The first seeds of any trip are sown well before I step out my door and head to the airport. Sometimes they have been laid mere weeks or months in advance, such as in my trips to Budapest and Marrakech, which began with me scouring the internet for fare sales, and in the end choosing those particular destinations because I had found good deals and they sounded interesting.
And sometimes the trip is the culmination of years, or even a lifetime, of desire. Images that haunt our cultural memory sometimes demand attention. This is the classic bucket list journey, in which we have often spent endless hours pondering picture after picture, the images permeating our imaginations. We envision what it must be like to actually be there, and eventually the insistence of those aspirations must bubble up and be acted upon. If not, it must be set aside forever. Athens and Rome have been such places for me.
This is one of those trips.
I don’t remember when I first saw the images of the ruins of Machu Picchu, standing high upon an Andean mountaintop, but they have always seemed iconic, with their grey stone contrasting against lush green grass and the even darker green of the encroaching rainforest.
I haven’t always wanted to go there, to be frank. It isn’t a place that has called me in the way that Italy always has, and still does. But somewhere along the way I realized, “ I want to go to Machu Picchu.” This became, over many years, “I need to go to Machu Picchu.”
As I learned more, there are a few options for getting there. The two primary means are either hiking the traditional, arduous, trail or taking the train. There are actually a few other trails one can hike to Machu Picchu, but in my mind the alternative routes are all secondary, as the more ancient passage is what speaks to my soul.
I have, for some time now, asked friends about going, but we couldn’t coordinate schedules, desired routing, or motivation, so it never happened. Last May, however, I decided that I could wait no longer for my friends to commit. As my readers know, I am willing to travel alone, so I started looking. I haven’t hiked or camped like this before, so I found a company that would provide the support I wanted as a solo novice hiker, and I clicked the button and signed myself up for the only option I could consider. No train for me, I was hiking the Inca Trail.
“I’m going to Machu Picchu,” I told people excitedly. And soon I wasn’t alone, with two friends, R and L, also signing on.
And so here I am, my friends, in the air over Central America, with lightning flashing in the obsidian clouds outside my starboard window. Almost a year after committing, I’m on my way to Peru. I’ve prepared for this trip like no other, reading innumerable blogs, collecting gobs of hiking equipment, and working through extensive checklists while packing. Nothing crucial must be forgotten.
Even in the last 12 hours I’ve been making discoveries. I left Detroit when the sun was still rising and had a 7 hour layover in Newark. When I booked the connection I didn’t know what I would do with the time, but today I made one more discovery. So I used those hours to go to The City to buy a rain cover for my backpack.
I will shortly land in Lima, where R, L, and I will pass the day tomorrow exploring the city. Then, the next morning we head to Cuzco, where we will spend a few days touring and adapting to the altitude before finally setting out on the trail.
Follow along with me, dear readers. This is going to be a challenge like no other. But I’m ready. I hope you are as well.