Guest post by Carrie Newhouse.
When I was 15 going on 16, I got my passport. Unlike most Texas residents, I skipped over the fairly short drive to Mexico and went all the way to Peru. Why? Well, mostly because Peru sounded totally amazing. Also, my church was not going on a mission trip to Mexico. We were going to Peru.
I had 2 years of high school Spanish, 200 bucks, too many clothes, 1 other teenage girl, and 13 adults with me on this ten day journey. I got sick. I got vertigo. I think I ate some dog. I lost my last 80 bucks. My legs were devoured by little black bugs, itched like hell, and took 3 months to look normal again.
I’d do the trip all over again at 15 going on 16 and all over again now.
We began in Lima and most of our time spent there was working in schools and outer lying shantytowns. The people we met in Lima were incredibly friendly and generous. Also, if you own a car, you are a taxi driver. I squeezed into more VW bugs with 5 or more people than most clowns do a in a lifetime.
We did take time for sightseeing and I remember these highlights from Lima.
Lima lies on the Pacific Coast of South America. This was the first time I’d see a beach turn into cliffs. I was mesmerized by the difference in the water from the ocean I’d seen growing up. This plains native/Texas beachgoer could have spent the next 6 days staring at the combination of blue water, sandy beaches and cliffs that jutted up into the city.
I’ve never been much for bartering, but the markets in Lima are a great place to practice both bartering and bartering in Spanish. We spent hours at Mercado Indio. Sure, there were many of the same tchotchkes at different booths. There were also some beautiful crafts that were worth going through the huge market. I still have an Alpaca teddy bear 20 years later that is literally the softest thing I’ve ever touched. The handcrafted bowls I bought for my parents still sit on my mother’s shelves, joined by other treasures brought back by me and my siblings from our travels over the years.
After a week in Lima, we moved on to Cuzco for the true vacation part of our trip. I was tired and sick, but Cuzco was invigorating. I soaked up all of the strangeness and magic of the city.
Inti Raymi Festival
We timed our arrival in Cuzco to coincide with the main ceremony from The Festival of the Sun. I saw the sacrifice of a llama as the Sun King held up its beating heart to the sky. I was told that this sacrifice was staged, but this may have been a little white lie to avoid upsetting a newly 16 year old in a foreign land. While leaving the festival, I experienced another new sight: rats being roasted on a stick in a fire pit in the ground. With my recent recovery, I did not try rat. I would on a second visit.
Pronounced by most as “Sexy Woman,” the festival was held in these Incan ruins. A feat of ancient architecture, the stones fit so perfectly together that nothing can slide between them. Used as a fortress by the Incans, much of it has been destroyed by the Spanish. The remains of this fortress are still visit-worthy and amazing.
Like most visitors to Peru, we were most excited to visit Machu Picchu. We did not have days to hike one of the popular trails to the site, so we boarded a train in Cuzco at the break of dawn, bundled up to our ears for the unheated ride. Upon arrival in nearby Agua Calientes, we hopped on a bus to get to Machu Picchu.
My friend and I were the youngest, therefore most resilient, and we were placed next to the bus driver. I remember huge branches slapping the bus window, bouncing all over the place, feeling like we were driving straight down a mountain and, finally, squeezing my eyes tightly shut and praying for my life for the remaining 19 minutes of the 20 minute bus ride. This was 1995. I assume the bus paths are a little clearer in 2015.
Finally, we set foot into Machu Picchu. It was considerably warmer than Cuzco and the train, so I removed a few layers. About half of the group ran off to climb on of the nearby mountains, but I’ve never felt steady enough on solid ground to risk climbing a mountain. The rest of us walked up safely to a higher point in the ruins to get a full panoramic view.
You know how they say certain geographical spots have a stronger concentration of magnetic energy than most of the world? I think that Machu Picchu is one of those places. It felt…charged. It was as if the history of the Incan people and the work and ingenuity that went into creating this place bubbled up from the ground and filled me.
I promise I wasn’t on drugs. It was just that cool.
Very little is known about this place, but there are multiple theories about the purpose of Machu Picchu. At 16, I decided to believe the theory that Incan princesses were brought here to dedicate their lives to the Sun God. This theory holds little water these days, but I’m sticking with it.
The architectural feats are numerous in Machu Picchu. The stones fit together just like they do in Sacsayhuaman. There are terraces of grass and stone where they farmed. There are several temples and The Intihuatana Stone, a stone that was used to determine the equinoxes. In our day there, we probably covered less than 20% of the grounds. We could have spent weeks there and still found more to do and see.
When I return to Peru and especially to Machu Picchu, I do plan on being one of those weird people that climbs mountains. I’d also like to be one of those crazy people that hikes a trail for 5 to 7 days to arrive at Machu Picchu. I’d spend several days in Cuzco first, so I could adjust to the altitude and be in better form for my journey. Going from close to sea level to 11,000 ft in Cuzco was difficult.
Are you a mountain climbing type that is ready to set off for Machu Picchu tomorrow? Or do you want to take some rock climbing classes and practice carrying a pack before your big journey?