Dec 26, 2005

My Macho Machu-Pichu Mecca and Macgyver Mindset

Ugly city, Beautiful setting

Waking up from a well-earned rest, I stretched and took stock of where I was. Machu Pichu Pueblo (the town closest to the ruins) is, a really terrible place. It´s a very ugly, haphazardly and hastily constructed tourist town set in an incredibly beautiful location. It's got all the bad parts of a typical tourist town and few of the good parts. The locals are only "friendly" when they have an angle to get you to open your wallet but couldn't care less about you when the money has exchanged hands. The kitshy, trashy feel of towns like this is often offset by a collection of interesting travelers from all over the world but as this is the most expensive stop on most backpackers trip few are interested in socializing, or spending any more time than neccesary (us very much included.) All this town has going for it is Machu Pichu. But, as it is one of the "7 wonders of the world" it's enough.

Weary from the hike the day before we thought we'd take a take a bus the three kilometers from the town in the valley to the ruins on a peak. We were shocked, disgusted, and dismayed to discover that that 10min bus ride would cost $6, each way. To put that in perspective most of the great, comfy, buses we've been taking throughout the continent we've been paying an average of a little under a dollar an hour. Tired as we were from the long hike the day before, and with the specter of huge peak ahead of us, we couldn't justify throwing away that much money. So, with yet another "$%&/ You!" shouted to the Peruvian-Tourist-Rip-Off-Machine we started walking up. Fortunately, before long, our Incan allies stepped in to help once again. While the road up to the top switches back and forth up the steep slope the Incas had built steps our of stone, directly up.

Although it was a hard hike it went quick, and before long we were at the gate. After paying the $25 per person entrance fee (almost our entire daily budget) we finally stepped into Machu Pichu.

And yes, it is even better than all the hype.

Machu Pichu has a history that is cloaked in mystery. It´s a "lost" city that had farmers working its terraces when Hiram Bingham hired one of them to bring him up to "discover" it 1911. But at the same time there is little evidence that the Conquistadors, nor their Incan slaves, knew anything about it nor was it occupied by the farmers working it. So it was, in a way, lost and forgotten. But that brings up a whole host of other questions. It is a truly incredible piece of work, huge stones had to be drug up the mountain, hand carved to fit perfectly together, into a city large enough to house about 1000 people. So, how does something like this get built and then forgotten in the less than 100 years the Incas existed?


Speaking of which, how did the Incas find the time to conquer much of South America, develop a complex and intricate culture, build these remarkable buildings, cities and stone footpaths all within such a short period of time? Perhaps we shouldn´t underestimate the Coca leaf!

Speaking of mystery, work, and discovery this trek has been really cathartic for me. Hiking clears my head to think better than just about anything I can think of. And, while drinking in the scenery and adventure on this trip something clicked on our hike to and through Machu Pichu that answered the question of vocations I started this trip with. Throughout this journey I tried to picture an ideal, a persona I could imagine I'd like to grow towards when I return home. One night, while sitting next to a campfire, despining a cactus with my pocketknife, I had a flash of one my most enduring childhood heroes. Macgyver and his everpresent swiss army knife was, without any doubt, my favorite 80s TV character. He was a kind of superhero without having anything particularly super about him. He didn´t have Batmans toys, supermans powers, or any guns at all. All he had was a strong sense of morality, a eclectic and creative mind, a handy pocketknife, and an urge to help to help those in need. He´s the only character I´ve ever seen in pop culture that could be described as a "Cool Engineer." And his generally accepted level of coolness is so astronomically high that he can even make a mullet haircut seem hip.

His job, through the Phoenix foundation, was to travel all over the world helping people. He sometimes built stuff, sometimes helped out orphans, and sometimes beat up bad guys with taekwondo-esque karate kicks. He was an engineer, but much of what he did was more engineering-related. He used his technical skills in conjunction with talking to people, going places and generally helping how he could.

I started thinking back to what I enjoyed about studying technical things in college. I really enjoyed learning how things worked but it I liked it when it was balanced with other aspects of my life. My days would be busy but eclectic; in a random day I could run a newspaper, do some thermodynamics homework, manage a club, and apply for a grant to go abroad. But then after school, I went into jobs that were nothing but sitting in front of a computer for 40 hours a week wondering why I wasn't satisfied.

So, with this insight, I've opened my mind to careers beyond the narrow focus I thought I was working with. Is it possible to find a job working with something like MacGyvers Phoenix foundation travelling around helping out? With that in mind I felt like puzzle pieces started falling into place. For example, I've always wanted to do something like the Peace Corps, an American program that sends people abroad to work in developing countries. Although it seemed like fun, I'd always worried that doing it would just be a two years diversion from a engineering career at a time I really should be focused on getting established. Now, with MacGyver in mind, it seems like a first and obvious step into where I want to be. I don´t have exact answers about what I want to do, those I hope will come, but I've now got a path to follow.

After spending all day exploring the ruins we wandered back down the hill and tried to figure out our next step. We debated hiking back the way we came but were so sore and tired we broke down and bought an overpriced train ticket back. We went back to Cusco to recharge our batteries, say hi to friends in the hostel and set out for Bolivia!


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