There is something to be said for being alone with your thoughts. There’s also something to be said for being surrounded by the riches of nature. Combine them and you have a recipe for bliss. This, I think, is what made my four-day visit to Peru over the semester break such a remarkable experience.
Before going to Machu Picchu I spent a day in Ollantaytambo. Situated in the sacred valley, it’s a small town surrounded by a collection of Incan ruins, the largest of which requires paid entrance, but the rest are free to anyone who feels like hiking. I went to the paid ruins first and clambered around the terraces happily, marveling at the little channels cut into the rock that still carry water just as they would have when they were first built. After that adventure I hiked to the free ruins and found myself wonderfully alone amongst the archways of what must have been a lookout station. I sat and regained my breath as I looked out over the town and the valley, feeling utterly content. Machu Picchu was amazing, of course, but for me I don’t think it can beat those moments I had in Ollantaytambo that belonged entirely to me, and not hoards of other tourists as well.
I met a Brazilian friend during my travels and he mentioned that places like these make us feel nostalgic for a past we never experienced. Having no direct ancestral connection, for me I think this reminiscence must come from a place of shared human history. The accomplishments of ancient civilizations, however short-lived (the Inca empire only lasted about 100 years), have a rare talent for calling up a certain solidarity for our species.
I wonder if the people of the future will look back upon our remains with the same kind of nostalgia.