Macchu Picchu celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Its peaks and valleys must be a little different with every passing season, yet the profundity of its experience remains universal. The typical outpost from which to explore the Andean mountain range is Cuzco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire and tourist destination par excellence. I've heard that every inch of that city is cultivated so that you, the next bright-eyed-wanderer-to-step-off-the-plane, and I can have the "ultimate" Peruvian experience.
With this in mind, I dragged my obliging mother, my two young daughters, and myself to another town entirely in the Sacred Valley of Urubamba, Peru. This one -- far less tread -- was where I hoped to expose my girls to one of the ancient Wonders of the World before SMS and CGI take over their sweet minds completely.
Before our arrival in Urubamba, I studied up on my Incan history and prepared to be awed by the intuition of ancient construction. What I didn't anticipate was how wowed I would be by the Tambo del Inka Resort where we stayed. It is a hidden vista built directly into the mountain just outside of an ex-pat neighborhood in a sleepy Peruvian town. There's maybe one charming restaurant in the town, tops, but the hotel is a gourmet experience unto itself. The look on my 11-year-old's face as she tasted her first bite of foie gras will not soon escape me, nor will the wide eyes of my 6-year-old as I tried to explain exactly what the gourmet dish comprises.
We left the premises of the resort at dawn to walk a winding forest path to two small train cars that waited to roll us down a two-and-a-half hour track to Macchu Picchu. It was difficult to remain aloof or detached from the beauty of that valley or the architectural feat we were about to encounter.
The train careened through the visual feast of a lush range and a rumbling Urubamba river, and we snacked as well on the charming basket of refreshments the staff provided, each accompanied by a traditional coca tea -- a bevvie surely not kosher in our local watering holes. We looked at one another wide-eyed as the music in the car was suddenly turned up and the conductor whipped off his coat to reveal a crafted Peruvian sweater and an awkward "runway" swagger down the aisle -- it was a fashion show location that had somehow been overlooked until that point!
We reached the town of Macchu Picchu early, and felt a bit like Hiram Bingham himself arriving first to the "old peak." Our trek up that Wonder of the World proved both trying (my mom made out with an oxygen mask) and comical (pictures taken near playful grazing llamas revealed that, in fact, llamas are rather large and scary to a 6-year-old), and the sheer size of the structures was awe-inspiring. I held on to my girls' hands until they were white as we ascended narrow dirt paths without guard rails; the Rikrit tee I was wearing aptly read "Fear Eats the Soul."
When we strolled through the town after our descent, the streets were filled with locals, tourists, and a flood of volunteers who had intuitively mixed embroidered Peruvian frocks with their hipster street clothes. To both mockery and giggles, I refrained from the purchase of a stuffed rodent wearing a toque and riding a miniature bicycle in favor of an enormous white fur hat, despite the unanimous opinion that it makes my head look like an oversize Q-Tip.
As we boarded a tiny train back to a secluded vista, the authenticity of our immersion in the Peruvian countryside felt overwhelming. Our climb had been like a precious moment captured: we were left unjaded, exhausted, and happy.
Looking back on the trip, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I draw some weird existential connection between that Wonder-ous place -- evidence of humanity's evolution -- and my own matriarchal lineage, represented by three generations of Rowleys. The walls of Macchu Picchu are far away, but my "Mom-chu Picchu" will remain a closely cherished memory.