The Peruvian odyssey continues…. Let me start by saying that you must really WANT to see Machu Picchu to get to Machu Picchu. It is not for the faint of heart or the elderly! It starts with a four hour train ride heading northwest from Cusco. Cusco is kind of in a valley with the Andes Mountains all around it. When the tracks were built, Peruvian technology did not have a way to go over the mountain. So what happens is the train goes through a series of track switches zig zagging up the mountainside. One or two kilometers on an incline forward, then stop, switch tracks, one or two kilometers on an incline backwards, stop, switch tacks, and so on.
As the train climbs the mountains you pass through some pretty impoverished neighborhoods. Dirt/mud roads, clay brick shanties, some without electricity. Barefoot children in the streets, packs of stray, mangy dogs scouring through mounds of garbage all over the place. Clothes washed in the street in small tubs of filthy water by woman. It is tough to watch.
The landscape quickly changes from the dry crisp air and red dirt of Cusco to a more sub-tropical moist air with lush greenery and farmland all around. We were heading more towards the Amazon, but high in the mountains, so it is rainforest like, but much cooler. The tracks follow the Urubamba River and it meanders through the Andean Mountain range. It is beautiful.
At a town called Ollantaytambo, the Inca trail begins. There are two, three or four day backpacking excursions to Machu Picchu on the trail. Some of it is pretty tough. If I were on an adventure tour it would be fun, but my mom never could have done it! The train tracks end in a tiny town called Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs). Yes, there really are hot springs there. As well as white water rafting (3´s 4´s and 5´s) on the Urubamba River.
Upon exiting the train, there is great confusion. Our bags were whisked off and given to a porter for the hotel. Okay, bye. Then there is a guide yelling out various Japanese, American and Hispanic names. Follow this crazy man with an umbrella. Don’t lose him! We are rushed across a rickety bridge over the rapids and then down a mud road. I am hot in my big sweater for the first time on this trip. The mud road goes downhill through a crazy market with all kinds of women in your face with blankets, alpaca rugs, sweaters, T-shirts and various other flea market junk. There are masses of people everywhere and much confusion. Get your voucher for the bus. Soon we are crammed on a bus zig zagging madly up a mountainside. Another 30 minutes. I told you, you really have to want to see it to get there!
After the bus we enter the national park for Machu Picchu. Our guide is practically running with his umbrella. We have a hard, fast 10 minute climb up many giant rock “stairs¨. Mind you, it is slippery (it rains often there) and the air is so thin. The guide is yelling “C’mon lady´´ to Lucy. My mom has been saying she wants to see Machu Picchu for 20 years and now I have visions of her being carried off in a stretcher never to lay eyes on the place! But she did it!
The top of the climb takes you to a look out point over the mystical city. It takes your breath away…literally. There is not a lot of writing about this place, so much of it remains a mystery. It was built during the Inca times in the 1400´s. Rock temples, palaces, towers and staircases were built into the mountainside. It was discovered in the early 1900´s and much of it was still intact. It is said that a community of male and female priests lived there. No children, no lay people. Although the area peasants worked the fields and tended to the animals. The civilization just died out. A good argument for priests to marry and procreate.
We toured the entire ancient village. There are lush green mountains all around and the clouds cling to the tops in a soft dreamy way. The Incas had many temples to the Sun God. They had a perfect compass made of rock. And a reflection pool to study the stars in the southern hemisphere’s skies at night. There was a sundial rock said to have powerful energy. The guide (we had a new female guide…umbrella guy got rid of us and just took the Spanish speaking tourists with him) told us to put your hand over the rock and feel the energy. Perhaps it was just the awe of the place or perhaps I just wanted to believe so badly….but there was a tingling in my hand as I held it over the sundial. Wow!
After lunch at the entrance we went back in (slowly walking this time!)and just spent some time feeling the ancient power of the place. Even though there are hundreds of tourists all over the place, it has an amazing quiet tranquility. I laid under a tree and tried to imagine the lives of the people that once occupied this place. It is amazing how advanced they were.
Okay…how to make along story longer…. We took the bus back down the hill that afternoon and stayed the night in Aguas Calientes and a beautiful hotel, the Pueblo Machu Picchu. It was kind of like Santa Fe meets the rainforest. There are hundreds of different species of birds and plants there. We had a room way in the back of the complex with a beautiful grotto off the back door with ferns and palm trees. Cool and misty. We were so excited that our room had a space heater. Now this is high class!
Other notes….never did try the cuy (guinea pig), but have enjoyed alpaca meat…kind of like a cross between venison and wallaby. Very good. The ceviche here is awesome. It is pretty common in Texas, but for those of you who are unfamiliar: They cure kingfish in lemon juice with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Next installment…Lake Titicaca (yes, it’s real). Thanks for all of your notes. I am sorry I don’t have time to answer all of you individually. My internet time has been a bit limited. But I do love to hear all of your responses and I hope all is well.