Machu Picchu Peru

Machu Picchu - Searching for Hiram Bingham

When you buy a backpack, you’ve already made a decision likely to impact you for the rest of your life, although you may have not realized it yet. I had finished my university career and like most aimless youths, I decided that it was time to begin exploring. I had little in the way of career prospects so I was hoping the time abroad would provide me with a moment of clarity.

Peru

I don’t know why I chose Peru. What I did know was that it wasn’t Europe. As a Canadian, backpacking through Europe after school was as commonplace as getting your drivers permit the moment the clock struck midnight on your 16th birthday. I needed to explore somewhere few people I knew had ever been. I needed a place that when I told people of my intentions it was met with a questioning look.

Hiram Bingham was an American professor who’s thirst for the unknown led him to the largely untouched lands of South America. It was during his journeys in the early 1900s that he first came across Machu Picchu, a village perched high in the mountains regarded as one of the last resting places of the Incas. The more I read on Bingham, the more fascinated I was. It is somewhat of a misconception that Bingham actually discovered (or rediscovered as the case may be) the ancient Inca city but there was little argument that he brought it to the attention of the world.

To get there, Bingham didn’t have a train, or a bus. He just had his two feet and that sense of adventure. I had to go. I had to see Machu PIcchu.

But it had to be on my terms.

I had to walk there just as Bingham and thousands of others had walked before me.

I worked my way through Peru solely by bus. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. I was actually quite impressed by the country’s transport system as a whole. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about being videotaped prior to boarding each bus, the “Peruvian black box” I figured. For whatever reason I am always compelled to make a face in front of the camera. My parents will tell you that photographs of my childhood are all but ruined.

I arrived in Cuzco in the early morning. By the time I reached the city regarded as the starting point for all journeys to Machu Picchu, I belonged to a group of four travellers.

As it goes with exploring, you’re bound to meet like-minded individuals along the way.

You’ll share stories, get advice, and eventually part ways a better person. The group I was travelling with included a Belgian and two Swedes. Using our reasonably large number to our advantage, we secured a couple of discounted rooms around Plaza de Armas, the centre for tourism.

The Inca trail is the traditional route taken towards Machu Picchu. It belonged to a network of roads created during the rule of the Incan Empire. The road stretched from Ecuador to Argentina. One of those branches of roads was the road to Machu Picchu. However, as with all things traditional: if you want to do it, you have to not only pay for it but book it well in advance.

Peru In The Clouds

I was without a booking and little money.

But I hadnʼt travelled this distance to not go a little further.

As a group, the four of us agreed to take an alternative route to Machu Picchu at a fraction of the cost. The area in and around Plaza de Armas boasted many tour operators. The fees for hiking along the Inca trail certainly include trail upkeep costs as well as the “tradition” premium mentioned before. The route we chose was the Salkantay Trek, at four days it was one day longer than the traditional Inca route.

Food, tents, and admission to Machu Picchu were covered by the tour operator, which left the most daunting task to us: hiking. The hike was not for the faint of heart. The first day was deceptive. The weather was beautiful, the pace was reasonable and the terrain was not too arduous. We set up camp at the base of snow capped mountains. The weather would drop to near freezing at night we gathered by a fire and swapped stories while we slowly finished a bottle of rye I had brought along. Mount Salkantay loomed in the distance. I would worry about it tomorrow.

The next day was strenuous. We completed mountain passes at heights upwards of 4900m. I was glad that I had arrived in Cuzco days before in order to adjust to the altitude. In the distance, you could hear rushes of snow storm down the nearby mountains. Concerned, I asked our guide if we were in any danger. “Probably not.”

Comforting.

The next two days en route to Auguas Calientes, and the base of Machu Picchu was a shock to the senses. We climbed to dizzying heights only to descend deep into the the lush forest along the Salkantay and Urubamba River. We crossed rivers aboard small crates suspended by a single cable. The cart was capable of only taking two at a time, it was terrifying.

Peru Base Camp

And the rain.

The third day of hiking was the longest. Tragically it was also the wettest. Peru has only two seasons: wet and dry. Ideally, one would want to make the journey at the start of the dry season in April or May. Not late October, the start of the wet season as I found out.

Never in my life had I been battered by rain as badly as on the longest day of hiking towards Machu Picchu. There were times when I had to simply just stop and be in awe of the downpour that was not only destroying my only clothes, but also my spirits. But I pressed on. By the time we reached Aguas Calientes, I was in a perpetual dampness.

The girls in our group immediately went to our hostel to dry their things. I decided that I would explore the town before drying my things.

Aguas Calientes is like many Peruvian towns that are flush with tourism dollars. Lots of merchants selling their wares, schoolchildren selling postcards, beggars, they all seem to know where the money is. Fortunately for me, that groups seemed to recognize that money wasn’t something that I had. Exhausted from our trek but still eager for what lay ahead, we went to bed early in hopes of catching the sun rise at the top of Machu Picchu.

The hostel was a welcome change from the tents we had been sleeping in for the last three nights. I woke up the next morning still in darkness. My body wanted me to stay in bed. One last walk I told it.

To get up to Machu Picchu, there are newly developed roads to carry high-end coaches but beyond that was a rock staircase, and that staircase had been there long before the first Model T rolled off the Ford assembly line. The steep staircase was near overgrown at some parts but I pushed through.

When I first stepped through the gates of Machu Pichu I was in awe. It goes without saying. How an ancient civilization could have built such intricate structures at the top of a mountain is something I still think about to this day. The morning fog lifted revealing even more of the city to us. The major tour operators hadn’t yet arrived so I felt fortunate to explore in relative solitude. The stonework, drainage systems, farming infrastructure was all very interesting to me.

I sat on a rock for the better part of two hours overlooking the ancient Incan city wondering whether it was the journey or the destination of Machu Picchu that I would speak most fondly of were I to reflect on it years later.

For all of Machu Picchu’s beauty, I will never forget that rain.

Facebook

Twitter

Comments