December 14, 2011
If you’ve been following these posts for any length of time at all, you’ll have gathered that I travel a lot. A real a lot! So much so that towards the end of the year I even have to put the brakes on a bit and simply say “nyet” to my colleagues who want me here, there and everywhere – otherwise I’d be ejected from the list of proud Russian citizens who pay Russian taxes :) However, at least once a year I indulge myself with a sightseeing-only trip. Yep, no business at all. Well, except for the teambuilding with the guys who help me getting there.
Machu Picchu had always been on my bucket list. And so it finally came to pass! And I heartily recommend everyone to visit this truly magic place – if just for once in a lifetime, and if just for one day. Two days is better – to have time to also check out some of the Incas’ mountain roads, get a bit of stone-gazing/meditating in, and also to trek up to the peak of the mountain opposite the ruins – Huayna Picchu – (2700 meters, ~9,000 feet above sea-level) and just sit and chill and take in the view for a few hours. Far out, man.
So, Machu Picchu. For those who don’t know what it is, have a look at here.
Briefly, Machu Picchu is a city of ancient America situated in what is today Peru, at the very top of a mountain ridge some 2450 meters above sea-level. Machu Picchu is also often referred to as the “City in the Sky”, the “City in the Clouds”, or the “Lost City of the Incas”. For more than 400 years the settlement was forgotten and became desolate. The Spanish conquistadors never reached as far as Machu Picchu, so the city wasn’t destroyed. To this day it’s still unknown why the settlement was built in the first place, how many people lived there or what happened to them, or what it was called originally. All we have is pure speculation. In all, a mysterious place – but a breathtakingly beautiful one too.
There are zillions of photos of Machu Picchu on the Internet, so only the lazy need showing any more. However, several of those I took I was rather taken with, so I decided to share a few with you here. For example, this stone corner just blew my mind… Now THIS is how one should arrange a corner when building a dry stone walled house! (look carefully).
Though it’s not all about “magic of the stones”, there’s still plenty worth pointing a camera at.
Among the many things I learned about the Inca civilization while on this trip is the fact that they tried to integrate with nature. They were not into the destroy-then-deploy scenario – like the conquistadors – but carefully made the best of the nature and environment that surrounded them to make their cities beautiful. Just look at the picture below. Here you can see a harmonious blend of man-made and God-made together. And you know what – you can hardly stick a knife between those bricks – they’re so tightly packed together. And can you believe that the Incas had no alphabet and no wheel – yet still they achieved so much!
During my short time in Peru I was told a funny little jokey comparison more than once: locals like to point to Inca architecture, then point to European architecture, then comment that the former was built by the Incas, the latter – by the Incapables! Indeed, still no one knows for sure how they managed to construct such amazing buildings.
The second mind-blower for me was the transport network of the Inca civilization. Since they didn’t have horses (it seems lamas carried cargo), they got about mostly on foot via the national network of paths that cut high and low across the hills. Here’s one of them:
The green horizontal strip that’s just about visible stretching from the left-hand edge of this photo to the middle is a continuation of this transport artery, though here it’s all overgrown with bushes and fairly dilapidated – certainly not fit for strolling along. 500 years ago (probably more) it connected Machu Picchu with the neighboring town. The total length of the transportation network of the Incas is estimated at some 40,000 kilometers (~25,000 miles)! To give you an idea of this size, the length of all the railroads in Russia totals 85,000 kilometers (according to Wikipedia)! More on the transport system of the Incas can be found here.
Take it from me: to get to Machu Picchu you should take the train from Cuzco. By car you’ll get there three times cheaper – but it’ll take you four times longer, and then in the car there’s the very high probability of car sickness due to the non-stop bumpy ups and downs and twists and turns. The train takes approximately two hours from the Sacred Valley, three hours from Cuzco. You can choose either an economy class back-packers’ train for some $30, or a luxury all-inclusive one for some $300 per seat.
When we eventually arrived it was already dark. Despite everybody really wanting a lie-in the next morning (after the veeeery long flight Sao Paulo-Lima-Cuzco), we decided to get up as early as possible to see the sunrise. So naïve! We ended up sitting some three or so hours at the top of a mountain staring at nothing but the thick fog that cloaked the City in the Sky (straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel, I remember thinking; I also recall thinking how much of a world away London felt on that mountain!). As the guide told us (a little late, IMHO!), it’s a rare thing to see a sunrise on Machu Picchu – only a 10% chance.
But then suddenly something happened to the fog. It was like someone had started turning it on and off – changing the weather every two minutes. Weird! And, continuing the keep-your-camera-(and-lenses)-close-to-hand theme, some of us didn’t manage to switch lenses in time to be able to take a proper shot! Before you knew it, Machu Picchu was again shrouded in fog. Bizarre.
Then a scorching equatorial high-mountain sun started to rise – wow was it hot! So my advice is still to wake up as early as possible, but to go directly to Huayna Picchu – as already mentioned, the mountain opposite Machu Picchu – before it gets too hot. When you get back from there you’ll have plenty of time for exploring Machu Picchu.
You should really try and get there – it’s, like, totally Avatar, dude :)
One of the local superstitions dictates that in order for there to be happiness in one’s family and to have good luck one needs to install a pair of model mini-bulls on one’s roof!
The more progressive Christian families change one of the bulls for a cross:
The rest of the photos are here.
Everyone, GET YOURSELVES TO MACHU PICCHU!