Now you´ll all find out what a great writer I´m not. Machu Picchu defies my power of description. All I can tell you is how I felt being there. It is one of the most spectacular, beautiful, powerful and truly awesome things I have ever seen in my life. Awesome is an overused word, but I mean it in the true meaning of the word: I was in awe.
I´ll back up.
After I left you yesterday, we had dinner at our hostal, in the tree house, and man, was that a surprise. One of the owners is a professional chef from Lima, and this dinner would get high ratings in New York or Toronto. Here´s something a little weird: he made sushi for an appetizer. Noting my surprise that they could serve sushi at 2,020 meters, our hosts explained that trucha (trout) is farmed and served all over the area. There was plantain soup and amazing chicken and potatoes, a great meal, too much food, and we high-tailed it back to the room.
Up at dawn, we met our guide Armando at the bus to the Machu Picchu. Buses start leaving Aguas Calientes for the site at 5:45 a.m., and continue filling up and leaving all day, shuttling back and forth from the site to the town. The ride is 25 minutes, up steep switchbacks. The views of the green peaks and gorges are amazing, and as you approach Machu Picchu, you can catch a glimpse of the site here and there. We were both really excited.
And then you´re there. And it´s bigger, and more beautiful, and more incredible, and more remote, and more... more... more than you can imagine. Armando took us on a circuit, pointing out the major components of the site (agricultural, industrial, residential), special places where stones aligned for solstice, amazing architectural details, and such. I won´t try to reproduce it here, because I couldn´t do it any justice.
Armando had to keep waiting for us because we couldn´t stop taking pictures. He also purposely took us on a reverse circuit, away from the other groups, timing the tour for a perfect photo of the Incan city with its giant mountain backdrop - the one you see in all the pictures - when the morning mist had cleared.
Machu Picchu was built by Armando´s ancestors, and he was very proud to tell us about their architectural, engineering and social genius, which are all undeniable. He also explained why this site is so special to us today: because the Spanish never found it, they never destroyed it. Cuzco was the Inca capital, and far more important than Machu Picchu, but the Spanish destroyed it and built their own churches over the Incan temples. Not so here. No Catholic Church here, he said, only the Inca´s own holy places.
When you look at pictures of Machu Picchu, think about this. This place was not a plateau. It was a sharp Andes peak like the peaks surrounding it. The Incans levelled it, terraced it, brought in soil (using their llamas), farmed it, and transformed it into a city.
After about an hour and a half, Armando pointed out other walks we could take and areas we could see, and we parted, fretting whether or not we had tipped him adequately. There´s no food allowed on the site, and there are no facilities of any kind (thank goodness), so your ticket is good for the whole day, and you can leave and come back. There´s a small picnic-table area and washrooms where the bus drops you off, and we went back out and in a few times.
We wanted to see the main areas before the hordes of day-trippers arrived from Cuzco (first train gets in at 10:15), and decided we´d follow the same plan tomorrow. It was worth the effort to explore the whole site with only scattered handfuls of people around. We hiked quite a bit past my tolerance, but had started so early that we were thoroughly hot, dusty and tired before it was even noon! After sitting on the bus again, just long enough to stiffen up, it was no small job climbing the stone steps back to our hotel.
I don´t know what to say about Machu Picchu. I feel quite powerless to tell you about it. Go Google some pictures. Go plan your trip.
I´m going to post this right now, then I´m coming back with some random notes and observations.
Photos from both days at Machu Picchu here.