How Machu Picchu made me a better traveller

I’d like to think I’m not a jaded traveller. It’s a conversation I’ve had with other bloggers time and time again, and most recently, with Annemarie Dooling on our South America Contiki trip. You hit this wall where you no longer find things fascinating, or interesting, or even a little intriguing.

This hasn’t happened to me in the slightest—the opposite effect has occurred, in fact. I get so excited in new places, I succumb to shakes and nerves and wide-eyed typical tourist behaviour. I snap 300 photos of the same thing and then pose in front of fountains.

BUT those moments are always when I find myself someplace unexpected, like at Peyto Lake in Jasper. It’s never when you’re preparing for a “must-see” Bucket List item, and although I was excited about Machu Picchu, I was also preparing myself for a little disappointment.

There was none. No twinge of sadness, no regret, nothing to mar the moment.

Half of my Contiki crew awoke at 5 a.m. to prepare for a sunrise view of Machu Picchu. The rest of the group never made it to the early morning trek, being the unfortunate victims of a stomach bug. After we navigated the terrifying road of 14 switchbacks, we arrived at the site with daylight already spreading its way across the mountain.

We climbed stairs. We climbed a lot of stairs throughout the trip, our knees wobbly and calves aching, until we stood at a little plateau overlooking the ancient city. I couldn’t see a goddamned thing; we were entirely shrouded by clouds. I was tired, and cranky, and then suddenly with a few brilliant rays of sunlight, the clouds parted and Machu Picchu lay out for us in glory. I snapped 300 photos.

along the Inca Trail

We hiked along a portion of the Inca Trail to reach the Sun Gate, where the sun shines through on Machu Picchu during the summer solstice. From this vantage point and looking down upon the city, the enormity of what the Incas created starts sinking in. According to our lovely guide Gaby, nobody even knows for sure why the city existed, but the most popular theory is that it was created as a sort of resort for the king. The city could have held up to 400 people. The whole area radiates a certain kind of energy, attributed to either all the quartz lying around or some other ethereal force.

To the far right, in what looks like a valley, you'll see the Sun Gate

The sad part is that the Incas had limited time to enjoy their luxury before abandoning the site entirely. They knew the Spaniards were coming, and they knew the best way to protect their city was to abandon it.

Everything at Machu Picchu was built with Mother Earth, Pachamama, in mind. Gaby, who belongs to the Quechua people, says the Spaniards could never wipe out her heritage, because it isn’t tangible. “As long as we have the sun, the moon, the stars, our religion will not die.”

I cried. I cried a lot on this trip for one reason or another, but standing there that morning with a handful of other travellers all making a pilgrimage to one of the world’s most coveted, sacred destinations made me suddenly very aware of how blessed I am to have such a moment. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with travel blogging and making ends meet, so much so that I’ve considered going back to the office life. I know that’d be a mistake. For me, no house, no car, no closet filled with expensive clothing will ever equal the experiences I’ve had while travelling. Every now and then, I need a good trip to remind myself of this fact.

Or a punch in the face. If you ever hear me complain again, you have full permission to punch me in the face and/or ovary.

  • October 03 2011

    I’m glad you have now gotten to experience a Contiki trip too. I have loved the three trips that I have done with them :)

    • October 05 2011

      They were so great! I can’t wait to do another.

  • October 03 2011

    Such a beautiful site and your words brought it such meaning. Congrats on the great trip and the personal renewal! ;)

  • October 03 2011

    that place looks amazing. i want to go. ancient ruins and such things make my life when I travel. Sometimes you make me question my career choice… but I think I’d miss the puppies. . .

    Can’t wait to see more photos and hear all the stories :)

    • October 05 2011

      Man, Ollie would love Machu Picchu.

  • October 04 2011

    That is awesome, Candace. Glad you had such an amazing time, after being attacked by the stomach bug of doom. Amazing pics, can’t wait to hear more about your trip.

  • October 04 2011

    Wow! Those photos are like a punch to the face (in the best possible way) – they’re absolute stunners! Nice combo, Candice! I was T.K.O.’d for sure!

  • October 04 2011

    Machu Picchu is so beautiful! I’m so jealous you got to go and expierence it! It’s something I hope I can do eventually! Great pictures!

    • October 05 2011

      Thanks Danielle! Definitely make it a priority on your list.

  • October 04 2011

    MP was such an incredible experience for me as well. I’m glad that it changed you!!! Great photos.

    • October 05 2011

      It was surreal. Loved every second!

  • October 04 2011

    As someone who has been lucky enough to go to Machu Picchu on 6 different occasions I’ll tell you this experience never gets hold. There is a certain power to Machu Picchu that I’ve really only felt in a couple places in the world. I’m glad your experience was just as moving.


    • October 05 2011

      6 different occasions! Wow. Yeah, I definitely wanna do the hike. That’s a whole different ballgame, I feel.

  • October 04 2011

    Brilliant! So glad you had that moment!
    We felt the same way when we rounded the Sun Gate and saw Machu Pichhu for the first time. It’s a special place!

  • October 04 2011

    These are some of the best pictures of Machu Picchu I’ve ever seen! The Inca Trail trek in the dark and the Sun Gate were eye-opening experiences for me as well, I’m glad you got to experience and enjoy them!

    • October 05 2011

      That was one of the best comments I’ve ever received, thank you. :)

  • October 04 2011

    I’m so glad that you’re going through a bout of the cries as well. It makes me feel a little more normal.

    Machu Picchu will be one of those “pinnacle” travel moments for me. Something I’ve been looking forward to as a child and I’ll accept it in all its glory – touristy and all.

    • October 05 2011

      Dude, I cried over PIZZA.

      Agreed, although I never really thought I’d make it to Machu Picchu for one reason or another. So glad i did.

  • October 04 2011

    I often wonder if I’ll ever get jaded by travel, I’m always a little said when I hear people say “whatever It’s just another temple/city/ancient ruins/country, etc.” That said everyone has good days and bad days. Even when things aren’t so great there will always be travel days that are amazing. I’m glad to hear your sticking with the career in travel, it seems to suit you well.

    • October 05 2011

      I can’t imagine ever getting to that point, but sadly, it’ll probably happen. Nothing like living in the moment. :)

  • October 05 2011

    How about a throat chop? Is that allowed too? :)

    Glad you had such a great time. :)

  • October 05 2011

    I recently started considering another Contiki trip and S. America is on my short list. After reading posts like this, I’m starting to lean towards S. America….

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • October 07 2011

      I seriously recommend it! Great intro to the country. I feel much more equipped to take on more SA countries now.

  • October 05 2011

    At 63 I’m still not jaded – and I’ve had the travel bug since I was 20 or so! I might not always be so excited when my husband picks a place to go but we never fail to have an amazing time. And we are so not jaded with Newfoundland which is why we come back there every summer.

    • October 07 2011

      That makes me incredibly happy to hear. :)

  • October 09 2011

    You showed us your soul here. Nice writing, very reflective Candice.

    I wonder how the Spaniards knew about Macchu Picchu’s existence. You’d think that a city which lies a mile above sea level would be hard to find.

    • October 11 2011

      Thanks so much, Fidel!

      The Spaniards didn’t know about Machu Picchu, that’s the thing. An explorer by the name of Bingham happened to discover the site around 100 years ago when he was looking for another sacred city. There just happened to be some farmers living around the site and they showed it all to him!

  • January 02 2012

    Awesome post, just stumbled on your blog recently. Amazing photos and stories of Machu Picchu as well. You know that is a lot of the reason why travel is so amazing…those moments when you are just struck in awe from the experience of it. I have not been to Peru yet but its on my list and of course Machu Picchu. It’s nice to know it was better than you expected it to be. How was traveling there with Contiki? I’ve always avoided tours like the plague.

    • January 04 2012

      Thanks for your kind words, Anwar! I appreciate them. Losing that sense of wonderment is always a fear for me. I had an unreal time with Contiki, definitely the best trip of my life. But if you’re not much of a tour person, I’m not sure if you’d enjoy it. But if you wanted to give one a try, I’d recommend them!

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