Hiking Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Capturing an award-winning photograph of a llama on said Ancient Wonder is, too. Or at least, I assume it would be.
As I framed the most amazing shot I’d seen in my life, a bratty ten-year-old boy shoved me out of the way so that he could poke a stick at the defenseless llama that, in that moment, I named Kuzco.
My desire to call for the end of all bad American parents nearly overtook me. However, I restrained myself. There were too many natives nearby that might hate the sun-burnt American city girl a little too much if she caused a scene.
Forlorn after the five hours of intense hiking I’d already completed that morning, I grunted, shifted my camera and sought out another friendly llama that perhaps might grace me with his buck-toothed grin. My luck, of course, held.
My decision to hike up Machu Picchu that morning was met with a few trials. First, I had walked hastily away from my hostel without my entry ticket.
If I hadn’t tripped off into the deep darkness with no flashlight save my weak smartphone function, I might have realized sooner that I didn’t have my entry ticket. But, well, this is me. Adventure — not Mishap and Disaster — is my middle name.
After walking back up the hill to retrieve my ticket, I turned around and found that I had missed sunrise by probably a good twenty minutes. By the time I reached the entry point, I grumpily started hiking upward. And upward and upward.
The guidebooks had all lied! I was supposed to climb this sucker in an hour, maybe an hour and a half. But, oh, no. Not this Chicago girl. A flat city leads to little mountain climbing practice. I seriously should have scheduled those skyscraper climbs.
Upward I climbed for another hour and a half. So, yes, three hours later, I reached the top. Lungs drained and blood thinned, I had triumphed! But then I looked up at the mountain and noticed that the ruins were higher up still. As was that blasted ticket for the montaña I’d purchased.
This was it. I’d come all this way. And I wasn’t about to waste all that money, effort, and time and turn back now. I tightened my knapsack and went through the gates.
And from there, I only discovered more mountains.
Hikers coming down from the Inca Trail saw me catching my breath along the path. “Have you been to the Sun Gate yet?”
Barely able to speak, I shook my head and guzzled down water. “How far up is it?”
“Oh, just a little while. Maybe a twenty-minute hike. It’s completely worth it.”
“Really?” That doesn’t sound so bad. “What’s it like up there?”
“You’ll get the most awesome views ever.”
I like awesome views.
“Cool.” I decided my life was probably over anyway, so what the heck? I’d keep climbing.
Fast forward two hours and I’d climbed up to a smaller gate, thinking it was the Sun Gate, and turned around. I’d hiked to two or three other points and managed to miss my entry to the mountain peak I’d paid extra to climb. I might have been okay with that. I wasn’t sure I could keep climbing anyway. I climbed a different peak instead.
As I climbed down the mountain that afternoon, after literally ten hours of hiking, with only a fifteen-minute break and the fuel of an idiot who forgot all of her snacks in the town nearby, I survived.
I’d gotten some fun photos of chinchillas scrambling across rocks and taken about seven hundred photos with some amazing angles and unique shadows.
I’ll never know what it’s like to capture the world’s most amazing photo of a llama, though.
No bitterness. Just a memory that will last until I find that kid again someday, and I unleash my bratty child on him while he’s trying to take a photo that would redefine photojournalism for a century.
I’m looking forward to seeing Kuzco again someday, too.