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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Machu Picchu

NOTE: We published a blog post on how to get to Machu Picchu for those wanting to do the trip.

We awoke the next morning at 4:30am.  Or maybe more accurately, we got out of bed at 4:30, not having slept due to the pounding music from the political rally last night.  Our guide showed up and he wasn’t too happy with not having slept either.  We found ourselves wondering whether the all night party would backfire on whichever political candidate threw it.  Did he not grasp that Agua Caliente is a town where the workers have to be at work at 4am because the hotels all serve breakfast starting at 4:30am?  Not to mention how annoyed all the tourists were going to be today.  But of course, maybe that doesn’t matter much since we can’t vote.

Our plan was to be at the bus stop at 5:30am to catch the first bus to Machu Picchu and be there when the gates opened at 6:00am.  We anticipated a quiet morning at Machu Picchu to see the sunrise.  We would sit and watch the sunrise and imagine what it must have been like for the ancients to live there.  We knew when we got to the bus stop at 5:30am to find 200 people in line ahead of us this was not to be.  In the slow season 2500 people a day visit Machu Picchu.  In the high season its 4000 per day.  By the time we arrived, the place was already teeming with people.  And believe it or not, we had 5 bars of signal on our cell phones on site – a sure sign of just how developed this area is.  The good news in all of this is that for any of you out there thinking this site is remote, hard to get to, dangerous, or not tourist friendly – think again.  Oh, and the cloudy weather meant that sunrise pictures were not going to happen.

Regardless.  The site was SPECTACULAR and worth having come all this way to see.

Though much bigger than we ever imagined.  And even this panoramic doesn't do it justice.

Turns out that Machu Picchu is a relatively new city as ruins go – only 550 years old.  That and the fact that the Incas spent a lot of time working on the foundation underneath the city is why it was found in such good condition.  According to our guide, only 15% of what you see was rebuilt, the rest is original.  However this differs from the photographs taken by Hiram Bingham when he discovered the city, and from other archaeologists who have been objecting to the amount of restoration done on the site to make it neat and clean for tourists.

Lawnmower or tourist amusement?

And this kinkajou was hiding out in the ruins.

All the stones for the site were quarried on site.  This picture shows one of the ways they would split the rock.  They would carve out holes, and insert pieces of wood in the holes.  Then they would wet the wood, causing it to expand and split the rock – probably along a fault line they could already see forming in the rock.

They then used the stones in two ways to build structures.  The first way was with mud between the rocks in a standard brick and mortar type construction.  This was used for less important buildings like housing for the people who lived there and storage for food and supplies.

The second method was much more work – fitting the rocks together precisely.  The rocks were set in place rough and carved to fit exactly.  This technique was used for temples.

These two basins are somewhat of a mystery.  Some think they were for grinding corn, but they don’t show signs of use and are very shallow.  The most widely accepted theory is that they were filled with water and people gazed into the reflections to study the stars.

This is a compass of sorts.  The guide tried to tell us that it was aligned to magnetic north.  Both Mike and Dave pounced on this.  “But magnetic north would have moved 20 degrees in the past 500 years because the earth’s magnetic field isn’t a constant.”  The guide was like blink, blink, blink.  Um.  Er.  One of those moments where we wonder how much of what the guides tell you is true.

This is a condor monument.  See the head, beak, and eyes in the carved white stone on the ground, combined with the wings in the air?  Apparently the Inca’s found the wings the way they are and added the body/head piece to complete the monument.

After we viewed the ruins, Mike was ready for a hike so we headed up on the hike that we had purchased by coincidence two days ago as they were the only tickets available – up Mount Machu Picchu.  Which as you can see in this picture looms over the city of Machu Picchu.

Now remember, not having planned to do this hike, none of us had been training for it.  It’s a 2000 foot climb, 90% of which is stone stairs, sometimes so steep that you could almost crawl up the stairs with your hands on the stair tread ahead of your feet.  And sometimes only three feet wide – with a sheer cliff along one side.  You would see people who were afraid of heights inching their way along clinging to the rocks so as to stay as far from the cliff as possible.

From halfway up, we could see the hydroelectric plant down below that supplies power to the area.

The Columbia Tower in Seattle is 943 feet, and 1311 stairs.  There’s a big event every year where fire fighters walk up the 69 flights of stairs in their full gear.  This is a bit more than twice that.  And we started the hike at 8,000 feet and ended at 10,000 feet where the oxygen is 32% less than at sea level.  It was grueling, but we did it in two hours.  You would walk maybe ten or twenty stairs, stop and rest to catch your breath, repeat.  In the end though, the view was amazing from up top.

And we had a feeling of amazing accomplishment.

Here you can see Machu Picchu city way down below us.

We started back along the trail to find one young woman plastered across the steps leading to the final assent.  She had clearly given up the hike and was melodramatically telling her friends she just couldn’t go on.  We came along and cheered her on telling her she was so very close.  Imagine being 20 something and looking up to find your melodramatic moment spoiled by a bunch of grey haired people telling you that you could make it.

Then it was time to go back down.  Problem was that our legs were so rubbery that not falling or tripping on the way down was more of a challenge than we had imagined.  Oh boy are we gonna hurt tomorrow.

There is another hike from the park – up Huayna Picchu.  This allows you to see the ruins that are at the top of the mountain you see in this picture.  But they only let a couple of hundred people per day do this hike because it is so dangerous and too many people risk deteriorating the trail.  In places you slide across a sheer rock on your butt, and in other places you climb ladders with no nets.  We weren’t that brave.

Then it was back down the mountain on the switch back road by bus.

Followed by some celebratory drinks and a game of Jenga ensued.

We then went for massages - $20 each.  Followed by dinner.  We collapsed into bed and fell promptly asleep.

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