Thank You in advance to Air New Zealand, the Canadian Nurse Brigade, the Carolinian Contingent, Pennsylvania Paparazzo, UK 1.0 and 2.0, Apollo and (last but only to denote his importance) the Peruvian Headbanger. Y’all know who you are.
I am going to be upfront with you. What should be a simple travelog with pretty-ish pictures is, in fact, a discursive and psuedo-philosophical post built upon the unsteady foundation of a well-worn cliche. So if you have an aversion to such things, just quickly scroll through the page to see if you like any of the pictures and take away the following headlines:
Tackle the Inca Trail if possible because Machu Picchu is indeed a Wonder, but in context it is truly Magnificent.
The food is great but beware. At least one of our number suffered the Wrath of the Inca.
Meet some amazing people while you are there.
Peru is amazing.
In all likelihood, the first time a group of our primitive forebears left their caves at dawn to take a jaunt to the nearby ridge which they heard from the folks living in the neighboring cave had this, “Like, totally amazing view of a totally untouched forest that stretches all the way out to a topaz ocean. On the wind rushing up the mountainside you can hear the sounds of arboreal morning and—if you catch it just right—the distant sound of waves crashing against a pristine beach,” they had the insight that while the destination was indeed epic, the real story was the fact they made the trip at all.
When I first planned to visit Machu Picchu, I expected simultaneously to be blown away by the site, and impressed by the ability of a relative handful of charismatic religious nuts to move a civilization to build such an impractical complex. A few funny things happened on the way. First was the fact that my baseline bitterness was defused unexpectedly by our guide who almost immediately declared that the Incan hierarchy manipulated their religious system to master the substantial resources of the Empire. So I couldn’t obsess about that. Then there is the history of the place. By place I mean Peru and by extension the entirety of the “New World.” And the history I’m talking about is the absolute domination of the New World by the contemporaneous European powers. The abuses were shocking and even taking a second to imagine the human toll is overwhelming. But then you find yourself with fourteen people from all over the world, tramping along a 500 year old path visiting equally old ruins. It would be easy to say that history of murder and suffering just fell away due to the natural majesty of the place. But that would be the exact opposite of the experience.
If you let them, these places will fill you up. At night on an alpine ridge in the Andes the vast number of stars forces an unsettling sense of proportion on the human psyche. The Milky Way is visible to the naked eye until the full moon rises to make shadow puppets of the surrounding peaks. Then the puzzle pieces all suddenly snap into focus. Take one part the human desire for absolute meaning. One part the human ability to find or manufacture patterns we observe. One part human Will. Mix well for several hundred years to develop the necessary skills. And—just like that—you have everything you need to explain cleanly and concisely why people would pull such ludicrously enormous goddamn rocks up really big hills to build these monuments. It often comes up in conversations that I have an affinity for frontiers, and here you can observe with relative ease the frontier of the finite and the seemingly infinite.
When we repeat words without thinking about what they actually mean we grind them into so much sand. So, while we may recognize the truth of a thing, the impact glances off of us like a rock skipping on the surface of a pond. In this case, I’ve been trying to sneak up and try to pour some meaning into the idea that our journeys are more important than the destinations. While this is certainly true for me about this short trip to Peru, it would be a fundamental error to walk away thinking this modern aphorism is merely about journey, because it is really about how one lives life. But I’ve already been way too self-indulgent to wax poetic about the meaning of life.
In conclusion. It was a pretty cool trip and you should totally visit Peru.