The 1997 Disaster Story
The last steps. Finally the sacred ruin called Machu Picchu will be a precious part of my life.
It had been a long hike to get so far. A breathtaking three day journey crossing a 4,200 meter (13,779 ft)
high pass had led me to these final steps. It was something I had dreamed of for years.
The last steps were covered with my blood rushing wildly through my veins. I finally stood on the hill that overlooked Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. What should have been the ultimate spiritual experience turned out to be a sight of white smoke as dense as snow.
Machu Picchu was hidden from my gaze. I recalled the events leading up to this moment. The hike had not been without problems.
Peru is a land of immense beauty in South America. It has a cultural heritage so rich and varied that a lifetime still leaves you craving for more. The Inca Empire was the last kingdom to harvest the lands of Peru before the Spaniards conquered the land of gold. The Incas had only ruled for 100 years but had built up a society that reached far beyond the borders of Peru. The cities were wonders of architecture. The capital Cuzco was known as the golden city. Important buildings were covered with golden leaves. I had entered Peru in the North and had marveled at the wonders already encountered.
Cusco lies in Southern Peru and is a city to be seen and enjoyed. From there you can visit Machu Picchu wich means Old Peak in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas. To reach the city there are two options. You can hop on a train and have a quick look or you can try to capture the spirit of the Incas and follow the trail they built to reach Machu Picchu. The trail is known as The Inca Trail. It is a 40 km (25 miles) long wonder and it demands some efforts to be conquered as the highest pass takes you to an altitude of 4,200 meters (13,779 feet).
The first day of the Inca Trail takes you away from civilization and into the majestic monuntain ranges of the Andes. On the second day of the trail I encountered a gorgeous outpost built by the Incas. It was a resting place built on a
mountain slope. You could only enter by climbing a stairway. It gave a hint of what Machu Picchu would be. As I
overlooked the surroundings I spotted a column of smoke in the distance but was not concerned. I continued the enchanting trail.
It took me on a journey through mountains and valleys. It left me wondering how on earth they had done it. It was so
impressive, an architectural miracle. It had been a day to cherish.
The sun was going down, the temperature cooling. I set up my tent (I was doing the hike alone) at a camping spot on a hill and saw some fires at a distance. Some tour guides were accommodating their groups. They were getting nervous. The fires were getting closer. A few hours later panic broke out for a brief moment and a guide warned me to leave everything behind if they gave an alarm.
On the last day of the hike I rushed on the last steps that took me to the hill overlooking the valley with Machu Picchu. There was nothing to see. It wasn't fog. Farmers had burned down their lands to make it fertile. As it had been a very dry year the fires were getting out of control. The sacred city Machu Picchu, a world heritage monument, broke out in flames that day. I remember the incredible noise of flames consuming dry leaves and traveling into the sacred city. Firemen tried desperately to get the coming disaster under control.
I was witnessing something unique, it was out of this world, impossible to grasp. We were not evacuated, the site was not closed. People walked around as if nothing was happening. A surreal experience. Machu Picchu wasn't saved by men that day, it was saved by the gods unleashing the clouds that night.
The pictures have never been published before...
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