Exhausted from producing and hosting a recent Bum Rush the Spot skate jam in Miami earlier this year, Hopps Skateboards pro and event promoter Joel Meinholz decided to take a breather. When his longtime skate buddies Elias and Simon Bingham — brothers who own the No Comply skate shop in Austin, Texas — asked if he'd like to join them on a family trip to Machu Picchu, Peru, in June, he immediately booked a flight.
This was to be no ordinary trip, as the Bingham family has a deep connection to Machu Picchu and Peruvian culture. The brothers' great-grandfather was Hiram Bingham, an adventurer and former member of the U.S. Senate, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911 and opened it up to the Western world through his association with the National Geographic Society. Elias and Simon would be guiding Meinholz, who'd never been to Peru, through a land they'd grown familiar with not just as longtime visitors, but through their work with a fund that supports the preservation of Incan culture in the area.
Simon, who is now a director of the charitable organization, cultivated an interest in the simple living of indigenous cultures through years of traveling across the globe. He's dedicated much of his time to helping Machu Picchu-area Peruvians raise their quality of life while retaining the cultural characteristics that set them apart.
"We helped a small indigenous community outside of Cusco, Peru, with funds to get a new school for their children, where they will continue to learn their old ways of life, including their language, art, music and craftsmanship," Simon says of the nonprofit's recent work. "When we went there, they just had a small, basically all-mud room for their school. A lot of them were getting sick because of no heat, no running water [and] no bathrooms, and they had to walk very far to get there."
A balance of ancient tradition and modern influence, the Binghams' trip with Meinholz promised to stimulate every sense. Meinholz spent two weeks immersed in life in Machu Picchu, hiking, skating, eating and celebrating. "Even the bus ride there was inspiring," Meinholz says of his visit, "whipping around the mountainside, morning sun peeking through the snow-capped mountains as 'Everything's Gonna Be Alright' sang from the speakers and rainbows formed."
But while it was culture and history that brought them to Peru, Meinholz and the Binghams were equally inspired by the skateable landscape surrounding them. The Western influence was most present in Lima, where there are a few skateparks and plenty of local rippers, but it was an abandoned nightclub that proved to be the most memorable spot their wheels would touch.
"The club that was right on the water and was super fun to skate," Simon remembers. "You couldn't take a bad picture there; every angle was covered in artwork. People put in cement transitions up the walls, with a doorway looking right into the crashing waves of the ocean."
Meinholz returned from the dizzying and surreal experience with a grip of vivid photographs, to be sure -- but, more importantly, with enlightenment. Trips are about experience, unfamiliarity and exploration. It's the locals you meet pushing around new streets, the personality you bring to a spot that's been skated for years. Not the clips, the photos, the makes or breaks. Staying with strangers and breathing new air. Sometimes the heart of an entire trip exists off the board.
"Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see, but it's more about how you feel when you stand before it in all its gifts," says Simon. "You will be moved and feel a new awaking in your life. Once you have been to Machu Picchu, you are no longer the same person."