It will be hard to top my 2015 year of travel. We literally circled the globe by starting and ending in Los Angeles, and we explored places I never dreamed I'd be able to visit. Along the way we met up with other Olmsted scholars, or better, Olmsted friends who kindly showed us their corner of the globe, acting as translators, guides and exceptional hosts. We landed at our new home in Brazil and settled into our most restful yet adventurous season of life together. Our latest adventure was also one of my all-time favorites: hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. Our fellow South America Olmsted friends graciously planned much of this trip and we were overjoyed to be hiking and camping with them. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most common bucket list items for travelers to South America and it was a trip I've anticipated for quite some time. As part of our preparation for the journey, Jonathan and I both read Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. I enjoyed this adventure/history/culture book so much that I wish Adams would write something like it for all the places I go. The book plunges you into Incan culture and history without a trace of boredom or tediousness and it helped me appreciate the experience so much more. Beauty abounds on the Inca Trail, which is thought by many scholars to be a pilgrimage path to Machu Picchu; a trail for the king to travel thoughtfully and arrive at his mountain retreat. I had never done a pilgrimage before and certainly never hiked a trail that reaches over 13,000 feet at its highest peak. But for four days and three nights I drank the wild air, as Emerson would say, and traversed the most drastic changes in landscape I'd ever seen.
Our four days hiking on the trail were at times arduous - often the path was a smattering of uneven rocks hugging a cliffside or winding through a slippery cloud forest. But it would be unthinkable to see the wonders of the landscape and the intricacies of the ruins any other way. I asked myself a thousand questions that hikers and scholars alike have pondered: how the Incas built such incredible structures in such remote places, how long it took to build their temples and palaces, how they engineered it all. Their work is extraordinary, surviving centuries and earthquakes with remarkable ease. It was impossible to arrive at the end of our journey in the lost city of the Incas and not be amazed. The rainy weather on our final day intermittently revealed and obscured the ruins of Machu Picchu within seconds, only adding more mystery to this city in the clouds.