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Sunday, April 18, 2021

How an American backpacker got to Machu Picchu

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More than 100 tourists were already searching for Machu Picchu, a legendary ancient citadel that looms over the Andes mountains in northern Peru, when Sean Doherty stepped on to the trail on Friday evening. Only two grumpy rangers could keep up. “How did you manage to find it?” they asked. “I studied a map,” he replied.

Mr. Doherty, 35, has been spending 100 hours a week in Peru for the past few months, long before he set foot in Machu Picchu. In between are at least 11 tours of the country on his agenda, mostly of the coastal region called Arequipa, where Sur La Hacienda, the company that runs Mr. Doherty’s expedition, is based. He has researched every part of the country to a familiar terrain, all but one of the 480 islands in Lake Titicaca, and is familiar with indigenous tribes. He even understands the Andes.

I, for one, am a little lost.

As the trekkers filed down the steep trail and descended to the valley, Mr. Doherty made stops at picturesque shrines, a general store, temples and cathedrals, then rested in large green fields, grasshoppers flitting from sun to shade. His backpack, nearly full of souvenirs, was enough for a short group trip to Lake Titicaca, then it was back to one of the most beautiful cities in the world for the day.

On the last day of the tour, Machu Picchu was his last excursion, and the last single man left to find the temple that happens to contain more than a thousand years’ worth of secrets. “I’ve been waiting five months to have a solo trip,” he told his guide, Adolfo Catarazo. “So I could get some of that solitude.”

A one-day break ensued. As Mr. Doherty soaked up the sight of the ruins against the backdrop of the Andes mountains, local villagers pounded their trucks, and residents sold poppadoms, cassava and beans. A mosquito buzzed around him. So why had Mr. Doherty opted to take the scenic trek ahead of other tourists?

“Because it’s really cool and there’s no reason to rush,” he said, but then added that he was doing it for his company, Sur La Hacienda, since he also has to negotiate with the Peruvian authorities to operate here.

“I’m in the peak of my career now. I want to make sure I go on quality expeditions,” he said.

Mr. Doherty said the real motivation for his decision to start his company and spend a week in Peru was selfish.

“I want my company to be a really good, well-run company that I think makes a difference in the Peruvian tourism industry.” He added, “And that’s all I’m interested in.”

Mr. Doherty arrived back in Lima at dawn on Monday to catch a connecting flight back to Florida.

“I’ve been having so much fun up here, and now I get to go home, and I have some fresh air and I go on a great spiritual trek up to Machu Picchu,” he said.

“That’s the stuff dreams are made of.”

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