04/30/2010 65 °F
We are finally going up to Machu Picchu! It is one of the new 7 wonders of the world and the main drawing point to Peru (for us at least). Our goal was to get up early so that we could see the sun come up over the mountains and climb the mountain peak overlooking Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu (only the first 400 people can climb Huayna Picchu daily). The first bus left at 5:30 am, so we planned on getting to the bus stop a little before 5. Despite getting there early, 250+ people were already in line ahead of us waiting for the buses. I tried to patiently wait for the buses to start running, but I couldn't wait to get to the top!
The buses finally started to run, and Megan and I attempted to calculate exactly how many people were ahead of us (really it was the only thing to pass the time). We boarded our bus and took off up the zigzag path up the mountain. It seemed like I wasn't the only one who was nervous and excited about reaching the top, as almost everyone was anxiously snapping pictures as we went up the mountain. People weren't taking one or two pictures, but filling up memory cards constantly taking pictures of the EXACT SAME SCENERY. It was a half hour bus ride, zigzagging up the side of a mountain, but people kept taking pictures, and taking pictures, and taking pictures. It was a cacophony of beeps from digital cameras. I tried taking a couple pictures, but it was a fruitless endeavor as they ended up being blurry or blocked by a tree. I upped my game and took a video between two of the turns up the path.
We arrived at the front gate and rushed to join the long line of people waiting to get into the park. Everyone who was in line in front of us for the bus was now waiting in front of us at the gate. Two men were making their way down the line to hand out passes to climb Huayna Picchu, and Megan and I got our entrance tickets stamped. I decided to make a quick pit stop to "drop the kids off at the pool" since the only bathroom was outside the front gate. I paid the S\.1 bathroom entrance fee and ventured in. However, just like everywhere in Peru, there was no toilet paper, and I decided to hold it.
I rejoined Megan in line, got stopped by security because I didn't sign my name on my ticket (I didn't get the point, no one collected my entrance ticket, so why did it matter if I signed it?) which was a pain since I didn't have a pen. After getting into the park, we followed the people in front of us to get to the guard house, which was supposed to be one of the best places to watch the sunrise. However, the people in front of us had no clue where they were going either, and we ended up on the path to the Sun Gate (which was an hour trip hike to the far end of the the site). I decided it was time to be ultra-tourist and pull out the map. By coordinating with our lost companions and using 3 different maps, I was able to point us in the right direction. We made it to the guard house and got the grand view of Machu Picchu just as the sun was rising.
As you can see, it was a little cloudy early in the morning. We hung out for a while at the guard house to appreciate the view and to see if the clouds cleared. Every time the clouds cleared, several oohs and ahhs came from the people seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. It was really an impressive sight, albeit a cloudy one. You could barely see Huayna Picchu in the background. A couple of llamas were hanging out inside the guard house, so we posed for a picture. Here is also a picture of Megan walking up the hill to the guard house.
The clouds didn't really clear out, so we decided to start making our way around. A misty rain started to fall, but it only lasted for about 5 minutes (you can tell when it is raining in the pictures because we put our jackets on). We entered through the front gate and walked toward the royal quarters. They believe the royalty lived in this section of Machu Picchu because they would have had the first access to the clean water, the rooms are large, and it is next to the "most beautiful wall". All the stones in Machu Picchu were carved out of granite, not molded like bricks. This means every stone was shaved down using hammers and rocks to get their shape. The "most beautiful wall" is a wall where all the stones are roughly the same size, perfectly smooth, create nice straight lines, and is literally the most beautiful wall in Machu Picchu. As we passed the wall, the "most beautiful man" took a picture with the "most beautiful wall".
I also stopped to take care of business on the real royal throne.
Before I go any further, let me explain something about the "mystique" of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu first started being built in the 1400s. Several people have asked me if it was a defendable fortress. While it is secluded and has some natural defenses (like cliffs on three sides), it is not really a fotress. The city walls do not resemble medieval castles and could easily be hopped over. There were sentries, but as it took a week to hike to Machu Picchu, an approaching army would be easily spotted. There were no barracks or stockpiles of weapons found at Machu Picchu. The largest evidence against Machu Picchu being a fortress was that people abandoned the site once the Spanish invaded (instead of retreating there). Cuzco was the capital of the Inca empire, and it is more likely that Machu Picchu was a holy site and retreat for royalty. Remember a couple entries ago when I listed the things the Incas found most sacred? Mountains, earth, the sun, and water (especially water coming from a mountain). Well, Machu Picchu has all 4, including a year-round source of water coming from the mountain. Every other building at Machu Picchu is a temple of some sort. Well, that's what the experts think. EVERYTHING about Machu Picchu is an educated guess. The Incas have no written history, and the Spanish never knew that Machu Picchu existed. It sat unoccupied for 500 years before accidentally being found in 1911. The "mystique" of Machu Picchu is that it could have been anything. It could have been a site to communicate with aliens for all we know. However, in this entry, I'll stick to what the "experts" have agreed upon instead of creating my own theories.
We left the royal residence and walked down the stairs by the fountains. I stopped for a picture next to the llama, and as I was slowly moving in closer for a better picture, the llama whipped around and went eye to eye with me. It may not look like it the picture, but llamas are big, and they spit. The llama let our a huge fart, started pooping on Machu Picchu, and emphatically let me know that I was encroaching on his territory. I sheepishly backed away and joined Megan at the bottom of the stairs.
We followed the path laid out by the guide book, walked by the Temple of the Sun, took in some of the views through the Temple of the 3 Windows, and paused a minute to rest in the courtyard.
The coolest part to me about Machu Picchu (and this may be because I'm an engineer) was how the Incas carved useful objects out of huge pieces of rock, integrated the natural shape of the mountain into their buildings, and somehow everything remained perfectly intact for 500 YEARS with NO maintenance. Here is a picture of a torch holder carved from a huge rock. You can also see in one of the pictures how the carved the stones to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The only collapsed wall I saw during the whole day was in the Temple of the 3 Windows, and that happened when the Incas were still living in Machu Picchu.
We made our way up to one of the most holy sites at Machu Picchu, Intihuatana (meaning the "Hitching Post of the Sun"). If you look at the main picture, it is the pyramid in the back left corner. At the top of Intihuatana is a carefully carved rock. Initially this site received its name because it was believed that during the summer solstice (the most holy day) that the sun would align directly over the site and create no shadow, as if the sun was resting all its weight on the rock. More recently a new theory has arisen. Now it is thought that the Intihuatana stone is actually an abstract representation of Huayna Picchu (which rises directly behind the stone), since the rock closely mimics the shape of Huanya Picchu (see picture below). There are also several other examples across the Inca Empire where the Incas paid homage to the mountains by carving replicas (like the rock in the Colca Canyon).
I mentioned earlier how Macchu Picchu has cliffs on 3 sides. Well, being on top of a mountain, they had to use every available space. The cliff next to Intihuatana was terraced and used for farming. I could barely walk down the steps, much less carry anything down them. I am only 3 steps down and can reach straight out to touch where I started.
We walked down from Intihuatana and walked to the far end of Machu Picchu near the base of Huayna Picchu. The most anticipated part of the trip was climbing Huayna Picchu, but the rain had made everything super slippery and we wouldn't be able to see anything from the top anyways (even from the top of Intihuatana the rest of Machu Picchu was lost in a cloud). We ended skipping the trail up to Huayna Picchu, although I think it may have been closed anyways (I didn't see anyone make their way up). We walked down past the artisan's wall (giant wall that even had rain spouts) and past the wall that supposedly had a bird in it. I think the experts are really reaching on this one, check out the picture of Megan pointing to it, you can supposedly see the beak, the head (with a little bird on top of it), the neck, the body, and the tail feathers. I also added a picture of Megan walking through a double doorjam (an entry way with two door frames) which usually signified you were entering an important area.
We walked through some more temples (every room that had a large, carved, flat rock that was supposedly an altar was named a temple). There was a room with some bowls carved out of stone floor. Some think that they were used for smashing grain (but why not use a regular bowl) and some thought it was for carving stones (but why not do that in the quarry area). The consensus is that no one has any clue about their purpose. I took a picture with them anyways. Megan took a ride down the creatively named "slide rock" and walked down stairs carved into the mountain where they also conveniently carved a hand rail. I also took a shot looking back up towards Intihuatana.
We were at another one of the cliffs of Machu Picchu. Check out this view and how steeply the land drops away (and my nervous expression as I stood on the wet grass).
We were getting close to completing our circuit of Machu Picchu, but there was one spiritual rock we hadn't seen yet (although I had almost had my fill of rocks). It is directly underneath Megan in this picture.
I found a pathway that led through one of the storehouses.
However, the path ended just outside another storehouse. I convinced Megan that we could climb around the outside of the storehouse and down over the rocks to the lower level. She was skeptical, and stayed back as started my descent. I carefully and very slowly started down the rock face, but then I suddenly slipped. I could barely heard her yelp as I fell off of Machu Picchu...
This picture was obviously a reenactment after I didn't die. Megan rushed around to look down the slope where I had miraculously landed on my feet and prevented myself from tumbling down the slope. This is what it looked like beneath me.
Megan made it safely down "slippery rock" and we headed towards "spiritual rock". It was not nearly as glamorous as I expected. It was yet another rock carved to mimic the mountain backdrop.
We climbed back up to the residential area and then went back down to a cave carved into the side of the mountain (down a gentle slope this time). The Incas used this tunnel to detect the summer solstice. First they carved the mountain ridge far off in the distance so that it would pass through a sliver of morning light. Next they carved a tunnel the back of the cave. When the light passed through the notch in the distant mountain ridge and reached the back of the cave, the summer solstice had arrived triggering a series of religious activities. I climbed to the back of the cave to check out the view from the other side.
Our last temple was actually the coolest. It was called Temple of the Condor because, well, it looked like a Condor. The head was carved into the floor of the temple while two rocks extended like wings in the background. Caves extended under each wing to subterranean rooms.
My favorite room in all of Machu Picchu was located underneath the Temple of the Condor. This room was where they kept the guinea pigs, which were eaten on special occasions. I doubled checked to make sure that there weren't any hiding way in the back of the holes where they were enclosed.
We had completed our circuit of Machu Picchu. We took a break on some authentic furniture (of course carved out of rock) while we deliberated about climbing Huayna Picchu. We had expected to spend the whole day at Machu Picchu, but it was only 1 pm. We had read every page and followed the trail of the most in depth guide book available, so we decided we had seen all there was to see. We took one last look, and said goodbye to Machu Picchu.