We were on a mountain in Peru, looking down at a gorgeous green valley, peppered with ancient stone constructions.
“I can’t believe we are finally at Machu Picchu!” Victor said, “Congratulations! You have now visited all “New Seven Wonders of the World”!”
“I have?” I asked, unsure.
“Well, let’s see. You visited the Colosseum in Rome and Chichen Itza in Mexico before we met. And then, together, we have been to The Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Christ the Redeemer… and… What’s the last one?” he stared off into the distance.
“The Pyramids in Egypt?” I asked.
“No, that’s the only surviving site of the original “Seven Wonders of the World.” What’s the last one… Oh! Wait… Petra in Jordan!”
And just like that, it turned out that I only visited Six Wonders of the World.
Recently, a friend of mine visited Petra with her family, which reminded me of this conversation and of the fact that I still have One Wonder of the World left to visit, and led me to reminisce on the six incredible trips around the world.
In another post, I already mentioned that a few girlfriends and I visited Europe in 1999 on an organized bus tour and one of the cities we visited was Rome. Now, this was eight years before the “New Wonders of the World” were chosen and Colosseum was simply one of the many historical landmarks in Rome, a city full to the brink with ancient sites. Granted, back then it was still considered the #1 attraction in Italy, and I was excitedly waiting for our visit. Our bus was moving slowly in Rome traffic, navigating narrow congested streets, as I was staring out the window. Suddenly, I could see it, the giant stone amphitheater with the partially destroyed façade towering in the distance. The road circled around it, as our bus slowly pulled forward and everyone gasped in excitement.
“We won’t be stopping here today!” Our guide announced in a very casual tone as if he was remarking on the weather, “The Colosseum is closed for renovations today.” And the bus kept crawling forward, despite numerous cries of disappointment. If like me, you sleuth over to the Colosseum Wikipedia page, you will learn that Colosseum was not renovated or closed for any period of time in 1999 and was open every day except from Christmas to New Year. The only explanation I can muster was that the city traffic was so bad, we simply ran out of time for our Colosseum visit. These guided tours always cram so much into each day that there is never enough time to explore the sites before the bus has to keep moving to the next stop.
I honestly don’t remember what the next stop was, but I do have a vivid memory of watching the Colosseum as we drove past it. I told myself not to be too upset and that I will certainly visit it properly in the future. That future is yet to happen, but I am optimistic.
2. Chichen Itza
In 2003, a friend and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel, Mexico for a week. We didn’t want to spend all that time lying around the beach, so we went parasailing, snorkeling, and even visited an animal sanctuary and a giant cave with an underground cenote. Finally, our last day trip was to Chichen Itza and it was immediately obvious that we accidentally saved the best for last. At the time, I thought Chichen Itza was just a pyramid and didn’t realize it was an entire city built by the Maya people around 900 AD. When we arrived, I was surprised to find a large site with many fine stone buildings, pyramids, ball courts, temples, and many ruins. The most popular step pyramid, El Castillo, towered in the center of the archaeological site and was covered with tourists climbing up and down the steep giant stairs. This was three years before someone fell to their death off the side of the pyramid and the monument was permanently closed to the public. When Victor and I visited in 2020, all we could do was marvel at the sight and take pictures at the base of the pyramid. But back in 2003, my friend and I, young and fearless, scampered up the pyramid side, explored inside a dark and small chamber on the top, and admired the view. The crazy thing is that I went back down narrow and tall steps without even holding on to the rope that was mounted as a handrail. I just walked down the steep pyramid, without a care in the world. Now, my over 40-year-old knees and a mounting sense of existential dread would never allow me to repeat this feat.
3. Taj Mahal
In 2014, Victor and I went on an unforgettable journey to India, a trip that firmly remains in our top five favorite vacations, even nine years later. India can be a bit of a logistical nightmare for visitors to navigate on their own but educated by my earlier European bus tour experience in 1999, we opted against an organized tour and splurged on a private car and guide. Sunil was knowledgeable, kind, and patient and he must have spent every single drop of his patience while waiting for us in the Taj Mahal parking lot for over six hours. While organized tours came and went, with hurried tourists running through the gates, taking a few pictures of the white marble mausoleum, and almost immediately being rushed back by their exhausted guides, we took our time enjoying the view. We came in the early afternoon when the morning fog just lifted and the cold white walls of the Taj Mahal glittered in the waning haze, and stayed through the late afternoon when the bright hot sun lit up the marble in warm hues, and into early evening when the sun began to set, bathing the mausoleum in an almost pink shade. We watched the shadows move across the façade and the mausoleum reflection changing in the pond. We took in the endless sky, the lawn grass, and the stillness of the water. As we approached, the intricate carvings and delicate details unfolded like a mesmerizing puzzle, and as we walked further away, the whole mausoleum looked like it was floating in the air. We might as well have been alone there, despite thousands of tourists crowding around us.
To this day, it remains my favorite Wonder of the World and the place I often go back to mentally to recapture that sense of tranquility and reverence.
Three More Wonders of the World coming up in the Next Post!