Mona Helen Preuss
You stand at the river’s edge, the thunderous water shaking the ground at your feet. Tilting your head back, way back, you take in the sight, both glorious and terrifying, of the switchback that leads to your destination. Unless you’re walking, a bus ride along this road is the only way up. The road is still partially blocked by huge boulders from the last enormous landslide; you try not to think of the implications. At the end of the road, you debark, show your ticket at the gate, and walk up a small hill. There, at the hill’s crest, the world as you know it falls away.
At your feet lies Machu Picchu, one of the world’s greatest mysteries and undeniably the greatest remaining legacy of the Inca Empire. When Hiram Bingham “rediscovered”the site in 1911, as head of a Yale Archeological Expedition, he believed he had found Vilcabamba, the ‘Lost City of the Incas’and secret stronghold against the Spanish Invasion. More likely, it was the summer retreat of the reigning Incan ruler, Pachacuti. Nearly as suddenly as it was built, it was abruptly abandoned. Why? No one really knows for certain.
What is indisputable, however, is Machu Picchu’s testimony to remarkable feats of engineering: agricultural diversity, perfectly aligned terraces, impressive aqueduct systems, and buildings of hewn stone exhibiting remarkable structural integrity. The human design is near perfect, and set against a backdrop of flawless natural beauty. Llamas and chinchillas graze in the soft green grass which now covers the site, and although there are marvels right in front of your face, you can’t help but lift your eyes to the cloud-enveloped mountains, the holy pinnacles revered by the indigenous Quecha to this day. You stare in awe, and then you sigh.
You can’t wait to tell your friends. They should go, but they should plan ahead; there are a limited number of tickets issued each day, so make sure they purchase in advance, either online or through a reputable agent in Cusco, the gateway city to Macchu PIcchu. Tell them to splurge, spend a night, and have dinner at Inkaterra Lodge, nestled in the cloud forest at the foot of the mountain. You know there couldn’t be a more regal retreat; after all, you’re dining with the king.