Machu Picchu: It’s Worth It

I traveled to South America in 1988 with my first husband, Orlando. Besides visiting his native Colombia, we planned to make a trek to Peru and its treasure, Machu Picchu. The issue at the time was Peru’s internal terrorism and most of Orlando’s extended family recommended against a visit to Machu Picchu. Ironic that we spent an extensive amount of the month-long visit in the long-standing democracy (until recently) of Venezuela and ran into most of our issues with the police/army of Colombia. Perhaps we should have taken the bet on traveling to Peru, but we instead stuck to Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.


Suffice it to say, Machu Picchu has been at the top of my bucket list for the last thirty years. A very dusty bucket list since I’ve had children, a career and am no longer married to a bilingual adventurer. So I learned Spanish myself. When I saw photos of the classic photo taken atop Machu Picchu by a college friend, Lisa, about two years ago on social media, I reached out to find out how she had accomplished such an extraordinary feat. In addition, I have a co-worker from a past job, Claudia, who is a native of Peru. Without these wealth of resources due mostly to social media, I would probably not have had the wherewithal to head south of the equator to finally check off the item at the top of my bucket list.


This is what you need to know traveling to Machu Picchu:


Remote. I have traveled internationally several times over the last few years. I have taken Uber rides to far flung Colombian villages, like Guatapé, some three hours outside of Medellín, Colombia. No need for a bus token or much Spanish. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo are all very remote with mostly gravel and rutted roads in between. You will not be able to get an Uber or taxi ride to the train station at Ollantaytambo or Agua Caliente. I point this out because, unless you are hiking the famed Inca Trail (I did not), you will need to have transportation set up in advance. I was on a tour with REI, so all of the transfers were set up well in advance. In addition, outside of tour buses and tuk tuks, you won’t see many other vehicles on the road. Be prepared.


Water. The water in Peru is not potable for US travelers. Every hotel and restaurant served bottled water. Most hotels instructed us to brush our teeth with bottled water. Basically, your stomach isn’t ready for whatever parasites and bacteria living in the water versus the water you drink every day in the United States. It’s not bad; it’s just different. I was amazed that every place we went to served drinks from a bottle without ice. Funny that when we arrived at a buffet restaurant right outside the park with self-serve drinks, most of the kids had put ice in their glass along with one of our tour group. When we pointed out the error, she came back without ice in her glass. It may just be the custom not to serve ice with drinks in Peru, but avoiding ice and tap water is important. I, for one, was guarding my digestive health to make sure I summited Machu Picchu successfully. Be prepared with plenty of bottled water.


Transportation. We took the train from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente (Pueblo de Machu Picchu) the morning of hiking Machu Picchu. I made the mistake of sitting opposite the direction the train was traveling. It’s a pleasant 90-minute ride but facing backwards may have led me to be a bit queasy later. What added to my queasiness was the insane, harrowing bus ride up to the actual archeological site. It’s about 30 minutes long and the full-size buses ride up switch backs and hairpin turns on a gravel road with no guard rails, inches from a precarious thousand-foot drop–as well as passing buses running down the mountain! It was a really bad movie scene waiting to happen! I don’t normally get car sick, although it may have been the anticipation of finally arriving at Machu Picchu. I do have one recommendation: keep your eyes shut. And the only other way in is hiking for several days on the Inca Trail. Don’t forget that you come back down on a bus on the same road you went up. If it sounds sobering, it is.


Altitude. I remember focusing on the fact that Machu Picchu is at about 8,000 feet in elevation. That, in hindsight, is not the issue. Cuzco, the closest major city with an airport, is at 11,500 feet. When we strode up a short flight of stairs upon arriving Cuzco, you feel it. You are out of breath. You start to get a headache. For some in our tour group of ten, you get sick. You feel dizzy and can’t stand up. Cuzco and its altitude is a bigger obstacle than Machu Picchu. Seems counterintuitive that the big city is at a higher altitude than what was once misnamed “the Lost City of the Incas” (it was never lost but the Spanish Conquistadors never found it). Apparently, altitude sickness is random. You may or may not get it. Just know that Machu Picchu is much lower than Cuzco. Acclimate in Cuzco and Machu Picchu will be a breeze.


“Steps.” I remember that by the end of my trip, I was sick of “steps.” There are “steps” everywhere in the various archeological sites we visited from Pisac, to the Saltpans of Mara, to the 250 “steps” up Ollantaytambo. I use quotation marks around the steps because they are not a set of steps that you would expect in any given public building with an even uniform height to the steps, singular material such as wood or metal, and, of course, a nice handy railing in case you want to grab on for balance at some point. Well, on the initial approach up to Machu Picchu there are “steps”. I’d guess there were about a hundred or so. There are many tourists in varying phases of fitness on those steps either going up or coming down. There are no railings, no escalators, no elevators (yes, I did sheepishly ask a few times during my tour of Peru). The steps are uneven, nonuniform, and disjointed. Poles might have been useful but having help from our guides and some fellow friends was invaluable.


AweThere are few sights in this world that bring tears to my eyes. The Golden Gate bridge, Yosemite Valley and the New York Skyline come to mind. On that approach just a few short weeks ago, to see that view? I had tears in my eyes. That breathtaking view of an ancient village built in the 15th century, nestled into the shear edges of mountains. The engineering feat in the middle of an impossibly steep mountain range. The civilization that masterminded the moving and shaping of the landscape without beast or wheel. The sheer beauty of the extraordinary backdrop. It is breathtaking. It is magical. It is inspiring. It was completely worth the thirty-year wait. Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring.


I am so fortunate to have traveled with my REI cohort of ten to Machu Picchu. A fantastic group of tenacious and fun hikers with knowledgeable, helpful guides. It wasn’t easy or simple but worth the wait for that awe inspiring view.


This is another key principle from “The Essential’s of Leadership” developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI), ask for help and encourage involvement.  Sounds simple. But is it? For most, it’s difficult to give up the reins.  Most of us are compensated for being an expert, a technician, highly skilled in creating widgets or leading others.  I think we find it difficult to ask for help when we are supposed to be the go to person.  The answer man.  “Go ask Cathy, she’ll know what to do.”

I’m not suggesting that this is asking for help with bringing in grocery bags or changing the water cooler bottle.  This is more about asking for help and getting involvement on a process, procedure or project.  Maybe it’s asking your child to select a recipe and make it for dinner, having your assistant design a page of a website or putting an ad hoc team together to do some process improvement.   This creates buy in and helps advance everyone’s skills.  The helper gets some mastery in a new area and you get better leadership and delegation skills.  It’s a win-win.

In the book, “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman, one of the five disciplines of a Multiplier is being The Liberator. The leader that liberates is one who “releases others by restraining yourself.” This can be difficult when most people assume that the highest ranking person in the room is going to make the decision.  Time to sit on your hands and let your child, coworker or partner, flourish.

So how do you get on board?  Here are some steps:

1. Let go.  It’s time to let go.  I know it’s easier to do it yourself.  It’s faster.  More efficient.  Saves time, money and (sometimes) aggravation.  In the long run, it will pay dividends.  One of the hardest steps as a parent was to let my child cut an onion.  Handing a child a sharp cutting blade and a round slippery peeled onion sounded like a formula for disaster.  I had to let go.  If they cut off their finger, we’ll go to the emergency room (I’m happy to say it didn’t happen with either child).  How are they ever going to learn?  The bonus is, I’m not the only one who can chop onions.

2. Drop assumptions.  Unless you are clairvoyant, you don’t know what is really going to happen. Your assistant may have totally botched the last spreadsheet you delegated to him but, hey…he probably learned something and will do just great this time.  Quit predicting disaster and let them fly.  If they fall on their face, they will have learned something and so will you.

3. Get clear.  Make sure you and your helper  are clear about project parameters, deadlines and expectations.  If you tell your coworker that we need a budget for the fund raising project, make sure you explain how to develop the budget, when it’s due and any expectations for the format.  It’s not a good idea to send them off in the dark and hope for the best.  Clearly delegate for the best outcome.

4. Be available.  Once you have delegated, be available for course corrections.  I once asked my daughter to make macaroni and cheese while I attended an evening meeting.  The box asked for 1/4 cup of milk.  Somehow my eleven-year-old thought that meant 4 cups of milk.  The end result was a milky cheesy macaroni soup.  I had not been available to answer questions.  If you can’t be available, it may not be the right time to delegate.

5. Accept.  Be prepared to accept any outcome.  The results might be great or they may be a disaster.  Give encouraging feedback about the results regardless of the outcome.  A colleague of mine would say this is “pumping sunshine.” I’d like to think it’s encouraging their mastery.  I’m not suggesting that you gloss over errors that were made.  My daughter now knows the difference between a 1/4 cup and 4 cups (and we didn’t eat the macaroni).  Better luck next time. At least she tried and now, at nineteen, she can cook on her own.  Accept the results and encourage them to continue.

I realize that there may be things that are beyond someone’s abilities.  If it’s too much of a stretch, set realistic expectations.  My daughter won’t be making a turducken anytime soon.  Heck, that’s beyond my skills.  The important thing is to empower those around you and watch them blossom.

How do you encourage involvement?