20th Anniversary – Machu Picchu

This was our first view of Machu Picchu. Pictures cannot begin to prepare you for this!!! It is an amazing piece of history. Someone said that the ruins were amazing, which is true; but also, the scenery surrounding Machu Picchu (MP) adds to the majesty of it all.

I took tons of pictures!! Trying to capture it; but don’t think that I or anyone for that matter, can truly capture the beauty and grandeur of it all. MP is located at 8,000 ft.

Juan Carlos gave us a guided tour. Needless to say, there is much history at Muchu Picchu. One thing that you notice as you walk along are the different styles of walls. Some of the stones for the buildings are very symmetric. These buildings were for the nobility or the temples. The servants or laborers, had the buildings with walls that were less symmetrical and perfect. At one point, all of the walls were covered with plaster and painted with Inca icons.

The sun temple was built with the Imperial style. The stones were symmetrical and polished. These were polished by using another rock to rub over the stones being used for the wall. Also, the stones on the Sun Temple were placed at an incline to make it “earthquake proof”. There are two windows in the Sun Temple. One is for the winter solstice on June 21 and the other is for the summer on December 21. When the sun shone directly into the center of these windows, the Incas knew that is was June 21 or Dec 21. As the sun moved away from the earth, the Inca’s feared that it was mad and they would sacrifice a llama to the sun to appease it.

No one seems to know why Machu Picchu was abandoned. One speculation is that there was not enough water for everyone. Possibly there was a landslide that affected the amount of water that traveled through the aqueduct. In total, there are 16 fountains for water throughout the structure.

We came upon a large group of rocks and boulders. Some may have been in the region of MP and others may have been transported from other nearby mountains. There was one rock that had holes drilled in it. This was to show how the Incas split the rocks to use for building. They used hematite to drill holes in the rocks. Then, they filled these holes with water and let the water freeze. As it froze, the water would expand and crack the rock. Finally, the Incas would insert wood into the holes and split the rocks.

There are terraces throughout the structure of MP. These were used to grow vegetables, fruits, flowers and also, as retaining walls. The Incas used incorporated many natural things into the building. They would use boulders and build around them. We saw this example in one of the rooms that we went into. The whole wall was a large boulder and they had carved out a seating area in it. Another wall, was a couple of boulders with rocks placed around it to make a wall.

In the “main plaza” is the Temple of the Three Windows. In front of the window is a large stone in the shape of half of the Inca Cross or Chacana. It was during June 21, that the sun would hit this stone and the shadow would show the full Inca Cross. I find the symbolitry of this cross fascinating. It has four sides that are indented at three places….like stairs on each of the four sides. Most of the Chacanas had a hole in the center. This represents Cusco – the Inca capital and navel of the world. The four sides represent the four regions of the Inca Empire. The “3 steps” on one side represent the underworld, this world and the spirit world. The “3 steps” on another side represent the snake (underworld), puma (this world) and condor (spirit world). The “3 steps” on the third side are for the taxes that each person was required to pay – the social, reciprocity (where each person in a town would help one person plow their field or build a house)…this is still practiced in many parts of Peru today and finally, the religious tax. The final “3 steps” were for the Inca “rules” that they lived by….learn & teach, help and love.

In the main plaza was the Principle temple that had the alter. Across from the Principle temple was a small building. This was where the priest resided and took the offerings that were made. In 2000, some Japanese geologist found a system of caves underneath MP and said that because of these, MP is sinking. There is evidence of the walls breaking down in the Principle temple.

Below the main plaza is a large, grassy area. This was used primarily for announcements. Although, they did have a “rites of passage” there and held Olympic style games. The young men would demonstrate their abilities with games of running, jumping, throwing, etc. After these games, the young men would learn what they would do for a job in the community…for example, a soldier, farmer, weaver, or builder. It was only nobility that were allowed to study. It was through these games as well that it was determined what they would study….to be a doctor, general, astronomer, etc.

At the highest part of MP is a rock that could possibly represent a sundial or calendar. No one really knows what it was used for. There is also speculation that sacrifices were made there. The Incas sacrificed children and llamas.

In another part of MP, there were several rooms side by side. Here many tools for weaving were found and pieces of textiles. This area, it is believed, was like a factory to produce textiles in one area, tools in another and so on.

We visited a cave area that had a flat rock in front of it. Carved into this rock appeared to be the head and beak to represent the condor. The blood of a llama was mixed with chinca beer as an offering. This area represented the three worlds of the Incas…the cave, the underworld, the area outside of the cave, this world and the condor, the spirit world.

After our tour, Juan Carlos left us to return to Cusco. We opted to stay awhile longer at MP, rather than returning to Aguas Caliente so early in the day.

There are several places to hike to get a better view of MP. One hike, is Intipunku or the to the Sun Gate. When people hike the Inca Trail, this is the first view that they get of MP after finishing the hike. This might be a good time to explain why David and I did the Lares Trek instead of the Inca Trail. The factor was time…..unfortunately, with David’s job, we often don’t have the luxury of planning months in advance for traveling. In the case of the Inca trail, you need to book ahead for that. When I went to the travel agency in April, to inquire about hiking the Inca Trail, I was told that it was booked through September. It is for that reason that we did Lares Trek. From what we have heard, the Inca trail is amazing, but we were pleased to do our hike as we felt we were introduced more to the people and culture than had we done the Inca Trail.

Anyway, after Juan Carlos left, David and I hiked about an hour to the Sun Gate and enjoyed the incredible view of MP. It was kind of fun as we met a group of hikers who were just finishing the trail. It is a four day hike and pretty strenuous….we could sense the feeling of accomplishment as they arrived at the Sun Gate!

We spent the night at Aguas Caliente…the closest and only town near MP….very touristy to say the least. When planning the trip, I opted for a second day at MP to get there early, see the sun rise, hike Wayna Picchu (the mountain in the background of the picture). Only 400 people are allowed up there daily. We spoke with a couple of people who had made the hike and although they said it was incredible, they had to wait in line a couple of hours. David and I figured we could make better use of our time than standing in line….plus, being the end of our trip with little to no sleep…we opted to try to sleep in on our last morning.

We didn’t sleep in very late, but it was nice not to have to be anywhere for anything. The second day was spent wandering around MP, visiting different places that we had missed the day before. We also heard about the Inca Bridge and took the short hike out to see it. That was an amazing piece of construction….rocks were placed on the side of the mountain ledge and then logs were placed for the bridge. We weren’t allowed on the bridge, which was fine….it look precarious!

I took a couple of favorite pictures on my last day at MP. They are of the llamas…one overlooking MP and the other overlooking the mountains. We caught the 5:30 train back to Ollantaytambo where our driver met us. Sadly, the train ride was in the dark…we had entertainment though…a fashion show of Alpaca clothing. The ride to Cusco was another hour and 40 minutes.

We spent our final night (Friday) in Cusco, had breakfast the next morning and caught the 11:30 plane back to Lima. Cute little side-note…waiting in the airport, I saw a person with a Boston Red Sox hat on. So, I asked him if he was lived near Boston or was a Red Sox fan. He said that both, but actually lived in Maine!!!! When I asked where, he said that he grew up in Scarborough, but was living in CO for the past three years. Small world!

So, that is how we spent our 20th wedding anniversary…I told David I can hardly wait to see what the 25th will bring…China Wall, anyone???

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