Peru has a number of Incan archaeological and heritage sites but the best known and really a must see is Machu Picchu.
I was there during the height of the teacher’s strike in July. Teachers had been blocking the roads to the train
station with rocks, and disrupted trains for 3 days so that people were stranded in Aguas Calientes (the town at the foot of the Andes). I met a couple people at the airport who hiked for miles out of Aguas Calientes to get to transportation home.
It was touch and go whether we would get there. Plans changed daily depending on what the strikers were up to. We could see the rocks that had been moved to the side of the road. But we got there – on our last day.
It takes some effort to get to Machu Picchu. You have to fly into Cusco, take a van to the train station in Ollantaytambo. The train takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours (we took the first train at 5:00 a.m.), then you have to wait in line for a long time (they never tell you this) to take the 40-minute bus ride winding into the Andes.
Was it all worth it? Heck yeah!
Machu Picchu, besides being the most intact Incan site in Peru, is also the most beautifully situated. Surrounded by Andes mountains on all side (including the mountains of Machu Picchu, which means Old Mountain, and Wayna Picchu), with a valley below and a river running through it, on a beautiful day you can understand why the Inca decided to build here.
On a foggy day, which ours started as, maybe not so much.
But then the fog cleared and the sun came out. As we toured all the building, we paused frequently to take in the stunning views. Some windows and doors in the buildings were placed specifically to capture a certain view. It was hard to imagine that at one time, the Inca walked these Andes in their llama-hide sandals.
Francis, our guide, was a font of information about Machu Picchu, which was good as there were no other guides, or guidebooks or anything to help interpret the site for those poor souls visiting on their own.
Francis led us up and up to the Sun Gate, where some of the more stunning views of Machu Picchu are to be found. We walked part of the Inca Trail to get there. There are, in fact, 8 trails into the city. Along the Inca Trail, the Inca built a station or town every 4 miles. Machu Picchu wasn’t self-sustaining and they had to bring in supplies, hence some of the 1st buildings encountered when you enter town were storage. The dwellings were oriented toward the rising sun. The buildings didn’t have doors, maybe just a bar was placed across it. Nothing resembling a toilet was found in Machu Picchu (who doesn’t find that interesting?). Machu Picchu was built, inhabited and abandoned all within about 94 years, which is hard to believe.
Machu Picchu is made up of storage buildings, dwellings, temples and temporary rooms. The house walls were stuccoed, the roofs were slanted and thatched and there are 88 rooms in total. Colors used to paint their homes include red, white and okra. Maybe 300-350 people could be here at one time, although it may have been more of a pilgrimage place than a place to live.
Some specific buildings we visited included the:
Condor temple with large stones striped/place like a condor’s outstretched wings.
- Temple of the Sun with a large carved rock likely used as an altar (the big natural rocks are sacred).
- Sun Temple with a sun dial in a cave below it.
- 3 Windows Temple, which use to have 5 windows but 2 were rocked up
Mirrors of Water where 2 bowls carved out of rock likely were filled with water to see reflections.
The Observatory, which has a sun dial which isn’t situated to tell time but the dial’s 4 corners all point to a mountain.
They farmed corn on the terraces and the wide open green spaces were gathering areas. Aqueducts ran down the terraces to bring water to some of the buildings. They’ve found artifacts such as pottery and utensils and evidence of offerings. They’ve also found 174 skeletons buried in 2 graveyards. They may just be people who worked here, although 2 skeletons were found within the site (including a woman in Vicuna fur who may have been a person of some import). The farmers and builders did not live in these buildings.
Inca lived 30 or 40 years, and girls started having babies about 13 years old. The coca plant was sacred to the Inca and only used in rituals.
Then there were the llamas. National Parks in Peru have to allow either llamas, alpaca or the Peruvian hairless dog to roam freely on the grounds. Machu Picchu had llamas, including a cria (baby) and they were almost more popular than the site itself, grazing on terraces. Francis told us to save our bananas from our breakfast to feed them to the llamas. They really like bananas, as it turned out. And as if to prove llamas can go anywhere on the grounds, we encountered one on the exit path munching on the orchids.
We had to get up at 3:30 the next morning in order to take those automobiles, trains and planes home, but I was glad I didn’t have to miss out on the spectacle that is Machu Picchu.