The first time I learned about Machu Picchu was in an anthropology class in college. I was mesmerized by how a lost Inca city perched on the side of a mountain in the middle of the Andes was left undiscovered until only 100 years ago. It was a reminder of how small my presence is in this world and how much is left to explore and discover on this earth. PARALLAXploration gave me the perfect opportunity to cross off one inspiring place from my bucket list.
I had 8 days on the itinerary to get to Machu Picchu and back, including flights. I have never seen so many consecutive sunrises as day after day I woke up at dawn to jump on a plane, train or bus to my next destination. I traveled from the busy city of Lima on the coast, to Cusco the ancient Inca capital, Ollantaytambo (a quiet countryside town), and finally Machu Picchu.
My very first impression of Peru was that it is a place bustling with traffic, massive cloudy skies, colorful buildings decorating the skyline, pisco sours, llamas, alpacas and cuy, or guinea pig, a popular Peruvian dish. But after just one day in Peru (once I adjusted to the altitude 12,000ft above sea level and my head stopped spinning), I learned there is so much more to this magical place.
It is evident in the daily lifestyle of the Peruvian people, from the city life to the Quechua villagers, that family and faith are extremely important. And it’s not just faith in what you might immediately think of as “God,” but a deep-rooted faith and respect in the elements we see every day from the sun to the moon, mountains, rain, rivers and animals. These are things I am used to taking for granted back home.
I was deeply inspired by the fact that some of these people live off of 10 Nuevo Sol (Peruvian currency) or the equivalent of roughly $3.50 a day – and that’s on a good day. It was obvious they were truly happy – not exactly the pursuit of happiness I am used to seeing in America. They live off of the land, working hard to farm and grow their own resources while always paying respect to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. What we might look up and see as just a mountain in the distance is actually an Apu, or spirit of the mountains, to the Quechua people. They don’t see an object in the landscape, but a living breathing spirit of their world. Being in Peru for just a week has taught me why it’s important to look at these objects in my own landscape with a new perspective.
One of the most rewarding experiences of the trip was climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu. It was a grueling four-hour trek up and down thousands of ancient stone steps carved into the mountain side by the Incas. It involved crawling through caves and climbing down ladders with 50 foot drops. “Don’t look down” was my mantra of the day. I never would have dared to try something like this back home in California. But hey, you’re only at Machu Picchu once in a lifetime, right? Why not risk that lifetime by climbing a mountain in Peru!
My PARALLAXploration journey has inspired me to get out of my comfort zone, take risks, and look at my surroundings and resources with a new perspective. If the Incas built Machu Picchu on the side of a mountain, there must be a way.
Click on the images below to see more photos from each day on my PARALLAXploration: