Age-old Worship of the Sun at Machu Picchu
There is nothing but pure elation. For a moment, I allow myself an introverted experience that is entirely self-centred; poised. Looking in from the outside I see a girl perched on the edge of an ancient civilisation. There is a modern plastic green meshed mat beneath her, protecting the grass beneath her, but for that moment she is experiencing a moment shared by countless beings in human history. A bead of sweat drips down the back of her neck as she catches her breath, a smile tempered at the corner of her mouth. She is surrounded by people, standing, all looking out over the same valley, the same view, the same portal in history. She sits on the edge of the hillside, her legs dangling lackadaisically in the open. There is something mystical about this place. In the presence of masses, there is a quiet hubbub; near close to silence. She listens to the air around her, only then noticing its slight movement over her brow that shimmers in the warmth of the early morning.
I had sprinted my way up the sacred hillside of Machu Picchu to find myself in this moment of complete calm. The group I was travelling with, despite leaving at the advised hour of the morning to watch the sunrise over Machu Picchu, were not hiking at a quick enough rate to reach the 7am sunrise. After a quiet side discussion with my guide, he agreed to give me my entrance pass to the Machu Picchu National Park; a patrolled crossing that requires passport checks and keeps numbers of tourists regulated on the ancient site.
When you get into the park, take the first path on the left, go past a rock where tourists will be taking photos, take another path on the left and head for the Casa del Guardia (The Guardhouse).
David, our guide had become my friend and confidant over the course of our five-day trek. Relatives of his on his wife's side of the family had also studied at St Andrews and we found we had similar interests in trekking, photography and absorbing ourselves in the history and culture of new places. He was a fount of knowledge, knowing as and when to share new and interesting facts with us along our trail. With a nod, I took my documents and made headway up the massive Inca stone steps that have been trekked by millions over the course of thousands of years. I found myself propelled forwards by some deep-set urge and determination to reach the The Guardhouse by the hour.
It is rare is trekking and travelling that deadlines need to be set and adhered to, but on that morning I realised that no matter how much I longed to see the sunrise; it would not wait for anyone. Not for me, nor the rest of my group who were now more than 30 minutes of trekking time behind me. Time ticked on relentlessly as my thighs burned with the stone steps being mercilessly higher and increasingly tiresome as my ascent continued. I found myself passing other groups who had climbed above us earlier in the morning, certain that they would be watching on after me, wondering why I was running and panting on up the mountainside by myself. I grinned at them with a wide smile, unable to contain my odd adrenaline-filled exhilaration. I was going to make it. My legs no longer ached. I was too excited to feel anything other than anticipation to see the world-famous site.
I arrived at the roadside where buses shuttle in persistently to Machu Picchu from the tourist-filled town of Aguas Calientes. Many of these tourists have arrived there by train, taking the sleepy ride up the hillside for a stroll around Machu Picchu. At the gateway, I found myself filled with an anxious impatience and frustration. Having trekked five days to reach this point I had an inner obstinacy and deep-set belief in my right to get into the park before these other noticeably cleaner tourists. The queue funnelled us in quickly, much to my relief. However, in my rush and urge to get inside, I had not considered how to find my way to The Guardhouse.
I followed the crowd, hardly taking-in my first sight of the civilisation which sprawled up and down the hillside before me, seemingly floating above the valleys on either side which drop away with mysterious, forested slopes that contain even more uncovered Inca treasures. The sky was bright and cloudless, but sunrise had yet to break into the gloriously set ruins. Ears pricked, I heard an Australian pair debating where to settle themselves to watch the spectacle over two maps that they must have picked up from the main gate.
Excuse me, do you know where The Guardhouse is? - No, ‘fraid not. - Oh, well. Can I borrow your map? - Sure, you can have it. Have you lost your group? - No, my group's still walking up, my guide’s given me instructions to get to the guardhouse. - *Perplexed silence* - Thank you!
Gushing with thanks, that the couple had kindly given me one of their spare maps, I set off once again up the nearest set of steps, hoping that my map-reading skills had not failed me. I was now paranoid that David may have got the timing slightly wrong and the sun would rise prematurely, checking my watch every half minute. Had I made it? I stood before a funny small stone structure set on a ledge looking over the main site of Machu Picchu. Curious, I walked around the side of the building, side-stepping couples and groups that had got there before me and were planting themselves in situ; cameras at the ready. I checked the map once more, cross-referencing sites plotted in front of me. This was it, I had found The Guardhouse. Conscious that I was one of the few lone travellers on the outcrop I sat down at the fore of its front edge, taking a few moments to still my restless mind.
I wait, no longer worried about the ticking seconds of time that I had battled against for the last hour. I sit, and I wait for something supernatural to happen. Looking out over shadowed hillsides in the distance and down into the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, I find myself in awe of how a society developed and survived in such remote circumstances. There is a mysticism to this place, that can only be defined by the shimmering flakes of dust in the clear blue of the sky and the soft whistling of wind through the thickset foliage surrounding the site. A thin shard of sunlight breaks past the outer crest of the mountainside before me. As the earth has revolved for millennia, turning night into day, I sit and wait for one morning, my eyes fixed on the silhouetted landscape. Time sails slowly onwards and the sky becomes brighter as ray after ray flow forward, filling the valley. People around me point to The Sun Temple, another area where people have clustered to watch this phenomenon. Sat the base of Waynapicchu, it’s the first building to catch the sun’s rays each morning.
I sit and wait as the sun rises higher into the sky, as my fellow sun-worshippers begin to disperse themselves around the park. I am entirely at peace. And I rest, still and composed for a further hour, blissfully unaware of the passage of time; in want of nothing but the warmth of the sun’s rays kissing my cheeks and its omni-benevolent welcome to the new day.