City of the Incas

Trip Start Apr 08, 2012
Trip End Sep 25, 2012

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Thursday, July 5, 2012

I was a little shocked to discover that my group for Machu Picchu did not include any Israelis or Australians. It's almost impossible to do a tour in South America without at least one of them.
But there was no lack of them - or anyone else - at the top of the mountain.
If you can imagine the amount of people to be found at Old Faithful mid-eruption, it is nothing like that. You are practically crawling over people to get anywhere and it is impossible to get a photo without people in it.
With the amount of people up there it's difficult to believe that there are people on this planet that have not seen this place.
The government has put restrictions on the amount of people that may enter the site every day but I really don't think it's enough. Currently 2500 people are allowed per day and 400 are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the city) but this place is not large enough to sustain that amount of people long term. Damage to the ruins is unavoidable.

To get to the town at the base we were driven about five hours north of Cusco.
About an hour away I was wondering if we were lost because we were driving along the side of a mountain near the bottom of a valley and the road was anything but good.
To me it was far worse than Death Road. This gravel road winds its way along the hillside following each tight corner with no barriers to guard against the vertical drop to the side.
But we made it to the town of Hidroelectrica where we were told we would be walking the rest of the way.
Had I been told this in the beginning I would have been happy. But as it was, I was wearing jeans and it was pouring with rain.
There is a train that can take you rest of the way but I didn't want to pay extra and we would be taking the train back anyway.
So three hours later I arrived (after dark) in the town known as Aguas Calientes (because of the hot springs but actual name is Machu Picchu) soaking wet and wanting nothing more than a hot shower.

This town would be a very strange place to live. The only way to get to it is by train or trail so there are no personal vehicles.
There are about 30 buses to shuffle people to the top of the ruins, maybe two police cars, and a couple of working trucks. 
There are not even any motorcycles here which is weird enough in a South American town.
The population of Aguas Calientes is only 1600 and it lives completely off of tourism, every building seems to house a hotel, restaurant, or artisan shop.

I woke up at 4.30 the next morning to get in line for the bus at 5.30. Many people choose to walk up to the top which takes about an hour and half. But I couldn't be bothered and most people said it wasn't worth it anyway as it was dark the entire walk.

After waiting in line behind 200 people, we finally entered the ruins. Because the mountains surrounding the valley are so high, sunrise was only at about 7.30.

If you book Machu Picchu early enough (maybe a week in advance) you can also book to climb Huayna Picchu which is the tall mountain behind the city.
I booked this thinking it would give a cool view of the city but when I arrived and saw the size of the mountain I could have hit myself.
I was also wondering how exactly one might go about climbing this mountain, because from where I was standing it was a vertical cliff with a few trees hanging on.

After the tour of the city I began my climb.
It's not just a random mountain to climb, there are ruins at the top of it. Which also means that the Incas built a bunch of steps to get to them.
If there is one thing I hate, it is steps. Had it just been a dirt trail to the top I would have been fine. And of course, while getting to the top was somewhat exhausting, coming down was blindingly painful.
But there were good views at the top.

The Incas built all their cities in the shape of a sacred animal. Ollantaytambo, on the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is in the shape of a llama, Cusco is in the shape of a puma, and Machu Picchu is supposedly in the shape of a condor.
When it was pointed out to me I could see it, but looking at the photo from Huayna Picchu, I have no idea.
Well, maybe if the feet are hanging towards the bottom left corner and the wings are spread up and behind. I suppose that makes the head the modern entrance to the city, but that building wasn't there in Incan times, so I don't know what their head was.

On the tour we were told that Machu Picchu is actually the name of the tallest mountain where the Inca Trail comes in (you can see it in the Huayna Picchu photo) and not the name of the city. It is Quechua for "old mountain" and Huayna means "young."
No one actually knows the name of the city because it was abandoned 400 years before discovery. 
There is so much history to this place, far more than a tour guide is able to tell you.
But I found myself wondering how exactly do they know that these ruins are a temple and those were used for sacrificing, when they don't even know the name of the place?
I suppose they can use other ruins as an example, but archaeology and anthropologists can only get you so far.



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