one of the most beautiful places in the world. Traveling through Peru made me find a new kind of independence I didn’t know I had. I waited for the next train and returned to my hostel, feeling accomplished and content with my adventure.
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