Trip Start Aug 15, 2008
90Trip End Aug 14, 2009
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The Sacred Inca City of Machu Picchu owes a great part of its beauty to the surrounding landscape & the majestic location of the city surrounded by gorges & mountains. The city comprises temples, palaces, plazas, streets & about 200 dwellings. Because of its size & location it must have housed privileged noblemen of the Inca Empire. There are no records that mention this place (remember the Incas had no written language) so it was given the name of the mountain on which it was located, Machu Picchu, meaning "old mountain", by its discoverer, Hiram Bingham.
Hiram Bingham III
Hiram Bingham is recognized as the man who brought the site to world attention.
He discovered Machu Picchu by accident in 1911, when he was looking for Vilcabamba, the last stronghold of the Incas. He came back a year later with an expedition sponsored by Yale to excavate the site. He "borrowed" thousands of artefacts, including mummies, ceramics and bones & took them back to Yale - Peru is still trying to get them back !
Hiram Bingham has been cited as the inspiration for the Indiana Jones character.
He was a Yale Professor, an aviator in WW1, elected Senator in 1924, quite a character - no mention of him being an expert with a whip, though.
The Journey to Machu Picchu
Site seeing is difficult around Cusco as you need tickets for everything & the ticket offices are dispersed around town. Each office is an example of job creation gone wild - you queue at the first window where they tell you what you need - at the second window they take your money & at the third window they stamp the documents to prove you have been to the other two windows.
We were met by a young girl from the hotel who escorted us through the market to our hotel. There were dozens of stalls selling the same tourist stuff at prices that were even more exorbitant than in Cusco. I still can't understand how any of them make a living.
While having an al fresco dinner near to the railway track, our meal was rudely interrupted by a train thundering past about 6 feet away. The worst thing was that they blast their horns unexpectedly - a real buttock clenching moment.
When we arrived, we decided to climb to up to Caretakers Hut first, from where the most popular postcard shots are taken. When we reached the top & peeked over the edge, the view was spectacular, just as in all the photographs, spectacular ruins surrounded by sheer gorges & towering mountains. However, I must confess that my first impression was that it was not as big as I imagined. It didn't look like a city that could house 500 people.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the buildings at the front of the site & trying to avoid being run down by galloping Llamas, who roam freely over the site.
It's interesting that, after admiring the exquisite masonry work of the Inca walls in & around Cusco, the majority of the walls in Machu Picchu were crude stone walls with earth filling. Only the royal apartments, temples & other sacred places were built using the precision, mortar-less technique.
On our second day I was determined to climb the mountain at the back of the site, "Wayna Picchu" (Young Mountain). Barbara walked with me to the back of the site to see me off - it was gloriously sunny. Machu Picchu is above the clouds so the weather is temperamental, alternating hot sun, cloud & drizzling rain, so by the time I started my trek it was hissing with rain.
After an hour's climb, I reached the top; it had stopped raining but the clouds were swirling around so I couldn't get a clear shot of the ruins (the main purpose of climbing the ruddy mountain).
I sat around at the top chatting to the other climbers as we photographed each other, to prove that we had climbed it.
There are some Inca buildings right at the top which were probably used as an astronomical observatory.
Climbing down was less strenuous but trickier, especially when, on narrow steps, you had to give way to people coming up (why do big groups stick together so it takes ages for them all to pass).
When I got down, it was hot sunshine again, typical !
I found the temples around the Sacred Plaza most interesting, the temples were open sided with the open side facing the rising sun in the east. These buildings also have the best carved walls. The Temple of the Three Windows, if you look carefully, should be called the Temple of the Five Windows as 2 of them have been filled in.
Unbelievably, a tobacco advertising company was filming around this stone when their crane fell over & chipped the corner off this sacred stone - so now Winter Solstice may be a few minutes late !
To be continued . . .