Friday, 25 May 2012

Day 4: Machu Pichu

 Machu Pichu is the biggest Inca site. It is a sacred temple built by the Inca´s and purposefully hidden deep in the Andean mountain range surrounded by the majestic mountains of Machu Pichu and Wayna Pichu.
A few times a year the Inca noblemen would travel along the Inca trail to Machu Pichu to worship their Gods earth, sun and water on holy days and to celebrate their festivals there. No one lived at Machu Pichu except those who were responsible for maintaining it.

When the Spanish arrived, they plundered many inca sites which were temples and burial sites in search of the gold found at these sites. The Incas ran away from Machu Pichu to other sites and fought there, sacrificing these sites so that Machu Pichu remained hidden, safe and undiscovered by the Spaniards. Of course the inca´s and the peruvian descendants always knew about this place, but it was only in 1911 that it was discovered by the rest of the world. An American professor from Yale on another expedition to study the inca culture and learn about the independance of Peru heard from a local farmer about the remains of a site hidden deep in the mountains and set off to find it...

On day 4 we raced out of our tents at 03h30 since our group wanted to be one of the first to queue at the gate of Machu Pichu which opens at 05h00. Wim and I did not see the point of this as once inside, the other groups can pass anyway if they are faster and since its still a 2 hour hike once inside the gates, the tourists who have taken the train will already be inside, making viewing sunrise alone in Machu Pichu, almost impossible. Once in the queue we tried to keep warm and awake in the pitch dark and cold. The 2 hour hike was not bad since it was inca flat and once the sun came up it was quite pretty. I knew the last part was going to be bad. It was about 50 steep steps called ´gringo killers´ (gringo is the term given by South Americans for white westerners by the way which I took offence at when they called me one!) Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at the sun gate (which is the point on which the sun shines during the winter or summer solstice (cant remember which one)) and when one gets the first view of Machu Pichu, I was surprised to find that the steps were already behind me and that I had done them without much difficulty.

Now let us tell you about that first view of Machu Pichu. I had heard from some who had taken the train that Machu Pichu was a bit of a disappointment. I had heard from others who had done the trail that it was worthwhile when one had walked all of the 45km to get there. I assumed that, having seen many inca sites along the way, that Machu Pichu would be wonderful, but that the depth of the experience would have come from the days spent on the mountains before Machu Pichu. But I was wrong...To us Machu Pichu was huge and beautiful. Mystical stone buildings and terraces for farming built into the mountains at just the right angles to get the sun reflection during the solstice. Huge blocks of polished stone created walls built at an angle of 12 degrees and defects built purposefully into the walls to absorb the shock from earthqaukes...Such was the Inca perfection beautifully preserved...

After donning our Llama Path T shirts which were gifts from Reuben and posing for photos, (and witnessing a proposal by a man on bended knee), Reuben took us through the site, giving more explanations and clearly proud of his history. By 11h00 we were exhausted, but there was more...

Mackenzie, Wim and I had purchased tickets beforehand to also climb Wayna Pichu that day. This is another peak which is higher than Machu Pichu and thus affords amazing views, but it is a steep 45 minute hike each way, and by then it was pouring rain. Since the number of visitors each day is limited we felt that we had to do it. Wim was feeling sick (he had been nursing a cold for a few days already on the mountains), Mackenzie had sprained her ankle, but still we set off. half way through I began to think I had made a huge mistake...It was pouring rain, it was steeper than I expected and very dangerous since it was very high up and the paths were very narrow with a chain that had to be held onto, and it was slippery. Also my body was exhausted and begiining to resist. Nevertheless we made it to the top, but I refused to do the very last bit to the very top which involved a rickety narrow ladder. Wim and Mackenzie of course went ahead while I stayed behind on a safe ledge to enjoy the views..
The steep path to the very top of Wayna Pichu

At the top of Wayna Pichu

Mackenzie showing off on a ledge with Machu Pichu in the background

And then it was finally over....the descent was quick and accident free, we literally ran through Machu Pichu to get the bus to Aguas Calientes, a little town at the bottom of the mountains.We met our group at a restaurant where we indulged in nachos and pizza, said our goodbyes to Reuben and the other groups and took a train to Ollayantaytambo and then a bus back to Cuscoe. By the time we arrived at our hotel it was midnight....That night and the next day I was a stiif, sore mess. I felt like I had been run over by a train, but we were very happy that we had shared the experience together and had so many memories.

Two days later we were off to Chile...

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