Friday, 25 August 2017

Machu Picchu: A Little Story of How I Ignored my Fears

Last week I wrote about taking the train to Machu Picchu, I was a fan of this method as I'm not one to enjoy a big walk.

No matter how you make it to Machu Picchu doesn't really matter. The mountainous landscape looks just as impressive, the llamas just as fluffy, and the history just as interesting. 

Confession time. I was actually afraid to go to Machu Picchu. 

Don't laugh, it's true. 

I'm generally afraid of heights, more specifically afraid of falling from a great height. It usually presents itself when I'm climbing stone stairs up towers and recently I had some panicky moments walking up to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. I will never go on the London Eye, up to the pedestrian terrace in the Duomo in Florence, or see Toronto from the glass floor of the CN Tower. 
So I was nervous about how I was going to react being at the top of this old peak.  It didn't help that just prior to my booking there was a report in the news of another tourist dying while at Machu Picchu. But after much convincing by talking to friends that had done it and my mother's disapproving tone if I didn't challenge myself, I was soothed and made my booking. And whoooo boy am I ever glad I did.

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

Breakdown of the components of this tour:

Transportation from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
Return train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Accommodation for the night in Aguas Calientes
Ticket to Machu Picchu grounds
Return bus ticket to the ruins (can opt to hike up the mountain)
Tour of the ruins with a guide (highly recommend getting one)
Additional treks from Machu Picchu
Transport back to Cusco

I booked my tour with Pachamama Explorers and it included all of the above (except the additional treks) for about $500 CDN. The cost goes down with larger group bookings, but I was a solo traveller paying for a private tour. Quite honestly though, I was willing to pay for the convenience of someone else arranging everything for me. All I had to do was show up (and not even on time--see previous post)

If I had spoke a little bit of Spanish (al menos un poco) or wasn't going to be on my own, I might have tried to make these arrangements on my own and save some money. With a little bit of online research there are so many forums out there with suggestions and explanations of how to do it and what you need to look for. No matter what you do however, book your tickets for Machu Picchu ahead of time, as they are limited to a set number each day in an attempt to preserve this world heritage site against the many visitors it hosts any given day.

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

At 5:45 AM I met my tour guide, Jorge, who had already snagged a spot near the front of the line for a bus which was part of the fleet that was to bring all the tourists up the steep switchback road to the summit. The lineups for the buses can start super early (3 AM or earlier in the high season) and on this day when I left my hotel was already all the way down the street. Because of the wonderful Jorge, I got to sleep in a bit and still managed to get on the 4th bus arriving at the site in the early part of the morning.

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

The clouds still hung thick around the ruins, making it impossible to see how incredible of a feat it was for this ancient civilization to build a settlement at this location. As the morning wore on, the clouds burned off from the heat of the sun and peaks and valleys were revealed and really took my breath away (it wasn't just the altitude).

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu
The nubs on the stones were used as handles, which were polished down once the stone was set in place.

Machu Picchu is a 15th century fortified city built for the Inca emperor, Pachacuti on the mountain ridge 2,430 metres above sea level. It was abandoned by the inhabitants around the time of the Spanish Conquest.

It remained unknown to the Spanish and outside world, only visited by locals until the 20th century when Hiram Bingham III (great name!) an amateur American archaeologist brought international attention to it. Although there are claims that others, outside of the few residence of the valley, had actually 'rediscovered' the citadel earlier in the century.

Today, many of the structures at Machu Picchu are reconstructions done to help the tourists understand what the area would have looked like. Archaeological and reconstruction work is still going on today.

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu
Intihuatana Stone: believed to be an astronomic clock or calendar by the Incas

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu
Path to the Sun Gate
After my tour of the ruins with Jorge, I was free to spend my time wandering the rest of the site. There are additional hikes that you can do that require pre-booking and several hikes that are free (and easier) to do spontaneously. I decided to take the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. It was a steady inclined walk on a stone path until the end when it became steep steps.

For this girl, with a fear of heights this was just one more personal challenge I was facing that day. Slow and steady, I made it to the gate and stopped to rest with other fellow travellers. Then I saw a dog! Moseying about like getting to the top was NBD!

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu
The dog at the Sun Gate


{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

The whole experience was thrilling, but the llamas seriously made my day

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu
This Snapchat filter will never be as thrilling again

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

{Erin Out and About} Machu Picchu

I wouldn't say that I conquered my fear of heights by any stretch, but at least I didn't let it get in the way of my plans of experiencing a magnificent historical location. And I now have a new stamp in my passport with an incredible adventure to remember for a lifetime.

Tell me about a time you didn't let a fear get in the way of experiencing something.

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