I have to say, this is probably one of my favorite accomplished goals so far. It was equal parts challenging and exhilarating. It was both social and incredibly personal. It was exactly what I thought, but somehow exceeded my expectations.
I went to Peru with EF Go Ahead Tours, which was amazing! We visited Lima and Cuzco and traveled throughout the Sacred Valley, learning about traditional Peruvian customs and Spanish influence, and experiencing local food, music, geography, and story-telling. It was my first time in South America and I found the culture and people to be so beautiful. (Full disclosure: I work at EF, so I recognize my opinions of the experience are slightly biased, but I really did have a great time, as did the other travelers in my group!)
As part of the tour, we – of course – visited Machu Picchu. Typically, everyone on tour wakes up early and takes a bus up the mountain together. This would have been unbelievable, too – seeing the mist wrap around the mountains on your ride up, catching the sunrise at the top and watching the light and shadows seep across the ancient landscape.
I feel so lucky because there were a few other travelers that were around my age who wanted to try to hike it! This had been a goal of mine that I didn’t think I would accomplish in this trip so I was so, so excited when others said they wanted to do it too. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
We woke up around 4:30, when it was still dark and cool, to be sure we were on our way before 5:30. We wanted to time it perfectly so we could catch some of the sunrise and would meet our bus with the rest of our group at the top. We gave ourselves around two hours – naively thinking we would make it up much faster than that. Though we beat the bus up, we definitely needed the full time. It is steep! All steps the entire time. Honestly, I knew it would be a tough hike, but I am in pretty good shape and didn’t think it would take as much out of me as it did! I’m going to blame the altitude to an extent… mostly to make myself feel better about it!
Now, there was never a point that I didn’t think we’d make it. It wasn’t too hard that we were considering any alternatives. It’s definitely do-able, but feels like an accomplishment when you finally see the top!
Along the way, the four of us had time to get to know each other better – to exchange stories, to laugh (a lot!), and to cheer each other on. We also had time to ourselves in those moments when we were too breathless to speak. I found myself thinking about all the decisions I have made in my life that brought me to this point – my choice to move away from my family (which is a decision I have to continue to make every day), my determination to leave my first job in NYC- hoping there was something better for me elsewhere, my continual decision to invest my time and money in travel and adventure and learning. I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude (that I know I feel too infrequently) for my body’s ability to carry me to this beautiful place. I think I needed this time for reflection more than I realized. It may have only been a two hour trek, but every step was its own little journey, full of emotion and perspective.
We made it to the top – sweating, panting, and in awe. Machu Picchu is absolutely stunning. I was a little worried at the start of the trip that this would be one of those moments that falls short of expectations – that it could not possibly be as impressive as it seems in the photos. But, if anything, it was better.
Machu Picchu is strong, intimidating, but also tranquil (though it helps we also got there EARLY.) It is the perfect balance between what amazing feats humans can accomplish, but also the power of Earth, of nature. The structures of Machu Picchu have lasted for so long because they do not ignore or try to overpower the effects of nature. Rather, they respect it, work with it. The hike definitely helped to enforce this perspective for us, as we fought altitude, exhaustion, heat and chill with every step. It also framed our perspective of what Inca lives might have been like when they inhabited Machu Picchu – and also why the Spanish never got around to attacking it!
I think you can still enjoy these perspectives from a ride up, too. But for me, the time it took to get to the top – the time it gave me for self-reflection, for getting to know some new friends, for appreciating myself and the beautiful scenery around me – was most valuable. It’s something I’ll remember forever, and is exactly why I keep working on these life goals – to challenge myself, to learn something, to gain perspective and appreciation and gratitude.