The final stop of my trip was in Peru where I had the honor of visiting the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu.
In a word, it was unreal. Pictures don't do the ruins any justice. To be able to see it in person, to feel the stones, see the irrigation and recognize that they were so advanced in knowing how to put together a city, it's just so impressive. And to have them still standing 600 years later, it's just unbelievable.
I'm a student of architecture so I was really fascinated by the structure of it. They compressed things around the mountains. The rocks fit in like puzzle pieces. The architecture inside is so unique too. Everything from their walls, to the windows, to the doorways was built in the trapezoid shape, very wide based and narrower at the top. But it was built that way for stability because they had to deal with earthquakes.
The manpower involved in it must have been phenomenal. For it to still stand, it shows you how impressive it was. They didn't have any Caterpillars, any machines to do the dirt work.
It's so amazing that they've been able to preserve it. The people there take great pride in their culture and still live almost equally to the way their ancestors did when the Incas roamed and ruled South America.
Getting to Machu Picchu by car would take 24 hours, so I was fortunate enough to take the train. It helped me get acclimated to the altitude. Still, just walking you get short of breath and that gave me an even greater appreciation of how they were able to put together these civilizations dealing with the altitude and the terrain. It was all quite impressive.
I was also impressed to learn that they had astronomers back then that were only 13 seconds off in their time and they had to account for the north star and the south star. Another thing I learned about how advanced the civilization was is that they actually performed operations on their warriors after battle. You're talking about people that were very advanced and so smart. If you haven't had a chance to read up on it or a chance to visit the area, you don't really even realize how advanced they were.
The other thing I loved about Peru was the food. The cuisine was great in all of South America. Everyone took pride in their beef, their pork and their lamb. But by far the best food throughout the whole trip was in Peru. Now that I'm back, I find myself hunting down Peruvian food and I'm locating different restaurants in the area that I can go to. It's now amongst my top three favorite types of food.
Of the different dishes I had, the strangest thing that I liked was beef heart. At the time I tasted it, I didn't know it was beef heart. My waiter wanted me to try it, but didn't want me to get freaked out by what it was and turn down the opportunity to taste it. It came out just looking like strips of beef on a skewer, but after I ate it and told him how good it was, he told me.
They're very big on their beef there and that area had really good lamb as well. They take great pride in preparing certain dishes that are traditional. The side dishes were mostly fruits and vegetable, but you can tell by the size and the purity of it that it hasn't been mishandled or manipulated in any way. It was pure, healthy and very plentiful. They eat a lot of starches though: rice, potatoes, things like that. But everything was very plentiful.
While I was in the area, I also got a chance to hike Huayna Picchu, which means Young Mountain, whereas Machu Picchu means Old Mountain. Huayna Picchu is actually taller than Machu Picchu, they told me it would be about an hour to get to the top, but it took me about 45 minutes.
It's very steep, with very narrow pathways. It was made a little more difficult because, when I hiked it, it had just rained. So it was slippery and muddy. It was quite a hike and to get to the top was very challenging, but once you get there, the views were breathtaking. It was pretty amazing to get a bird's eye view on top of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
For me, the whole trip was just a great experience.
It's hard to take it all in when you're in the moment. It's not really until you get back and look over your pictures and really think about all that you've done that you truly appreciate what you've been blessed to see.
In my short amount of time on this earth, I've been able to see a lot, even compared to what my father has seen and he's been to war. To take in all the different cultures and see all these areas of the world, it has allowed me to understand not only how different they all are, but also how much truly alike they are. It makes you have a much broader appreciation for mankind.
A lot of people think that because you speak a different language or you look a different way, you are different. But you'd be really surprised to learn how much we all have in common. That's the lesson I've taken from all of my experiences.
You can go into someplace with preconceived thoughts and try to prepare yourself based on expectations of how people may receive you. But once you get there, the experience is always very unique because it's your very own.
Just like you're intrigued by a particular area that you're travelling to, or the particular people that you meet, they're just as intrigued by you because a lot of times they haven't had the means to travel. So you're actually a representation and an extension of your own culture, what America is and who we are here. There's a give and take in the relationship when you're travelling. Not only do you become a little bit smarter, but you can actually enlighten others as well.