We stagger bleary-eyed off the bus: it was a grisly 4.30 wake-up call, and now after the hairpin bends I feel a bit like I’ve been blindfolded and spun in a circle.
Around us early-morning clouds are rising out of the Sacred Valley, and we find ourselves blinking in the sunlight as the mists clear over Huayna Picchu (the young mountain) to the north and Machu Picchu (the old mountain) to the south, and the peaks of mountains to east and west rear suddenly close. The blindfold lifts, and here we are at the centre of the Inca world.
The city built here some 500 years ago is tiny by comparison with other Inca ruins we’ve visited in recent days, but the beautiful precision of layout and stonework, the tailoring of terrace and temple to the lines of peak and sky, were wonderfully familiar. Wilbert, our shaman-guide, led our little group up to the upper terraces, from where we could gaze tranquilly on the little miracle below. He pointed out how the setting of the sacred city was aligned with both the mountains whose gods (apus) watched over it and the major constellations in the sky above. Taking three coca leaves, symbolising the trinity of the spirit world, humankind and the gods, he made a dedication to the apus and had each of us do the same. Then, tuning out the growing noise of the tourists arriving from Ollantaytambo, we sat listening to the suddenly full-throated birds and drinking in the peace and beauty of the place for a long while before heading down to tour the site proper.
I’d decided before we got there that I was less interested in the Inca civilisation than in the cultures of artists and craftspeople it conquered, some of whose artistry we were able to appreciate at the Amano and Larco Herrera museums in Lima. But there’s no way you can remain unmoved by Machu Picchu, and by its three-dimensional adoration of the magnificent mountains that surround it. If you must worship, a mountain seems to me a very natural object of devotion.
So: another wonderful experience. And it will be yet another to come back down to the city through the Gate of the Sun after walking the Inca’s royal highway over the next few days.