My dream of visiting Machu Pichu finally came true last year in August when I travelled to Peru with my son and daughter-in-law. We flew from Miami to Lima and there boarded a plane to Cuzco. The expedition was led by Gregg Braden who met the group at the Sonesta hotel in the Sacred Valley. For almost two weeks we visited fascinating places with magical names like Ollantaytambo, Yucay, Urubamba Valley, Chinancero, Cuzco and Lake Titicaca and I took so many photographs it would be absolutle impossible to share them, just as the experiences were so varied and exciting that remembering them actually becomes painful in some sort of way. However, a few days after my return to reality (home) I wrote the following letter, which I want to share on this Blog.
It is early morning and I just read a piece on death that someone wrote upon her mother’s demise and I cried; I cried yesterday night too after reading a form letter from Gregg Braden thanking everyone for their participation on the trip. I realized that I was going through a kind of “mourning” for the trip that was so wonderful, exhilarating, emotional and inspiring. It was a gift to have you both there to share it with; I guess I feel that we are “kindred spirits” to use a cliché. I hadn’t understood why I was feeling a bit down, dragging around, not really getting started on anything, not picking up my work again but rather passing the time doing odds and ends, dithering, watching the end of a series… nothing serious, and now I understand. Seeing Machu Picchu was a dream I had harbored for a long time, believing it not to be possible because I didn’t want to go alone and there seemed to be no one to go with until I thought of the fact that you, Peter, and Patricia would undoubtedly enjoy it, and had the marvelous excuse of your 50th birthday.
Then, as with all dreams, I feared the trip, the sight, the experience wouldn’t live up to expectations, that things would happen to ruin it, that there would be the inevitable letdown from exagerated expectations. None of this happened. No, the trip was not what I expected, it was different.
Machu Picchu was not the high point, the great revelation, the unforgettable aha! Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac were just what they are: ruins, stone remembrances of civilizations past and, as marvelous as they are, they are not alive, vibrant, or really inspiring to me. But the mountains, that landscape that speaks of an upheaval so powerful, a force so absolutely impossible and incomprehensible yet there, so much more durable and magnificent than any stones –no matter how large, how carefully carved, how impossibly perfectly fit, how difficultly moved- that humans might have left organized or scattered over a tiny part of that landscape… those mountains and crags and peaks dwarfed everything around in their overbearing majesty. They were the gods the Incas saw and adored, their snowy glaciers glimmering in the sunshine against a vibrant blue sky; the mountains, the cliffs, the Apus… that was what I had gone for. When, against all my expectations, I climbed to the Sun Gate at the top of the Machu Picchu mountain, constructed over 2 kms above the famed site, and arrived, breathless but exhilirated at 14,000 ft. I knew that it was for this that I had come, for these incommensurable upliftings of granite reaching for the unfathomable blue sky to enter into my eyes and my soul, expanding a heart that was already beating its way out of my chest as I gulped in the thin air and fell to my knees in awe. On that mountain top, above the impressively high Mayna Picchu that towers over the ordered stones of Machu Picchu, gazing down at the miserably dwarfed human expression of the ruins below and out across range upon range of Earth at its most magnificent with its rocky or snowy mountain tops, its glaciers, its jagged peaks, its fathomless valleys and the sky so inmense and indomitable with the sun bursting out from over the crest, I experienced a gratitude beyond words that was at the same time humbling and uplifting, that both made me feel so small and yet infinite, nothing and everything at the same time. So, I realized last night and again this morning as I write, that I am mourning that vision, that experience, that unrepeatable instant when I stood at the top of the mountain and looked out over the Andes in awe.
Now I am back in Salies, beautiful Salies where everything is human-sized and domesticated and for the first time in my life I understand why human beings climb mountains. So that is why my eyes tear up every time I think of the trip, of Machu Picchu, of our wonderful times together, of the laughs and talks, of sharing the incredible journey that is now in the past, and done and over. I am mourning the passing of an experience that I may never have again and I am also crying with gratitude for having had it.
So today, remembering once more, I pull out the pictures and try to chose which ones I can include in this memory, which would be meaningful or simply too beautiful to pass over, and once again my chest opens wide feeling so grateful, wanting to go back at the same time as knowing that what I lived then can never be repeated.
Like that magical instant that the Incas called “the crack between the worlds”, that short time when it is no longer day but night is yet to come, it can only be experienced at the instant it is real; everything else falls short.