I liken the train ride to Machu Picchu with one of my favorite children's books The Polar Express wherein a small select group of children are hustled out of their homes late in the night by an old tyme train on a trip to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. The luxury and appearance of the quaint, old fashioned locomotive to Aguas Calientes was just as grandiose as the one in the story and the excitement among the passengers was extreme and palpable; we might as well have been journeying to see Old Saint Nick himself.
After a much needed rest [and shower] in the beautiful accommodations in downtown Aguas Calientes, we hurried to catch an early bus that would take us up the massive switchback ''road'', through the jungle, to the ancient mountain city of Machu Picchu. The ride up was an adventure much onto itself [making our previous drives in Ireland seem tame and safe] with only what seemed like inches between passing buses as we climbed thousands of feet above the town, with a sheer drop to the valley below.
Our guide Juan, ever knowledgeable, helped us to bypass the cue and showed us a little used entryway and, as we rounded the corner, the view of the city with varied sunbeams breaking through the mist, was an image of unimaginable grandeur and beauty. The size and scale of this triumph of human innovation was not done justice by any photograph or article that our previous investigation of the trip had uncovered. Houses, temples, roads, fountains, it was a maze and a great expanse that captured our imagination, one that easily could have provoked a lifetime of study and exploration. Terraces and stone outcroppings line the mountain on all sides, flushed by houses and the sleeping chambers utilized by the domineering Incan army. An entire mountain covered by a scheme of construction that was both grand and overwhelming but somehow also harmonious with the rolling peaks of this hidden sanctuary. Sidewalks and stairs abound, some narrow and treacherous, others wide and well-worn by the thousands of Incans who used to live, work, love and die high amongst the cloud forest.
Juan, perpetually skeptical, expressed disappointment at those who chose to ignore the architectural and historical aspects of the site and only honed in on its possible mystical significance as they hugged and whispered to boulders or knelt in the grassy terraces. Yet for all our light hearted fun at their expense, it was undeniable that a certain energy and presence surrounded the astronomical observatories and stone temples that lay scattered upon the grounds. Rounding a narrow corner we came upon the Condor Rock, the most revered Incan symbol, lying in wait, its granite wings cast high into the mist. The Sun Temple with its perfectly aligned windows and altars caused the hair on our arms and necks to rise as Juan described, in detail, the various rites and ceremonies that took place right beneath our feet. My mind again went back to those beautiful Incan children in Cuzco and I know that the spirit of this place and these ancient people was still alive and well, even thriving, within the hearts of every Peruvian.