Experiencing sunrise over Machu Picchu had seemed like such a wonderful idea the evening before. However, the next morning when the alarm went off at the wickedly early hour of 3:30am, I definitely had second thoughts. Luckily, my stronger self was able to rally and convince my wimpier self that this was a once in a lifetime experience – and I better get my butt out of bed!
So, I quickly dressed and met my group downstairs for a hurried breakfast. Departing the hotel at 4:30am, we walked down the street in darkness to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Even though the first bus doesn’t leave until 5:30am, people were already in line so they could be one of the first up to the top.
I had come to Peru on a Unity church-sponsored “Travel With a Purpose” volunteer trip with my minister and 22 other members of our faith community in San Diego. We were now on our excursion to Machu Picchu, having arrived by train yesterday in the gateway town of Aguas Calientes from Cusco.
So we waited in the dark – sleepy, huddled in blankets, shivering in the cold morning air – until the buses began to depart for the 20-25 minute drive up the mountain. We got on the third bus, arriving at the Machu Picchu entrance gate at 5:55am. After waiting in line (the park opens at 6am), we entered the sanctuary around 6:20am.
Our group hurried to the upper terraces to stake out a great sunrise viewing spot and our own terrace level. Even though it was now fully light outside, the sun still hadn’t risen high enough to break over the tall mountains that surrounded this ancient and mysterious citadel.
As our group sat there on the grass enjoying the beautiful views, our minister Wendy led us in a lovely meditation. I noted the time on my watch – it was 6:58am – when the first rays of direct sunlight fell upon us! Aah… Sunrise over Machu Picchu – yes, it was definitely worth the early rise!
The Sunrise Surprise
However, there was more excitement about to happen. Wendy was now standing in front of our seated group with some notes in her hands. She began to tell a story about one of the couples on the trip, Liz & Mark. They were devoted partners, both in life and in their socially-conscious fair trade business, which supported talented artisans of handicrafts from around the world.
Wendy shared that just four days earlier, while our group was touring the colorful indigenous Sunday market in Pisac (in the Sacred Valley), Mark & Liz had an idea. “Let’s get married in Machu Picchu,” they thought! Hmm…You certainly couldn’t find a more stunning location to tie the knot. And they would already be there with their minister and many close friends. How convenient!
So, it was decided. There in the Pisac market (during two free hours), they found Peruvian “wedding ponchos” and their wedding rings in a colorful Inca-design. This plan, of course, remained a well-kept secret, except for Wendy, her family and our local tour host Jane who joined in on the scheme.
As Wendy continued speaking, Mark & Liz’s secret was revealed – and all of us were thrilled with the news! Wendy’s husband John had already set up a video camera on a tripod. Liz & Mark now stood and pulled out their wedding ponchos – and a bouquet of flowers – that had been stealthily stuffed into their backpacks. After getting some help putting on the ponchos, they were ready to get married.
The Wedding Ceremony & A Flying Bouquet
It was a beautiful ceremony – both the visuals and the words. Who needs a wedding trellis or gazebo when you have the magnificent backdrop of Machu Picchu, glowing in the beautiful morning light? As Wendy officiated, Liz held a small bouquet of pretty purple, white and pink flowers.
As soon as Mark & Liz were pronounced husband and wife, we all cheered and brightly-colored confetti was thrown directly into their hair (so we didn’t litter the grass on the terrace). Lots of congratulatory hugs and kisses ensued, followed by “formal” wedding photos of the beaming bride and groom – taken by a member of the group who was a good photographer.
How could the morning get any more special? Well, it turns out that even though this wasn’t your “typical” wedding, Liz was going to toss the wedding bouquet. Being single myself, I joined the seven other “qualified” women (and girls) in the group as we huddled behind Liz, jockeying for position. It was all a bit of a blur but photos taken by Tim document the moments of the flying bouquet.
While curious and amused onlookers watched from above on the next terrace, Liz did a high-flying toss of the wedding bouquet. Somehow, magically, it landed straight into my upstretched hands. (I’m wearing a blue jacket). I couldn’t believe it but I was delighted! I had caught a wedding bouquet at sunrise in Machu Picchu! And, from a couple that I loved and who, to me, embodied true love!
We eventually headed down from the terrace with our guide Esmerelda for “round 2” of our excellent Machu Picchu tour. As we walked around the ruins, Mark & Liz wore (or carried) their marital ponchos and I carried the wedding bouquet safely tucked into the side pocket of my backpack. What a great memory of a special day I will truly never forget!
Read the post about the rest of my visit to Machu Picchu – Experience Peru’s Magical “Lost City of the Incas”