Machu Picchu

28 10 2007

Veni, Vidi.

The pile of rocks didn’t need to be conquered.

After a reasonably spirited go, the fake student card was abandoned. Too hard to organise in Cusco, and the forgery streak in me doesn’t run very wide. I was keen on the idea because the entry fee to MP is ludicrously high, and rising by the month (but is half for students – which is a more reasonable price). The town of Aguas Calientes is served by a train, but no roads. Hence the train ride is also expensive (monopoly). There is an option to take a much, much longer route around, mostly by bus. This involves catching a bus to Santa Maria (6hrs), then a collectivo to Santa Teresa (4hrs) and then the hydroelectric station (1hr), and finally walking (2hrs) the remainder along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu village).

Aguas Calientes is possibly the most overpriced and touristy town I’ve seen – instant dislike. The bus timing is less than ideal, an involves traveling all night to arrive about 7am in Aguas. So we found a hostel, and we slept all day. I surprised myself by sleeping so long, but I think the body needed it – after arriving we all had splitting headaches, caused (we’re convinced) by the ludicrously bumpy ride in the collectivo bus. We slept all night as well.

At 4:30 am we left to walk to the entrance of MP, which guaranteed us entry as the gates opened at 6, before the first bus of the day, and the arrival of the hordes. Dawn is before 6 but due to the mountain range to the east, the sun doesn’t hit the site until after 6, and we saw the sun rise. The first few hours were quite good – few tourists around and clear sky. We got some good weather (obligatory photos on Flickr). We walked up the mountain behind M.P., Huayna Picchu, and got some good views from there as well.

2007_10_24 06_35_52

The city was impressive. No doubt. It is smaller than the classic postcard photos might have you believe, housing around 1000 people at it’s peak. The stonework is also quite impressive – the builders went to some lengths to make the stones fit exactly into the walls. The Inca had no steel or iron, but they did have bronze (and gold, but that wouldn’t be much help shaping stone). Wikipedia tells me “The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower rocks made them extraordinarily stable.” There you go. It must have taken a fair amount of effort.

As I said, the site is impressive. It’s location as much as anything. It is surrounded by steep mountains, almost invisible from the river below, and perched on the top of some serious cliffs. The site on three sides was all but impenetrable to a normal human (some modern climbers with modern gear could get there easily enough, but forget about getting an invading army in, 500 years ago).

Later in the day the hordes arrived, and made it horrible to be there. We left. Next day we returned by the circuitous route, and partly due to the bus having three flat tyres, and the road being cut by road works from a landslide, took all day (from surise to after sunset) to get back to Cusco.

And now we must think about getting back on the bike. The holiday from the bikes is over.

Well, maybe one more day with civilised food. On that note, I had Alpaca steak tonight. It’s good (but expensive) – it could also be that it tasted good because I haven’t had a decent lump of meat (other that chicken) for some time now. I’ll keep an eye out for some more along the way.


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