Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2008 Peru Trip Day 12 (Machu Picchu)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Up super early again, a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant buffet. Checked our bags at the hotel desk. Efrain came at 5:50 AM to accompany us to the bus station just up the street. We were dismayed to see a long line of people waiting for the bus, extending well up the street.
Line for the bus station
We took our places in line, but our guide disappeared. Local women moved up and down the line selling sandwiches and coffee. Apparently a whole fleet of buses had already filled up and taken people to Machu Picchu, and we were now waiting for them to return to pick up second loads. The sky was overcast, and we had little hope of seeing a sunrise. A sunrise over the mountains is not so spectacular, but the way the sunlight flows over the Machu Picchu landscape is the sight to see. Our guide joined us as we finally boarded one of the buses. Of course, having a cast on meant that I got to sit the farthest from the door in the last row of the bus!
The 15-20 minute bus ride went down the valley, crossed the river, and started tight switchbacks up the mountain side.
Looking back down in the valley
Now we were going up, and yes, this was cloud forest. The ride is 7km/4.2 miles long on a narrow dirt road, where one of the buses had to pull over or back up when passing one coming the other way. You could see the steps between the switchbacks for the hardy souls who would walk up to Machu Picchu. Near the top, we had our first glimpses of the famed Machu Picchu ruins.
We were dropped off in front of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge; there really is a hotel in the protected Machu Picchu area!
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
And if we had more info on this place, we would have snuck in to see their garden with its orchids! Instead, we joined the line of people going through the Machu Picchu checkpoint. We showed our tickets without a hitch. A maximum of 2,500 visitors is allowed in each day, and we were beating the 10:00 AM train crowds.
The entry path headed straight for the House of the Terrace Caretaker, with its reconstructed thatch roof.
House of the Terrace Caretaker ahead
Our guide asked if we wanted to go straight, or up the hill. I requested that we go up the hill, because I was still determined to try to see the sun rise, and I wanted that classic view looking down on the whole of Machu Picchu. Our guide looked doubtful, but led us up the zigzag path that was an altitude killer. I was slow more because of being winded than because of wearing a cast. Didn’t even take time to look around, but kept onward. Clouds still covered the tops of the mountains around us. But once we reached the top, oh, the view was worth it!
Panorama of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is known as the “Lost City of the Incas”, although the Quechuan locals knew of its existence and used its lower terraces for their own agricultural use. At 2,400 m/7,875 feet in elevation, it lies in a saddle between Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) and Huayna Picchu (“Young Peak”). Huayna Picchu is the mountain most often seen in photos of Machu Picchu. UNESCO declared this Inca “citadel” as a World Heritage Site in 1983. It was never discovered by the Spanish and is not mentioned in the chronicles. Its purpose or function is unknown, but its forms echo the surrounding mountains. Hiram Bingham, an American historian with an expedition from Yale University, was searching for Vilcabamba/Espiritu Pampa, the Inca stronghold in the jungle. With the aid of a local farmer’s knowledge, he “stumbled” upon Machu Picchu in 1911. He returned to the ruins, which were overgrown by the jungle, in 1912 and 1915. For 50 years he thought he had found Vilcabamba. Later discoveries revealed that Machu Picchu was the center of an extensive Inca province with finely preserved satellite sites and highways. But what was its value? There were no mines, little agricultural land, and no need for defense. But the Incas revered nature and here was nature in abundance. Bingham’s studies showed that 75% of the human remains were female, and so it was thought this was a refuge for the Virgins of the Sun. But modern technology concludes that the remains were 50/50 male and female. It appears that Machu Picchu was deliberately abandoned, perhaps even before the Spanish arrived, but why? Civil war, European disease epidemics, drought, fire?
From our vantage point, we could look backwards to a mountain ridge in the distance, and see a notch with trees and buildings. That point is the Intipunku (“Sun Gate”), the Inca Trail’s last mountain pass and first view of Machu Picchu. From there you could see the Inca Trail leading down to where we stood. Still above us was the Watchman’s Hut, or Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock, with its thatched roof.
Watchman's Hut
We decided not to take the 45-minute walk around the Watchman’s Hut to the Inca Bridge, despite promises of spectacular views. Cliff-hanging paths were not in the cards for today. Below us was extensive terracing in the agricultural sector of Machu Picchu.
As luck would have it, while we stood looking down at Machu Picchu, the sun broke through the clouds just as it rose above the mountain. We were able to see the sunrise after all! The sunlight drifting across the layout below us was not very dramatic because of the clouds, but it was so great to see the sun had come out!
Sun rising over the mountain
Efrian pointed out the profile of an Inca, as seen lying on his back, with the mountains making up his features.
Postcard of the Inca profile
The best place to view it is from the bus road.
Brynne at Machu Picchu
Sunlight has reached Machu Picchu
Kirby & Jan
Tamiko, Brynne, Jan & Kirby
Defensive terraces and water channels
Religious sector
At one point we turned a shadowed corner with the sun behind us to look over the valley behind Machu Picchu, and observed a circular rainbow in the low clouds! Photographs do not do it justice.
Circular rainbow
We went through a large doorway into the urban sector.
Efrain showed us a stone cylinder, called a bar-hold, in the wall on either side of the door,
Bar hold for door
and an eye hook above, to which a wood and bamboo door or gate was attached.
Eye hook above door
Often a home would only have the bar-holds, onto which they would lash a stick to keep others out. The door at Machu Picchu was surely more defensive, and was described as a wood bar with bamboo strips attached to it vertically. We are not sure if it was a solid door, or a type of portcullis.
Looking back at doorway
The quarry had scattered house-size boulders.
View from the quarry
One had steps carved into it. Tools were found in one particular area, which helped historians theorize how the stones were cut. It is believed that the stonemasons found natural fault lines in the stones, used stone chisels to cut narrow holes along the fault line, then inserted wood wedges, which were then soaked in water, causing the wood to swell and the pressure would split the rock. But how do you explain cutting a stone into any shape you could imagine? Other theories include the use of giant bowls of gold to concentrate solar energy for a focused beam of light to cut the rocks.
Efrain said they used obsidian stone to polish stone surfaces, but it makes more sense that they used pumice (lava rock) which would cause the quartz present in the stone to take a shine.
"Obsidian" stone for polishing
Or else they used lasers…
Saw a vizcacha in the quarry.
We had plenty of opportunity to see Inca walls, and the finest stone masonry was reserved for religious and royal uses.
Inca stone walls
Since the Spanish were not here to cart off most of the stones for their own buildings, the walls of structures in Machu Picchu are generally untouched, with only the thatched rooftops missing. Circular stone extensions were used to support bamboo beams as the basis of roofing.
Stone extensions to support roof beams
One feature of Machu Picchu is how they used the natural rock in their architecture, incorporating them into walls and floors. We looked down onto Torreon/The Temple of the Sun.
Temple of the Sun
This singular building had the only curved wall in the complex, like an incomplete letter ‘P’. Here the temple incorporates the outcrop of the summit, making it as one with its environment. From the ledge above, we could see how the sunlight coming in through the trapezoidal window made a rectangular spot of sun on the floor.
Rectangular sun spot on temple floor
During the June solstice, the rising sun shines through the window and strikes a particular stone within the Temple of the Sun. It is also said that if you look out through the window and see the Pleiades constellation, then it is time to plant the crops.
Royal residences
The Sacred Plaza was a small square facing the valley behind Machu Picchu. The House of the High Priest was on the left as you enter, and the Temple of the Three Windows was on the side you enter. The Temple of Three Windows is a three-sided building, with three trapezoidal windows on the far wall overlooking the main plaza.
Temple of the Three Windows
Trapezoidal windows cast rectangular sun spots
The three windows are all cut into a single rock, with other stones to complete the wall. Efrain pointed out a stone cut with three steps, to represent the three worlds: The heavens (or higher consciousness) or the world of the condor, the earth (surface, or present consciousness) or the world of the puma, and the underground (or earth’s interior, or sub-consciousness) or land of the snake.
The Principal Temple also had three walls of masterful stonework. There is a bit of slippage at the back right, either due to an earthquake, or settling of the ground. Efrian reported that one stone weighed over 300 tons.
Principal Temple's largest stone
The Principal Temple had a huge altar-like rock, and outside its front left corner there was a small diamond-shaped rock representing the Southern Cross.
"Southern Cross" stone
Behind the Principal Temple was a smaller “cell” called the Sacristy. Flanking its entrance were two large stones, said to have 32 angles each.
An entrance stone of the Sacristy
Efrain then commenced counting the visible sides of the stone, and came up with over 30. Inside the Sacristy were niches that echoed, and we were invited to stick our heads in and sing.
Echoing niches
Somewhere here is where Brynne’s camera decided it was going to the world of the condor.
Grooves are often seen cut into seating or flat surfaces,
and walls were built to lean inward, probably to withstand the effects of earthquakes.
Inward-leaning wall
One stone even had an inside corner cut in it.
Stone with inside corner cut into it
Looking down on Sacred Plaza
We climbed the stairs to the Intihuatana, the “Hitching Post to the Sun”.
Temple of the "Hitching Post to the Sun"
The theory is that these carved rocks found at major Inca sites were the point to which the sun was symbolically tied at the equinoxes. At each equinox, the sun shines directly overhead and leaves no shadow. The sun is said to sit its entire weight on that point on the equinox. Or else the Incas successfully tied the sun to keep it going further north. The many steps, angles, and planes of the sculpted rock are still being researched for their purpose.
"Hitching Post to the Sun"
Some consider it a sundial, but of the seasons and not time of day. It may also be the center of the cardinal alignments of nearby sacred peaks. This post is unique in that it survived when the Spanish tried to destroy all such symbols in an attempt to wipe out pagan worship. The top of the post was chipped by a crane brought in to film a commercial for Cusqueño beer.
Chipped post
At the back corner of Machu Picchu, there are narrow terraces, which would not have been practical for agriculture, but may have been their version of the hanging gardens. On the way up to the Intihuatana, we were shown a rock that was supposed to represent the mountains around Machu Picchu.
Rock formation echoes the mountain profile
Other rock forms in Machu Picchu are supposed to do the same: the Funerary Rock and the Sacred Rock.
Main plaza
As we headed across the main plaza with its token llamas, we saw a Mountain Caracara sitting atop a rock outcropping. Figured he was trying to be a condor.
Llamas would not have been raised at Machu Picchu, because the native grasses were not to their liking.
Huayna Picchu
The Sacred Rock is at one end of a small plaza with two open-sided thatched roof buildings on either side. Shady seating!
The Sacred Rock is a giant flat stone with an outline said to echo the mountains.
Sacred Rock
Sacred Rock from the side
Behind the Sacred Rock is a gate to the Huayna Picchu trail.
Gate to Huaycha Picchu trail
Only 400 people are allowed on the mountain at any one time, and if that number is reached, you must wait until someone returns and then you may go. Partway up Huayna Picchu is the Temple of the Moon. It takes two hours to get to the exposed area on top of the mountain for great views. We, of course, simply didn’t have the time to attempt this hike, which promised slippery steps, overgrown paths, and a wobbly ladder to get to the very top!
Brynne spotted two lizards as we headed back through the living quarters and workshops of Machu Picchu.
Stenocercus crassicaudatus/Spiny Whorltail Iguana
Living and workshop quarters
Load bearing endwall
What's that?
Saw some polished rock, but we passed right by on our way to the Temple of the Condor. Bingham thought this area was a prison because of the passageways and cells. But who can tell!
Instead we were shown what is called the Temple of the Condor, with a flat carved rock on the ground that is said to represent the head of the condor.
Head of the Condor
Temple of the Condor
Two natural jagged stones behind it represented the wings. Then our guide left us. At that point I was getting dehydrated and needed a restroom. But I did want to see the fountains, which a map indicated should be near. As we headed toward the exit, we crossed right over the series of sixteen fountains. Water is still flowing!
Stepped fountains
Looking into a "fountain"
Water is still flowing
Everyone wanted to keep together, so they exited with me. I paid 1 Sol to use the restroom. Whew! I needed that. Still a bit wobbly, I took advantage of the bench at the bus stop.
Jan went down a path marked with a Peace Pole, to look for birds.
Peace Pole
Saw Efrain gabbing to someone. We had thought he had hurried off to meet another group to guide! We caught a bus back to town.
We never did see the museum! There is now talk that a German found Machu Picchu decades before Bingham, and looted it in secret. Apparently there are many pieces in private collections that cannot be verified as to origin, and also can be traced to one person. The other controversy about Machu Picchu is that Peru desires that Yale University return all the artifacts found at Machu Picchu.
Jan asked for directions to the Pueblo Viejo restaurant, and initially got directions to the Pueblo Hotel, until the driver called her back to verify that it was the restaurant she wanted. It turned out to be a block away. The restaurant would not open for an hour, so we did some window shopping, and then went to the main plaza.
Main Plaza with church
There was a fountain with a statue of the Inca Pachacutec, with smaller painted statues of Mother and Father Earth.
Inca Pachacutec and Father Earth
There was also a stone puma.
Stone puma
I then noticed a girl with the same wavy and bleached-in-stripes hair as Ulbalina. It was she chatting to a friend.
Ulbalina on the right in the main plaza
Jan went to ask her about a voucher for lunch, and Ulbalina said she would go with us to the restaurant. She confirmed that we had reservations under TerraInka Group of 4. And she said she would come back at 12:00 PM with our train tickets.
Finally lunch! We could choose from a limited menu: an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We had soup and pizza. Ulbalina finally arrived about 12:45 PM to say she would meet us at the hotel at 2:15 PM with the train tickets. We saw her outside the restaurant talking to her husband, who was wearing a mesh top with what looked like swim trunks. What’s going on?
Mural on the school across from the restaurant
Plenty of entertainment looking out the restaurant window at the people going by. A preschool across the street was letting out youngsters one by one to waiting parents, and the school kids all crowded around that door.
Preschool door
A couple musicians set up outside to play music, with a curious crowd of young school students.
Street musicians
Saw one tiny old man walk by many times, carrying a heavy plastic burlap bag on his back for the uphill portion. Was he carrying away debris from the construction down at the main plaza?
Little old man construction worker
A woman on the street was transferring potatoes from one bag to another.
We wandered back to the hotel, retrieved our luggage, and sat in the lobby as time ticked by. At 2:30 PM, Jan checked at the desk to see if there were any messages or tickets. When there were none, she was able to have the hotel call Anahi, who said not to worry, she would see us in Cusco that evening. At 2:45, Kirby and I started our slow trek to the train station, and after half a block, saw Ulbulina’s husband running down the street. He talked to Kirby, and ran on to the hotel to get Jan and Brynne. Ulbalina would meet us at the train station with tickets! He grabbed a couple suitcases and everyone rushed to the train station. We waited outside the gate until Ulbalina emerged from the market with pieces of paper for us. At the gate, the guard did not like that piece of paper, so the husband grabbed Brynne’s “ticket” and ran into the station yard to a nearby ticket window. He came running back and waved us all in, as the guard stood there with his hands out, as if wondering why we didn’t show him our tickets. Ulbalina’s husband escorted us into the train station building, where the doors to the platform were still closed.
Finally, the doors were open, and the employees checking tickets there let us through. Our unofficial tickets were written on PeruRail forms, so we thought we were okay. But, as we tried to board, the conductors couldn’t match our names to the seat numbers. So they called on the radio for back-up, and had us sit on a bench to “Wait five minutes and don’t worry!” We noticed that except for Jan, we all had new names. Brynne was “Bry Ne”, I was “Tamy Ro”, and Kirby was “Kirby B.” A woman came and took our passports, and returned saying, “Don’t worry!”
At last, after everyone else had boarded, they found we had seats, and we got on the train. Our seats on this Vistadome were two-facing-two across a table set with cups and saucers, and napkins. Jan and Kirby wanted to trade the backward-facing seats halfway through the trip, but Brynne and I just took them for the whole trip as it did not bother us to travel backwards. A man in the station rang a bell by hand, and the train departed on time. Ah, we could relax now!
Jan & Kirby
Saw some birds on the river, including funny little Torrent Ducks, “swimming” half underwater, and dippers. Given a snack of a small chicken salad sandwich, a cookie, and a square of cake, and water in our teacups. Great views through the vistadome windows.
Vistadome windows
Mountain thru the Vistadome window
Jan started looking through a book on Machu Picchu, and we discovered there were a couple major things we missed seeing, such as the Royal Tomb.
We were met in Ollantaytambo by Hugo and a girl named Norma.
Ollantaytambo plaza
They took our baggage to the van waiting in the parking lot, and we headed to Cusco on the Chincherro and Chachimayo route. Norma noticed we looked tired and sad, and soon heard all about our Machu Picchu guide and the things that we missed. She was amazed we had missed the Royal Tomb, and asked if we wanted to hear about it. Well, okay.
The Royal Tomb was the first thing that Hiram Bingham was shown when he arrived at Machu Picchu, It is part cave and part man-made cell under the Temple of the Sun, and it has some of the more elaborate stone carvings. No mummies were ever found, but the name persists. Anyway, the conversation went on to other things, including the rainbow flag of Cusco, which I guess Kirby asked if it could be purchased somewhere. We also found out that our train tickets had been mailed to Ulbalina, but she never received them, and that Hugo had spent all day on the phone trying to straighten out the train ticket fiasco. I just wanted to look out at the stars!
Arrived in Cusco to find a huge crowd had blocked off the Plaza de Armas, and we were afraid it was a demonstration. But it was the Virgen de Carmen celebration with dancing performances. We were let off on one side of the Cathedral, and had to walk across the front of the cathedral and up one side street to the Casa Andina La Catedral Hotel. Rob and Anahi arrived with the rest of our luggage that they had been keeping for us, and we went to our rooms to unload and use the bathrooms. Rob informed us that he was not doing much better, and had been told to rest, so he could not accompany us to Lake Titicaca. He had his Puno hotel money returned, so he was going to treat us to dinner. We walked a couple blocks to Baco’s, their favorite restaurant. Another Italian-themed restaurant with a wine bar. We had great service, including one American girl as wait staff. We ordered a couple sampler appetizers, one with seafood, and one with veggies, all roasted. Brynne had undercooked trout and a salad she couldn’t eat, and I had rare lamb with a pecan, pea, and mushroom mix of salad. Rob always has entertaining stories, but the ones told on him were the best. Such as, if anyone disagrees with Rob, they end up dying. This happened twice in his career, with people in important positions (having a public environmental policy difference with Rob) who suddenly and unexpectedly died. The last chapter of this story is: “The ocelot died!”
Back at the hotel we again re-packed, and I used the free internet to catch up with Kent and suggest that we would like to come home a day early if possible. This hotel also used the card in a slot to turn on the electricity in the room.
Casa Andina La Catedral Hotel room
Next: Day 13 Puno.

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