Machu Picchu, Parts 1 and 2
7/19/07, Machu Picchu.
I am sitting high on a wall overlooking dense clouds hiding the mountains. I sit just above the huge arched door. Many swallows. Many tourists. It is 8:30 am. I can feel the sun but mostly it is a damp breath, gentle, not enough to move the clouds or dry last night's rain.
Every so often tourists pass me, talking in many languages. Either they climb up huffing, or they descend talking. This is not a place where silence prevails. Despite its breathtaking vistas, its high altitude, its incomprehensible architecture, despite its mysterious, overwhelming, miraculous, incomprehensible existence, Machu Picchu cannot inspire silence. In fact, with its monumental size and exquisite details, Machu Picchu so dwarfs us, reveals us for all our pretense as underachieving, unimportant, without significance in the long stream of time, that we respond with the trivial, as if to prove the point, perhaps to comfort ourselves in the presence of the awe inspiring.
We respond with a thousand photographs. An avalanche of flashes. Conversations that seem far too loud, far too incessant for such an enormous cathedral, questions about the mundane. I wonder, have we lost our capacity to be struck silent?
Four llamas have arrived. One chases another past me, making wheezing noises. Tourists hug the walls. When the chase has subsided and the larger llama has mounted a terrace below and the smaller one is standing on the descending steps, the tourists resume their chatting and photographing. One calls out, "Llama, Llama," as if the animals spoke English. Then others arrive to discuss the llamas and to speculate further about them. Even these wonders, with their cushioned feet, their long necks, their fleece still wet from the rain, almost wild, inhabiting this place for millenniums, cannot quiet us. A llama releases a cascade of urine and feces on the terrace near me. Tourists gasp and then discuss this.
Two friends arrive from above and call out to me. We chat briefly. We too are too loud. They arrived at 6 am to hike above to the Inka Sun Gate, a hike I took yesterday, and they are now returning. It is now about 9:30 am. They trek away.
A huge tour group with a guide is above me on the path. He explains-- is he speaking in French, Portugese, English?-- pointing and gesturing into the wide void below him. The tourists listen attentively. His left arm waves deep into the void, floats over his head, waves at the distant mountains, toward the clouds.
Below, two women touch the sunburns they received yesterday and discuss them.
A sparrow lands near me on the wall. It hops toward me. Two people nearby speak softly in German. And at last, unbelievably, there is total silence.
Machu Picchu stands wrapped in soft cotton. Sparrows speak. The open roofs of distant buildings jut into the wet sky. And there is a moment, a precious, evanescent moment, of utter silence.
I am in a small room above the Condor Temple, a great view of wide terraces below me. Wispy cotton clouds slowly rise. Voices in Italian fill the Temple below me. My small room is in an out of the way spot. It leads nowhere. But it is now surrounded by voices in Italian and Spanish inquiring where the exit is. At last, the voices wander off.
I inhale Machu Picchu, its magic, its endurance, its incredible strength, its genius. I feel that it is sacred. I inhale all of this and I exhale gratitude. There is a moment of peace.
No one has any real information about Machu Picchu. The guides always being with, "They say..." What they say is a blend of fact and fiction so thoroughly mixed and so often repeated that provable facts cannot be distilled from it.
Tourists have arrived to take photos of my small, private room and speak in Spanish. The guide says that they know 25% about this place and that the remaining 75% will have to be revealed by modern technology. Not likely. And then, they too are gone, as are their speculations, and the peace returns.
I inhale Machu Picchu and I exhale peace. I am content.