Peru – Journey to Machu Picchu

This is an excerpt from my journal of my 2008 trip to Peru. I am leading a spiritual tour to the sacred sites of Peru in July 2013. See Calendar listing for details.

Machu Picchu

The highlight of any trip to Peru has to be to the iconic Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. In earlier articles I have described my adventures in the Amazon jungles, Cusco and Ollantaytambo, at the head of the Incan trail. The culmination of that initiation and integration into the Peruvian mysteries is the experience of Machu Picchu.

As our train leaves near dawn, the early morning mist lays thick on the kiosks that line the short stretch of road leading to the train station in Ollantaytambo. Our group plants our gear at the small café, and disperses to purchase sunglasses and mittens, hats and walking sticks. When our train pulls into the station, the sky is bright blue and the sun is warm on our backs.

We settle into our seats and begin the one and a half hour journey to the base of Machu Picchu. The town of Aguas Calientes at the base of the Incan monument can only be reached by foot or by train. No other roads exist, and no airports. So the train is full. It is also modern, clean, and on time.

Wedged between tall Andean mountains, this delightful passage follows the Urubamba River, and features glaciers and vistas of the footpath that is the Incan Trail. Friendly staff members deliver a tasty boxed lunch as we enjoy the views through the windows and domed roof. We are traveling from the dry and rocky sierras, down into a lush and humid climate once again. It is surprising to learn that Machu Picchu is actually about 3,000 feet lower than Cusco, and sits at the edge of a jungle.

Arriving in the modern station of Aguas Calientes, we traverse the busy marketplace, wind through narrow and steep streets to our hotel. Once settled, we head to the bus station. Our bus winds through town, then along the valley floor, and suddenly begins the ascent and switch backs that take us up 1,000 feet to the base of Machu Picchu. From there we will hike for several hours, mostly either up or down!

Our Shaman guide meets us at the entrance and we begin the tour along the usual path. Then we take a turn onto a lesser used path, listening to the history of this ancient city and appreciating the foliage. The anticipation is building as we have yet to see anything familiar.

Our guide stops us along the footpath and asks us to hold hands in a line and close our eyes. We slowly walk, sightless, another 50 yards. Feeling more wind  and strong sun on our faces, we are instructed to open our eyes. There before us is the vista, famous throughout the world, of the ancient “Crystal City” of the Incan Empire.

Like so many such views that have been frequently seen in magazines and on television—like the Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon, Petra, or Pompeii—when seen on location, it takes a moment for the brain to register that it is real.

Built in the mid- to late 1400s, in the native Quechua language Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain”. Abandoned one hundred years later during the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire, it became covered in foliage, lost to the jungle.

Although local natives knew of the monument, it was exposed to the world in 1811 by American historian Hiram Bingham. Now considered one of the New Wonders of the World, it is also protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Due to strong concerns over the impact that tourism has on the site, entrance is limited. However, being present at the site, it appears pristine, clean, and well-cared for.  There are friendly security guards throughout the ancient city, and no litter or graffiti to be seen.
Llamas are posted at varying places throughout the site to assist with landscaping, a very charming addition to the view.

The Incans are considered to be among the best stone masons in the world. Understanding the frequency of earthquakes in that area, they built Machu Picchu, and other monuments around Peru, without mortar and with stones cut so precisely even a knife cannot pass between the stones, even 500 years later.

Our group found a quiet terraced area to sit for a meditation. During that time, our shaman guide opened a large cloth that contained coca leaves. In Peru the saying is that the coca leaf is not a drug, it is a sacred medicine.

In its raw state, before refinement, the coca leaf provides valuable nourishment, including the antidote to altitude sickness. And here they are also used in a manner similar to reading tea leaves. Later, many of us will get intuitive coca leaf readings from the shaman. For now, we will use them in a ceremony to great Machu Picchu.

During the ceremony we are each given three leafs. We meditate with them and then walk to a breezy precipice of choice and send them off into the wind with our good wishes.

We will continue doing ceremonies at two of the four “cornerstone” rocks that anchor the city, as well as a sunset ceremony at the top of the mountain where the ancient sundial still stands.

The ancient site was, in actually, a thriving winter retreat in days of old. While there were sacred aspects to the original city, we must remember that a wide range of citizenry lived and thrived there. Along with the holy people, there were politicians, servants, merchants, builders, and so forth. Along with worship, there were the ordinary travails and joys of daily life, as well.

The difference, perhaps, was a synthesis of the holy with the mundane in life. As in the jungles of the Amazon, we witness that the beliefs, rituals, ceremony, healing, and energy work were all a natural and seamless continuum, integrated with growing and collecting food, tending the beasts, building and maintaining the city and roadways, and all aspects of daily life.

In what ways can we each integrate our spirituality into our daily routine? In what way can you begin to work with the energy before you work with the physical aspects of a project? In what ways can you manifest your dreams on the ethereal levels, first laying the energetic framework on which to build them?