Machu Picchu

27 Dec

Oh, Machu Picchu.

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The “lost city of the Incas” and definitely one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

To get to Machu Picchu, Emilio and I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Cusco (and a 30 min taxi ride from where we were staying in the center of Cusco to the train center). The train was called Peru Rail. Although trains are not really my thing, it was actually a beautiful ride as you traveled through the rainforest and some some beautiful landscape – if not a little disruptive and the train honked its way through every small little town we passed through. We then arrived in Aguascalientes, which is the closest city to Machu Picchu. It then proceeded to rain the entire day and make us (well, me) a little nervous about Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu.

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(Representing for UW!)

We met our tour guide (from Llamas Path) at 6am to catch about a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain and arrived at Machu Picchu at about 6:30am. The bus ride is a little intense. A one way path (but with buses going both directions) that zig zags up the mountain, few railings, and steep cliffs.

A few side notes upon arrival: the only bathroom is located outside the entrance, so use it before going in. Daily tickets allow you to go in/out, but that’s not really convenient. There is a small cafe that opens at 7am and a restaurant that opens at 11am. We ate at the cafe and it was stadium prices and not delicious. I recommend packing snacks.

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At 6:30am, it was still wet and cloudy. And overwhelmingly beautiful.

We typically travel and tour without a guide, but I am actually really glad we had one for this trip because I didn’t know much history before entering. For example, these terraces were for gardening. Because Machu Picchu is situated in between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle (think half the circle of each and Machu Picchu in the dead center) , they had lots of rocks and little soil. All the soil for their crops was literally carried up the mountain – by individuals (no horses or donkeys).

And the Inca’s were geniuses. Our tour guide repeatedly called them “masters.” Machu Picchu is where the Inca masters came to hone and teach their craft.

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One of their skills? Architecture. These walls are made from all the stones in the mountain. The Inca’s arrived to Machu Picchu (since they did not have a writing system, no one knows what they called it) in approximately 1430. All of their buildings and walls are still intact – through earthquakes and time – because of their skills with architecture. All their buildings are built with the mountain and rocks, rather than against them.

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Case and point. This room is referred to as the “womb,” and you can see how they kept the natural rock formation as a wall.

Even more impressive? Look at that previous wall picture. That’s for “regular people.” Then, look at this wall:

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These walls are used only on the temples.

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That detail is crazy. Again, 1430 – no modern tools and technology.

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This is the Father and Son Temple – showing off both skills in architecture and astronomy. Notice the two windows. The sun goes perfectly through one on June 21 for summer solstice and the other on December 21 for winter solstice.

The Inca’s also created “looking mirrors” for their astronomy.

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These are perfectly placed so that the water reflects the sky and the stars, etc. could be studied.

Ok, and now just some pictures…

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After our roughly two hour tour ended, we had free time. After stopping in at the cafe I previously mentioned, we decided to hike up to Sun Gate. This is a free, on your own, two hour hike that goes to 8,900 ft elevation (Machu Picchu is at 8,000 ft), but the path is decent – this is in comparison to the people who bought the extra ticket to hike Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu only allows 500 people per day and you have to buy your tickets pretty in advance. We didn’t. I didn’t mind.

This is what I heard people saying about Wayna Picchu – the hike is also about two hours but the path is so slim, you often have to take the steps sideways and in some places, climb ladders. I won’t climb a ladder leaning against a house where I could only fall about five feet – much less than falling from almost 9,000 ft elevation. No thanks. Emilio was bummed, though. When we come back, he can do it. I was good with the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, hike. The Sun Gate used to also be the main entrance to Machu Picchu.

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As you can see, the view from the Sun Gate is breath taking, as you can look down upon the entire city. Definitely a hike worth taking! Although holy crap – pack bug spray and sunscreen! As the day wore on and the clouds broke away, it got rather warm. I had to take off my poncho, North Face, and sweatshirt to get comfortable – but this meant exposed skin – and we both left with shoulder burns and more than our fair share of bug bites.

Alright, so that about wrapped up our Christmas Eve on Machu Picchu. A final history lesson though: the Inca’s only inhabited Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or till 1530, because of the Spanish conquerors. Below them, they heard of the Spanish conquering Cusco and other people and decided to leave, but no one knows where to. They thought their city would be next, but the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is also part of the reason that it stands in such good shape. Machu Picchu is referred to as the “lost city” because it wasn’t discovered until 1911 by some Yale archeologist, when he was actually up in the Andes looking for something else. The history of Machu Picchu is still really unknown because of this. I just wonder what happened to the people. It’s amazing to think of what he Inca’s built in only 100 years, but how little they probably got to enjoy it.

Overall, Machu Picchu was an incredible highlight to our trip. It was breath taking, mesmerizing, and also a little sad when thinking about the people who have come and gone from there. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Emilio will give you tips on how to do it on a better budget than we did, because he’s already planning out how visit #2 will work. I am just grateful we had the opportunity to spend our Christmas Eve in such a place of history and natural beauty.

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P.S. If any of my history or facts are wrong, in the words of my Obachan, “so sorry ’bout that!” I am simply regurgitating the facts as given to us by our tour guide. I am no history major.

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