Machu Picchu- Once Impossible, Now Unforgettable

 “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
~San Francisco de Asis 

I feel blessed to have experienced many awe inspiring places during our travels. Places of such beauty that they can’t be captured in a photograph. Places of wonder, appreciation and so magnificent they leave you speechless…places that literally take your breath away. While the hike to Kelingking Beach in Nusa Penida, is by far the most beautiful and challenging, nothing has ever moved me like hiking Huayna Picchu. When you look at the famous photo of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu or also called Wayna Picchu, is that tall mountain in the background.

In middle school I watched a movie on Machu Picchu and after the movie was over I was so intrigued, I found Peru on the map. I remember thinking it would be impossible for anyone from Weed to ever travel that far, especially me. In the beginning of my career as a teacher, I also taught lessons on Machu Picchu and it would always remind me of that movie day and even then, as an adult, it seemed impossible. 

Earlier this summer when we started researching places to go Jim said, how would you like to stay in one of only four bungalows on the water, in a place that you can only get to by a boat? Oh how I love this man! I immediately pictured a beautiful Caribbean island and answered yes, before hearing .....on the Amazon.  WTF!  Then he added, we can also see Machu Picchu…. and that is how he convinced me to stay in the Amazon.

As I started researching Machu Picchu I learned there were different options, you can't just walk through the entire ruins. There are four circuits and you have to choose one. Now, I’ve been waiting many years for this opportunity and tickets sell out quickly so how do I know which circuit is the best? We chose Circuit 4 + Wayna Picchu and when we purchased our tickets in early summer there were only 11 out of 50 tickets available for that time slot. 

We arrived in Aguas Calientes two days before with the sun shining and blue skies. It is a beautiful little town surrounded by large bluffs, a running creek and filled with many backpackers and people from all over the world who want to see one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  I didn’t even care that we were staying in a stinky hostel-like hotel, where I am sure I was the oldest. We made it here without any problems and in a couple of days I was going to see something I never dreamed I’d see. 

The night before my stomach was in knots and it didn’t help when my sister in law shared an article, “How to Powder Your Nose at Machu Picchu.” This only added to my anxiety level. I already knew from everything I read that there was only one bathroom at Machu Picchu; it is right before you enter the ruins and there is no going out once you are in. Terri and I decided we were not going to let our bladders ruin this experience, therefore we would wear black and if necessary, we would do the unthinkable and pee our pants. We made Jim promise not to make us laugh, he agreed because I think he was worried about shitting his pants. 

Seriously, how does one stay hydrated on a hike without using the bathroom? How do you eat and have energy in the morning without having to do a number two? So that night we filled our bellies with carbs and lots of water.

My Mom Conquering Mt. Shasta

My heart pounded as I laid in bed trying to sleep. I wondered if I would be able to do this hike? Was I in good enough shape? I wasn’t worried about the elevation. We had been staying in Cusco which has an elevation of 11,150 feet and Huayna Picchu was 8,835 feet, so I felt acclimated.  I thought of my mom and how she must have felt the night before climbing Mt. Shasta.  She could do anything she set her mind to and I am her daughter so that brought me some peace.

After a restless night's sleep filled with wild dreams and getting up numerous times to use the bathroom, we woke at 5:30 to rain and a dense fog. We had a breakfast of toast, thick black coffee and a few sips of water. I was on pins and needles the whole morning pacing around, what if we do the hike and can’t see anything? Jim kept reminding me to breathe, relax and enjoy the journey. 

We bought our bus tickets the day before and buses leave every five minutes. We scouted out the line the previous day and they were long, but moved quickly. With that said, I decided I wanted to be at the bus stop at 7:15 even though we wouldn’t be allowed to enter Machu Picchu until 9:00.

We arrived at the bus stop and walked to the end of the long long line. As we got closer there was a person checking and stamping tickets. When she checked our tickets she said we were too early and told us to wait in front of the 9:00 a.m. sign up the road. So we did. 

I was so worried we wouldn’t get there on time. It’s a half an hour bus ride and if we left at 9:00, would that give us enough time? We had to be at the warden checkpoint by 10:00 to start the hike.  I asked five different workers who reassured me it would be fine. Needless to say they have it down to a science. I was the first in line at the sign and was not going to let anyone cut in front of us, I practically stood on the sign. My legs were shaking uncontrollably as we waited and at 8:30, we boarded the bus to Machu Picchu.

My dream was about to come true and I was filled with excitement, nervousness and anxiety for this experience. Will it be everything I hoped for and will actually being there be more inspiring than learning and teaching about it? My nerves were shot on the bus ride up.  The road consisted of hairy switch backs in big buses with huge drop offs.  The expert drivers knew the road so well they drove fast rarely using their brakes. I had a window seat and I just kept my eyes straight ahead.

We used the bathroom one last time before we entered the gate for circuit 4 at 9:01 after showing our tickets and passports. Everything I read said it takes about 25 minutes to get to the warden’s hut and the paths are clearly marked. As we walked through the fog covered ruins of circuit four, I was afraid we would miss the sign or get stuck behind one of the millions of people doing tours. We arrived at the warden’s gate at 9:30, a half an hour before entrance time and they were turning people away who missed their time slot. Looking back we could have taken a little more time, but there wasn’t much to see with the fog covering everything.

At the warden's gate we had to show our passports, tickets and sign in: name, age, sex, time and signature and then we were off. At that point adrenaline kicked in and I was no longer nervous about peeing or the hike. I was now worried about the fog and whether it would clear up.

I had read there were steep steps in the beginning and again when you get close to the summit. That was not true! Majority of the trail was steep steps, steps and more steps. My calves and thighs begged me to stop. My lungs were burning and I was breathing hard, but determination and hope, hope that I'd see something kept me going up.

As the first group of people were coming down I asked if it was beautiful and there were mixed responses; some said yes, some just replied I hope the fog clears for you. I kept telling myself, remember Alisa, it's the journey. 

Going up the mountain I seemed to find this extra energy or push to power through the burn. So many steps and some that seemed humanly impossible unless I climbed on all fours to get to the next step. I hoped with each switch back to catch a glimpse of anything but fog or steps. NOPE!

My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in my ears and I kept telling myself you are here, be present at this moment no matter if you get the view or not.  As we reached the summit it was filled with jagged rocks and people everywhere just waiting, waiting for the fog to clear. We scooted out onto the ledge claiming a small portion with barely enough room for the three of us. We sat there scrunched together unable to move in either direction, just hopeful for a glimpse below.  Fog completely surrounded us, there was a cool breeze that was refreshing. I kept trying to catch my breath and recognize something below. Then it happened, the fog slowly started to drift and I was able to make out spots of tiny green far below. 

The fog was hovering over the citadel and if I squinted hard I could sort of make out some formations. Sitting there with Jim on one side, Terri on the other and my mom’s faith rock in my hand the fog suddenly lifted and there it came, in full view, in all its beauty, the magnificent Machu Picchu. It was like the Inca gods slowly unwrapped this magnificent present for us to see, to share in its glory. 

The lump slowly started to form in my throat and I tried hard not to sob, I was overwhelmed with emotions. We all had our cameras ready and in that moment instead of snapping pictures we just sat, sat in awe. As a butterfly flew by I couldn't help but let the tears slide down my face. I leaned my head on Jim's shoulder and let the tears fall, ever so grateful for this moment. Without a word spoken, Jim grabbed my hand and we sat there in silence taking it all in. I felt so grateful, it was definitely one of the most rewarding moments of my life. 

Slowly the other tourists started leaving the summit as we continued to sit there reluctant to leave.  At this time I felt humbled by my life. I thought of the moments of joy, sadness, accomplishments, disappointments, failures, heartaches, successes and happiness. I thought of my mom. I thought of my children and my grandchildren hoping they always believe they can do the impossible. That their life is filled with experiences of complete awe, where they will see the beauty and appreciation of life and experience it deep within their soul. 

We were the last people to leave the mountain. The fog was a blessing because on our way down we were able to see all the beauty we missed, making us forget about our burning, tired weak muscles. When we reached the exit hut and I signed out I couldn’t help but notice I was among the oldest people on the page. How did that happen? 

That night as I laid in bed, completely exhausted both physically and mentally I felt proud. Proud of that 12 year old girl who thought it was impossible. I feel like the most beautiful experiences are the ones that make me sick to my stomach, the ones that make me doubt myself, the ones that challenge me, the ones that are hard and scary because feelings like these lead me to do what I feel is impossible. 

Machu Picchu will always be a reminder for me to continue to do the impossible things; to live life being humble and grateful for the experiences and moments of life's journey.


Popular posts from this blog

Mercado de Tlacolula

Mazatlán, again..

Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico