1999……….6wks SOUTH AMERICA-ARGENTINA, PERU............
We were awoken at just after 4 am for the final dash to the Sun Gate to see Machu Pichu unfold itself at sunrise. It is about 1 ½ hour’s walk which is a bit up and down with the usual Inca steps. What I want to know is if the Incas could build such amazing precise walls and architecture why didn’t they make their trails a bit more even. You always have to look where you are walking and make those split second decisions to change the height of your step and where you put your feet. Not always so easy when it’s another early morning start.
It was a quick pace to the Sun Gate set by the English girls in a bit of friendly rivalry to beat the Uruguays. At the last bit it’s almost straight up some Inca Steps to the gate. At times the stream of people banked up. It was a bit ridiculous but again there was a feeling of camaraderie as we all sat down on the terraced walls by the gate - some 80 people maybe, speaking all sorts of languages but with one common goal that
we had all worked hard for. It was like some staged drama. It was quite cloudy and misty but as the sun began to rise over the mountain behind us the mist cleared, but not completely to give a shrouded view of the ruins way below us. We were actually still 1/2 hr from the ruins and so from that height it afforded a spectacular view of the ruins, the surrounding mountains and mountain beyond that which were even higher.
The sun was not going to highlight the ruins the way that it might on a clearer day and so the tourist pilgrimage started again as we drifted down to the ruins. The ruins did not disappoint me- the location was fabulous and the ruins extensive. They cover a large area and the number of people did not distract from them- there was still opportunity to quietly reflect on the ancient Inca Empire.
Machu Picchu remains a mysterious site, never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and virtually forgotten until 1911 when Bingham, an American historian, found it in his search for the lost city of Vilcabamba which has been found deeper in the jungle. The site when it
was found was very much overgrown. It appears that M.P. was an important ceremonial centre because of the abundance of ornamentation.
Our group split up to have respective Spanish & English guided tours. Our guide was less than adequate, talking about irrelevant things and not highlighting the interesting aspects of what we were seeing. It came a bit of a joke amongst us. He did point out in the quarry section of the site a rock which showed how the Incas had split the rocks. The rock bears a line of wedge shaped cuts using a chisel. What he didn’t tell us was that the rock was reportedly cut by a 20th Century archaeologist!
I was feeling reasonably OK and so decided to climb the mountain that forms the background to M.P. called Huayna Picchu. It looks fairly formidable but it was not too difficult although it was very steep in parts and the ropes were appreciated to feel more secure, given that the slightest slip and fall would have resulted in a quick retreat to the valley floor way, way below. The others in the group were most impressed that I had done it! Initially I thought
Just to Prove I was There!
The mountain in the background is the Huayna Picchu
I would stay overnight at Agues Calientes and return the next day but I felt that I had done what I wanted to do and the booking for the helicopter was convenient and left only at 3pm each day. The bus down from Machu Picchu to Agues Calientes was not far in distance but took a while as we zig-zagged down the hill. At each zig-zag a boy dressed in traditional bright clothing would meet the bus and yell out ‘goodbye’ and then run down the hill to meet us at the next section. It was an ingenious way of raising money and the bus cheered him and gave him donations at the end.
I thought it was a good opportunity to try a helicopter as I could get back to Cusco in 1/2 hr as against a very crowded train and bus ride of 4 hrs. It was worth the US$85 although, because it held about 28 people it was a bit like being in a small plane looking out of small windows.-fascinating and exciting none the less. It was great getting back to Cusco- like going home except that Hotel Niños was full and so I went
Agricultural Terracing at Machu Picchu
The track in the background is to the Sungate
around the corner to Hotel California- not bad, large room with separate bathroom attached for 15 soles. I met a few of the others in town from the trek. Poor Charlie, who had been so frightfully ill, looked very tired and dirty walking up from the railway station. I had showered and shaved and had a much lighter step. I also met the two Americans in a restaurant- good Mexican meal of soup, garlic toast, burrito, lemonade & pisco sour for 8 Soles. (1 Sole = US$0.30)
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