We left Yucay by bus this morning and headed to the train station where we boarded Peru Rail to the Town of Machu Picchu (MP). The train ride was as interesting and beautiful as the rest of our trip, as the train followed the river and we made our way through various ecosystems, including the lush tropical areas. When we arrived at the train station in MP, we boarded a bus to the MP site and that's where the TRUE wonder and amazement of this trip began.
There was a slight drizzle as we entered at the gates of MP, so we donned our rain jackets while others of us (me included) purchased a $2 poncho. About 10 minutes later, I was no longer wearing the poncho as the rain had stopped and our magical tour of MP began.
At this point, it would be unfair, unjust, and totally ineffective for me to try to explain to you what we saw at MP. I will attach a few pictures of MP late today or tommorw, but they just don't do justice. It would be like me trying to describe Duke's victory over UNC last year, when Jamison Crowder caught the winning touchdown pass at the end of the game - you just had to be there! MP is a place, but it's also an experience, a spiritual one at that, and the next 8 hours were just incredible.
The weather shifted many times during the day, with clouds, a few peaks from the sun, warmth as well as a few chilly moments. After an awesome tour of MP, we ate lunch and then several of us returned to the ruins and made our way up the Sungate trail. Eleven of us hiked the trail together and found it to be a little harder then we expected. We all agreed that it was worth every ache and strain of our feet, ankles, knees and hamstrings - the view was beyond spectacular. And just as we finished and made our way back to the shuttle to the train station and then to our hotel, it began to drizzle once again. Timing is everything.
I truly wish that I could fully describe MP - its physical presence, its spiritual significance, and its overwhelming impact - but I can't. So, instead I want to focus on another dynamic of this experience and that is the power of 25 Duke alumni and friends traveling together to a place like this. Our tour guide throughout this trip, a citizen of Peru who has been devoted to making certain that everything goes well for us, has commented on how our group seems to always be happy and engaged. He has been amazed at how interested and interesting everyone is; he has been an integral part of the success of this trip as has the camaraderie of our group. I must also mention that the local tour guide over the past few days has been remarkable, as he has poured his heart and soul into the information he he has shared with us; his passion about Peru and its history is infectious. Although everyone has approached this trip in an individual way, we have all also seen it as a group experience where community matters. In many ways, it is like the Duke experience.
So, today I could not help but think about my arrival at Duke 40 years ago as a freshman. Having missed my first Welcome Week/Orientation at Duke for the first time in forty years to make this trip, I have struggled in some ways to be focused on everything that has been happening over the past few days - it just hasn't seemed right to be away from campus during this critically important time of the year. But today, my emotion went from one of disappointment in missing something AT Duke to one of gratitude for being able to experience something WITH Duke. Forty years ago, I could never have imagined that my Duke experience would have taken me to Machu Picchu, traveling with 24 other Dukies with similar yet very different journeys. What a gift I have been given and I could not be more thankful.
It is my understanding that the Duke Alumni travel program will be offering this trip to Machu Picchu again next year, I believe in September, with the same tour guide. If you are at all interested in visiting Machu Picchu, I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. Just consider it part of your Duke experience. I promise you will not be disappointed.