Thursday, June 19, 2014

Machu Picchu

Once the train arrived, we headed straight up to Machu Picchu so we could spend some time there before it closed.  We had two guides, both of whom grew up in the area, so the group was split into two small groups of about 5 people each for our guides tour.  

At the entry way to Machu Picchu.  In Quechua, Machu Picchu mean 'old person'.  It is often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" and was built around 1450, yet it was abandoned only 100 years later following the conquest by the Spanish.  It was unknown to the outside world until 1926, when it was discovered by American Historian, Hiram Bingham.  Today it is one of the most visited historical sites in the world and is the most familiar icon of the Incan empire.  Since this site was never plundered by the Spanish, it is considered to be highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site.

It was not unusual to see alpaca's grazing along the terraces.

Looming above the main site, this building was thought to be a lookout.  From this location anyone coming down from the Sun Gate could be seen, plus you can see the entire layout of the city.

Looking down into the Temple of the Sun.  Visitors are no longer allowed inside due to damage.

These terraces were the farming area for those living in Machu Picchu.  There are differing theories on the purpose of why Machu Picchu was built.  Most prominent is the belief this was a royal retreat for Inca Emporer Pachacuti.  The second most popular belief says this was built to honor a sacred landscape.  It was built on top of a mountain, completely encircled by the Urubamba River, which mean Sacred River.  They now believe only about 800 people lived here permanently, although more ruins are being found in the outlying areas and nearby all the time.

The Inti Watana Stone is also known as the astronomical clock or calendar of the Incas.  The stones are designed to point directly at the sun during winter solstice.

Unlike the steps built for the millions of tourists who visit annually, these rock protrusions show how the Incas moved from one level to the next.

Next to Machu Picchu is the mountain known as Huaynapicchu or young mountain.  Rising almost 1000 feet above Machu Picchu, the Incas built trails to the top where they built temples and terraces.  The Temple of the Moon is located on the back side of this mountain.  Today if you want to hike the trail to the Temple of the Moon or just want to visit the ruins on top, a special ticket is required and must be reserved months in advance.  They now only allow 400 people a day on this trail.

Looking back across the ruins you can see the trail to the Gate of the Sun. 

From the residential area of Machu Picchu, looking down to the Urubamba River.  Although not completely excavated, it is believed these terraces extend all the way to the river.

As dusk was coming on the chinchillas started coming out.

Temple of the Condor.

One of about 14 fountains found in the ruins.

Inti Mach'ay, a special cave, located below the Temple of the Sun, which is believed to be a part of the Royal Feast of the Sun.  Associated during the December solstice, it was celebrated only by nobility.

In a garden area within the ruins they have numerous species of local plants.  The coca plant is a cash crop in Peru.  You can find candies, teas and other items which are made from the coca plant.  It is also the plant from which cocaine is derived, although to get cocaine they use solvents and a chemical process.   Coca leaves and coca tea is readily available in Cusco and the Cusco Valley, including Machu Picchu.  It is known to help with altitude sickness and is used to alleviate pain and fatigue.  Chewing the leaves or drinking the tea does not produce any euphoric effects like cocaine.  Visitors are encouraged to drink the tea to help with altitude sickness.  It is illegal to bring the teas or candies back to the U.S.  The original formula for coca-cola included coca leaf extract, but this was discontinued in the 1920s.  Today, one pharmecutical company is licensed to import coca leaves for the medicinal production of cocaine and to make a cocaine free extract which is used for the production of coca-cola.
Since we only had a few hours to explore the ruins, we had the opportunity to return the next morning before heading back to Cusco on an afternoon train.

The cloud covered Andes on the way up to Machu Picchu.
One of my reasons for returning to the ruins was for the opportunity to hike to the Gate of the Sun or Inti Punku.  The Gate of the Sun was just one of six trails leading into Machu Picchu.  Today, this is the entryway for those who hike the Inca Trail.

About 3/4 of the way up is a resting area.  The original Inca trail runs about 80 miles all the way to Cusco.  They had these resting areas about every 6-10 miles.  It is surmised they Inca had the first pony express without the pony.  They had runners to take messages and these runners handed over their message at these resting areas.

At the Gate of the Sun, overlooking Machu Picchu.  From Machu Picchu the trail is about 1 1/2 miles long with an elevation of 1000 feet.  

The clouds lifted just as we started the climb back down, so I was able to get a great shot of Machu Picchu.
Several of us made the trip up and back with enough time to also hike to the Inca Bridge.

You actually have to sign in and out as you start the trail.  The bridge is a 20 foot gap in the stone trail alongside the mountain, with a 1900 foot drop below.  It is bridged by several tree trunks which could be removed, making the trail impassable to outsiders.

This is as far as they allow you to go.

I think this is why they make you sign in and out.  It is a narrow stone trail and this section now has a wire cable to hold onto.  I guess if someone doesn't sign back out they go looking at the bottom to see if they fell.  It is over a 1000 foot sheer drop off to the Urubamba River.

Machu Picchu, another check on my bucket list.  What an experience.


Diana said...

All I can say is WOW! Thank you soooo much for the tour!

Equipo Imperios said...

Salkantay Trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

Inka Trail Expeditions Peru said...

The Inka Trail to Machu Picchu is rated among the best trekking trips in the world because of the exquisite beauty of its natural surroundings; these include different ecological areas from high deserts to Andean Tropical rain forests.