llama standing in the ruins

Sacred Valley, Peru: Machu Picchu

We have returned from our trek to Machu Picchu.  I am relaxing on our bed, a small glass of beer held between my knees as I type.  Jacob is lying next to me, spent from his trek up Wayna Picchu (aka Huayna Picchu) early this morning.  He spent the rest of the day with me and the girls exploring the ruins. I am worried he has caught the cold the girls are both struggling with or perhaps he just pushed himself too hard today.

We are staying in our one-room hostel with a private bathroom in Aguas Calliente.  There are mixed opinions on whether or not you should even stay in Aguas Calliente.  We read that there is really nothing special about this town except for the transit up to the ruins.  Many people take the train in early from Ollantaytambo, head up to the ruins for the day and then back to Ollantay later in the evening.  That seemed like an extremely long day and there is no way we want to push the girls that hard or ourselves for that matter.  Therefore, we are embracing Aguas Calliente where we have reached the ultimate in tourist destinations.  Expensive food and water and people on the street hustling to get you to eat at their establishment.

There are hot springs nearby but after reading recent reviews we decided to pass because they were described as more like lukewarm springs with questionable sanitation. This hostel is, well…it’s ok.  The rooms and bathrooms are clean but the kitchen is grimy and has a funky smell.  Every building around here, including this one, seems to be in some state of construction (or maybe deconstruction).  However, the ability to come in on a later train from Ollantaytambo, get a good nights rest, explore the ruins all day and rest before taking the train back in the morning is worth it, especially for the girls.

Town of Aguas Calliente with river running through the middle and mountains in backgroundI suppose if you had a bit more to spend, you could stay in one of the hotels at the top of the hill that seems to have an amazing view of the mountains which practically sit on top of this village.  They are huge, rounded, dome like structures some with magnificent, sheer cliffs on the some of the sides.  It is beautiful here, lush and green with vegetation. This location is what they call the “eye brow” of the amazon.  There are jungle-like trees, succulent plants and tropical flowers; much different than in Ollantaytambo.  I half expect to see monkeys swinging in the trees.  The town has a river that runs through the middle and has steep walkways on either side filled with restaurants, small markets and tourist shops.

Jacob snuck out early this morning to do his climb.  When we woke a couple hours later, the girls were quite angry with him for leaving them behind.  They didn’t quite understand the enormity of the hike up Wayna Picchu.   I packed a lunch, snacks, and water for all of us.  After getting myself and the girls ready, we headed for the bus to take us up to the ruins.  Machu Picchu has been a bucket list place for me for as long as I can remember.  As a warm up to the amount of stairs in the ruins, you first climb many flights of stairs from where the buses drop you off to the entrance of the grounds.  I felt a sense of urgency and excitement to get to the top but had to temper that to go at an appropriate pace for the girls.  At last we reached the top and the postcard scene of Machu Picchu lay before us.  It was a beautiful sunny day with clouds high in the sky.  Much the same as I felt the first time I traveled outside of North America and saw the Eiffel Tower, a sense of awe and disbelief poured over me.  There is a palpable tranquility that permeates the air in the Sacred Valley and it seems to culminate here at Machu Picchu.

Before heading out, I did some reading about the ruins and one site in particular caught my attention.  The Intihuatana Stone or “Hitching Post of the Sun” is high atop a hill and looks directly at Wayna Picchu.  It was designed to “hitch the sun at the two equinoxes” and is thought to be a “precise indicator of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods” (information taken from www.sacredsites.com)  The Incan people had several of these stones scattered throughout their territory.  They believed that if a person touched their forehead to the stone they would be opened to the Spirit world.  large carved stone in the shape of a tower with mountains in the backgroundThe Spaniards systematically destroyed all of the Intihuatana stones during their conquest but because they never found it, the one at Machu Picchu is still intact.  When the stones were destroyed, the Incan people believed the deities would no longer reside in that area.  So, all who know me well know that of course this is exactly where I want to go.  If this stone has not been destroyed, then the magic is still there.  As we ascended the top of the hill and viewed the stone, I was immediately washed with tranquility and could feel the vibration from the sacred mountain of Wayna Picchu and that shrine.  Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to touch my forehead to the stone but I did reach out and touch it with my hand and was immediately reprimanded by a staff person standing nearby.  I felt a profound connection with the earth and the Great Spirit, Universal Energy, God, Love or whatever the name, I felt It all around me.  I was literally tingling from head to foot.

A couple of days ago we received some heartbreaking news that Jacob’s dear Grandmother, Shirley Martin, was hospitalized due to pneumonia and kidney failure.  She is embarking on the journey of death and many family and friends are surrounding her right now.  This news hung in the air for me as we entered the ruins.  I kept her with me all day, speaking to her about the impact she has had on me with her belief of living in love, acceptance of others, extreme, sometimes dirty, sense of humor and generosity of spirit.  I immediately felt a connection with her when we first met.  She made a point of developing a relationship with me by calling, emailing, and seeking me out at family gatherings.  I sent so many prayers to Wayna Picchu to help her on her journey; to bring her peace and feel my love, all of our love.  I hope she felt my presence across the miles.

Tree with ruins and mountains all around
Feeling Shirley’s presence

The entirety of Machu Picchu is about five square miles. I think we probably hiked three of these miles up and down SO MANY STAIRS.  If the girls were even one year younger, we could not have accomplished it.  They were driven by their intrigue and curiosity to hear the stories of the Incan people and each got to pick the ruin they wanted to see most. This helped keep them from thinking about their tired legs.  The girls would probably say their favorite part was getting up close to some llamas that were grazing on a terrace.  Mackenzie seemed to pick the favorite grass of one particular llama and made a new friend. Mackenzie feeding a llama Now, I as I look at my family laying in bed, the girls bingeing on TV shows they haven’t seen in 2 months, Jacob lying next to me and my own body feeling the fatigue, I know we had a profoundly spectacular day.