Christy and I finished our breakfast at the hotel up at the top and looked into the fog. The buses wouldn’t start arriving until noon.
“Let’s hike up the big mountain,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
My lost and found tennis shoes were too small, but I had cut out the toes so that I could get them on my feet. We made our way through the foggy Inca ruins until we reached the mountain and found a trail.
Christy went first, her white jeans an easy target to follow in the misty fog. It was hard going without my toes to grip the ground. They were helplessly resting on top of the shoes. I pulled myself up the steep hill. We sang songs to keep ourselves going. We laughed a lot. We made it to the top.
“Wow, that was quick,” I said. “I’m not even that tired.”
We sat down to rest, and then the fog lifted.
We weren’t on the big mountain at all. We were on the small mountain to the left of Huayna Picchu. Of course we didn’t know its name back in 1977.
Getting down the fog-drenched smaller mountain proved to be tricky. Christy finally sat down and went on her butt, ruining her white jeans and laughing all the way. We found the correct trail to the big mountain and started up the hill. Soon we encountered stone steps, but they were too shallow for my foot. Incas were small people with tiny feet (because of the altitude?). There was no way my big foot was going to fit on those steps, so I turned sideways and went up that way — step, cross, step, cross. There were no railings, and the drop-off to the ravine below was a scary sight for somebody like me, afraid of heights.
Christy and I climbed and climbed. No one passed us in either direction, going up or coming down. When we got to the top, the view was of the entire lost city of the Incas, including the dirt road with its hairpin turns. I grabbed onto a bush or rock or something to brace myself. I was at the top of the world, or so it seemed. I looked down at my exposed toes, the tops raw where they rubbed on the edge of the canvas shoe.
“Let’s find another way down,” Christy said.
“No thanks,” I said, as I headed down the stone steps. “Actually, you go first.”
The Inca burial grounds were on the top of Huayna Picchu, but we didn’t know that. We also didn’t know that a traveler had fallen to his death the year before. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
When I got down to the bottom with my 35 millimeter camera safely around my neck, I patted its black leather case.
“I sure hope that photo comes out,” I said.
That was 41 years ago. I know I have that photo and negative somewhere, but where?
I’ll have to use the one of the rock ledge along the cliff wall (see Machu Picchu before it Was a Thing).
When the bus took us down to the train stop later that day, small boys ran straight down the mountain and waited for the bus to catch up as it negotiated each hairpin turn. Passengers would throw dollar bills to the boys for their efforts.
My ex took our three kids to see Machu Picchu a few years back. The kids tell me the place has turn styles now like Disneyland and real roads, with a whole city down below to replace the two native women and their children who had sold us trinkets at the train stop. My youngest child brought me Andean pan flute music, only it was Beatles songs. Machu Picchu was now a tourist destination.
It wasn’t considered to be one of the seven wonders in 1977. I got to see it with a handful of wise travelers who were smart enough to book the hotel at the top of the world. We didn’t have a room, but Christy’s kisses got us two rollaway beds in the hallway and a private hike on a mountain that now only allows 400 people a day. And you need a paid reservation and a ticket.
My son didn’t want to go at first. He’s not that big a fan of flying and traveling.
“You’re going,” I said, although he was an adult and could’ve stayed home. ”I’ll never be able to take you, and it’s worth seeing.”
My son went, and he was the only one of the four (his dad and sisters) that didn’t get altitude sickness.
If I had the chance to go again, I think I would say no. When it was still off the tourist track, and Christy and I had the top of the big mountain named Huayna Picchu all to ourselves in 1977 — that’s the way I want to remember Machu Picchu.
Dirty white jeans, raw toes, and all.