Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why I Love to Travel: Via TravelPost

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Standing precariously atop a small boulder at a dizzying altitude of 8920 ft, 1180 ft of which I’d spent the past hour climbing, I gasped for air and struggled to avoid the looming thought of what would happen as a result of a slight misstep. High upon this crumbling green tower of a mountain, majestic in the way it pierced the clouds surrounding its peak, I focused my attention on Machu Picchu below.

Meri at Machu Picchu with the mighty peak of Wayna Picchu in the background

Looking down on the Condor-Shaped Machu Picchu from the top of Wayna Picchu
From eye level, the ancient Peruvian city perched high up in the Andes Mountains, was an architectural wonder—worth the visit, despite shoving elbows with many other tourists. My climb afforded me a better view. Looking down from Wayna Picchu, one of the taller cone-shaped mountains that surrounds Machu Picchu, the experience transcended all of my expectations. Machu Picchu had revealed itself below as a city carefully planned and built in the shape of an Incan religious symbol, the Condor.

At this height, I marveled at the brilliance of a past civilization. Beyond the feat of creating a whole city by transporting thousands of boulders 1000's of feet up a steep mountainside before there were machines, the aerial view from Wayna Picchu revealed a master plan, a divine sense of order behind every stone that had been laid.

Lightheaded but energized from my climb, I gazed down and thought about perspective. Machu Picchu marked the end of a greater journey. Many months earlier I had set out upon an adventure to live and teach in South America. I had left a comfortable job in Washington D.C. in favor of the unknown, in defiance of those hushed and nagging voices whispering within the walls of my cubicle about the urgency and responsibility of the “real world”.

Meri in Patagonia

 I ended up in the Chilean Patagonia as a volunteer teacher in a town called Punta Arenas, just a stone’s throw from Antarctica and touted as the “southernmost city in the world.” There, I found myself becoming part of a community far removed from the rest of the world that somehow thrived in this pristine, glacier-covered, windblown and wild corner of the earth.

Suspended for one last moment atop Wayna Picchu, reflecting at the end of an unforgettable journey, it all came into view. I love travel for its ability to connect people, to educate and to open the mind—and for its unique ability to provide a bird’s eye view on life.