The worldwide Augustana College experience

The top of the world has butterflies.


I was just on top of the world. Literally. It was so amazing that I am still a little awestruck. It’s so hard to describe something that you have to feel and experience for yourself to understand the magnitude of it, but I am going to try.

One of the things I was looking forward to the most when I decided to come on Latin American term was Machu Picchu. Little did I know Machu Picchu itself wasn’t going to be all that exciting to me.

The morning we went to visit Machu Picchu we hiked up the side of the mountain (3,000 stairs…holy cow) to the Incan ruins starting at 5 in the morning after sleeping in 2 person tents at the base of the mountain, just outside of the town Aguascalientes. When we arrived at the entrance around 5:50am the line was already very long to enter. There were so many factors that made the day very difficult and my legs were dead and felt like jelly…but as we waited we were able to watch the sunrise hit the mountain tops, and that view was so worth it.

sunrise at Machi Picchu

Then I came to realize that Machu Picchu actually looked a lot like the ruins that we had seen several times before in various parts of Ecuador and Peru, except that they were on the side of a beautiful mountain. It was pretty cool, but didn’t seem to live up to the tourist hype. All of the postcards and pictures I had seen of Machu Picchu were the ruins on the left, and then this large mountain on the right overlooking them, but the large mountain wasn’t part of the Incan ruins—it is called Huayna Picchu. The second I realized we had the chance to climb Huayna Picchu I knew I had to conquer it, and that’s where the most exciting part of the day began.

Augies at Machu Picchu

Currently, only 400 people per day get to climb Huayna Picchu, and after seeing the long line of people for Machu Picchu my classmates and I were lucky to get the chance (my ticket was #318). We started around 10am and on a perfect, clear, sunny day, which meant the hike was going to be a sweaty one with lots of bugs. (It didn’t disappoint and I am very grateful that I brought anti-itch cream with me.) The hike itself was another tough climb after I had already exhausted my legs climbing up to Machu Picchu earlier that morning, but I just kept going one step at a time for about 35 minutes through the exhaustion and heat.

And then…I was on top of the world—both literally and figuratively. It was worth walking up 10 times more stairs to get there it was so breathtaking. I couldn’t get enough as I stood on the jagged rocks absorbing the sun and the view all around me. I didn’t want to leave and was up there for about an hour, filled with happiness of the world around me and watching several little butterflies flutter around (I had no idea they went that high!). I’m at a loss for words again because it’s one of those things when someone asks me what it’s like and I am speechless as the feeling of standing up there warms me from head to toe and all I can do is smile and say something nonsensical like “the top of the world has butterflies.”

me on top of Huayna Picchu

It made me feel happy, relieved, amazed, awestruck, tiny, big, fully energized, but most of all—grateful. It’s an odd feeling to have while standing on top of a mountain surrounded at eye level with other mountain tops, but I was grateful that something so beautiful not only exists in this world, but that I was experiencing it, thirstily drinking it in, and that I was able to appreciate where I was while I was there. This happens very rarely in our lives; so many of those powerful moments flutter by without us stopping to look around. Many only fully appreciate something amazing in hindsight after reflecting upon it, but I was lucky that at that point in time I was able to feel the wonder and beauty of life all around me.

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