The next day Ellen was discharged from hospital the next day and the doctor concluded it was not altitude sickness but a delayed concussion. She was doing ok when she came off the oxygen and her levels were back up to 90-91 which is the right amout so he said she would be ok to travel to the other places that were high altitude. This was excellent news so we were both happy. We then went to the hostel I had booked and went for a wander around. We went to an English place for some food and I ate a massive plate of nachos which were delicious but far to filling. We then headed back for an early night awaiting Aimees arrival the next day. On the Saturday I woke and went to surprise Aimee at the airport. I had arranged for the hostel to collect her but I also caught a cab to the airport to meet her. When she came out we had an emotional reunion. Honestly it's weird, it did not feel like it was 7 months since I last saw her but it was brilliant seeing her again. We then went back to the hostel and chilled out. Over the next 2 days we checked out Cusco had a pedicure and just chilled a bit whilst Aimee climatized and Ellen recovered. Aimee felt a bit rough for the 2 days but was fine which was great. Ellen on the other hand was still not feeling great and was struggling with the lack of oxygen when we went out to explore..We also booked to head to Machu Picchu on the Monday by train.
On the Monday we headed for the bus station and booked our buses for the Wednesday. Ellen was heading to Chile and Aimee and I, Puno. It was really sad to have to part ways but Ellen was not enjoying this trip due to the altitude so it seemed like the best decision in the long term. We would re-meet up 2 weeks later in Buenos Aires for my birthday celebrations. We then headed in a taxi for Ollantaytambo (2,750m) which was 2 hours away from Cusco. When we arrived it was a beautiful hot day and we sat in the square for a while. In the foreground there were some beautiful Inka ruins but it was far to hot to even consider climbing them and also we did not have enough time before the train to Aguas Calientes which was the town of Machu Picchu. The train ride was amazing. It was 2 carriages and it had windows in the ceiling which really added to the effect of going through the mountains with all the greenery and river on our left. It was stunning and we really enjoyed it. They gave us a small dinner which was delicious, it was some sort of chicken ceviche and an apple pastry. The journey took about 1 hour and 40 mins. We then headed to our hostel checked in. We collected our passes to the MP which cost 126 Peruian soles and then went for some dinner. We all had enchilidas which was slighty different to what we would normally call enchilidas but were tasty nevertheless. We then headed for a walk around the town before calling it a night and heading to bed.
At 4.20 the next morning we were all awake and getting ready for our trip to MP. We took a bus which cost $16 return and queued with the mass of others. We then took a ride through the misty, rainy morning arriving at Machu Picchu
. At the time of Columbus' landfall on the New World, the greatest empire on earth was that of the Inca. Called Tawantinsuyu or 'Land of the Four Quarters,' it spanned more than 4300 miles along the mountains and coastal deserts of central South America. The vast empire stretched from central Chile to present Ecuador-Colombia border and included most of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, northern Chile and northwestern Argentina (this is a land area equal to the entire portion of the United States from Maine to Florida east of the Appalachians). It exceeded in size any medieval or contemporary European nation and equaled the longitudinal expanse of the Roman Empire. Yet for all its greatness, Tawantinsuyu existed for barely a century.
The origins of the Inca are shrouded in mystery and mythology. According to their own mythology, the Inca began when Manco Capac and his sister, Mama Occlo, rose out of Lake Titicaca, having been created by the Sun and the Moon as divine founders of a chosen people. Manco Capac and his sister then went off with a golden rod to find a suitable location to found a great city. Through a series of adventures, geomantic resonances, and astronomical correspondences, the site of Cuzco was chosen.
Archaeological research, on the other hand, indicates that the pre-imperial Inca were simply one of a number of petty tribes in the south central region of Peru. From roughly 1200 AD to the early 1400's, the Inca engaged in numerous battles with local rivals, but never achieved supremacy over any of them. Around 1438, however, the Inca emperor Viracocha and his son, Pachakuti, defeated a powerful rival, the Chankas. From this time the empire building era of the Inca began. Other rival tribes around the Cuzco area were soon united and campaigns were launched into the Titicaca basin and beyond. During the ensuing reigns of the emperors Pachakuti, and Topa Inca the Inca armies expanded the frontiers of Tawantinsuyu from southern Columbia to central Chile.
The ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. While the Inca people certainly used the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting many hundreds of stone structures from the early 1400's, legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city. Two thousand feet above the rumbling Urubamba river, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation. These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountain top are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade. Little is known of the social or religious use of the site during Inca times. The skeletal remains of ten females to one male had led to the casual assumption that the site may have been a sanctuary for the training of priestesses and /or brides for the Inca nobility. However, subsequent osteological examination of the bones revealed an equal number of male bones, thereby indicating that Machu Picchu was not exclusively a temple or dwelling place of women.
One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new-age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they "tied the sun" to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.
Shamanic legends tell that when a sensitive person touches their forehead to the Intihuatana stone it opens their vision to the spirit world. Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Inca believed that the deities of the place died or departed. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though they suspected its existence, thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire came to an end. The photograph shows the ruins of Machu Picchu in the foreground with the sacred peak of Wayna Picchu towering behind. Partway down the northern side of Wayna Picchu is the so-called "Temple of the Moon" inside a cavern. As with the ruins of Machu Picchu, there is no archaeological or iconographical evidence to substantiate the "new-age" assumption that this cave was a goddess site.
It was a really bad morning and we climbed through the gates into the side of it.. it was a little hidden when you first walked in but then you went through some of the ruins and stumbled out on the infamous ruins that we all see on the postcards. It was beautiful and as it was early there were still not lots of people there. We had got our tickets stamped so we could climb Wayan Picchu if we wanted to. We went for the 10-11 slot. They only let 400 people in total on the day, 200 at 7am and the other 200 at 10am. We then went for a look around but as it was raining so much we took some shelter in a little hut as a Spanish tour guide explained a bit of the history to the group. After a while we decided to rebrave the rain and head out. We toured the site and took lots of pictures. The site is really big and you spent lots of time climbing up one side and then over to another part. Aimee and I decided that we would try and hike Wayan Picchu which is the famous mountain which overlooks the MP site. We thought if we could not finish then we would just turn back. However whenever Aimee and I start something it is very rare that we do not finish it. We took an hour to hike the 1300 feet mountain. It was an incredible hike and the scenary was unbelieveable.. we had such a clear shot of the valley and the ruins. it really was gorgeous and luckily the weather was improving so we were delighted. We were at the top for 15 minutes taking pictures before we climbed down to meet Ellen. We took about 45 to get down. I am much quicker at climbing then getting down. Especially with the bad ankle I try and take it slow so I do not fall and cause even more injuries. After we got down we were mighty proud of ourselves then spent time hiking back through the ruins to Ellen. We were exhausted by the time we got back as we had not had a proper lunch. We went back to town and had a pizza lunch as a treat :) It really was a wonderful day and a highlight of my trip.. but then I keep saying that, eh!! After chilling for a bit we headed to the market which is right next to the train station where we picked up a few bits before boarding our train back to Ollantaytambo. The train was empty so we sat in the front seats so we could watch out into the pitch black which was pretty cool. We eventually got back and jumped in a taxi but we did not get very far as there was a traffic jam due to a massive truck trying to get down a small road. After a while we were under way and we took 2 hours to get back to Cusco. It was about 11ish when we got back so we were shattered. There was no water (a bit of an issue in Cusco at this stage) so we went to bed smelly :)