We´re back from our second visit to Machu Picchu, killing time until we take the train back to Cuzco. We´ll be in Cuzco only overnight, then head south to Lake Titicaca.
After posting yesterday, we had something to eat (why is the best food in Aguas Caliente pizza?) and hung out a bit in this tiny town. It was Saturday night, and the residents had reclaimed their plaza from las turistas. El Gran Bingo was starting up - outdoors on the plaza - and the little church on the square had its doors open for Mass.
This is one area where traditional societies have it all over modern life. One time in southern Italy, we thought there was a parade, until we realized it was just the town taking its nightly walk after dinner, the passagimiento. In Oaxaca, Mexico, a band was playing in the plaza, not because it was a holiday, just because it was a beautiful evening. Adults were kibbitzing, teenagers were checking each other out, kids were running around, just because that´s what you do in the evening. It was the same last night in Aguas Calientes. So nice to see.
You know what else is nice? Sleep is nice. At this altitude, we are both sleeping soundly, and were doing just that by 9:00 p.m.
This morning we rose before dawn and caught the first bus to Machu Picchu, seeing day break over the mountains. Having seen all the major features of the site the day before, we wandered aimlessly, looking at details like the still-working aqueduct system, communing with the 12 llamas who live on the site and admiring the incredible view from every possible angle. In both days combined, we finished six rolls of film and probably shot about 100 photos with the digital.
Have I mentioned the Incas built Machu Picchu - and all their cities - without the benefit of metal tools? Never mind modern machinery, they were using stone tools. You may wonder how a wall could be a object of beauty or admiration, but these walls are positively awesome. Imagine a wall: perfectly level, perfectly straight, the stones separated by perfectly perpendicular and parallel lines. The stones blocks are enormous. It looks as though there had been a solid block of stone that someone drew lines on. The wall is about 550 years old. It was built by hand, and it´s the most perfect wall you´ve ever seen.
Machu Picchu is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and like most ancient places, it´s under pressure from tourism and encroaching development. UNESCO says that Machu Picchu cannot support more than 200-500 people per day without being damaged. In the high season, it is now drawing about 2,500 visitors a day.
There is talk of closing off the site altogether and building viewing platforms from which visitors could see it through binoculars. It´s unthinkable to me. I would much rather see the number of visitors per day limited, and a waiting list years long, than have traveled all this way to see it only from a distance, but not have walked within it.
I was fortunate to be at Stonehenge before it was roped off, and again after, and although I´m very grateful I saw it earlier, both times were wonderful. But you can walk around all of Stonehenge and see it very well. It´s small and contained. Whereas it would be impossible to appreciate Machu Picchu unless you could walk in and around it.
We leave in a few hours. I´m looking forward to the joys and beauty ahead, but I´m not looking forward to more altitude sickness. Here´s hoping we´re more acclimated now. The eight-hour train trip between Cuzco and Puno, and Lake Titcaca, are supposed to be magnificent.