Anticipation is the best part. Looking forward to something, expecting, waiting. And when the day finally comes, anticipation gives way to something more tangible, yet so much harder to hold on to. The actual experience either falls below your expectation or is the embodiment of everything you ever hoped and dreamed.
Our first campsite is at 3,900 meters. We grapple with the thin air to climb to a glacier and its aquamarine lake 800 meters above our tents. Our group is almost entirely European (besides ourselves) and we soon realise that we are among the only ones who do not speak French. I immediately regret not paying more attention in high school.
Another early morning and we are met with a steaming steal cup of coca tea which takes the edge off the nausea inflicted by the altitude. It is a steep and winding climb to the summit of the Salkantay Pass. We each quietly drown in the high mountain air on the way there. But we make it. And thank the Creator of the mountains for safe passage in an ancient coca leaf ceremony.
After a number of days on the trail, the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu brings hikers to the mountain town of Aguas Calientes. We are getting amped for the early morning trek to finally see the sun rise over the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu itself.
We climb and climb in the dark. Once at the top we find a vantage point to capture the misty view we have seen so many times on postcards and coasters. But this time it is our own. Perhaps we are taking a picture of a picture, but it is still through our own eyes. And it is our sweat and blisters giving evidence that we are finally here. I am breathless, partly because of the climb but also from the view. It is astonishing and beautiful and magnificent. Our anticipation has been rewarded with the later, it is everything we had hoped and dreamed.