I trust you're all well?
Well I just logged on today to see the last blog entry from Smole was promising some Machu Picchu facts from me - you'd think that as a journalist he'd be more inclined to use his many skills, but never mind!
We've been back in normal civilisation now for a couple of days and feel super fit after all the walking (40km/25miles) over 4 days at altitude. I must say I didn't think that we would survive the altitude as we struggled to climb 4 flights of stairs when we arrived at our hotel in Cusco, but thankfully we had acclimatised enough to be able to climb some 4200m above sea level to reach the highest point of the trail known as Dead Womans Pass. There were never actually any dead women but the shape of the mountain is supposed to look like a woman lying down. Of course we couldn't really make this shape out apart from the nipple!
Before we embarked on the trail we had a tour of the Sacred Valley, which is where the site of Machu Picchu lies further down the valley. Here, we had tours of some Inca sites and learnt about why these lie in the middle of nowhere. This is mainly a religious thing, where the mountains were spiritual protectors of the Incas, and the further into the mountains they were, the more their gods protected them.
To counter the fact that the soil is of poor quality in the Andes and surrounding areas the Inca farmers made terraces (kind of massive steps up the sides of the mountains) in order to get a greater yield of crops. I'm no farmer and not quite sure how this works but it seemed impressive, especially after finding out there are about 400 different kinds of potato in Peru!
We also learned about Inca mummification, where the bodies were prepared for reincarnation. This was achieved by putting the bodies in the foetal position and wrapping them in animal hide to preserve them. The foetal position represents the state in the womb for birth. These mummies were then placed in holes in the mountainside until their souls were summoned by their god for reincarnation. In the Machu Picchu site alone there were some 165 mummies discovered in 1911 by Hirram Bingham (the chap who first discovered the site after the locals that lived up there). Of those 165 bodies 105 were women and the rest men. This was because the Incas were pretty keen on human sacrifice for their gods as well as sacrificing lamas and other animals. The rich men that once lived in Machu Picchu would select beautiful young women from the area and eventually get high with them on hallucinogenic drinks and then kill them by bashing their heads in with stone. The bodies would then be taken up to the mountains to make an offering to their gods. This is known because when exploring the mountains, Bingham found a preserved female body in the ice with a gaping hole in her temple!
The reason for the site being deserted was apparently to do with some civil unrest in the Inca times. The Incan civilisation ruled from the 11th to the 16th century until the Spaniards invaded and destroyed alot of the Inca culture as it seemed alien to them. A long time ago there were 2 princes (i know it sounds a bit like story time now, but this is my record for remembering everything our guide victor told us!) and in Incan times the first male born in Cusco becomes the next king. In this case the younger brother beat his older brother to the throne as he was born in Cusco. So anyway, the older brother didn't like this much and eventually gathered an army and killed his sibling. The older brother took power but the people didn't like this at all and despised the older brother for killing the king. So a big civil war kicked off and drew a lot of people from all over Peru to fight. The local experts believe this to be the reason why the site of Machu Picchu was pretty much deserted as news of civil war broke out.
The other reason was that the Incas fled from the invading Spanish armies, who had developed advanced weapons (ie rifles), while the Incas were still using stones on the ends of sticks! It would seem that the Spaniards never discovered Machu Picchu as the brickwork and layout of the site is typically Incan, while other sites, like Pisac, were torn down by the Spanish and redeveloped as they saw fit.
The Incans were amazing crafters of stone. All of their brickwork was slotted together like a massive jigsaw - they didn't use mortar to hold the stones in place. You couldn't see any gaps in the stone, just outlines of where the bricks joined together. They would use sand to polish the stone and smooth it out, whilst using quartz to cut the granite stone into the desired shapes. Quartz is stronger than granite and was the chosen tool to dig away at the stone. They would eventually form holes in the granite and insert chunks of wood into these holes. They then added water to the wood to cause it to expand, which over time would crack and split the granite for use in their stonework.
Anyways I've rambled enough now - I'm off to set up my own tour group for Machu Picchu! I hope you have found some of this of interest. Oh, and if you're thinking of going to Machu Picchu, go sooner rather than later. This is because there are so many tourists each day that the site is becoming worn away and damaged. The Peruvian government is apparently talking of closing the site for conservation purposes, although they have little funding for this. The other more logical option is to charge really expensive, over the top prices. This would ensure less tourists would visit, but still enable the rich people amongst us to go. The money from these tourists would then be used for the conservation of the site.
On a lighter note - Smole was sat on a chair here by the computer when all of a sudden the back legs snapped off and he went flying! I haven't laughed so much in ages. I guess he could have done with a longer hike to burn off some more calories!
I'm off now folks - take it easy