Machu Picchu

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Cusco was once at the heart of the Inca civilisation and was now serving as the heart of our much needed chill out time for ten days. Simon arrived from Newcastle and it was the first time in almost eight months that we had seen someone from home. It was great to see him. He too is clearly bionic as he seemed to have zero jet lag and quickly adapted to the altitude. In fact on his second day, he went for a ‘leisurely’ jog up half a mountain and it was not to be his last such outing!

Simon will fill you in on a special ‘Simon says’ feature to follow … 

We moved out of Juan Carlos’ house as we wanted to be closer to the centre during our last days in Cusco. We stayed in a really nice cycle friendly hostal ‘La Estrellita’ with a great courtyard. It was cheap, cheerful and comfortable and exactly what we needed. We met up with other fellow cyclists we knew or knew of during our stay and exchanged maps, routes and stories. It was a pity that we missed out on seeing Dave from the UK. Maybe we will catch him further down the road ..We are all headed in the same direction towards Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Up until now we all pretty much took the same route however once we get to Salta in Argentina, cyclists routes tend to diverge as there are a number of options from there. We plan to head across Northern Argentina into Brazil.

Our plan was to wait for Simon’s arrival before we started to take on the role of tourists. A trip to Machu Picchu was obviously high on our list. We took it easy during the first few days and thought a visit to the Inca Museum would be a good segue to Machu Picchu later that week. I normally have a low attention span in museums and at times find them to be cold and lifeless places. However a guided tour which took us through many of the cultures which preceeded the Incas aswell as the Incas themselves proved very insightful and was well worth the S10 entrance fee.

We also had time to properly explore Cusco although it was hard not to get sidetracked by all the enticing cafes which we had been deprived of for so many weeks. It is a fascinating place where remnants of two worlds, that of the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors still co-exist and is evident in the architecture, spike silhouettes of Catholic cathedrals built by the Spanish alongside the remains of Incan stonework; the people, dark brown skins of the very poor people to the lighter skin of Peru’s elite and descendants of the Spanish; the language; Castillano mingling with Quechua, the language of the Incas and Indigenous peoples.

Original Incan walls in Cusco ..

Cathedral built by Spanish on Incan Palace..

The impact of the Spanish conquest resulting in the downfall of the Incan empire still reverberates through every layer of Peruvian society.

The Incas

In a short time, the Incas created an empire that rivaled that of the Romans. They built thousands of miles of roads over harsh mountainous terrain and stone walls of such magnitude that defies understanding. Their empire stretched from Ecuador to Chile but was short lived. They were innovative and ambitious and their stonework is testament to this. They could move massive stone blocks for miles and miles and fit them together with great precision.

There are many ways to get to what is now deemed to be the new eighth wonder of the world…Machu Picchu. Martin and I had already decided against the Inca Trail as we figured we had burned enough calories in the previous months so we opted for transport to Ollantaytambo and from there a train to Aguas Calientes at the foot of the Lost City.

Starbucks??

The drive to Ollantaytambo was breathtaking and after forty-five minutes snow-capped mountains peaked on the other side of the sacred valley. The mountains became steeper and soon the familiar Inca farming terraces came into view. Ollantaytambo is notable for its architectural jewel perched on a mountain top a few hundred feet above the village. We arrived in Aguas Calientes in good time and had an early night.

We set off on the trail to Machu Picchu at 4am in the dark as we wanted to be part of the first 400 to get the ticket for Waynu Picchu, a mountain affording different views of the site. We arrived at the entrance just before 530am and got our tickets stamped allowing access to Waynu Picchu.

The first sight of Machu Picchu is overwhelming and we were all taken aback by its sheer size and scale. In the past when I have visited iconic sights in various places, I sometimes find that they are bigger in my imagination than in real life. Not the case for Machu Picchu. It exceeded all expectations. The city is a complex of over 200 dwellings and roughly divided into three sectors; agricultural, urban and religious. Most of the buildings are houses, there are also temples, waterways and a quarry. The constructions were built for practical, experimental and astrological reasons.

For me personally Machu Picchu is a place for quiet contemplation. It is a place to find your own corner and take it all in. It is almost beyond words, a place so immense and with a lot of energy. I have heard many people say how it is a once off trip .. I personally could see myself coming back here in years to come. We were there for sunrise and the timing was perfect. After 11am it becomes a circus of  tour guides and tourists in short, a very different place. Although tour guides definitely do have their place and while Martin and Simon climbed Waynu Picchu, which they did in 20 minutes (estimated time is 1-2 hours!) I must say I did earwig on a few tours and learnt a lot but I did not feel compelled to run around and see every single building.

Machu Picchu at 7am..

We have quickly come to realise on this trip that as the nature of our travel thus far has been very independent, when it comes to guided tours, we are not very tolerant at being told to get on and off buses and that we have 30 minutes to look at ruins before we need to board the bus again. We like to take things at our own pace. Lately we seem to have a tendancy to take a quick power nap at touristy sites when everyone else seems to be running around with cameras and this was no different at Machu Picchu.

Martin taking a nap at 9am..

Martin and I were in awe of Simon’s endless energy to run up and down mountains. It is obvious he too is a mountaineer at heart and is very comfortable in the mountains.


Scenes from atop Waynu Picchu ..

I was surprised by a number of things from the trip to Machu Picchu.

First of all the location at the what is described as the ‘eyebrow’ or gateway to the jungle with a semi-tropical climate. Machu Picchu sits atop a mountain in a jungle of green landscape in the steep rugged mountains of southern Peru. It has a rainforest feel to it and is within reach of the Amazon. It is at a lower altitude than Cusco and the contrast on our short train journey back to Ollantaytambo between jungle and snow capped mountains in a short timeframe was very unique.

Machu Picchu was left undiscovered during the Spanish Conquest. It was disguised in the jungle overgrowth for over 400 years, hence the name the Lost City, until it was unearthed from its hiding place by an American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. Local farmers in the area were apparently aware of its existence and guided Bingham to the site. 

From the Inca Museum tour it seems that very little is in fact known about Machu Picchu and the Incas and there is a lot of speculation. Inca history gradually grew fainter with each passing generation. It is generally accepted that it was a citadel of the Incas and was used as a religious retreat, a place of experimentation and innovation aswell as an administrative centre. –

We headed back to Cusco that evening all still in awe of our trip.

Machu Picchu in pictures..

Flora and fauna

After a chilled out day in Cusco, the following day we caught the 7 hour bus to Puno as we had already cycled this route. Martin and I hit the road to Copacabana in Bolivia which proved to be a stunning ride along Lake Titicaca and Simon took the bus. La Paz in Bolivia is our destination for Friday 24th of September, my birthday.

As I crossed the border into Bolivia leaving Peru behind, I could not help but feel a certain sadness in leaving Peru as it is the country we have spent the longest amount of time in .. a total of 63 days and it felt strange to be leaving. At the same time excited to be cycling to a new country, our tenth border crossing and again hardly believing that the next country will be Argentina.

Machu Picchu was the pinnacle, the icing on the cake of our trip through Peru. It has been a country of superlatives, of wows, sickness, dentists, mountains, vistas, canyons, gorges, glaciers, deserts, headwinds, floating islands, high altitudes, rich cultures, curious people, lake people, llamas, alpacas, vicunas, unpaved roads, mosquito invasions, loud televisions, chicken and rice dishes, ceviche, new and familiar faces, Huaraz, Cusco, Machu Picchu .. in brief a country not to be forgotten and one we would like to return to someday.

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