When he was just 12 years old, Berty Mandagie’s mother asked him if he wanted to leave Java to live with his aunt in Washington State. He said yes.
He spoke no English but learned fast, fast enough to graduate from the University of Washington ten years later. Along the way, the youth minister and photography hobbyist, now 23, became known for his spontaneity, taking off for weekend adventures with friends among the mountains and islands that surround Seattle. A self-taught shooter, he posted snaps of those trips on Instagram that quickly attracted more than 70,000 followers.
If there’s one constant in his stream of beautiful photos, it’s Emily Roberts, his girlfriend and adventure companion. “I’d ask my friends, ‘Hey, you want to go do this?’ and Emily’s the only person who always said yes,” Berty says. Emily agrees with a laugh. “I kept saying yes to whatever.”
So it was no surprise when, this past summer, Berty won an Instagram photo contest sponsored by Timex watches, and was told he could pick one person to accompany him on one of seven trips, he chose Emily. Of course she said yes, and the two were soon packing for an all-expenses-paid trip to Machu Picchu with the adventure outfitter O.A.R.S.
For Berty, the trip was a lifelong dream come true. Back in Indonesia at age five, he’d seen a magazine photo of the ancient Incan ruins in Peru. “I remember being so amazed at how unreal it looked,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that a place like that even existed.”
Last August, he finally got to see it firsthand. The couple landed in Cusco, Peru, and took their time getting to Machu Picchu. They rafted down the Class III rapids of the Lower Urubamba River in the Amazon jungle basin, spent a day zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, and then boarded a train for the spectacular ride up to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu.
It would’ve been easy for Berty and Emily to keep to themselves and stick closely to their itinerary, but that’s not who they are. They’re genuinely interested in people and cultures and making connections. They volunteered in the village of Cahciccata, buying breakfast ingredients at the market and serving the meal to the students at the village school. They visited a cocoa plantation to pick beans and prepare their own hot chocolate in the traditional manner first used by the Inca. (“I don’t really like chocolate, but that was the best chocolate I’ve ever had,” Berty says.) One evening, Berty talked his way into a pickup game, using a shared passion for soccer to assimilate himself into the local culture, even if for only an hour. “I’ve loved and played soccer since I was a kid in Indonesia,” he says. “It’s how I made friends when I first got to the U.S.”
By the time the couple finally reached the city of Machu Picchu, they both felt immersed in the landscape of the Incas. “Seeing it in person after all these years—it still didn’t seem real.” To cap off their trip, they climbed up Huayna Picchu, a series of temples and terraces roughly 1,200 feet above the ruined city. From there, Berty could look down upon the exact scene he first saw in that magazine 18 years ago at his mother’s house in Indonesia. “I’ve had that image in my head for so long,” he recalls thinking. “And now, wow! I’m not dreaming anymore.”
But Berty’s thoughts weren’t solely focused on the past. He had a burning question he wanted to ask Emily—one he was hoping she’d answer with the simple word yes.
To see more photos from trip, check out @TimexExpedition's Instagram feed on October 22nd, when Berty takes it over for the day. To learn more about Timex's Expedition watches, check out timex.com/expedition.