It's hard to describe how amazing Machu Picchu is. This incredible place feels like it's in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountain after mountain. Many of these are incredibly steep with sheer sides plunging down to valleys where rivers, swollen with frequent rain, are rushing on their way. This area isn't a rain forest but a cloud forest. The clouds are often clinging to the tops of the mountains. We sat in a restaurant on Thursday night and watched as a misty cloud poured down into the valley.
We got up at 5 on Friday morning. It had been an odd night between the raging party going on somewhere close by and the uncomfortable dampness of our room. I'm guessing everything is damp or wet this time of year. For breakfast our hostel provided hot water and bread with butter and jam. Luckily Susan and I had some cheese left over from the day before. Our tour guide showed up at 6:20 to lead all of us to the bus station. There were maybe 25 of us staying at this hostel with groups of Quakers staying at several other places around Aguas Calientes. We got on the bus and set off!
We followed along a river for a short time and then crossed over the river and started heading up. This was a close-your-eyes-and-pray sort of road: steep, narrow, no side-rails or walls, and dozens of big buses careening up and down the road all day long. Two buses going opposite directions in the same space was nerve wracking! There was also a set of steep stairs heading straight up the mountainside so all along the narrow road there were people walking!
We made it to the entrance gate and got into groups with our guides. After going through the gate we got to climb up and up and up! The path is stone blocks so kind of uneven, and it's a steep switchback. Most people had to stop every couple minutes to catch their breath and get their heart rate down (including me!).
Then suddenly we came out of the jungly steep path onto a flat overlook and behold! Machu Picchu!!
Machu Picchu is a vast city of terraces and buildings. All the rock for the place was from right there so all they had to bring in was good soil for the agricultural terraces.
Our guide was full of information about the history and details. I believe the city was abandoned, emptied out, around the time of the Spanish invasion because people went off to join the battle against the Spanish. There are signs of building in progress that was just halted in the middle. Local folks seemed to know MP was there, but no one else knew it existed and it remained hidden for 400 years. Hard to believe you could miss something like this? I saw a picture of it from around 1911 when it was "discovered." The jungle had completely grown over it in those 400 years and you couldn't even tell there was anything there. I can imagine traveling through the valley even now, looking up, and not realizing anything was there. It took some time to clear the jungle away and they have to keep it at bay even now.
I also heard that the extreme press of tourists is actually causing Machu Picchu to sink. So they've limited the number of people who can come in each day. I heard a rumor that they may make even more of limit in the future.
When I had heard how many people could come in each day (something like 2- 3,000) I was amazed. And I couldn't figure out how there were all of these pictures of MP with no people. Surely you would see people in these pictures! As I saw the site I figured it out. First, MP is HUGE. It's not just the area (above) you see famously photographed. There are also terraces running up behind this and over the left, and down the right. There is a pathway to the Sun Gate that takes an hour to get to and many people are on that hike. There is a hike to the Inca Bridge off somewhere else. You can climb to the top of Machu Picchu (which means old mountain) and you can climb to the top of Waynapicchu (which means young mountain). Wanyapicchu is the taller steep mountain, partly hidden by fog, in the picture above. 400 people a day can climb that, and many of them are probably on it in this picture. So, secondly, this is a HUGE site! This time I mean that in the picture above, I'm far enough above and away from the city...you can't tell how big it is, how tall the houses are, etc. There actually are loads of people in this picture. They're just very tiny and it's hard to see them. =)
Machu Picchu was both stunning for the city itself, which is virtually intact as no other Inca city is, and for the surrounding area. I ditched the guide after maybe 30 minutes and went off exploring on my own. I figured I could look up the details later on!
|Just some mountain nearby.|
|Mountains stretching into the distance.|
|Some housing on the edge of terracing, with Waynapicchu poking up just beyond.|
|This is part of the steep path up to Machu Picchu|
|Made it to the top! Yay! Time to explore.|
|The fog started rolling in and I was worried we'd lost our beautiful day. But then it rolled away it was a beautiful day!|
|There is a train track following the river down there; I saw the train go by!|
|Llamas! Or alpacas? Ugh. I can't remember the difference. They were all over the upper area of the terraces. I think they're there to help keep the jungle at bay. They spend all day munching on the grass and trying to get into tourists' lunches!|
|The round looking things sticking out are actually stones that are part of the wall. They have holes bored through them and the thatch is tied on and attaches to these stones. Keeps the roof in place. Genius. (and again, how they got holes through the stones with no tools?)|
|Looking down, down, down the terraces to the river way down below.|
|This was a temple of some sort. People used to be able to get in there and explore, but it's not closed off to tourists so you can only see it from this vantage above, or from below.|
|Way up there is where we come out from the hike up and take that "famous" picture of MP from above.|
|I love taking pictures through windows.|
|This was a large area in the middle of the main city area. I was way past the guide at this point so I didn't hear the story on this. I'm not sure if it was meant for agriculture, or if it was meant for a large gathering area. I somehow saw it as a big area for kids to play soccer - or whatever the Inca kids did!|
|The walls are all stone and here is how they roofed the buildings.|
|From up here, I was able to look down and see the crazy road we had taken up the side of the mountain.|
|Susan and I met up as she was returning from the Inca Bridge hike and I was just starting it.|
I loved the hike to the Inca Bridge. Extreme views of mountains in the distance, and kind of an extreme path. I hiked a little ways up and there is a guy in hut with a big book. You have to write in your name and information and the time. I think they use this to track who goes on the trail and if they come back or not. Not kidding. I guess someone died on part of this trail a while ago and now they've closed off the end of the hike. It is pretty steep. People with vertigo or fear of heights - be warned!
|I took lots of pictures of the path - another thing I like to take pictures of!|
|There were occasional signs warning of how narrow and dangerous the path was, and that it would be best to go single file.|
|Here's one place were you can see how steep and narrow the path is. There is really nothing below this. It just keeps going down and down and down - the plants are sort of growing out of the side of the wall and mountain.|
|The Inca Bridge! The Inca built their pathway along the face of the cliffside and left a huge gap. There are several logs thrown across the gap. The Incas could remove the logs and people couldn't follow them.|
|And that is the part I think where someone fell and died. So that little gate over there at the left is as close as you can get to the bridge.|
|This is a picture taken through a hole in the gate. After the bridge the path just keeps going. I'm not sure how far it goes, or where it goes. Mysterious eh? =)|
|One of my favorite pathway pictures.|
We got to Machu Picchu around 7 or 7:30 am. Our guide had said it was common for people to stay till between 1 and 3 pm. It closes for the day at 5. And we had to get back down for our train ride by 6 I think. I was all energized and convinced I'd stay till 3:00 or later.
I had climbed up, seen the overview, climbed down into the city and explored that, then back up and up and out to the Bridge, then back down and out (to take a bathroom break - no toilets inside MP!), then back in and up again! This last time I ran into Susan again. It had been my plan to find a nice shady spot and sit and stare at the beauty for a few hours. Unfortunately, by this time (about 1:00) the sun was directly overhead and there were no shady spots. And it was blazing hot in the sun.
We were very lucky with the weather. Just the day before it had rained all day. Our guide joked that it had rained cats and dogs, and then llamas and alpacas. So, it was hot and sunny...but we could see the clouds in the mountains starting to slowly roll our way. Many people thought of the treacherous bus ride down the hill and decided they'd like to do that before the rain started. Me included! So Susan and I jumped on a bus and headed back to Aguas Calientes.
On the way out I glanced over and saw this little head sticking up above this rock.
Why hello little lizard!
I was all excited about seeing this little guy, but then I heard a bunch of people saw a Chinchilla running around! I totally missed that.
It was a long tiring day, but also amazing. There is so much to see there, it would be fun to return. I had some thoughts about doing the Inca Trail to get there...you hike for days along to the trail and come through the sun gate in time for the sunrise. It sounds like an amazing experience.
Upon returning to Aguas Calientes, Susan and I wandered around a bit, bought some things at the market, got sandwiches for dinner from the French bakery. We boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo. Then it was back to the buses and back to Cusco. We got in around 10:30 pm. Susan and I were heading out around 5am the next morning for our weeklong adventure, but we had to book a hotel first! We had had something booked in Arequipa, our next stop, but the closer we got the more dubious we were about the hotel. Then we couldn't reach them to arrange an airport pick-up. So we canceled, did a quick search, and found a new place.
So long to all our Quaker friends! Susan and I were heading off on our adventure, just the two of us!