Macchu Picchu, It’s The Stuff Of A Family Legend.

It was a test of my physical and emotional endurance as well as a journey into the joy of living.

Macchu Picchu
PHOTO Rhoda Hahn

Macchu Picchu. It’s the stuff legends are made of. And now, it’s the stuff of a family legend. We decided to do a four-day hike to Macchu Picchu one summer. And not that wimpy Inca Trail, we did the alternate route up Salkantay, which takes you close to 15,000 feet in altitude. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Several months before we left, my husband reminded me that I should get into shape. If I recall, the conversation went something like this:

“Hey, I’m not hauling your butt up that mountain.”

He later agreed to help me if I developed altitude sickness and my brain was swelling. So, I started to work out. I also began a dialog with my internist about the medication my family might need for the trip. Three months later, armed with a bag full of pills and thighs of steel, we charged into the Andes.

Macchu Picchu
PHOTO Rhoda Hahn

At first, the hike was pleasant. The scenery was beautiful – grassy plains, cows in the fields, warm sun on your face, mountains in the distance. But then, we got into the mountains and as the altitude increased, the pleasure decreased. I fell behind quickly and became best friends for life with the guide who was stuck bringing up the rear with me. Breathing became more difficult. Breathing and walking at the same time was even harder. Finally, stuck in some switchbacks at close to 14,000 feet, my feet went numb and I started to feel a bit dizzy. I gladly hopped aboard the emergency horse for 30 minutes and things improved dramatically after that. I got off to let my youngest daughter get on. She had mistakenly thought the end of the switchbacks would be the summit and nearly swooned when she saw how much further we had to go. I’m proud to report that I made the summit on my own steam – trudging for 20 feet at a time, then stopping to gasp for air. At the top, there was joy and relief, as well as a few tears. I’m not sure why I cried.  It might have been the stark beauty of it all.  Clean, cold, wind-swept stone with patches of snow. Not another living thing in sight. Or it might have been the wind whipping at our clothes and faces bringing tears to my eyes. Another real possibility could have been the fact that I had done it at all. I had lived to tell the tale. Then our guide, Roger, brought out the rum and coca leaves for a ritual to the ancient gods of the mountain. I said the words, crushed the coca leaves in my gloveless hands and tossed back the obligatory rum. I felt peace in my heart and one with the universe – or it might have been the rum eating a hole in my stomach.

We spent the next few days hiking through ever-changing scenery. Essentially, we spent the rest of the trip going downhill. We hiked through the cloud forest – a high altitude jungle of sorts. We saw many different species of orchids and even high-altitude bamboo. The Urubamba river was never far from our sight. Our cook continued to delight us with amazing meals all made with just a few pans, a pressure cooker and a propane tank.  We saw almost no other people until the end of day 3.  They felt like intruders in a land that we had started to feel was just for us.  But with civilization came “options” for day 4 – hiking 3 hours uphill and 2 hours down along the backside of Macchu Picchu or going to the hot springs. Our group split neatly along gender lines with the guys going on the hike and women/girls choosing the hot springs. The ride back from the hot springs was a death-defying high speed game of “chicken” with cars traveling the opposite direction through narrow winding mountain roads. The old man sitting next to me took it all in stride, never registering anxiety or alarm as we nearly plunged off the side of the mountain again and again.

Macchu Picchu
PHOTO Rhoda Hahn

On the morning of day 5, we were in Macchu Picchu watching the sun come up. At first, the whole place was shrouded in early morning clouds. But as the sun came out and the mist burned off, Macchu Picchu revealed itself in all its glory – quiet, powerful, beautiful.  A testimony to the strength and ingenuity of the Inca Nation. When I was getting tired of being awe-struck, there was some comic relief in the herd of llamas that live full-time at the site and function as organic lawnmowers. Their faces are perfect imitations of an average teenager, managing to appear completely bored with tourists, but they calmly tolerate being photographed with hundreds of people every day. Our trip to one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World was complete, but it was so much more than just an archaeological visit. It was a test of my physical and emotional endurance as well as a journey into the joy of living.

Article written by Rhoda Hahn.

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