I believe I remember the very first time I came across Machu Picchu in media. I was in the living room with my Dad, and he was flicking through channels as he always does, even to this day. I think it was the freeview version of discovery channel that he settled on, and it seemed to be a programme on a faraway country called Peru. I wasn’t entirely clued in on the place, only being about 7 years old, but I’d learned about its location in Geography class and nothing more. My parents have brought me up to have a inquisitve mind, so naturally, I was rather curious as to what was going on. Suddenly, this incredible thing appeared on the screen; ruins covered a mountain with another higher one above it, and it struck me immediately. I believe I asked my Dad, ‘where is that?’ and he said, ‘don’t you know? That’s Machu Picchu.’
Machu Picchu was milling around in my head for years after that little show on the budget discovery channel. I kept saying to myself, ‘I will go there one day, I know I will.’ Little did I know I’d be going before I even turned 21 years old.
A good friend of mine from the Bolivian Express program, Julia, was in Cusco for 5 weeks teaching children and learning Spanish, and of course, she wanted to go too. So, only a week after she had settled, I messaged her saying: ‘Hey, just to let you know – I’m coming to Cusco. Let’s do Machu Picchu.’ I’m quite sure I knocked her for six, as she wasn’t expecting to go anytime soon. But naturally, she said let’s do it, and so a week later I was on a 13-hour night bus to Cusco, and she was ready to greet me at the bus station at the wonderfully early hour of 6am.
I had already been to Cusco with my parents, when I flew from the Amazon to meet them there for our imminent trip to La Paz from the historic Peruvian city. As Julia had her morning Spa
nish lesson, I took a walk round the Plaza de Armas in the tourist area of the city, simply taking it all in. The tourist area has a charm to it that La Paz’s own tourist destination, Sagarnaga, does not; the bricks are large, distinct, although grey in colour and seemingly common, but the churches that lie in between, the bushes and trees that line the Plazas and the wooden edifice balconies attached to these buildings are just beautiful to look at.
After Julia finished her spanish lesson, we went home for lunch then had a wander round the tourist district, stopping at the Chocolate museum for one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had in my entire life. For a while, we sat in one of the smaller Plazas, just taking in the people walking by, the world spinning as we stayed still. We finally returned home to pack, our imminent journey to one of the wonders of the world awaiting us.
We awoke early the next morning, meeting two of Julia’s friends from her spanish school to go the bus terminal that would take us to Santa Maria: a pit stop on our way to the town next to Machu Picchu. For six hours, Julia and I listened almost all of our music, using both of our playlists due to the gruelling six hour journey. When we arrived, we were huddled into a collective taxi to Hidroeléctrica, a small water station on the edge of the train tracks that lead to the ruins. For three hours, we walked 12 kilometres along the tracks to finally find Aguas Calientes, the beautiful town that spans the edge of the valley. We found a cheap hotel at the far end, with a gorgeous view of the river running beside the town. After dinner, we settled into bed once more, ready to climb to Machu Picchu early the next morning.
And so, we rose at 5am to begin our ascent to the ruins. Our two friends quickly left Julia and I behind, the altitude hitting us rather hard. My knee also decided to start playing up a quarter of the way up, but I was determined. For a moment during a quick water break, I remembered that tv show, seeing the pictures of the ruins and marvelling as a small child. It spurred me on as I got up, got Julia up and we continued on. At what was almost the very end, we met a man selling water for half the price of at the top, and the first thing he said to us was ‘welcome to Machu Picchu’. This will sound extremely corny – but then again, when am I not an emotional fountain on this blog – but I had never felt more proud of myself in my life. It was a life dream being accomplished, and when I got to the top and finally got through the gates to the ruins, I almost limp-ran to the first viewpoint. My smile was massive; I couldn’t believe I’d finally made it. My knee hurt like hell, but at that point I honestly didn’t care.
We walked around the ruins, and it was like walking through history. The Incas were a proud people, and Machu Picchu is one of the very few remaining large settlements that remains even partially intact. As Julia and I made our way through the ruins, I saw a beautiful green valley one side, and a breathtaking snowy mountain range the other, miles in the distance. It was a beautiful way to spend a morning I’d been waiting for for many years of my life.
After two hours, we finally caught the bus back down, my knee telling me not to walk the way back. However, we still had the three hour walk back to Hidroeléctrica ahead of us. We powered through, making it in under the time we’d walked the other way, and we couldn’t have been happier to see cars. Julia had previously mentioned to me about some thermal springs that had been turned into baths near Santa Teresa, an hour from Hidroeléctrica. So, after a long, hard walk, it was obvious we were desperate to check them out. We arrived in less than an hour, and entered the baths to some absolutely gorgeous looking warm, clean pools of water. I didn’t actually have a swimming costume with me, so I decided to be brave – I stripped off my hiking gear, and quickly ran to the pool only wearing a sports bra and boyshorts. Getting into the pool was, as Julia predicted, the most relaxing thing we could have done after a hike like we’d done. We let our muscles relax, and took in the beautiful views around the pools, which were almost etched into the side of the valley. After an hour, we decided it was probably time to get back to reality, and so showered and left the pools feeling a little more rejuvenated than before.
The bus ride back to Cusco was long, and Julia was asleep for most of it. I, however, couldn’t seem to shut my eyes. The valleys we drove through were just mesmerising, and left me wishing I had a camera good enough to take photos of it. I stared out of the window until we came across Ollyantaytambo, when Julia was promptly woken up by a rather jerky stop from our driver. We both sat and waited out the final hour of travel, gladly falling into a taxi when we finally reached the terminal.
I had to wake up early the next morning for my flight back to La Paz, and so I packed my things and left Julia to sleep as I reflected on my amazing weekend. I could not have believed I had just done what I did. A real dream of mine, one of the most important ones on my dreamlist, had finally been achieved.
To Julia, I’d just like to say thank you so much for joining me. It would not have been the same without you, and it was a pleasure travelling with you.
Folks, I apologise for the tardiness of this update, but duty calls when you work for a magazine. Next, I’ll be giving you the lowdown on La Paz, a city I have enjoyed living in immensely for the last four months. With only one left, I’ll be reflecting on my time in this wonderful city, and on my whole year in general. Until the next, amigos.