The Andes via Inca Trail
"In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle."
-Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas
It's not hard to fathom the humbleness that Hiram Bingham, the explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu for the modern world, must've felt when he came upon the sight of the Andes mountains in central Peru.
Peaks upon peaks reaching out to the skies, some lush in greeneries, some bare rocks like the fingernails of the earth, and some covered in ever-present snow and glaciers. You can both understand and puzzle why the Incas built their empire upon these rugged terrains.
We trekked through the mountains on the Inca Trail (Camino Inka) on a 4-day/3-nights hiking trip that finally ends at the terminus of Machu Picchu. Though well accommodated, the journey was at best challenging even to the fittest of people.
Knowing that at times we were stepping on the same rocks that was built by the Inca empire some 500-600 years ago, I can't help but ponder the magnificence of what was the greatest empire in South America. And also saddened by the relatively short span of their existence, cut short by bloody civil wars, disease, and Spanish conquistadors.
When you've just started to internalize the beauty of the mountains themselves, you'll come across remnants of a civilization like you've never seen before. Built on steep hills, hundreds of feets high, on the side of the mountains. With sophisticated masonry, water systems, and city planning.
Not much of the Incan Empire remains, not their stories nor their songs. But at least there are these magnificent stone remains to fuel our imaginations... and the mountains who have silently watched their rise, their fall, and now their legacy.