Kerry Tinga and her family celebrate a milestone on an unforgettable journey to Peru’s Machu Picchu
They only know Hotel California.”
“That’s fine. Anything, as long as it’s The Eagles,” we said.
The band that played at the observation car at the back of the train had just finished a Chinese love song, yet the only Eagles’ song they knew how to play was Hotel California. Not that it is a bad tune, far from it. But my father’s original request, Love Will Keep Us Alive, would have set a more romantic mood to start off of my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.
Aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury train named after the early 20th century explorer, we were treated to a sweeping view of the Urubamba River Valley. Inside the carriage, we were transported back to the 1920s with fabric seats, brass on wood details, a classic dining cart and bar cart for the full effect.
It was not merely cosmetic charm. We were served a three-course meal, with canapés and champagne on the side. For my younger brother: a Peruvian hot chocolate that I honestly would have preferred as well. For my mother: a local Pisco sour “and keep them coming!”
Looking out the window, at a turn, we could see the classic train exterior framed by the Andes, as if a still from someone’s life in another time.
We were getting comfortable, extremely comfortable. But when we arrived at the Cusco train station, we remembered that this was just the beginning of what would be a long, long, long day ahead.
Through densely forested mountain tops, a thin mist hung in the air. When we finally met the once lost ancient Incan citadel, the sight (and altitude) took our breath away. Like James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, here was a sacred, spiritual world hidden in the mountaintops.
From a ledge we could see the stone ruins, peacefully perched on one of the mountains, 8,000 or so feet above sea level. It reminds us of what we are in the scheme of things. The beauty and splendour of the natural world. The towering mountains and impressive peaks that have stood for millions of years, and will stand for millions more.
And yet, it is also a testament to man’s ingenuity. Even in ancient times, our ability to climb the highest mountains, to build atop them and make our mark. When faced with this impressive feat, it makes us wonder: in the time we have, what can we do that stands past our own lives?
After a light shower, a faint rainbow made an appearance, as if Mother Nature knew we were celebrating a special day.
“Wait, I did not see it!” My younger brother, who was too busy staring at the llamas and alpacas that sat on the mountainside, spent the rest of the afternoon praying for a rainbow.
And perhaps his prayers were answered, but there may have been some miscommunication somewhere.
We were all dressed—my father in a barong tagalog, my mother in a long white gown and a smart white blazer—when it began to rain. Plastic ponchos did not go with the outfits, but they kept us dry enough as we walked through the streets of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) from our hotel to the local church.
It is a small town, with thin, winding streets of uneven stone, and no vehicles a er dark. On any other day, I would say that it is charming. But as the rain poured while we wore our formal attire, we just kept wondering how much further the church was.
My mother, in her plastic poncho, with a bouquet in hand, was lifting her gown, while my brother held up an umbrella for her.
People on the street were stopping us, hoping to get a peek at who they thought was the bride. ¡Felicidades! ¡Felicidades! Everybody was congratulating our passing party. Locals stepped out of the restaurants they were having dinner at to see what was going on, then giving my parents their blessing when they saw the white dress and bouquet.
Finally we got to the town square, the local church was brightly lit. We sat in the front pews while the priest welcomed us all.
It would be a special mass for we have special guests, he mentioned (in Spanish, which our guide happily translated). We sat in silence for a little less than an hour, understanding a word here and there. Then, he asked for us to stand up for my parents’ renewal of vows
It was a modest ceremony but nothing short of special. We may have been miles away from our house in Manila, but with our family present it still felt like home. The breathtaking feat of Machu Picchu was only a teaser for what was in store that day.
Where we travel to, wherever in the world, is made special not so much by the sites we visit but the experience we create. e small, rustic church in a Peruvian town was the site of a magical experience we would take with us wherever we would go from there.