Text and Photos by Natasha Scripture
It was an honor I did not expect. I was prepared to head east sola, donning my scruffy, lived-through Patagonia, prepared for the worst, expecting nothing less than an Awakening. I was geared up to be yet another “gringa” fending for herself, lost amidst a sea of charged tourists, all with the unmistakable glint of Machu Picchu in our eyes.
But it was not like that. Fate intervened and fortuitously altered my plans to travel alone to the ancient Inca city for my thirtieth birthday. One month after moving to Lima to work for the World Bank, I was invited to Cuzco, and its fabulous environs, by a few of my wonderful new Peruvian colleagues over Peru’s Fiestas Patrias.
This is the honor I am referring to. As humorous as it sounds, I was thrilled that I would be visiting one of the recently acclaimed Seven Wonders of the World with “real Peruanos.” How many times have I visited grand sites and perceived them only through tourists’ eyes? I was being given the experience to travel with natives and absorb every marvel of Machu Pichu through their eyes, to listen to their perspectives, and perhaps be indulged with tasty little insider secrets and myths…
In our party, there were four Peruvians, one American (me) and the token Brazilian. We landed in the elevated Andean city of Cuzco early Friday morning, with every intention of taking it easy in order to adjust to the altitude – which sits at over 3,000 meters (around 11,000 feet). Cuzco, once the heart of the Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyu, is a colorful city of about 300,000 inhabitants, home to some of Peru’s most formidable archeological sites. It is a multilingual center of art, culture and cuisine, where you can wander through the cobble-stoned streets for hours, pretending to be lost in a colonial fantasy world; where languages from all of the world fuse into a sort of all-encompassing vibrating hum, including Quechua, formerly the official language of the Inca Empire, still spoken by over 8 million people in South America. The crisp, sweet air, and the surrounding Andean peaks, can inspire a sense of wanderlust in anyone.