Sunday, September 10, 2006

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes

Saturday, Sept 9, 2006
Left the hotel very early to catch the 6:00 a.m. train from Ollantaytamba, Sacred Valley, to Aguas Calientes and then motorcoach to Machu Picchu. Our seats were in the first rail car, which had a Vista Dome -- curved windows at the top of the rail car which allowed views of the beautifull Andes mountains. Breathtaking sights, but we are glad that our train ride was only an hour or so and not the four hours all the way from Cusco. Even beautiful mountain views could get boring after awhile. We were shocked to have attendants serve a light breakfast to us on the train. That was not at all expected.

The hotel rep met us at the train station in Aguas Calientes and checked our luggage. Another Lima Tours tour guide again met us right on time and accompanied us on the bus ride from the train station to the site of Machu Picchu. This bus ride is somewhat nerve-wracking with the narrow dirt road and very high sheer drop-offs, even though it is very beautiful. Judy consoled herself with the thought that they do this every day and she has never read of a bus falling off this mountain. We will be staying at the Hatuchay Tower Hotel in Aguas Calientes tonight and tomorrow night. We booked 2 nights/3 days based on advice from another SSCA member who visited here October 2004. Now, we think that 2 days/1 night would have been plenty of time to see everything.

Younger people and some older health nuts (certainly doesn´t sound like us, does it!) backpack up to Machu Picchu. Takes them 4 days on the original Inca Trails. There is also a 7-day Inca Trail backpack trip one can do, coming all the way from Sacred Valley. We will stick to the train and bus ride. The trail appears straight up and definitely not something that we would be interested in attempting.

Our tour guide walked too fast; they always do. The native Andeans have adapted to these high altitudes. Their lungs are larger than normal and their hemoglobin count is average 22, versus the 12-14 count for normal people. The natives are all thin even though they eat heavily. BTW, all the foods we have eaten in Peru have been fabulous, and the presentation exquisite. Dining is beautiful to the eyes as well as to the palate.

Judy loudly said within hearing of the tour guide that he could just slow down because we didn´t pay for a tour in order to have to jog along to keep up with the guide.

Machu Picchu is an awesome site. Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire for government and administration. Machu Picchu was the religious center; the most sacred site for the Inca. It was abandoned 15-20 years before the Spaniards arrived; no one knows why. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though the local people always knew its location. One farmer was actually growning his corn crops on the terraces of Machu Picchu when Hiram Bingham "found" Machu Picchu in 1911. BTW, Yale Univerisity still has all the artifacts that Hiram Bingham removed and Peru wants these items returned. Shame on Yale for not returning these items to their rightfull owners and places of origin.

The word picchu means mountain in the ancient local language. Machu Picchu literally means Old Mountain. The well-known photos of the site always show Huayna Picchu, which translates to "new" or "young" mountain. Each day they allow 400 people to climb Huayna Picchu. It is very steep and we are not attempting that chore. If you look closely at photographs of this mountain you will see the terraces, steps and houses. In the early 1980s burial sites were discovered on Huayna Picchu but these are not easily accessible and are not open to the public.

The actual mountain named Machu Picchu is quite large and towers above the well-known Machu Picchu city site remains. The city location is impressive because of its mountaintop location, but the actual mountain is even higher. The sacrificial altar at the religious site faces the actual mountain top of Machu Picchu. One awfull thing about the Inca is that it is believed that they sacrificed both animals and also children, not adult virgins as did other cultures. The Inca believed that children were pure and therefore a proper sacrifice. Three little girls who appeared to have been sacrificed were found intact---clothes, skin and all---in a higher altitude nearby. Our tour guide showed us photos of these 3 girls. That is one thing that we wish we had not learned on this tour.

We are both somewhat torn about all the reconstruction that has been done to Machu Picchu. It is somewhat disappointing that so much of the site has been restored. You can easily see which stones were placed by original Inca and where sections have been recently rebuilt. The stone work is not even comparable. But, realistically, without this restoration it would be difficult to imagine the city as it once existed. According to our guide, 40% of the site is restored and the remaining 60% is in its original condition.

The Inca cut the stones and placed them so perfectly that you cannot slip a piece of paper between the stones. They would chip small indentions every 2-inches in a line where they wanted to cut a large boulder. Then they would drive wooden wedges into those indentions. Then apply water. The wooden wedges would swell when wet and break the boulder into perfectly shaped stones. And, remember, some of these stones were in excess of 90 tons, so these are some stones they cut and moved about to put into construction place. Fortunately, the quarry for the stones used at Machu Picchu is located right at the site. Cannot imagine how they could have moved these heavy stones straight up if they had to get them from another location.

There are small aquaducts throught the complex, so the Inca had a good supply of fresh water. All are supplied from water coming from top of the mountain.

Archaeologists have various theories about why the population of Machu Picchu was 70% female. Judy thinks it could have been a place that the Inca sent his concubines when they got old or fell out of favor.

BTW, the only person called Inca was the Inca King. His subjects were not called Inca. They were called Andean people or any number of other names depending on their region of the Inca Empire. But only the king was Inca. Some Inca´s had 400 wives or concubines, although the normal men could only have one wife, and they were married for life. So maybe Machu Picchu is where he sent them when he got tired of them or maybe where many of them resided so he could visit them or to keep them from contamination from other men. That is as good of an explanation as any of the other theories that we have heard about why 70% of the remains found were female.

When we rode the bus down to Aguas Calientes, there were several young boys garbed in traditional Indian tunics. One boy about age 8 began to run down the old stone Inca steps as our bus departed Machu Picchu site. He ran down the entire mountainside (excess of 600 meters) almost straight down on those stone steps. He would wave as our bus met him at several points on the dirt road switchbacks. At the bottom, the bus stopped and we all gave the boy a few soles ($$) for his efforts.

One note: In late 1986 another site was discovered about 5 kilometers north of Machu Picchu. It is about twice the size of Machu Picchu and hase been named Maranpampa or Mandorpampa. This site is not easily accessible and is not open to the general public, but there are plans to one day open this site to tourists. Peru is a poor country and understands tourism better than any other country we have seen. They know that new money brought into their economy is a very good thing. Shame Trinidad doesn´t share that understanding or life would be much better there.

We ended the day by walking around Aguas Calientes tonight. Watched little girls dancing in the town square. Lovely little town.

Sunday, Sept 10, 2006

Judy´s legs were too sore to climb Machu Picchu again today. So we have taken the day to goof off, update website, and just take it easy. Walked around town again and had Peruvian style pizza for lunch. A medium beer here is 620ml; a large beer is bigger than a liter.

To recap where we have been this week:
Cusco is 11,500 ft.
the archaeological site outside the city are 12,500 ft.
Sacred Valley is 9,200 ft.
Machu Picchu is 8,000 ft.

And airlines start adding oxygen to the passenger cabin at 10,000 ft. So you can see why climbing at these altitudes is difficult.

Tomorrow we hope to find a place to put all the photos we have taken onto a CD. We had to borrow a camera from Trey because ours was broken, and this will be the last place where we might find a place to burn a CD for us. Tomorrow evening we take the train back to Cusco; then an early plane the next morning to Puerto Maldonado, where we will get on a boat to take us to the Amazon Jungle for 4 days.

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