No cute or fancy titles needed for this post. Just this:
I’ll get to the familiar iconic pictures in a little while – but just wanted you to see one of the most incredibly beautiful, spiritual, ethereal places in the world.
First, a little background. Back in the 15th Century the Inca chief Pachacuti built a royal retreat, sacred center and city on a narrow ridge between the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountains. The name Machu Picchu in Quechua means “old mountain peak.” At an elevation of 8,040 feet and 13 degrees south of the equator, Machu Picchu’s ridge falls off sharply on three sides towards the Urubamba River 1500 feet below. The Urubamba eventually meets up with the Amazon River and due to this proximity to the rain forest and “lower” elevation Machu Picchu is lush with vegetation and is wetter than Cusco, although other than the clouds and morning fog that hung near the mountain peaks, it did not rain while we were there (we did get a downpour in Cusco upon our return there).
The Urubamba River
The Spaniards had heard of this sacred place, but due to its remoteness, lack of identifiable trails and most of all the refusal of the Quechua to divulge its location, the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu. It remained a mystery, lost in the jungle overgrowth until 1911 when an American explorer named Hiram Bingham, with the help of locals, discovered the mystical site. Writing and providing photographs for National Geographic, Mr. Bingham’s discovery astonished the world – the “lost city of the Incas” was lost no more. However, since the Inca had no written language, most of the descriptions of the site have been from scientific interpretations of its artifacts. What we do know is that the Inca were amazing builders – in order to build on this site literally hundreds of walls were constructed to creat flat places. In addition, some 60% of the construction at Machu Picchu is underground – not only providing stability with foundations but also drainage and water management. We’ll delve a little more deeply into the massive stones that were used in a bit.
The road to Machu Picchu is not easy and even during the Inca’s time it would probably have taken over a week from the capital Cusco across the Inca Trail to reach “The Gate of the Sun” which then descends down to Machu Picchu itself:
These two photos were taken from the internet since I didn’t hike this section of the Inca Trail, as Carolyn and Edgard did. I did capture the Gate from our vantage point – which will give you perspective on the magnitude of their hike. Remember that this is with a 24-600x zoom lens at maximum power:
What we did hike, however was no less beautiful, mystical or strenuous. As with all of our Peru hikes, we needed to go up narrow winding uneven and often broken stone steps before reaching the summit to see the iconic view of Machu Picchu. I was so happy that my walking stick made the climb much less precarious and also that my ankle was back to normal, but again staying on the side of caution my camera was packed for most of the initial climb. We had started out early so initially there were few other visitors and it was very quiet except for an occasional bird call and our labored breathing. The mist rising over the mountains provided an additional hushed feel.
There are no adequate words for the feeling I had reaching that first summit to view this magnificent area below. Just enjoy this view:
Our trip was far from over – after enjoying this view and a brief respite we proceeded to follow the winding “trail” down to the city itself. Not only were the steps worn and uneven – what else is new – but throngs of tourists were now at the site making forward progress a bit more difficult. Undaunted, Edgard took us thru a number of “detours” less traveled but nonetheless remarkable.
The main section to the left of my feet in the above photo was the western urban sector and is considered the upper section socially as well as geographically. It is entered through The Main Gate:
There are vast terraces here that the local alpacas have no problem in navigating:
At the left you see a bit of the Temple of the Sun, a solar observatory. By unknown calculations, this temple was positioned so that on Jun 21, the Winter Solstice sunlight streamed directly through the eastern window:
The rocks in the center are natural; the temple was built around it and it is considered sacred. Following another set of stairways gets us to the Sacred Fountains which was originally an enclosed private space:
Just beyond the fountains are the quarries I mentioned earlier. Similar to the feats of the Egyptians it boggles one’s mind to imagine how the Inca managed to move and hew the massive rocks:
Next is the Sacred Plaza which holds the Temple of the Three Windows (originally five, two windows were made into niches:
These windows look down on the eastern urban sector and te Urubamba River.
Another marvel is how the Inca managed to construct these edifices with an eye to the surrounding mountains – this mimicry is seen everywhere at the site:
Making our slow descent we reach the Temple of the Condor – which is simply magnificent. The condor is South America’s largest bird with wing span of 8 feet, and has great import, symbolizing power and majesty. Using natural formations, the Inca carved out a structure that is imbued with this strength:
Alas, it is time for us to depart this wonderful place, but before we do we are witness to what could have easily happened to any of us. A young woman hiking with her husband in the urban sector lost her footing, came down hard on her arm, potentially breaking it. Amazingly in an area with no easy access, some emergency crew arrived with a stretcher and carried her off. These men moved with the grace and agility also shown by Edgard – kind of job requirement, I suppose. Hope she is well.
After seeing this accident, Edgar told us a story of how the Quechua treated someone after gashing his arm or leg. In order to stop the blood, with no tourniquets on hand, the savior wrapped a snake above the wound. As the snake instinctively tightened its coil, the blood flow was stanched. He also told us a modern story about his days as a sherpa guide when a rather heavy-set woman fell and couldn’t walk – so Edgard had to carry her out of the ruins. As I said this hiking is not for the faint of heart.
Intact, we said goodbye to this magical place and returned to our hotel to pack up for our train ride back to Cusco. My friend and I once again stayed at the Hotel Monasterio for a few days delightfully in an upgraded mini-suite. We enjoyed additional decadence with the best room service:
My Peru adventure now winds to a close. Adios a Peru!