Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
Trip End May 21, 2011

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

We arrived in Cusco in the early hours of the morning and were approached by people telling us about their hostels. Knowing that Cusco was expensive, we decided to go with a tout's recommendation as it was cheap and in a good location. We got a taxi there and were pretty happy. The Danish couple were less lucky with their room than us though as they had bedbugs and had to switch hostels the next day.

Cusco was a place that we both had been looking forward to visiting. It was the historic capital of the Inca Empire so there was a lot to explore in and around the city. You have to buy an expensive tourist ticket when you are there to access some of the main sights so we went a bit mad with ours and visited several museums, the cathedral, the Inca sun temple turned into a Spanish monastery and went to the complementary show of traditional Andean dancing which we really enjoyed. We learnt a lot about the culture and traditions of the Incas and the arrival of the Spanish. Nowhere we had previously been to so explicitly demonstrated the impact that the Spanish colonization had had; Inca ruins and walls ran alongside colonial churches and buildings. We saw the ruins of Saqsaywaman near the city where a furious battle was fought between the Incas and the Spanish which the Spanish only narrowly won after initial defeat. The ruins illustrated the Inca’s impressive architectural achievements as they were able cut stones precisely and seamlessly that were joined without any mortar and could impressively withstand earthquakes and last hundreds of years. We visited several Inca ruins in the so-called Sacred Valley, including the "fortress" at Ollantaytambo (which we visited on Eleanor’s birthday) and the ruins at Pisac. The skill of the Incas was evident in all of the sites that we visited. They often made their strongholds in inaccessible locations, high in the mountains, and somehow used huge rocks within their cities and temples, some weighing as much as 300tons, that they transported to these inaccessible locations without the aid of wheels. It was great to witness the achievements made by the Incan Empire that only really grew within a period of just 100 years. At its height, the Inca Empire included Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the empire also extended into corners of Argentina and Colombia- bigger than the size of continental Europe. Learning about this lost civilization was fascinating. Equally, we witnessed the pride the local people had in their impressive ancestry and the way that many of the indigenous people here still lived their lives in traditional ways. We saw this when we visited Pisac and saw the chaotic Sunday market packed with tourists and local people.

After much indecision, we decided to ignore all of the tour touts and to make our own way to see the famous Machu Picchu. We set off on our journey to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. So after a short but very expensive train journey that wound through the mountains, we arrived at our destination, welcomed by hostel touts, endless amounts of Mexican restaurants and lovely sandflies. We relaxed in the natural thermal baths before settling down for an early night in order to rise early to catch the buses up to the "lost city".

We left the hostel at 6.30am and caught the bus. It was great arriving early as it was not very busy  and we managed to get great pictures of the ruins without swarms of tourists. We even managed to get a picture of a llama in front of the ruins who seemed to sense what tourists wanted and was happy to oblige. With the Danish couple, we decided to walk up the less crowded Machu Picchu mountain which offered a crystal clear overview of the ruins. On the walk we followed one of the steep Inca trails high into the mountains, emerging into cloud forest. The view at the top was truly beautiful- we were surrounded by mountains which were coated in green and topped with clouds. The sun’s rays cut through the gaps and illuminated these giants and the awesome Incan ruins. The fact that the Incas constructed a fully functioning city at this height was extremely impressive and the beauty and symmetry of the ruins enhanced our awe- especially from our high viewpoint.

After some well-earned refreshments after our mountain hike, we hired a guide called Felix to take us round the ruins. This was a good decision as we learned a lot about why and how Machu Picchu was built. For instance, the Incas knew exactly where the fault lines were in the mountains so, to avoid pending earthquake damage, they carefully constructed their buildings to withstand any damage. Impressively, the ruins have successfully withstood several earthquakes which have devastated other cities in the area. The Incas also made water channels that ran into various wells at differing levels, serving the King first, and they created sun dials perfectly aligned with the surrounding peaks. Whilst we learnt a lot about the Incan civilization, it was interesting to learn that there is much still unknown as they did not leave a written record and much of their knowledge and understanding of the world, especially their astronomical understanding, was destroyed as when the Spanish tried to diminish their power they targeted the Incan intellectuals first.

We managed to see the ruins just in time. What seemed to be in an instant, masses of American tourists rolled up, filling the landscape in a red sea of waterproof jackets and sun hats. The climate was perfect and we felt very fortunate to be there on such a perfect day to view this famous sight. It did live up to our high expectations- it was a fascinating place which frequently surprised us. The beauty of the ruins and the surrounding mountains was more than we had expected and made this a truly memorable day.
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Lin on

Have enjoyed all your blogs so far, each one informative and interesting, with great pictures. Good luck on your next venture in N.Z.

Fliss on

Amazing place no? Hopefully it won't be ruined by the time I get to go back and take my family there

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