Things that have made me go 'Wow!' - Part 27

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, September 3, 2004

Time for another history lesson, I'm afraid. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Machu Picchu was built by the Incas in the 1460s and is thought by many to be a sacred sight because of it's remote location. When Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards arrived in Peru in the 1530s looking for gold and treasure the Incas destroyed much of the Inca Trail leading to the citadel in order to protect it from being destroyed. It worked, as following the end of the Inca civilization Machu Picchu remained hidden high in the Andes for nearly 400 years until American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the immaculate ruins in 1911, most of which was overrun by the jungle. It is the incredible stonework and the spectacular setting of this 'Lost City' that people flock to Peru - and Cusco - to see, and for us it was the final destination of our three day trek (thank God!).

We left the Sun Gate ahead of the masses - one of the benefits of being a small group - just as the mist cleared to give us the first proper view of Machu Picchu. Two months ago the most famous thing I knew about Peru was Paddington Bear. I'd heard of Machu Picchu of course, but had no real idea what it was, but having walked the walk and learning the history it was really a thrill to finally get there.

After stopping for the obligatory photo-op overlooking the site, Ivan led us on a 2 hour tour of the main ruins, including the incredibly intricate stonework of the Sun Temple. Huge granite boulders were cut and placed together like a jigsaw puzzle, with no cement or mortar. The Incas didn't even have a written language, and how they managed to cut and fit the stones so perfectly together - let alone move them - remains a mystery to this day adding to Machu Picchu's mythical aura. I think I would have been far too lazy to have been a productive Inca, and as the clouds wispily drifted by revealing the Urubamba River thousands of feet below, I decided I was definitely too lazy. Hell, I'm not even a productive Englishman.

Ivan left us alone to wander around the ruins which were still fairly empty as the train full of day-trippers doesn't arrive until about 10:30. By this time we had met up with pill-poppin'-Pat again and together with Tim we inexplicably decided to climb yet another mountain in order to get a hummingbird's view of Machu Picchu - but I don't think hummingbirds are daft enough to fly that high. Huayna Picchu is the steep-sided peak in the background of all the classic Machu Picchu postcard views and, believe it or not, those crazy Incans managed to build some things up there as well.

After signing in at a hut, we then plodded, sweated, groaned, and pulled ourselves up a very rough pathway for about an hour. After a brief rest whilst letting a petrified-looking Japanese tour group descend past us (their facial expressions belying the 'Happy Tours' name badge pinned prominently on their coats) we eventually made it to the top. Or so I thought, but there was more. Squeezing through a narrow tunnel on hands and knees and clambering over boulders we eventually made it to the summit. Spread out below us was the entire site of Machu Picchu, supposedly in the shape of a hummingbird but I thought it was more in the shape of a ruined city perched on the top of a mountain. In the other direction was more snow-capped peaks and deep valleys, with nothing so much as a 'Danger!' sign to hang on to if we fell off. After ten minutes admiring the view and twenty to catch my breath, we started our descent. Judging by the number of people climbing up we had timed it well, and after signing back in at the hut to say we had safely returned (some people have been known to fall off) I promptly went to the terraces and laid down, trying to take in the view and doing my utmost not to say 'Awesome!'

After a final group lunch in the dismal little town of Aguas Calientes, we took the train back to Cusco (actually we took the train halfway to the town of Ollantaytambo and then jumped in a taxi for the rest of the journey as it was a much quicker - and hair-raising - way to go). After a warmish shower and a few cold cervasas the aching, stiff limbs soon loosened up enough to shake my thang at Mama Afrika's before saying adios to the rest of Team Gringo. It had been a hell of a long day after three not-quite-so-long days, but it has been a fantastic experience. In fact, I might even describe it as awesome.
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