It was time for me to finally lay eyes on the mystical Machu Picchu, a place I had always heard about in awed tones, by the people who had been there– although I knew little about. I flew from Lima to Cuzco, high in the Andes at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. When I got off the plane, I felt winded, dizzy, had a bad headache. I was told that I had altitude sickness and was handed a hot cup of coca tea. After several cups, I felt light and chipper, myself again (While there, I drank many cups of this delicious brew… outlawed in the U.S. as it comes from the coca leaf – translated by the US immigration as cocaine). It kept me well… It kept me thriving… Without it, I could not have conquered the altitude.
Cuzco was founded in the 15th century by the Incas, and then later vanquished by the Spaniards. I stayed in an ancient Monastery (1595) the Hotel Monasterio del Cuzco, and at breakfast I heard chanting… beautiful, peaceful chanting – and drank coca tea. Blissful is how I started my day.
After breakfast, I boarded the Vistadome train for the ride to Machu Picchu. We saw from our windows lush jungle vegetation. The train tracks followed the winding Sacred River. We watched serious looking climbers who were trekking the very extreme, 4-day hike up the giant mountain to Machu Picchu. They did not glance our way, probably thinking how foolish we were ensconced in our leather seats. Once we reached the little village below the mountain, we boarded a bus that took us up a road so narrow, so bumpy, so utterly rutted… a trail, it seemed, for llama’s, not buses. Whenever another bus came in the opposite direction, since they were closest to the mountain and we were dangling over a cliff that seemed to soar to an endless bottom, the other bus would lay sideways against the mountain to let us pass. The lady next to me quietly crossed herself. After a half an hour of climbing, we reached the rustic and evergreen Sanctuary Lodge, which is right on the property of Machu Picchu. My garden door opened out onto a lawn and there looming before me was the great mountain.
The Incas built Machu Picchu in the 1400’s. It was the last bastion of the Inca Empire. It was unknown to the gold hungry Spanish conquerors and finally swallowed whole by the dense jungles– until 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham re-discovered it. Part of its fascination is due to the lack of precise information about the city’s origin and why the Incas built, occupied and then abandoned it. We do know that they worshiped Nature– the mountain, the sky and their sacred river far below.
I walked a short distance from the Sanctuary to the gate, showed my ticket and passport and entered. I walked through a stone-like structure and then, like the great Petra in Jordan, walked into the wide-open light and literally gasped out loud. How does one describe perfection? You don’t… so I won’t try. But I will say that Machu Picchu is located high, high, very high up on a mountain in Peru’s most desolate jungles… with only the faint sound of the Sacred River far below, rushing its way toward the Amazon. There was climbing about on broken ancient stone stairs with nothing to hold on to except the hand of God. There were plunging terraces, clouds so near, you try to reach out and touch, an energy force that puts you Here – Now – In your body – Out of your body – A part of nature and time, with a kind of brilliant and mystical light… like walking a tightrope with no net, in the blazing sun… shaking yourself in the dream you must be dreaming. And if you are lucky as I was to be one of a few to sit on a little sheltered wooden bench– and look out at this abandoned city, its ruins, caught in mid-breath in the middle of a cloud forest… stretched out like visions from another life, another time, another body. And the Mountain – that mountain… a force, a power that seemed almost alive, as though that giant rock might have roots and be growing itself from the earth.
I kept staring at that mountain… wondering why it moved me so, brought me to tears. Why it made me feel so peaceful and yet so in awe, almost fearful. And then I realized, it was of course, the face of God– looking out of that ancient massive rock. And I understood that that must be why the Incas must have built their city here… They felt it too.
After a day and a morning with the city, like a lover leaving her warm bed, I found myself disorientated and lost… I was back on the famous bus ride, only this time we were the ones to lay ourselves flat against the mountain. The train ride back was on the beautiful Hiram Bingham Orient Express… There were candles, good silverware… the seat was in the dining car and the ride home consisted of a five-course meal with Peru’s famous Pisco Sour drink. A liquor so tangy and sweet that I fairly swooned.
Then in quick order, from Cuzco to Lima. From Lima to Los Angeles. The city of Angels.
For days after Manchu Picchu, in my own bed, I had strange dreams that I could not remember. Except for the wings… over that Mountain, with great wings.