Thursday, 4 May 2017

Machu Picchu - the lost world of the Inkas

ALLIE: DAY 80: Friday, 4th of May
A day climbing around the ruins of the forgotten city ‘Machu Picchu’
the train to Machu Picchu
We are up at 6, but like yesterday there is nobody around to open the doors for us, left alone preparing some coffee (as we had discussed). At least our taxi was in time and by 7.05 am we board the ‘Vistadome Valley train’ to Aguas Caliente, the last station before Machu Picchu.
The train is full of tourists (we didn’t expect anything else for that prize) but at least it leaves on time and smart looking staff serves us a sandwich and hot coffee.
The ride is spectacular: the railway tracks wind along the steep ‘Sacred valley of the Inkas’ with cliffs rising as tall as 6000 ft. We pass through thick jungle and follow a wild river downhill. After 1 hr and 20 min we reach the ugly looking little town of Aguas Calients.
a truly spectacular sight!
The train line used to run another further 20miles through this valley but it was destroyed by El Nino in 1998 and since never rebuilt. So this is the end, and from here we have to catch one of the many minibuses to take us up the mountain to Machu Picchu.
Again paying money (12 US p/p), then searching for the entry tickets which have to be bought in the town square at the tourist office.
Another 40 US Dollars per person – that’s just outrageous! If it wasn’t for the fact that one ought to see the place at least once in a lifetime, I would have given it a miss by now!
The minibus ride takes 25minutes and is a steep drive up the mountain (from 2050 up to 2432 m). And there they are: the ruins of Machu Picchu in a gorgeous morning light. Fantastic! Nobody has yet solved the mystery of this incredible dwelling even though many archaeologists have worked here and it is now a UNESCO heritage site.
fantastic light as the sun comes out
This ‘Shangri-la’ of an Inca city was lost to the world for nearly 400 years until 1911 the 25year old Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) came to discover the overgrown site with the help of an 8year old boy and some old documents. Hiram was a young dynamic American who was fascinated by Inca culture and managed to raise funds from the University of Yale.
how on earth did people build this?
He led three expeditions to the jungle, initiated the idea of the railway and collected archaeological findings in order to preserve and analyse them. He died in 1956 after fighting as a pilot in WWI, being governor of Connecticut and writing one of the most comprehensive books on Machu Picchu called ‘The lost city of the Incas’.
 Since we are early – it’s only 9am by now – there aren’t too many tourists here. We wander around the ruins and marvel at the incredible steep terraces and staircases up and down the cliffs. How could anybody in the world have decided to live or even create a city up here??
But at the end of the 15th century around 2000 people lived at this remote mountain and cultivated potatoes, barley, maize and various vegetables. We discover a sign pointing to the ‘Inca bridge’ and decide to do the side trip.
A very narrow path (part of the ancient Inca trail) winds around the cliffs until it passes along a huge 2000meter steep and 1km wide cliff.
Phil has done well to climb up here despite his vertigo
That’s where the little wooden bridge is located, maybe as a form of defence from intruders, but nobody really knows. Tourists are not allowed to cross it – and you would be suicidal trying to! Poor Phil is already shaking from Vertigo and we quickly return to the ruins.
A lot more tourists now, but surprisingly no Germans! Lots of Italians, Americans and even Brits. We pass the ceremonial and sacrificial sites, the living quarters and the garden site where a few lama now function as environmental friendly lawn mowers.
endless terraces and walls
By now I have the crazy idea to climb up the 200meter steep mountain of Huayna Picchu, the sacred mountain that protrudes in the background of the ruins and stands out on every picture of the Machu Picchu.
This was called the ‘observatory of the mountains and shrine of the stars’ and you wonder why anybody in the world would voluntarily climb up such a steep and difficult hill if not for a most religious or supernatural reason.
the railway chart leading to Machu Picchu
Whoever these days wants to climb up this hill has to sign in with name and passport number and only a 400 people are allowed in per day (a strange rule that would only make sense if you limit the number per hour). We start the climb and do not only have to battle the steep steps and the heat but also the incredible number of other hikers fighting their way back down.
Nature is beautiful here: we pass lots of orchids and other colourful flowers on the way up and hear the chirping of exotic birds. Still nothing can really distract you from the fact that this is a dam steep path!
PHIL: Day 80/4 May

Back to Ollyantetambo for the early train to Machu Picchu. The only way (other than a four-day hike) for tourists to reach the famous ruins is on the ‘Vistaliner’ observation coaches at prices clearly devised to reflect this monopoly.
Machu Picchu in the early morning hours
A ‘free’ snack and refreshment hardly makes up for this as we rattle along the narrow tracks along the precipitous and serpentine valleys of the Urubamba River.
For some reason which is not clear the train now stops at Agua Calientes, the station before Machu Picchu itself, so a further sum is charged for the half-hour shuttle bus ride to the entrance.
There are forms everywhere asking bfor visitors to vote for the archaeological wonder in the ‘New Wonders of the World competition. We are tempted to give Peru top marks for fleecing tourists.

incredibly huge rocks. how did people ever move them?
 Despite our feeling of having been  mugged by officialdom there is no doubt as we enter the site that Hiram Bingham did discover one of the greatest historic sites when he arrived at Machu Picchu in 1912.
The quality of light on these elevated peaks (up to nearly 3000m) gives stark contrast to the ancient walls and greensward between them.
Our first foray is along the track towards the Inka (a spelling which seems to be supplanting the former Inca as more ‘indigenous’) bridge, a perilously narrow set of planks between two equally slim ledges set halfway up a 500m vertical cliff face.We meet nobody except a lone Englishman who seems to be a former RAF pilot from the Falklands (Malvinas) War era.

sacrificial stone
 After touring the main site with herds of Italians, French, Americans and a few llamas, Allie is attracted by the prospect of climbing the adjacent peak some 350m above the ruins.
She tries to dissuade me form attempting the climb but I insist and we set off up an increasingly vertiginous track.Right at the very top young backpackers (mainly English and Irish) balance precariously on one foot with arms outstretched whilst their friends take photos.
on our way back by train
By this stage my vertigo has taken control and I cling helplessly to the rock face, unable to look towards the sheer drop to the river below where the railway train looks like a Hornby model. Allie helps me to gradually descend and after two hours we are back amongst the ruins having a cold Cuzquena beer.I feel very satisfied, however, to have conquered this pile of rock despite its true inconsequence.

Back in Ollyantetambo later we pick one of many cafes around the square offering almost identical ‘carta touristica’. The girls running our chosen establishment promptly rush out to adjacent shops to buy ingredients for our orders. They don’t have a full bottle of the Chilean wine we order but make do by pouring one incomplete bottle into another and presenting it with streaks of spilt wine staining the label. There is a cold mountain wind blowing as we watch coach-loads of backpackers pass on their way from the train station to their hostelrias, weaving amongst the traditionally-dressed guides following the Inka Trail.

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