Bucket List Travel: 40 Years to Reach Machu Picchu

By refusing to give up a lifelong dream, I finally had my Peruvian peak experience

by Suzanne Gerber • Next Avenue
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Photograph: Courtesy of Suzanne Gerber

I was 10 or 11 when I first learned about Machu Picchu and the fabled Inca empire far to the south. The images of that city of stone 8,000 feet above the Earth, hugged by jagged mountain peaks and shrouded in clouds, set my grade-school imagination reeling. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew that one day I would see that marvel in person.
I finally got my chance in 1989 — or so I thought. A friend was as keen to go as I had been for 20 years, and we started planning a trip. I was in my early 30s and figured I could handle all the trekking and climbing as well as the rustic sleeping accommodations necessitated by our modest budgets.
This was in the pre-Internet days (how did we make travel plans back then?), yet our primitive sleuthing still turned up two disturbing facts: The Shining Path terrorist group had grown active in Peru, and the country was in the clutches of a cholera outbreak. Machu Picchu would have to wait.
Over the next two decades, almost everyone I knew and their plumber was going to Peru, and my longings grew stronger. Yet some alchemical blend of wrong timing, limited funds and no one to travel with prevented me from making the trip.
Three or four years ago my son did a "gap year" in South America, working on organic farms in Argentina with WWOOF then traveling to five other countries, including Peru. Every time we’d Skype and I’d Google-image his locations, I swore that I’d meet him there, with the ultimate goal of joining him in Peru. Somehow seven months flew by: He was back home, and I’d never made it south of the border.
(MORE: The Key to an Authentic Vacation: A Sense of Place)

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