Kel: Visiting Machu Picchu was one of the milestones and must dos when we were planning our trip. For those who don't know, MP is an Inca village set incredibly high up in the mountains. Most Inca buildings were destroyed by the Spanish or built over with Catholic churches etc instead.However due to it's location, MP (meaning old mountain) remained undiscovered for about 400 years until the early 1900s.
Incas were pretty spiritual people who worshipped three worlds.
- The cosmos (hanaqpacha), symbolised by the condor
- The surface of the earth (kaypacha), symbolised by the cougar
- The earth's interior (okupacha), symbolised by the snake
To speak to the gods, ceremonies and sacrifices would be made as far up a mountain as possible to get as close as possible to the cosmos. Therefore MP was a very sacred place for them, where the elite would live. It's a manmade wonder when you see the pictures, let alone visit.
We decided pretty early on though that we weren't going to do the 4-5 day trek to it (we did NZ's milford track instead) and given that our knees were still creaking from that experience it wasn't a bad call. Instead we organised a 2 day trip so that we could get a train up to the village at the base of the mountain, Agues Callientes (literally hot water due to a natural spring there), the day before and have a massively early start the following day to get up to MP for sunrise.
Agues Callientes was cute in a way, but a bit like Blackpool. Tonnes of below average services charging a fortune because they know they can. We got there by a cute train ride - great scenery anyway. It was called the backpacker train, and they did totally cram you in.No one really seemed to mind though. We hung out in Agues Callientes and looked forward to our early start.
By 4.30am we were head to toe in thermal underwear, wolfing down brekkie and running for the massive queues for the buses. We managed to get on the third bus I think. I know you're thinking calm down, what's the rush! But we had a plan. When you see pictures of MP you usually see the village ruins set in front of a massive steep mountain called Wayna Picchu (young mountain). We wanted to get to the top of that for sunrise and only 400 folks are allowed up each day. The race was on…. eek!
It felt weird getting to the top in darkness and practically running past all these magnificent ruins to get to the WP queue. But that's what we did. And we made it. Yes. But that was only half of it. I think it was only once we were in the queue and we looked up at the real life WP did we realise that we actually had to go on and climb this thing. The gates were opened by about 7am and off we went. We met some people who had done the trekking and then gone on to climb WP straight afterwards… nutters …. but for the record they did say this bit was the hardest climbing so M and I felt quite good about that anyway! We got to the top in about 40 mins and then it just hit us. It was just such a beautiful, beautiful sight - 360 degrees of steep mountains all around, some snow tipped, and then looking down, MP itself. Incredible how these people managed to create such a magnificent sight. They did use a rock quarry at the sight itself but still, absolutely amazing. Managers of the build would climb up to WP to look back down on progress. We got to look down on an amazing hidden city as the sun rose over it and the tourists started to swarm over it like little ants.We took our time at a point just before the peak of WP and it was the most serene moment of the trip to MP. Further up the masses were clambering over rocks to be at the top, but the zen like atmosphere was gone there (and any health and safety consideration)
On the way up, we had seen a sign for Inca cave ruins. We saw the same sign again at the top of WP so we decided to go for it, thinking this route must just go back down round the other side of the mountain. It did… kind of.It went right to the bottom … more Inca cave ruins… nice… then proceeded into another massive climb around the side of the mountain.We really were like (silly) billy goats - vertical ladders with a tiny rope beside it, vertical ladders on their own, massive steps everywhere.The Incas were tiny wee things… they must have been so, so fit. We on the other hand were bright purple and wheezing. Biggest workout of the whole trip by far - especially since we had about 30 mins to reach our guide to give us a tour back at MP. Oh oh. We were about 20 mins late and absolutely exhausted when we got there. Our guide had gone off and was described as wearing a green bib with a green flag. About 30 mins later we found a guy with no bib and a yellow flag and that was him. By this point it was pretty hot, I thought I was going to faint and Matthew was acting like he does when he doesn't have enough sugar, or after about 10 mins into shopping on Oxford Street, except like all of those things at the same time. He wanted to leave and remember our WP experience, but I was totally determined to see it through and discover MP properly. It was worth it to see so many things: their astronomical observatory, their royal enclosures, their temple of the condor, their agricultural zone, a typical house, the guardhouse, the ceremonial rock, the amphitheatre and so on. You really got a feel for what life could have been like there, even though a lot of the artefacts were taken from the site and now live in the US. That sounds harsh, but then when you see the way that the Peruvians look after the site, I'm not so sure. For example, they recently let a company film an advert up there where they seriously damaged a part of the astronomy section. Would they allow filming again? "For the right money, yes" Crazy. Money is the motivator above all else.
After we finished the tour we said our knackered goodbyes to MP and headed back down to Agues Callientes where we proceeded to drink about a gallon of coke. I don't think I've enjoyed coke that much since I was about 6.
We returned to Cuzco that evening, ordered pizza and zonked out. We were off the next day to Lima, our last point in South America.