Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mike Kisow - Machu Picchu

Mike Kisow is a recent graduate of the Educational Leadership & Policy M.Ed. program. During the summer of 2010, Mike participated in the College of Education’s “Going Global” excursion to Cusco, and Machu Picchu, Peru.

Journey to Machu Picchu, an essay:

Just thirteen degrees south of the equator I sat in the lobby of a hostel eating breakfast immersed in the sound of pouring rain striking the roof. So much for it being dry season in the Andes.

It’s early, and still very dark in the sleepy village of Ollantaytambo, Peru where the University of Utah cohort had arrived just hours earlier by bus, also in the dark.

We leave the hostel and walk the street, which now more closely resembles a canal, towards the town’s center of vitality, the train station.

Bathed in an eerie light, we wait for a squeaky locomotive to arrive and deliver us to Machu Picchu Pueblo, a village so remote that no motorized vehicle access exists.

As scheduled, a train approaches unfazed by the rain, creating a scene that would rival the best of J.K Rowling’s imagination.

Our journey shadows the Inka Trail through the Urubamba Gorge. In my mind I try not to invent scenarios of flooding, mudslides, or railway bandits as we chug along.

Hours later, we arrive safely in Auguas Calientes, referred to by the locals as Machu Picchu Pueblo.  Different from our home-stays in mountainous Cusco, Machu Picchu Pueblo is a flourishing jungle teaming with banana trees and the sounds of unfamiliar birds.

After a quick bag-drop at the hostel, we board a shuttle that takes us another 1,300 feet higher by way of winding mountain switchbacks that often require one shuttle to reverse while another passes head on.

Now, at 8,000ft, yet still more than 3,000 feel lower than Cusco, we arrive at the entrance to one of the 7 Wonders of the New World.

Anticipation and excitement reign as we cross the threshold into the "lost city of the Incas”.  "Old Mountain", the literal translation of Machu Picchu in the local language, Quechua, immediately becomes relevant.

Before our eyes, on the impossibly steep terrain, are hundreds of structures constructed of perfectly cut stone and arranged amidst grass so green that it deserves its own crayon.

Llamas graze unimpressed as terminal cliffs plummet on all sides to the river gorges below. The fog and mist linger heightening intrigue yet impairing photo opportunities.

Consumed by the grandeur, I concede my insignificance. The fog creates a hauntingly spiritual ambiance as the mountain chooses to selectively reveal itself to we awkward visitors.

It’s frequently said that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, here I learned that pictures might also leave one speechless.

Innumerous tour guides recount the same legends in a cornucopia of languages as they are followed intently by diverse hordes of tourists.

We take guesses as to when the fog will burn off. It never does.

The day grows old and fleeting sunlight looms. Some of us, presumably prejudiced by the resolve of the Inca, elect to evade the returning tourist shuttle. Although exhausted, we commit ourselves to the hour-long walk back to town as an offering, or perhaps in an attempt to find a conclusion to our own Inca Trail.

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