Time seems to be passing in strange ways on this holiday – finishing the trek, for example, feels like a distant memory when in fact we were in Machu Picchu just 3 days ago. Looking through my photos it feels like we’ve been away for months, but in a good way.
Our day in Machu Picchu was very chilled out. Jorge spent an hour or so walking us around the highlights and expanding our brains with his, seemingly never ending, list of facts and stories. A big part of me wanted to walk more of the trek with him as he is just SO knowledgeable, but as I said before it’s hard to walk at a pace other than the one you’re comfortable with and they were going slow!
Machu Picchu was discovered by an American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911; it’s hard to imagine, looking down at the well known site, what it looked like after it had been left to the jungle for 400 years. He called it the ‘lost city of the Incas’ and named it Machu Picchu after the mountain it rests on (it literally translates to ‘big mountain’, with Wayna Picchu next to it meaning ‘little mountain’). The place is sacred as I mentioned before but once again the ingenuity of the people who lived here astounds me. The Sun Gate for example (where we entered the site on Monday), is in direct line with the Sun Temple meaning twice a year, for the winter and summer equinox, the first sunbeams will travel through the gate and into the temple.
Magic. Elsewhere huge rocks have been carved to exactly mimic the mountain ranges behind and somehow, on top of a mountain, there are natural waterfalls which have been channeled to create more baths. Jorge showed us the Intihuatana stone, ie hitching post of the sun (or sundial), a cross shaped piece of rock which at midday on the equinoxes has no shadow whatsoever. Each point points perfectly to the points (too many points) on the compass, the east and west points also correlating perfectly to those protective mountain ranges I mentioned before (and therefore the gods). Even a seemingly unimportant rock in the middle of a courtyard which you’d presume had just fallen there at some point was actually Inca design, depicting the southern cross in the sky and once again displaying the exact points on a compass. With modern technology all this seems very easy to work out – but this site was built in the 1400’s …no pocket compasses back then!
The site is split into 2 levels with the upper levels for the higher classes (or Royalty) and lower for farming and regular people. Jorge showed us around most of the upper levels as ‘that’s where all the important stuff is’. I particularly liked the Temple of the Condor (though I still can’t see it – like one of those magic pictures! Natural rocks formed wings which the Incas shaped, then added an eye and beak to the floor which was used for sacrifices) which you could walk underneath and behind down a tiny narrow channel. Apparently a mummy was found here which initially led people to believe it was a holy place but they now think it was more likely to be a prison as there are human-sized niches to the left and right. An accused citizen would be shackled into the niches for up to 3 days to await the deliberation of his fate. He could be put to death for such sins as laziness, lust, or theft. Bad times!
From here Jorge left us so Iain and I began to ascend to the top of the site to visit the Inca bridge (had never heard of it before). The hoards of people were hard to deal with after having so much of the trail and many an Inca site to ourselves so after battling half way to the top we gave up and sat in the sun to enjoy the view. After a while some familiar northern accents somewhere behind us caught our attention and then fortuitously Kath and Sophie also turned up so we took some group shots. The latter had attempted to get to the bridge but been turned off by narrow paths and steep drops so turned back. The remaining 5 of us who hadn’t seen it yet set off and were soon back into old habits and reminiscing about the trail…
“Was that really only yesterday?? Feels like days ago!”
The Inca bridge lies to the west of the site and is basically another entrance. Having never heard of it we had no idea what to expect and were honestly a little underwhelmed. The trail here hugs sheer cliff face (looks terrifying!) until a gap of about 6m bars the route. This gap is covered by two tree trunks which form the bridge. We couldn’t get close as it was shut off for safety reasons but I think we’d all been expecting something a bit more Indiana Jones. Ah well.
It was back to lie in the sun and enjoy the view after this before taking a few more photos (read a lot of running back and forth up steps which would have killed me 10 days ago to get the right picture for Iain’s panoramic shots). We then decided to explore the lower levels which was probably a bit of an error – so many stairs down only to come back up again…and some of them gave the ohmygod steps a run for their money!! We did spot some lizards though which was pretty cool, and stumbled across the astronomical pools and explored an Inca storage house. The latter took a bit of limboing to get to as a water pipe stretched from one to the other but the cool air inside and views out the window was worth it. On the way out Iain accidentally knocked the pipe and realised it wasn’t actually attached to anything…so it was just there to stop people going in then? Oops! That probably explains the strimmer and other random tools in there then; not exactly ye olde Inca garden shed after all!!
The main trouble with Machu Picchu is you’re not allowed to take food or drink inside and there’s only 1 cafe available at the entrance which is usually jam packed full of people. As we’d arrived before 7, by 1pm the sun and rumbley tummies encouraged us to make tracks back to the town below. The queue for the bus was far longer than the previous day and we were all a bit miffed when a man pushed in and then called over 6 of his friends to take the last remaining seats. This annoyance was short lived though when we past their broken down bus shortly afterward. Karma my friend, karma!
We wandered around Machu Picchu town for the afternoon, stopping for yummy Mexican food and a bit of shopping (I decided against an ‘Inca trail survivor’ t-shirt) as we meandered to the train station for hour 2 hour journey back to Ollantaytambo. The train track took us back along the trail and at many points we looked up (the roof had windows – useful!) at the mountains to sites we had camped, lunched or simply walked through. All too soon we past a familiar looking red sign depicting the beginning of the trek and the place we had begun just 5 days previously. It was off the train, onto a bus and back to Cuzco. Phew!
The last 2 days have been mainly free time and we’ve used it to explore this amazing city, catch up on sleep and enjoy Corpus Christi, a huge fiesta which used to be celebrated throughout the whole of Peru but is biggest here. Fifteen saints and virgins, organized in several processions, arrive from different places to the cathedral of Cusco where to came to “greet” the body of Christ, sixty days after Easter Sunday. The statues are so heavy that some take 20 men to carry them and from the pained looks on their faces this still isn’t enough! The centre was packed with people, colour and noise as each church paraded its Saint to the centre. Jorge showed us his, Saint Christopher, the patron of travellers and I couldn’t help wondering if Saint Anthony was depicted amongst them. As a child my mum went to a Catholic school and often had to pray to him, the patron saint of lost things, to return an item she’d temporarily misplaced!!
In addition to the procession of Saints, Corpus Christi is just like every other festival, all about food! Stalls on every corner and many in between offered Peruvian delicacies…mainly Coy, or guinea pig to you and me. Jorge had promised this festival was *the time* to try this special dish so we’d all held back from ordering it previously (not that some took much persuading!) The traditional way, from one of these stalls, means you’re given a variety of meats (including coy, chicken, pork, intestines, liver etc) with potatoes and vegetables. I’m sure you’re all pulling faces but it looked pretty good. Sadly (for me at least) we didn’t have it this way, instead Jorge ordered it as a starter for all to share in the nice restaurant we visited for our last meal. Not quite how I’d imagined but ah well, still tasted good! Not sure I’d have wanted a whole one though, will stick to alpaca!
Our last day in Cuzco was also the time Iain and I cashed in our birthday IOU’s to each other. Woop woop, present time!! In Iain’s case it was time to hit the skies as we went paragliding in the Sacred Valley while I was treated to a snuggly llama wool jumper. Gotta love delayed birthday pressies!
So that’s it for most of our tour. We’ve done our shopping, packed our bags and had our last round of Pisco (in Cusco at least). Today we head back to Lima where I’ll be meeting up with some of the AC crew then tomorrow it’s Paris, London, home. Really have had the best time, and it feels like we’ve been out here far longer than 2 weeks. Peru is a great country, rich in culture and colour with lovely people, made all the better by our wonderful tour guide Jorge and the company I got to share it with.
Reality is going to hit hard I think, time to plan the next adventure to help me through it! Any ideas?