Ancient Wonders- A Call Of Machu Picchu and Aztec Civilization
By Caitlin Lee
It doesn't take much convincing for people to understand why Machu Picchu is such a highly visited landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just look at any Google image of the ruins and it's clear that it is a wildly breathtaking structure. Since I was a teenager, I was always taken with ancient ruins and civilizations. In fact, I took a class in college on the Aztec civilization and some day hope to keep exploring the ancient world in Mexico and beyond. First, though, I was lucky enough to book a trip to Peru last year and discover the Incan world in all its glory. The sight of Machu Picchu appearing before me as I climbed up the mountainous terrain is an image I will not easily shake from my memory.
I woke up before dawn to catch my early morning Peru Rail ride from the Poroy station outside of Cusco. I had pre-purchased my train tickets the day before in Cusco and I was thoroughly grateful for following that advice. There was an extremely long line that morning at the ticket booth in Poroy and I would have missed my train if I had to wait! It was still dark when the train pulled out of the station, which was perfect for resting my eyes a bit longer. I had a long day ahead of me. Then, as we got further out into the countryside, the sun started to rise pulling me from my sleep. The train car was covered in windows- even the roof of it had windows- which offered perfect viewing of the marvelous Peruvian land. The rolling green hills and bustling rivers glistened in the light of morning. The landscape changed before my eyes as we sped towards the ancient world.
Upon arriving in the town of Aguas Calientes, the town that rests below Machu Picchu, I was taken aback by the fog that had seemed to settle over the town buildings and the mountains above. The light layer of mist and clouds gave the day even more of an air of mystery and wonder than I had anticipated. Initially, I was scared that coming during rainy season was risky but it turned out that it only made the experience more mystical. After dropping my bags at the hostel, I was excited to start heading up to the ruins. There is a bus that takes tourists up to the entranceway. However, since I was unable to hike the Incan Trail because it's closed during the month of February, I thought I would make up for it by hiking up to the top from there.
The high elevation caused my breath to quicken. It seemed harder to grasp for air during the climb. Activity took more effort than I was used to because of the lower amounts of oxygen but I preserved. Each step was a step forward towards something I had only dreamed of one day seeing. Each step took me simultaneously forward in location but backwards in time to the Incan Empire. Each step drew me upwards into the heavens. I have always loved nature and exploring but I truly believe that this trek was the moment I realized my true passion for hiking. It the turning point for my future endeavors. The challenge of the elevation made the climb to the top even more satisfying. When I finally reached the entry, and made my way into Machu Picchu, my brain couldn't fully process that I had made it. My eyes could see it but my brain thought I was dreaming. I had flown, trained, hiked and climbed to get there but it still felt like I was imagining it. The stones of the ruins seem to pulse with an energy of past builders, residents, explorers, and visitors. It's almost impossible to walk around and not wonder about the rise and fall of this great empire. The history is around every corner. It swept me up and gave me pause to contemplate history and human impact on it.
I took my time to fully wander around the ruins and explore every inch. I would be back again tomorrow for part of the day but I knew this first day would leave the strongest impression on me. I wanted to take it all in as best as I could. I wanted my mental image of the place to be full and honest. I tried my best to relish the moment because as far as life goals go, this was a peak. I had booked a pass to hike up to the neighboring mountain of Machu Picchu Mountain. It was another long, strenuous hike but the views at the top were well worth it. It was amazing to have an aerial view and a new perspective to the ruins. Seeing it from above made me wonder even more how the Incans were even able to construct it. Climbing up into the steep mountain without having to carry giant stones and materials was hard enough! I am still not entirely sure how they did it. It truly is a man-made world wonder.
As the mist blew across the mountains and valley below, I never wanted to climb back down and return to present day life. Looking down at Machu Picchu from that mountain peak was something I will cherish forever. The ancient world had truly swept me up and enveloped me in its beauty. I can safely say that I climbed the mountain of the past and returned a changed person.