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March 6, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

Machu Picchu, The Galapagos … and Another Realization About Engagement

I’ll never forget my first view of Machu Picchu.  It was…

My First View of Machu Picchu

My First View of Machu Pict

Just as I expected.  No come to think of it, it was even better because it was conveniently guarded by…

Photogenic llamas at Machu Picchu

Photogenic llamas at Machu Pict

Photogenic llamas!

Joking aside, I’m extremely fortunate to have had both the resources and good health to visit Machu Picchu, as well as a number of other famous sights.  However, my interaction with them has generally been, as their name suggests, limited to seeing them.  Being present at Machu Picchu allowed me to appreciate just how impressive it was that the Incas constructed anything (let alone a small city) on the peninsula of rock where it’s located.  However, the same technologies that allowed me to book my ticket to Machu Picchu had also already rendered it familiar.  Thus, by the time I physically saw Machu Picchu, I felt as though in some ways I’d already seen it.

There’s much more to sightseeing than the sights themselves of course.  This is especially true of Machu Picchu which can only be reached by a scenic train or the Inca Trail.   Even on an organized tour, it takes considerable effort not to be touched by experiences at each of the six sense doors.  Indeed, my most memorable interaction with nature occurred on the only package tour I’ve ever taken, to the Galapagos Islands.  What impressed me wasn’t that the islands are beautiful (which they are) or pristine (although they appear that way, they actually aren’t).  Nor was it sheer number of animals they hold (although that’s impressive) or the differences between the animals on each island (which are actually quite subtle).  Rather, what impressed me most was the way the animals interact with people…

These marine iguanas on Puerto Egas were pretty nonplussed by our presence.

These marine iguanas on Puerto Egas (in the Galapagos Islands) were rather unimpressed by our presence.

Or more accurately how they don’t.  The animals on the Galapagos aren’t afraid of humans.  In fact, they’re rather unimpressed by us.  I felt as though I was at a park, only one whose denizens belonged to other species and saw humans at best neutrally and at worst as obstacles.   The closest anyone in my group got to interacting with the national park’s only permanent residents was being chased by an angry bull sea lion from his stretch of beach.  Someone else was mercilessly pecked at by a bird when she opened her water bottle, in much the same way we might swat a fly that begins drinking something we consider ours.  As impressive as the islands were, what I took away from the trip was a profoundly changed sense of our role as a species in the world, or rather how it felt to be seen and treated by other animals as we see and treat them.

I also was truly spoiled by the experience and no natural sight I’ve seen since has been comparable to the Galapagos, as a sight.  That’s not to say my interactions with nature or land have suffered.  Rather, the learning has come, trite as it sounds, from the journey.  The beauty of a landscape I see on a hike  comes from the difficulty of getting there; the thrill of seeing animals in their natural habitat reflects the effort expended to reach them.  This requires engagement, an active pursuit.  As beautiful  as Laguna de los Tres (an alpine lake near El Chaltén, Argentina) is, the walk there is what I’ll remember most.

Laguna de los Tres, an alpine lake named after the three granite peaks that surround it.

Laguna de los Tres, an alpine lake named after the three granite peaks that surround it.

What are your fondest memories of nature while traveling?  (Please feel free to link to pictures!)


Leave a Comment
  1. mindfulacting / Mar 6 2013 9:35 am

    Hi Mindful Traveler! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beautiful pictures with us. Your experiences resonate with the experience I had in Nepal a few months ago. The long, sometimes really painful walk, is what made the trip so special. I shared quite a few pictures here:

    • A Mindful Traveler / Mar 6 2013 9:58 am

      Thank you for your kind word mindfulacting (and great name!) and thank you also for sharing. That walk sounds wonderful – I’d really like to go walking in Nepal myself and I found your post both profoundly moving and informational. I’ve bookmarked it and look forward to returning to it 🙂

      I also really appreciated your post on Mount Koya and mindfulness:

      • mindfulacting / Mar 6 2013 10:03 am

        Thank you so much! Those were my two most memorable trips, but hopefully not the last. Your post really inspired me to travel more.

      • A Mindful Traveler / Mar 6 2013 10:21 am

        Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you to say!

        I just reread your Annapurna post and it’s even better on the second reading! If you don’t mind my asking, which agency or what organization did you go through? I’ve heard there are some good ones and one that (literally) took a friend’s money and ran, so I’m in search of good advice.

        Looking at the comments on that post, I saw you said that: ” in a strange way my tonsillitis made it even better :)”

        I therefore thought you might find this post of mine interesting:

  2. mindfulacting / Mar 6 2013 4:30 pm

    Hi Mindful Traveler,
    I booked my trip in the UK with Exodus. The local agency they used is called Exodus Trek & Expeditions Nepal (P) Ltd. They’re very, very professional. The best time to travel is October.
    Have a great trip!

  3. Kara Daly / Mar 6 2013 4:35 pm

    Oooh this makes me want to travel! MIssion accomplished I suppose!

    • A Mindful Traveler / Mar 6 2013 9:42 pm

      Thank you for your kind words Kara! I’m glad it’s inspired you 🙂 Where are you thinking of going?

      • Kara Daly / Mar 6 2013 11:07 pm

        I have no idea! Anywhere!

  4. Won / Mar 6 2013 9:15 pm

    How insightful, Owen! It was definitely an eye-opening read for me!

    • A Mindful Traveler / Mar 6 2013 9:43 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words Won! I really like your choice of words given the subject matter 🙂

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