Exploring MACHU*PICCHU from a Xdifferent aNgLe X

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2010

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Where I stayed
Some really cheap hostel!

Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above...roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle."- Hiram Bingham  (discover of MP?...)

After the uncertainty of the weather, the all night raining, and (worst of all) the haunting image of myself in pictures with a brightly colored, tacky, cheap rain poncho in front of Machu Picchu ; ) -- when the ruins appeared out of-what appeared to be-- thin air, I felt myself catch my breath as I watched the last few major buildings arise from underneath a dense blanket of fog...

To think that I almost didnt go to Machu Picchu is pretty unimaginable. The place itself, especially coated in rolling fog, is as mystical, and perhaps even more, than you hear or read about. I spent the entire day exploring the ruins, having some serious sensory overwhelment. Indeed, as Hugh Thomspon, the author of the White Rock and an Incan ruin discoverer himself, said, "To have a whole city of such buildings (the finest example of Inca masonry in existence) was a surfeit that few could digest".

But at the same time as getting the so called postcard picture, and hearing the tour guide speak of the sun temple, and the watchman´s house, I found myself feeling a little disillusioned with the explanations, and found myself becoming increasingly interested in what I had read the night before whilst lying in my bunk bed, head lamp on, listening to the sounds of the other four people squished in the room, dozing in and out of sleep.

Like Thompson, I felt seemingly untouched by the what the guides thought was important to note, the names of the buildings, (which, as Thompson says, were simply names given by Bingham and most had no real significance to their actual function) the storybook discovery by Hiram Bingham, and the idealistic (and more than likely faulty) speal about Machu Picchu being a major religious center. Indeed it appeared that what the tour guides were all noting were simply directed towards what they thought the tourists would find most interesting-- discovery of mummies (an Indiana Jones bred obsession), where the privileged had lived, and the mesmerizing idea that Machu Picchu had been lost and unknown to anyone but "a few locals below" until a heroic, Yale educated American "discovered it". It was also important to note that a baby llama had just been born two days before....

Of course, the conflicting stories of Machu Picchu, and the book by Hugh Thompson I had read the night before were enough in themselves to pique my interest in the site, and I felt an intense impulse to delve deeper into the history and truth of Machu Picchu-- past the glittery, glossy finish that most visitors were intent on hearing.

Right down to my pictures, I tried to get a different angle on Machu Picchu-- jumping, being upside down, and flailing my hair like Rapunzel over the side of an Incan wall, which I could only HOPE was stable. Like Thompson, I was more intrigued on where the workers lived, and admired, like him "some buildings (which) were ...completely ignored in the guidebook descriptions...they had a simplicity that moved me as much as any of the grandeur monuments nearby". Later that night, reading more of Thompsons' novel, I learned more about the workers who constructed this city in less than 50 years. They would work through the rainy moinths to prepare it for the Incas later in the season, and most of the bodies of the worker class had "revealed bones with symptoms of malnutrition". Something that is even more powerful is to hear that "many of these same tombs had been bulldozed when a road was constructed up to the ruins in 1948".

Of course it's easier to think of Machu Picchu as magical and out of this world, and to not think about how exactly it was constructed--with whose hands, and whose sweat. I'm well aware. But as someone who is so interested in humanity--I felt obliged to try to learn more. Ignorance may be bliss, but our world is not completely made of "the stuff from storybooks" (to use an overworked phrase). I found it interesting to ponder a point that Thompson brought up-- he talks about how people--especially the discoverers of such sites- are so quick to dismiss the human loss which was responsible for the actual building of the sites.-- "forgiving of the totalitarianism that had given them their finds, and which they could likewise turn into monuments of their own discoveries". Perhaps human cost is not important in such instances?

Apparently Bingham himself overlooks this as well, and additionally discredits practically every explorer before him, by writing his book (which I have also bought to read his point of view) as described by Thompson, "with the most disingenuous reinvention".  Apparently Machu Picchu wasnt as lost as the masses have been ingrained to think-- A man named Don Enrique Palma of Cuzco saw it in 1902 and "left an inscription on a rock commemorating it".  A local landowner also wrote to a Cusco archaeologist in 1911 "inviting him to visit the ruins", and perhaps most surprisingly of all, Bingham had a map in his hands created by a former explorer-- but in his book Bingham writes that no one had been able to find the ruions, and soley says "their existance had been remoured in 1875"-- which in reality, was when an explorer named Wiener explicity named the sites and said "that there were ruins to be found there". 

When i read this the first thing that came to my mind was the book, When China Discovered the World in 1421--- the idea of possible paradigm shifts never ceases to fascinate me.  And of course, from the human nature side and through my studies of history and how stories *miraculously* change when recorded by different sides, it seems highly probable that like-minded discoverers do the same to popularize themselves and their findings. 

Apart from the discrepancies of Machu Picchu's discovery and perhaps ugly formation, it doesn't take away the real magic of the world famous site. There is actually a place in a temple where the magnetic field is off, and the compass just spins, and one mountain points DUE NORTH!  Also the planning and intricacies of design are INGENIOUS.  During the winter solstice, the sun shines through one window, and sacred figures like llamas suddenly appear from the shadows.  There is one part that is a giant sculpture of a condor, with its wings made of giant rocks flanking the condors body, and the site of sacrificial ceremonies.

Apart from my deep thinking of Machu Picchu I also had the best ice cream Ive had in months (and perhaps ever) there in Machu Picchu!, was proud of my ingenuity of thinking that it would be really amazing if all tourists had to wear Incan costumes so as to not mess up the pictures of others, and make the place look populated like it had been in Incan times...laughed at the train thanking us for "our preference" (there isnt any other option and in fact they have been continually sued for having a monopoly..tis South America....), and also started a funny trend of jumping-pictures in front of Machu Picchu!

Thinking about Machu Picchu a little more outside of the box than usual, Ive made some interesting connections and had some equally interesting thoughts- I will continue reading about this magical place, a place where Ive felt both at peace, and challenged by....

I sincerely hope that one day you all can see it as well-- there is nothing like that first glimpse--and the air, sounds, and mystical rolling fog there at the top of that mountain... best of all, its completely true that no amount of tourists or postcard pictures can ever take that away from you.

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john moor on

beautifully stated. you give thompson and bingham competition. enjoy. we are taking care of your mom on thursdays for you.

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