Guest post by Katie Tappa, Travel Consultant – Green Bay
It’s 3:15 a.m. and my cell phone alarm clock goes off.
At first, I think it must be a mistake, this is ridiculous. Then I remember, today is the day—I am visiting Machu Picchu.
I hurriedly brush my teeth and start putting on the layers of clothing I laid out the night before. It’s fall in Peru in an El Niño year, and, if all my travel experience has taught me anything, it’s anything can and will happen when it comes to the weather. The morning will likely be bone-chillingly cold and the afternoon could be hot, humid and sunny. So far, my time in Peru has been dreary and wet, so I don’t get my hopes up, but I am prepared for anything.
By some miracle, my group is on time and down in the lobby at 4 a.m. I spend the first hours of the morning with my group in a queue spanning several city blocks hoping to be one of the first 200 travelers on the 36 buses to Machu Picchu. I know if I don’t make the first round of buses, it’s at least another hour in line waiting for them to come back down the mountain. The wait would eliminate any chance I have of seeing the sunrise over the city of Machu Picchu. The Andes are so tall and at such a high altitude, they create their own atmosphere, much like at Denali in Alaska. I’ve been to Denali and I know my odds of seeing the sunrise is slim. In fact, the odds of seeing the summit of Machu Picchu mountain is fair at best, but I don’t care. I know any chance—any sliver of hope—is worth waking up at this godforsaken hour to try. By even more luck, my group and I make it on one of the first busses to Machu Picchu.
We arrive and it is go time. As our group leader attempts to organize a group of 16— some have to use a restroom, some have to put on more layers to combat the cold, etc. It seems not everyone was as prepared for this adventure as I. I know I have about 20 minutes and A LOT of stairs between me and a Machu Picchu sunrise. I am admittedly impatient. I look over at a lovely traveling companion I’ve met along the way, she nods in agreement. I ask our tour guide if I can get a head start. He’d like it if I stayed and waited for the group, but he understands and begrudgingly agrees. I grab my ticket and blitz to the next line. Within a few minutes, I’m in.
Now, the work really begins. I start the trek of hauling myself up to the viewpoint. I rush in too fast and within a half dozen flights of stairs, I am convinced my heart is going to give out. (That’s if my lungs don’t explode first.) I don’t care, I dig deep and pull out everything I have for the next set of stairs and the next and the next and the next. Until—I reach the famous “Guard Tower” of Machu Picchu. As I stand at the classic postcard view of the Incan site, it’s still hidden by the darkness of the surrounding mountains. I think to myself, “you’ve made it.”
I am one of only a handful of people there yet. The sky is all around me and it is crystal clear—bright and blue for the time on my entire trip. I stand in complete awe, not sure of what to say to anyone, not sure of what to do. I just bask in the beauty and pristine condition. Reality sets in—I am in Machu Picchu; do something!
I start to take a million photos because I know I should but, I also know they will never do justice to the scene in front of me.
I climb a little higher because I still have time. The view gets even better. It’s here that I realize Machu Picchu is so much grander than I expected her to be. She sprawls out over the landscape and touches far beyond what any postcard has ever implied. I am minutes away from the sunrise. I hear familiar voices and am delighted to see the rest of my group has made it just in time, as well. They climb to join me. It’s where we watch the sun peak over the mountain—fast into the sky, yet slow and crawling across the landscape of the city. As each moment passes, a different area is illuminated. Revealing pieces of the puzzle I hadn’t been able to really see before. The exhaustion and frustration I felt back on the stairs have faded completely under the weight of this new memory. I continue to take a million photos.
Tears well up in my eyes as I realize I’ve done it. Now the fun really begins….