My dad promised to take me on vacation to any place I really, really wanted to go when I graduated college. He told me this when I was a child, so I think he expected me to forget – but I didn’t.
I grew up listening to my dad talk about his travels, and every time he came home from a foreign country he brought a trinket for me and my siblings. I remember the Peruvian flute, still tucked away safely in my keepsake box. The Mexican beaded bracelet that frayed and fell apart after years of wear. The Thai slingshots that my brother and I used until he accidentally killed a dove and my rubber sling broke. I still have coins of all different shapes sizes in a small wooden box he brought me, but what I treasure most is the alpaca coat from his trip to Cuzco; he gave it to me years later, a frayed coat with holes in the lining that drapes off me to this day.
The story I loved the most was Machu Picchu. I could always picture the airplane’s descent into Cuzco and how the air would just be different and harder to breathe because you were up higher than you’d ever been. I imagined that the streets would be mud and cobblestone. The buildings would be stone, and there would be a big Catholic church because the conquistadores brought religion, too, when they conquered the Incas. It all seemed fantastical to my child’s ears: a tale of stone foundations left high in the mountains, visited by strangers but never inhabited for long. I listened, wondering how he could make chewing coca leaves seem so normal in Peru while being a taboo in America. This was my first taste of travel and other cultures I’d only read about in books, and I never forgot it.
For the longest time I wanted to go to Machu Picchu. It meant more to me than anywhere else my dad named – Paris, Texas and Brazil, Indiana being just two. Entering my senior year of college, I’ve realized that Machu Picchu is more of a symbol than a destination. Over the years it’s been built up with every National Geographic article and travel magazine I’ve read. Every winter that I put on that woebegone coat and discover that the seams have come apart that much more, it grows. It is mythic. Nothing can top the vision I’ve created in my head.
I can’t go to Peru. It would ruin everything.