The real reason why I went to Peru was to experience high mountains for the first time in my life and to find out how I was able to cope with thin air in high altitudes. The idea was to train for climbing Kilimanjaro. Peru had always been a traveling target for me, and I had even given thought to volunteer there during the time I was a student, but as I always had to work several jobs to support my studies, that plan was thrown away.
When mountain hiking became an important part of my life, I began understanding why mountaineers longed for higher peaks. It was no longer enough to be on mountains that were 2.000 m high. I wanted more. I wanted to have the breathtaking experience of being close to the top of the world and see what all the fuss about the altitude was.
When I arrived in Peru I was fixated with the Andes and with training my body to be able to complete a five-day Salkantay trek that went up to 4.600 m. The last day of the trek included climbing to Machu Picchu, which, at the time being, I did not consider as the highlight of my adventure as it only lay at an altitude of 2.430 m.
To be completely honest, I always thought that the hype around Machu Picchu was way louder than the village itself. Thus, I kept my expectation low and thought about it as something to see if I was already there.
After four exhausting hiking days, we got up at 4:30 a.m. because we had 6 o’clock tickets for Machu Picchu and the hike up to the entrance was to take about one hour.
After climbing what felt like an endless number of huge stone stairs, we reached the Machu Picchu village gates in 45 minutes. The sun had just risen, but it was very foggy so we could barely see what lay two meters was away from us.
We entered the village and the only things we could see were a very saturated green grass, some stones, and tourists. The fog covered everything. “Great”, I thought, while my mind was searching for evidence of my conviction that Machu Picchu was nothing special.
We lingered about fifteen minutes in the village listening to the history of how the village was built and the mysteries around it. I was still quite unimpressed, especially as I was told that I was standing directly in the spot that was most well-known and most photographed in Machu Picchu. Whatever. All I could see was white fog.
Soon, the noise of people talking faded away (guides had finished their storytelling), and I was still standing on the alleged notorious spot, staring into the fog, my mind wandering around the experiences of the last hiking days. And then I suddenly witnessed something I had never seen before in my life that made me choke and left my mouth open automatically. The fog began to pull away, just like the heavy curtains of a theatre, letting through the first contours of the stage, announcing the beginning of the show. Oh, and what a show it was! Machu Picchu lay right in front of my eyes mocking me “I told you so!” At that moment I truly understood why it was so hyped: It WAS absolutely breathtaking.