The train from Ollantaytambo up to Old Mountain, but first through Machu Picchu Pueblo is elegant. Fancy seating, food and drink service with curved windows lining the roof to watch the passing mountains, tall as skyscrapers. A welcomed break from base camp setups and soaking wet clothing so I try not to outwardly complain. The opportunity to get some rest evaporates as I’m seated away from the small tour group and instead with an inconsiderably loud bunch of couples.
They scream across the aisles to each other, snap photos of the breathtaking landscapes, and laugh too loudly, too frequently. Those of us in the carriage not part of their group share glances, nonverbal confirmation of shared thoughts, and the unspoken irritation written on our faces. It’s been days since I’ve had a full night’s sleep.
Trekking four days in freezing (for me) temps and wet weather just to get to this small bit of comfort, I should be appeased. Instead, I’m emotionally accosted. Really all I want is some peace and quiet. Clearly completely out of reach at this point.
Aguas Calientes is a town built specifically for tourists visiting the Old Mountain; the native translation for Machu Picchu. As a result, too much weight is placed on the North American professor who rediscovered the ancient ruins in the early 20th century, Hiram Bingham. Restaurants, trains, and hotels all of them bearing his name.
Meanwhile, at the top of Old Mountain
At the end of the train, we file out, group up, and make our way like cattle through the turntables counting our existence. Rumor has it the monument will drastically reduce tourist entry in years to come. This is in hopes of sustaining the ancient ruins for generations to come. Winu (pronounced why-knew) Pichu, meaning ‘Young Mountain’ in the native tongue, is perhaps the more iconic visual of this ancient place. A second mountain peak opposite of the ruins of Machu Picchu, towering over Old Mountain like a wiser sibling.
The clouds mold themselves to the endless, jagged edges of the mountains. The cotton swab masses hugged each peek in an embrace, like lovers reunited after a long journey. Every three minutes a new, near-perfect view emerges as the clouds appear, disappear then reappear taking different shapes as they do.
The ancient rocks cradling the history of this place — are stamped in time while supporting modern tourism. At the correct angle, the crest of the mountains appears like a human profile, stretching upward nose first to the sky as if breaking the surface of the earth. One can imagine the sound of the breath he’d take, inhaling deeply, welcoming life, and feeling the sun on his skin.
At the close
An hour’s hike up to reach the top of the Sungate leaves me dizzy and breathless all over again. I take in the panoramic while gasping for air. I force a silent moment of reflection, accomplishment, and triumph. The last four days have been extraordinarily tough on my body. I acknowledge my inner drive, the pressure to succeed, the moments of defeat, and all of the help I’ve had along the way.