My ears perked up at hearing a shrill sound. I glanced up to see a red-faced security guard blowing a whistle and waving his arms wildly in my direction, yelling in rapid Spanish. I got the feeling that I should probably not be inching closer to take pictures of the llamas and alpacas that were grazing in the ruins of Machu Picchu. I backed away from the pack animals and gave a friendly wave to the security guard.
It was June 17th, 2008, and I was standing in Peru’s number one tourist destination —Machu Picchu. Deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the “Lost City of the Incas” now averages around 5,000 visitors per day and more than a million per year. My family, having traveled approximately 3,285 miles to Peru, was visiting the site after years of planning and anticipating the event.
Upon entering the site, the enormity of the complex impressed me. The ancient ruins occupied over five square miles. Historic living quarters, temples, stairways, waterways, storage buildings and public meeting places of the Incas sprawled out before me; over 200 structures in all. Llamas and vicunas fed in the grassy spaces, and tourists snapped pictures from safe distances (that is, most tourists!). Multiple languages could be heard from various directions as tour guides steered their groups toward important rock configurations.
Huayna Picchu, a peak towering beside the ruins, offered us an aerial view of the ruins. The problem? Officials told us that it would take about an hour for us to climb. After debating the pros and cons of seeing the archeological site from the top, four of us decided to make the trek. Twenty minute later, my brother and I were standing at an altitude of 8,860 feet and glimpsing the layout of the whole site. We stood in awe of the early populace of the Andeans who could produce such a feat on top of a mountain. Forty minutes later, my parents also arrived at the peak of Huayna Picchu, although the beauty of the view was somewhat lessened for them, due to their slightly out-of-breath state!
The rest of the day at Machu Picchu was spent exploring the ruins. The guide book we had purchased in Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of the Machu Picchu) kept us informed of structures we passed and the significance of certain stones and buildings. At noon we ate in a cafÃ© outside of the complex and happened to meet some other tourists from Ohio. A short naptime after lunch kept us in good spirits and before we knew it, the day had passed.
Tired but happy, my family rode the bus back and forth down the mountain, the swaying of the bus on the switch backs almost lulling us to sleep.
It has been over a year now since I have traveled to Machu Picchu, but good memories of the trip still remain. I came back from that trip with a new appreciation for an ancient civilization and a new understanding of the complexity of their society. I learned that beauty can be found even in the midst of ruins. I also learned that whatever you do, DON’T PET THE LLAMAS!
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