Finding Love at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu as captured by the author that day.

Seven years. That’s the equivalent of two American presidential terms, the lifespan of one cute little third-grader, four years of medical school and a three-year residency, and over 2,500 days.

Seven years. That’s hundreds of miles traversing across continents and oceans together and thousands of hours of shared adventures, tears, laughter, and love.

And after seven years of togetherness, I suddenly found myself alone at 8,000 feet above sea level, staring across the expanse of rugged Andean spires jutting out from lush valleys and green terraces.

As the raindrops splattered onto my already tear-streamed face, a magnificent, brightly-colored rainbow appeared through the wisps of white clouds swirling the mountainous spires. I breathed in Machu Picchu’s sacred beauty and wondered to myself, how did I get here?

My heart was so broken. I desperately wanted to stay together — to put in the good work, to fight for my vision of happily ever after. But he thought otherwise.

Our break up wasn’t clean and simple. We both wavered. Some days, we were still building a future together. Other days, our broken alignment became too obvious to ignore.

Months into the tumultuous break up process, I needed a break or a detour — something to distract me from this rocky journey.

A literal new journey was the answer. I hastily booked a trip to Peru, a long-time bucket list destination. I could get some clarity and perspective on my life and relationship and fulfill my passion for ancient ruins and history.

I mentioned my plans to him. OK — I’m coming with you, he said.

That was it. I didn’t protest, didn’t ask questions, didn’t disagree with him. Although my intuition told me it would be better to go on this trip alone, the deepest parts of my heart still hoped that we could repair and heal us. We could start fresh with yet another escapade added to our long list of prior adventures. We could renew our relationship, perhaps once and for all.

But three days into our trip, he became violently ill from food poisoning.

In all our years together, I’d never witnessed him so physically vulnerable. I’d also never witnessed such sudden changes in his disposition and demeanor. Gone was the pretense of our relational alignment, our peaceful facade. Words adorned with anger and hurt flew from his mouth. He became openly resentful and antagonistic. It was as if he had decided to build a wall to protect himself, but that wall came with sharp spears and daggers that made me bleed.

Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break further, it broke into more pieces. Every night as I laid beside him in bed sleeping off his fever and chills, silent tears streamed down my face obscured only by the darkness of night. I was only a foot away from him, but I’d never felt more alone. We’d reached the climax of our break up — I no longer wanted to fight for him or for us.

It became a vicious cycle — my self-pity and anger for choosing to go on this trip with him, and his emotional turmoil for causing my misery while dealing with his own physical suffering.

With him ill and resting in bed, I started my second day touring Machu Picchu alone with my Peruvian guide Odi. As we walked through the Inca masonry of former homes, temples, and bathhouses, I nodded, smiled, and listened intently as I soaked in the energy and effect the ancient city has on me.

It’s eerily silent at the precipice of the eastern walls of Machu Picchu. By late afternoon, most tourists have gone back to their hotels, their craving for Inca ruins satiated.

But not for me. Machu Picchu had a magnetic hold on me, and that attraction was only amplified by my broken heart. Even after two days of exploring this dilapidated city from dawn until dusk, I still couldn’t get enough of what I was getting or what I came here to find. I wanted to stay…possibly forever.

With a nod and a warm smile, Odi led me to an area called Intimachay just below the main ruins. A spot rarely visited by tourists, Intimachay — meaning Cave of the Sun — faces east with a single window. For the entire year, no light enters the cave except during the 10 days before and after the summer solstice, where the sun’s morning rays shines through that window and illuminates the cavern’s deepest recesses.

No one knows the exact purpose of Intimachay, just as I didn’t know how I found myself here with my guide. But it seemed that Viracocha, the supreme deity of all Inca gods, had a divine intervention plan for me.

With years of ancestral wisdom and training from his elders, my guide Odi intuited the truth of the day: behind my smiles and enthusiasm for Machu Picchu was a very broken and heavy heart.

“Would you like to do a coca leaf ceremony?” Odi asked, his eyes gazing intently at mine.

“Sure,” I replied. What did I have to lose? He took out some coca leaves — sacred to the Inca people — and placed a few strategically in his hands, clasping them together in front of his mouth. After reciting a prayer in Quechua, he gently blew on the leaves, then asked me to blow on them too. Placing the leaves in my hand, he asked me to throw them to the wind.

As we watched the leaves fall to the ground, my guide examined the leaves carefully. Placing the leaves in my hands, Odi kept his response very short and open.

You have the ability to choose. What you choose is your decision. There’s no fate. There’s no right or wrong. You can change your life at any moment. You have limitless possibilities.

And then he walked away, as if he knew that I had to be alone to receive what I needed from this journey.

I slowly inhaled, absorbing the spiritual energy of my ancient surroundings.. I exhaled, closing my eyes. Tears of loneliness and sadness streamed down my face, and time stood still.

Suddenly, the heavens opened up. The sky too began to cry, its tears mingling with mine. Feelings of overwhelming love, joy, and relief washed over me.

I’m going to be OK. Absolutely OK. More than OK. Better than OK. I forgive. I surrender my pain. I release my suffering. I receive peace. I’m loved. Unequivocally and unconditionally loved.

I opened my eyes. Through the mist arising from the Urubamba River and the swirls of white clouds, a magnificent rainbow appeared. Odi had mentioned that if I was lucky enough, I could witness a miracle on the mountain. And there it was — my own little miracle from above earth.

I closed my eyes again, imbibing in what I felt was absolute divine energy — love. Simple, unconditional love.

Rainbow at Machu Picchu as captured by the author that day.

That’s how I got to that turning point in breathtaking Machu Picchu.

For the first time in a long time, I surrendered my fears. I confronted the difficult questions, including facing the truth that my ex and I weren’t the right for each other anymore. Our relationship may have come apart in the Andes, but it was also the cause of something greater coming together. Recognizing that my hurt and pain transformed into a cause for celebration brought a wholeness to my spirit.

My ex and I finished our Peruvian adventure on a positive, loving note. Although we’re no longer together, I’m forever grateful for our relationship journey. To this day, we remain close, loving friends.

Self-love, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness. My journey towards becoming the best version of myself ultimately came not from any breathtaking destination nor any significant other, but from within myself.

Just as the sun illuminates Intimachay at Machu Picchu, so too was my heart illuminated.

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