I’ve been to plenty of places on this globe that have made me feel tiny – Geologically minute, Historically brief. My experience at Machu Picchu managed to do both.
It is very easy to feel geologically small. The badlands of Dakota, the Grand Canyon of Arizona, and giant expanse of the ocean all bring about that sensation of time and change. The gradual accumulation or removal that you can’t help but stare at in utter awe. Even looking at an ancient oak or a single pebble worn smooth by the gentle caresses of the lake can bring about this sensation. Just knowing the age of the earth and the pace of some of these natural processes help make this sense one of the more common.
Moving to a slightly more understandable time frame, historical brevity has been a bit harder to come by. America is a very young country, and despite its sordid history, it is still an infant on the global stage. One great example of the contrast was when I visited Boston after a few weeks in Japan. I was able to witness trees and temples that were multiples older than our lovely Freedom Trail and the heroic tales of Paul Revere (and Israel Bissel). Honestly, the majority of times I’ve felt this form of tiny have been in other countries. I’ve stood in places such as Hiroshima and Majdanek and truly felt the weight of history upon me. It was very obvious to see the stain of historical action in those two spots. The skeleton framed observatory and a pile of ash act as punctuation marks on very powerful and very complex historical sentences. Once you read them, you truly wonder where your place is in the latest and greatest sentence or even the modern paragraph of history.
Macchu Picchu seemed to encompass both of those feelings. Once high up on the mountain tops, you could feel the natural processes that built the Andes. The flow of the creeks down into the rivers, and the upheavals and landslides seemed to pot-mark the region. Historically, you could see the hands of ancient people behind every stone. The sense of wonder was palpable. Even the story of the political upheaval from the indigenous people to the Spaniards was obvious in the abandonment of this far-flung city. It was a fascinating spot that made me question my spot on both the geological and historical timeline.