The Luckiest People on Earth

Want to find the luckiest people on Earth? Look no further than Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Aguas Calientes is beautiful beyond description. A white-water river tears through the middle of the Andean city, while mountains shoot into the clouds on all sides. In a world full of cities we’re told we must see, I can only think of three places those with the luxury of leisure travel truly must see: Paris, France; Salvador, Brasil; and Aguas Calientes.

Statues and monuments from both Catholic and Incan lore can be spotted throughout Aguas Calientes, and if the majesty of the city alone isn’t enough, it’s at the base of Machu Picchu. Three hours of walking or a thirty-minute bus ride is all that’s separating locals from one of the wonders of the world.

My first thought upon arrival here was that locals are the luckiest people on earth. Waking up to see this with no filter everyday seems too good to be true. Just as my words can’t do the beauty of Aguas Calientes justice, my camera falls well short. I didn’t want to tarnish my memories of the place by taking poor pictures and writing mediocre prose, but seizures fog my memory and the idea of forgetting this city is painful.

The luck of seeing this everyday seemed too much to imagine. Then I asked people how often they hiked the mountains or dipped in the rivers. Rarely was the most common answer.

Then I confronted the thought in the back of my mind: Most everyone here would change places with me in a heartbeat. The money, flexibility, and pure privilege of being able to take leisure trips to the other side of the world to see a mountain was almost unimaginable to many of the people I talked to.

We travel to see new places, try new food, and (hopefully) experience new cultures, but we always feel sad when vacation ends and we return to our comfortable, if stale, reality. When we’re dreaming of escaping from this life forever, much of the world is dreaming of escaping to an unfulfilling job in a stable, prosperous land.

Those who have crossed the world to witness the stunning beauty of Aguas Calientes, then returned to their middle-class lives are the luckiest people on Earth.