Peru: The Man in the Panama Hat
I follow the long line of people towards the start of the trail. Soft sounds of strange languages circle in the breeze. People are hushed and I am grateful. The morning is just beginning to break, hesitant and gentle in its arrival. We are a convoy of quiet expectation, the pace eager but not rushed. Twigs crackle as each foot is placed in front of the other with purpose and curiosity.
The man in the Panama hat told me to look out for a small sign off to the left. I am not to miss it. If I do, I will end up at the ruins, with the masses. Although I am eager to explore them, the ruins are not why I have come. I have come for the magic.
Another bend, another rise and there it is, tucked into a bush: La Verja del Sol. The Sun Gate. There is no hesitation. I detour to the left and uphill, around a sharp bend and out of sight.
My pace quickens. I want distance from the bus people and their orderly fleet. The new pathway is tougher, steep and narrow. Brush snaps at my legs and flicks at my cheeks. The thumping of my heart is a reminder of the altitude and I slow down, telling myself to relax and enjoy the sounds of dawn. A bird flutters amongst the leaves, the wind echoes through the hills. Eventually I reach a clearing where the trail is surrounded by a soothing emerald blanket. I stop. The ruins are behind me. Below me. I can feel them. But I don’t turn around.
A sigh escapes my lips and it seems to get stuck in the space around me, as if the all-encompassing silence is blocking its flight. This place doesn’t want to be disturbed. Whispery sheaths of cloud linger around me and there is dew on the grass. The air is clean and thin. Standing alone on this hill, there is no chatter or crunching. But the nothingness has presence. It is heavy with heart.
Searching the pathway ahead I see a faint structure in the distance. The Sun Gate. This inspires me to stick to the plan, to experience the marvel from above. Step by step I keep my eyes focussed on the trail and allow the swirling breeze to carry me forward.
The structure of age-old bricks and mortar form a little arch over the path. It is built like everything else I’ve seen in Peru so far, with humble elegance. Slipping my backpack off, I let it rest against the gate. I am conscious of its red and yellow pattern, and how it interrupts the purity of the space.
I turn around.
The breath catches in my throat as I take my first glimpse of the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu lying below. The grey mottled walls, positioned into patterns and layers, cling to the edges of the mountains. The structures mimic the surrounding landscape of mountains, each with their own camel hump pointed vertically towards heaven. Morning emerged somewhere along the climb and now the night-time tresses of soft white cloud shuffle in the cleavage of hills, struggling to rise into the blue sky. The sun’s rays dance amongst the ruins and hills, casting lines of light that deliver on their daily promise of life. Struck motionless by the vision before me, I am filled with white light. In the quiet moments of wonder, there is just one word: Magic.
Meandering off to one side I search for somewhere to prolong my solitude, somewhere to sit. I disappear into a narrow pathway that climbs higher. A dozen steps into my detour there is a shuffling sound nearby and I stop. The hair on my neck bristles. The bushes are thin and I peer into them, towards the sound. A pair of huge, coffee-coloured eyes meet mine and I gasp. Her lashes are thick and extraordinary. The silky tan fur of her face glistens in the sunlight and she chews. Staring back at me, I am not scared, for this llama’s eyes are kind and knowing. She lives here. She is calm and perhaps always filled with white light. I gaze at her in awe. Still. She tires of me and wanders off to finish her meal, but she has shared her knowing for just those few moments and I feel a rush of joy.
Coming to a clearing, I sit and stretch my legs along the grass, twisting out of my shoes. I am aware of how my breath has slowed. The knots I am used to carrying around in my stomach have released their grip. The tiger inside, a constant circling companion, seems to be resting. In this place far away I feel nothing but a light bubbling of the senses and I am happy.
About the author: Tania Leigh: I am an Australian school teacher and travelled to South America on my long service leave for three months. It was a trip made solo, during my mid-thirties, in an effort to clear the cobwebs and inspire thoughts on the second half of my life. My passions include travel and writing, and upon my return, I embarked on a university degree in Creative Writing which has provided me with inspiration and contentedness.