Machu Picchu thirty years ago. The way the stones were carved into this little niche fascinated me. But now, what fascinates me even more is that thirty years have passed since I was there. My first international adventure was in the fall of 1981. Now it's the fall of 2011.
On the first day of summer in 1981, I was hit by a truck from behind while riding my bicycle down Boulder Canyon, which I wrote about here. I sustained a compression fracture in my back, which turned out to be rather fortuitous in many ways: the last thoracic vertebrae is not involved in weight bearing for the upper or lower body, so after healing up from the injury, I received a small settlement from the driver's insurance company ($10,000). Most of my friends at the time thought I should invest the money (which would have been the sensible thing to do), but I decided I wanted to travel to Peru. After arranging for a six-week-long absence from my job, I took off for Peru. One thing I wanted to see was Machu Picchu, and a tattered poster of the ruins had followed me from one apartment to the next. It embodied my dream of travel to distant places.
My traveling companion, Marla, was unknown to me before some well-meaning friends hooked us up. Those same friends didn't like the idea of me traveling alone, which I was prepared to do, but Marla and I were such different people that we only spent a small portion of our time in Peru together. We did, however, both meet up again for a five-day excursion from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. We took the train from Cuzco to Kilometer 88, where about a dozen fellow hikers from all over the world disembarked along with us for a three-day-long hike across three mountain passes on the ancient Inca Trail. I found a description of the hike on line and learned that now the Peruvian Government does not allow anyone to take this trip without a guide. Thirty years ago the trail was open to anyone who wanted to take it.
We carried a tent and iodine pills to treat whatever water we might find. After those three days of hiking, we crested a hill and looked down on Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu (the big mountain behind the ruins) resplendent in all its glory. This picture was taken from Wikipedia, but I have a similar one somewhere.
I don't even remember what kind of camera I had with me, but of course it had film back then and I didn't see my pictures until I arrived back home in Boulder. Funny, now that seems so strange since I'm used to seeing my pictures instantaneously. Life has changed a great deal, in ways that no one could have predicted. But one that is the same today, I'm still hiking.
Thirty years is a long time. I was in my late thirties when I took this journey to Peru, and I've now experienced the culture of many more countries and had numerous adventures. But this was my first, and I will never forget how it shaped me. You never forget your first time.