Machu Picchu: Escaping Back in Time on the Inca Trail

For centuries, a gem left over from the South American Inca Empire lay hidden from the world in Peru.

The 15th century city of Machu Picchu lay in the Andean mountains just sitting there in perfect harmony with mother earth – or Pacha Mama as it is referred to in Peru – until 1911 when US professor Hiram Bingham discovered it by accident.

Now, the Inca city is one of the top destinations in the world for tourists and intrepid explorers who take on the Inca trail hike.

For me, it was the jewel in the crown of a self-appointed sabbatical from the normal working life back home in Europe.

To me, the mystery surrounding it absolutely added to its appeal. Not much is known of Machu Picchu. It is presumed by some historians that it was a city for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. 

But then it is not known why it was suddenly abandoned. Spanish colonialization is given as a reason, but the invading forces destroyed much of what they saw as native heresy. Yet much of Machu Picchu is startlingly well preserved.

Usually, such enigmatic questions would confound and infuriate my naturally curious mind. Here though it was not the case. For the mystery compliments the mysticism of this other-worldly site.

When I used to day dream of escaping from my seat in front of a computer, it was usually an image of Machu Picchu that sprang to mind. Something so far removed from what we regard as western civilization held an immeasurable appeal.

So it continued to be every step of the way on the four day hike to the site, starting from near Aguas Calientes.

The inclines were steep, no more so than on day two on the passage up to Dead Woman’s Pass. Such was my determination that my resistance to having a break on the first hour and a half of the day’s expedition came back to haunt me when my thighs started to spasm on the final incline.

I made it to the top though, an elevation of 4,200m above sea level, with two other members of my group in a time of 2 hours and 8 minutes. We were told the average time to reach the summit from our campsite was around 6 hours.

So it came to pass that it was as much about the journey to Machu Picchu than the site itself. I reveled in the times I found myself alone on the trail, occasionally being overtaken by the ridiculously fast and superhuman-like porters. The escape I had craved was all around me, just the Peruvian mountains as my guide.

Why do we crave escape? Sometimes it is the banality of our working lives, or frustrations at home, or just a desire to feast our eyes on something completely different.

For me, I can’t quite put it down to a single reason. A number of situations came to a head in 2015 where I found myself walking down a street in central London thinking, I need to get away from this for a while.

People have different motivations for travelling and come away with different experiences. The old cliché of ‘finding oneself’ has become a bit of a joke nowadays but it is not without its truth.

When escaping to whatever sanctuary one may find, whether that is in Peru, Asia, or Cornwall or a football match, or a piece of music, it reminds us of who we are, giving us the validation of being a human being.

So much of that is taken away in our daily quest for money and status. For some, that may be who they are and good luck to them. But with that comes stress and anxiety, mental health issues, negative qualities that may in turn hurt people who we hold dear.

The Incas may not have been perfect. But they were so content as a civilization they could live on a small mountain top hundreds of miles away from the nearest city.

The perfect structures dotted in and around around Machu Picchu when I eagerly arrived on the fourth day astounded me, as did the news about how they made use of aquaducts they had constructed and used their high ascent to their agricultural advantage. It’s not that we know more nowadays, we simply have found easier ways of doing things.

Leaving the site I never wanted to take my eyes off it, fearing that once I did it would simply become just a memory in my head. But it is a memory I will treasure for reasons beyond words I could describe on this page.


Welcome to the Jungle – Exploring the Amazon Rainforest

I can recall that period in the late 90s when saving the rainforest was one of the major charitable causes. It was popular among celebrities and the growing climate concerned populous. 
Not that it is no longer as worthy a cause, but recent studies have shown that the Amazon rainforest’s regrowth is increasing rapidly, and that is important for capturing carbon in the atmosphere. 

The UN has aims of halving global deforestation by 2020, and halting it altogether by 2030. 

Upon entering the Amazon rainforest last week though, I was immediately struck by the size of it. I had already anticipated to be awestruck by its scale, having entered it in Ecuador and not in the popular Brazilian route. 

But to see hundreds of miles of rainforest stretching out in front of you, there was a tiny thought that couldn’t believe this majestic sight was in danger of being eradicated. 

The ecological importance of rainforests the world over are now widely documented and respected. Indeed it seems they are an integral part of our fight to reduce the carbon dioxide present in our atmosphere.

But on a more humble note the rainforest simply provides shelter for millions of animals as well as humans. 

I was staying with a local shaman and his adopted family near the entrance to the Amazon, already in deep thick forest. 

On a morning walk we were given an initiation ceremony into jungle life, like many communities would do based on ancient principles and traditions. 

On my face was painted the ancient symbol meaning monkey or “jungle boy”, apparently down to my active attributes (I’ll happily take that). 

Without being too deep in the jungle it was still part of the experience to see spiders slightly too large for comfort and frogs that looked like they had been dabbed with radioactive paint.

The sounds of the Amazon river flowing in the distance and the rainforest chorus of animals provided a soothing soundtrack after a day of exploring. Just like those “sounds of the rainforest CDs” but in real life, obviously.

It’s no coincidence to my mind that communities that are far away from large clusters of civilisation live such peaceful lives. Although this is not always the case, it helps refresh the perspective of one who is used to constant distractions such as TV, the Internet, and constant money concerns.

So too does it help having vegetation around you that is beneficial to leading a long and healthy life. Either that or it could kill you. If you like a dangerous gamble go to the rainforest, pick a leaf off a tree and eat it. (*This is not serious advice). 

On a nature walk the shaman explained what he uses various plants for and how they regrow, showing the ultimate way of living off the earth. He also showed how he hunted monkeys with a homemade two-metre long dart gun. Probably not a sport that will take off around the world. 

While clambering up waterfalls to delve deeper into the enigmatic jungle, I found myself startled at just how colourful the surroundings were. I’ve seen some amazing landscapes before, but here it was as if someone had turned up the saturation on real life. 

Like a living art gallery, the rainforest didn’t intimidate; it invigorated. Before you ask this was not due to drinking some of the special Ayahuasca tea which is said to induce hallucinations and even death omens. 

Fortunately I was not deep enough to ever feel the fear of a venomous frog or snake or puma lurking behind me. Though admittedly that would have been exciting…

What I did feel though was a sense of wonderment and great affinity for Mother Earth. 

I also felt a pang of familiarity when the rain started and didn’t stop, flooding the rivers and enriching the ground. At least England and the Amazon have something in common. Rainforest – clue is in the name, I suppose…