You are poised at the Gate of the Sun. Before you, just visible in the day’s emerging light, a shadowy outline in the valley below unveils the end of your quest: Machu Picchu. Your morning has started in the wee hours with tea service, brought to your tent by your Peru Trek guide. By headlamp, you rise to follow him down the rocky trail, just to catch this sunrise. Your frosted breath mingles with the mist encircling the moss-cloaked gate, lending a spiritual quality to this morning.
To arrive at this threshold, your small group has spent the last three days following in the footsteps of your sturdy porters. Past dusty fields where local kids kicked a futbol amongst grazing oxen, alongside the splashing Kusichaka River, and up the grade to the mountain pass, you notice that the price of Gatorade toted in by trailside vendors is going up as quickly as the elevation.
At the mountain pass, your guide Victor treats your altitude-induced headaches with herbal oils that you inhale from his caring palms. You meander down the wooded trail, lush with orchids and snow-white clumps of begonia that mirror the distant snow-capped Andean mountains. You emerge from the forest to find lunch set up, tablecloths and all, on the riverbank.
Peru’s many marvels have roused your imagination over the past week. You cheered, shoulder to shoulder, with red-clad locals as they boisterously waved homemade banners in the final minutes of Cusco’s local soccer match.
You stepped ashore onto the southern floating reed islands to learn weaving from the tribal women, and you floated down the Tambopata, a feeder river to the Amazon, past brick-colored clay cliffs brightly dotted with blue and yellow macaws. As howler monkeys settled for the night in the treetops, you too withdrew to your screened-in jungle hut to fall asleep by the chirp of the katydids.
And you will always fondly recall Amaru, a Quechuan village 15,000’ up in the Andes where you spent one unforgettable night in the dirt-floored home of a local family. Their lima bean tea warmed you against the mountain chill. Then Hilda, your host Mom, cooked you dinner over the fire in their open hearth as guinea pigs ran back and forth.
Are those creatures dinner or pets? Yes.
But this morning’s sunrise is what you really came for. Somehow, it surpasses your imaginings.
As you stand at the Gate, it occurs to you that what had begun as a mountain hike had ended, thanks to Victor’s mystical communion with these mountains, as a pilgrimage. This Incan city’s mysteries are yours alone, at least for the next few hours until the first tourist-packed train arrives. You step out.
“That was a trip of a lifetime”, you say. “Let’s do it again next year!”