*** Cultural Note: The rainbow colored flag is the the Incan/Andean flag. You see it hung everywhere in the Andes. The picture of me with the flag is on top of Machu Picchu, the highest mountain point in the Machu Picchu area.
The second day of our Cusco trip was spent in one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Hidden in the majestic Andes is Machu Picchu, a lost Incan settlement and ceremonial site. If one comes to Peru, one must go to Machu Picchu; it is to Peru what the Great Pyramids are to Egypt.
That being said, it was incredible. Even as I write about it, the experience of Machu Picchu in its majestic and solitude nature, sinks in. The Andes are the perfect location for this mysterious settlement, because the Andes are the most mysterious and rugged mountains I have ever seen (and I have seen a few mountains!)
To get to Machu Picchu one must do this:
1. Take the Incan Rail, the most magical train I have ever been on full of mate de coca and chocolates, up to the city of Aguas Calientes
2. Arrive at the city of Aguas Calientes (which just opened up again in May after horrible flooding) and take a bus up the switch backs to Machu Picchu
3. Arrive at the entrance site of Machu Picchu and climb up fights of stairs for about 5 minutes.
4. Turn the corner around some rocks and have your breath taken away at the site of Machu Picchu.
5. From here, feel free to explore the settlement of Machu Picchu, and hike up either Machu Picchu, the mountain, or Hyuana Picchu, the other mountain.
First, we toured the Machu Picchu ruins, and then we were set free to hike. The settlement of Machu Picchu is built literally into the mountain and on either side are two mountains: Machu Picchu (which means old mountain and is the highest point of the area) and Hyuana Picchu (which means young peak and though it is not as high up, it has very small paths which makes it a challenge!) I hiked Machu Picchu to the highest point. It was the hardest thing I have ever physically done, but it was absolutely worth it. When we began the hike, it began to rain, which is rare as it is the dry season. It rained all the way until I reached the top. Also, the hike up is all stairs and stones, and the altitude makes it difficult to breathe. My friends and I had to chew coca leaves and smell peppermint ointment to open up our lungs. Sometimes we would run into the Andean hiking guides in their traditional garb. While I was doubling over from fatigue, they would breeze on by and say a friendly “Hola!” It was quite comical and inspired me to make it up the mountain.
The experience of hiking in the rain, seeing the peaks rise and fall hidden by clouds of mist, chewing coca leaves, and finally reaching the top and seeing the rugged Andes in full view was an experience with not only good people, but God as well. When I saw creation on top of the world, something in my heart bursted forth and I had to worship the Creator. Again, God, thank you for mountains and beauty, and thank you for giving us hearts to feel alive!
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest.