Ever since applying for and accepting the position of Project Manager for GSW, I have known that I would be visiting Machu Picchu during my year here in Cusco. It is one thing to visit the site as a tourist, but quite another to visit with Peruvian students, and I knew that would make the opportunity extra special. Stressful? Yes—that too—but also incredibly meaningful. After months of planning, it was hard to believe that the time had finally come. The days leading up to the trip proved to be a mix of organized chaos (we do live in South America after all) and excited anticipation. Although I had my doubts about everything coming together when we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes, there was no turning back.
The weather was overcast with an appropriately mysterious shroud of clouds and mist, and as our train chugged along beside the Urubamba River, our journey into the jungle had an aura of the unknown. It felt a bit like Apocalypse Now (minus the whole ‘war’ thing), and since I just finished reading Hiram Bingham’s account of his re-discovery of Machu Picchu (entitled Lost City of the Incas), a plethora of different thoughts and images were racing through my mind.
When our train finally pulled into the station, it was back to ‘reality’ for a little while, and I had to put my ruminations on pause. First we had to locate the group of students and teachers from Pacca who had arrived before us and quickly find an inexpensive hostel to accommodate our fourteen-person group. After a pizza dinner, we took our group out “dancing”… to an empty club at 9 p.m. Although it definitely was as awkward as I was expecting, it is also (in retrospect) a hilarious experience I won’t be forgetting soon. The important thing is that our students enjoyed themselves and that our unforgettable adventure to Machu Picchu was just on the horizon.
The next day we woke up early to more clouds and mist, and I was feeling antsy with anticipation. As the bus wound its way up hairpin turn after hairpin turn, my fear of heights began to kick in until finally we arrived! Our guide Bertha was really nice, and over the course of the day, I was excited to find that my Spanish was good enough to understand everything she said. She took us on an awesome two and a half hour tour of the site. What surprised me most was just how big it is. It far surpassed all the images that I’d conjured up in my head. A picture is worth a thousand words, but they can’t do justice to the feeling of awe and wonder that enveloped me during our time there. I think the llamas knew that, because they were more than happy to wander back and forth through our group pictures.
When it was time to leave, there was still more to see! I easily could have spent so much more time wandering through all the different parts of the site and never getting bored, but I also knew that I’d be back soon enough to continue exploring. It started to rain on our hike back down, but to me it was refreshing and made the experience that much more memorable.
We left after lunch on a train back home, and I wanted to stare out the window some more and get lost in my thoughts again as the jungle began to recede. I was far too tired, however, and ended up sleeping the whole way back to Cusco. Although I know I’ll return to Machu Picchu, it won’t be the same without my students, and I’m really happy that I shared my first experience there with them.