Round the world without odour eaters
Easter Island (7)
French Polynesia (11)
Hong Kong (8)
New Zealand/Aotearoa (50)
* The End
* Day 189: London baby!
* Day 188: Museums
* Day 187: MTR
* Day 186: Kowloon Park
* Day 185: Peak tram
* Day 184: Central and Admiralty
* Day 183: Fly away
* Day 182: last day in Kiwiland
* Day 181: Auckland
* Day 180: Bouncy pillow
* Day 179: Christchurch
* Day 178: Christchurch
* Day 177: Fairlie
* Day 176: Hooker valley
* Day 175: Mt Cook/Aoraki NP
* Day 174: Oamaru
* Day 173: Dunedin cafe culture
* Day 172: Taieri Gorge Railway
* Day 171: Otago Peninsula
January 10, 2005
Day 93: Old mountain
We got our wake up knock at 5.20 and had pancakes with mango marmelade for breakfast. The food, in any case, has been excellent on this organised trip.
Our guide, Jose Luis, didn't bother to show up until 6.15, even though he had impressed on all of us we needed to take the 6 o'clock bus. We got to Machu Picchu at about seven.
The agency had forgotten to buy my ticket, just another hiccup in what was fast becoming a comedy of errors, so he pressed 20 USD in my hands and I had to get in line.
We walked to the top, to the Hut of the caretaker of the funerary rock, and Jose Luis disappeared for about half an hour without explanation. We were left to admire the clouds obscuring the ruins.
When he got back, I rather wish he hadn't, because he turned out to be an even worse guide than organisational wizz. He could barely string a sentence together and I was praying for him to speak Spanish so that at least I would have a clue as to what he was talking about, but it was not to be. So he blundered on for about two hours...
Luckily, there is nothing that can detract from the awe-inspiring majesty of Machu Picchu. When the clouds started to lift, we could see the snowcapped mountains in the background, and the view before us, of a nearly intact fortress and religious centre that has been there for 1500 years, undiscovered, is just breathtaking.
Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. He was really looking for the last stronghold of the Incas but that turned out to be further in the jungle, in Vilcabamba. A few Quechua farmers were still using the Inca terracing to grow their crops, and they were the only ones who really knew about the site. One of them led Bingham to them, thereby changing the destiny of once-glorious but now sleepy Cusco to prime tourist centre...
But even after nearly 100 years, archeologists are still not sure about the function of Machu Picchu. It seems to have been an important religious centre, but there is almost no documentation about it. Well, the Spaniards never found it, which is a good thing as it's the reason why it's so well-preserved. There is some evidence that it was not finished, as some of the stones have been left uncarved.
Machu Picchu means 'Old Mountain', which is the one behind the complex. The one opposite, which is in all the pictures, is Huayna Picchu, Young Mountain. The complex is situated smack in the middle. It has the three aspects of an Inca city: agricultural terraces, living quarters and religious centre.
In the temples, you find numerous references to the Incas' worl view. Other than catholicism, which roots its belief systems in a divine being that can never be seen or known, the Inca religion was firmly rooted in what they could observe on a daily basis. The three elements that give life were revered as divine entities: sun or Inti, water and earth or Pachamama. Their world view was also split in three: the heavens, represented by the condor, the earth, represented by the puma, and the underworld, represented by the snake.
As we were standing looking at the temple of Pachamama, a haughty-looking face peered over the wall. Two seconds later, ten llamas came down the stairs, having a good look at the tourists as they passed. A bit later we saw them at the grand plaza, munching away. I suppose they are the local lawn mowers.
At the top, near Huayna Picchu, there is another Intihuatana, showing the positions of the sun and thus the time of year and day. Even though this one is intact, they still don't really know how it was used. They also knew the four points of the compass, there is a stone indicating north, south, east and west, near the Temple of the three windows.
After two hours of 'you know, my friend' we were let loose and Andrea and I walked all the way up to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, which looks over Machu Picchu. After, we took the walkway down to Aguas Calientes, all steps, which was painful on the knees, but I felt it was the right thing to do if I wasn┐t doing the Inca trail...
We saw all the daytrippers come up the ruins, lots of them fat American ladies, huffing and puffing while trying to get up the steps and when I heard the guide tell them they had to be back at the entrance in one hour forty-five minutes, I was glad I had shelled out a bit more and got up so early to see the ruins with not too many people about, and for about five hours, which, I thought, was the absolute minimum!
I still felt a bit bad about not attempting the trail, but in the evening, Andrea's friend returned with his group, and three of them had been taken ill because off the water and had to be carried down, so I felt slightly better not to have been on that group.
We had a brilliant lunch: fried yucca, avocado in a mustard sauce which was divine, fresh veggies, chicken, pasta and loads more. Whatever tehir shortcomings, the food the agency provided was excellent!
Gettiing the train back went without incident, but it started pouring down when we hit Cusco. Outside the station, I could not see the bus that was supposed to take us back, so I took a taxi. The taxidriver dropped off my bedraggled self on the Plaza de Armas and I went up to my little cell, eyelids drooping with sleep...
Apart from the lack of organisational skills of the agency and the lousy guide, it was a great trip... Andrea and I figured they probably put their best people on the Inca Trail, and Jose Luis had to take the scraps. But still, two days for 150 USD... I expected a bit more than that!
Posted by Nathalie on January 10, 2005 01:22 AM
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