Today, perhaps the most memorable day of our trip, once again began very early. We woke up at 4:00, so as to be ready for our 5:00 pickup. We packed up, making sure to keep all supplies we needed for our trip to Machu Picchu in a backpack so that our suitcases could be left at the hotel. The hotel packed breakfast for us, though I never ended up eating the apple or sandwich that were two of its primary contents. The drive to the Ollantaytambo train station took about an hour and a half, and I spent it looking at the stars (the night skies here are so clear) and sleeping.
Before entering the train station, I drank some hot chocolate from a café directly outside the station. It was really interesting because it was very bitter, so I had to add some sugar. It was really filling, too, so I wasn’t able to eat the snack provided on the train. The train ride itself was quite uneventful. There was a beverage service along with the snack, but I didn’t get anything.
We arrived at Aguas Calientes at 8:30, and were met by our guide, Pasquale, outside the train station. He told us to give everything we didn’t need to a busboy from the hotel, La Cabaña. On the way to the bus station to Machu Picchu, we stopped at the Ministry of Tourism, where Pasquale asked whether there were any openings for the hike up Waynapicchu tomorrow. Unfortunately, there weren’t.
There was a long wait at the bus station, since we had had to go to the bathroom at the train station and because there was a large group of students that had priority. The bus ride up took half an hour, but had beautiful views all the way. I wasn’t paying attention, though, because I took a nap. Upon our arrival at the entrance to Machu Picchu, we had to wait for a while to allow those of us who needed to to go to the bathroom.
The entrance into Machu Picchu is perhaps the most amazing part of the experience. The entrance is not the original entrance via the Inca Trail, as it comes from below rather than above. Before passing through the walls, the entire city isn’t visible. Thus, when it becomes visible, it is like walking into a dream. Our tour began with an exploration of a couple bottom areas. We got a good view of Waynapicchu Mountain, Machupicchu Mountain, and Pukkussi mountain, which means “Happy Little Mountain that wants to Grow Up”. Machupicchu means “Old Mountain,” and Waynapicchu means “Young Mountain”. Machu Picchu isn’t the city’s original name. This was lost, as their are no chronicles of it, since the Spaniards never found it. When Hiram Bingham went on his journey to find Vilcabamba in 1911, he stumbled across this city as a result of the advice of the local people. He named it after the mountain next to it, as they had no name for it, either. His tip to the family that told him about the city was S./ 1. There were even two families living in the city when he discovered it on June 24th, 1911.
Pasquale then told us a bit about why Machu Picchu was built. There are many theories, but the most common one was that it was a university. Scholars would come here to isolate themselves, study and research. However, this meant that most Inca people didn’t know it existed. That’s why the Spaniards never found it. However, that didn’t mean the Incas that they were invulnerable against the Spaniards. They 800 residents fled in the middle of some sort of construction (what is currently there took 80-100 years to build) because some pipe systems are still incomplete.
However, I would like to emphasize the word some. There are 16 fountains around the city that were used for drinking water. They are connected to springs on Machupicchu Mountain, so are still operational. This was perhaps the most amazing thing. European cultures may have been more advanced in technology at the time that Machu Picchu was built (mid-1400s), but they didn’t a union with nature even close to as amazing.
Machu Picchu in general has been built into the shape of the mountain on which it stands, but the most interesting use of this is the fault line that runs through the middle of it, and even up Pukussi. Not only have the Incas avoided building on top of this to avoid damage in the case of an earthquake, but they have even used it as a division between the agricultural and residential areas of the city.
The agricultural area is terraces, which serve the extra purpose of keeping the city standing.
After seeing the fountain, we headed towards the sun temple. It is the most perfectly built building in the city, as it is meant to honor the sun deity. Along with the sun, the moon, water, the stars and the rainbow. Each mountain is also considered a deity, and is thus honored somewhere in the city.
Part of the sun temple is directly above two other temples is different shapes. The sun temple is in the shape of a condor, which is the animal that represents the heavens. The water temple is carved into the shape of a puma, as the puma represents Earth. Finally, the temple dedicated to the Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), the inner world, and the world of the dead, is in the shape of a snake.
Next to the temple is the house of the priest. Looking at the two buildings from the back is especially interesting because of the clear differences in the quality of construction based on spiritual importance.
Our next stop was the area inhabited by the nobility. The houses were still fairly small, but since they belonged to the nobility, they didn’t have the storage areas that normal houses required for the storage of crops and materials.
There are a few houses on the extremities of the area that have had roofs put on, but the vast majority of houses don’t have any covering, as the grass and hay used for roofing decomposed much more easily than stone. However, there are still signs remaining of these roofs. The upper parts of the walls of most houses have bulges or rings where ropes would tie the roof to the structure. Alternatively, some buildings have indents that would have held beams to which the roof would be attached.
From here, we continued upwards towards the stone quarry. The location chosen for Machu Picchu was very good for its citizens, as it had a pile of boulders near the top. These boulders could easily be chiseled into blocks that were used for construction.
Leaving the quarry, we reached an open square area. It isn’t the main courtyard, where parties, gatherings, and other festivities took place (visitors are not allowed in this area), but it is the sight of a few more sacred places below the Observatory. This area may not have been completed, either, as one of the buildings has more or less fallen apart.
Our second-to-last destination before lunch was the school. This is one of the few buildings that never had a roof, as it was also used to observe the skies. In the center of the building are several bowls carved into the rock. They can be easily confused for the mortars seen at the nobility area, but have a very different purpose. Every day, they were filled with water, then used to view the stars, just like the large area after the pitch-black tunnel at Sacsayhuman.
Our last stop before heading out for lunch was a sculpture of a condor by the Incas. However, this sculpture is very abstract. There is a rock on the ground in the shape of a condor’s head and body, and two cliffs on either side that represent the wings. It’s very interesting.
Lunch was a buffet through the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge by Orient-Express. Pasquale bought us tickets, but after we got in, a huge line formed at the ticket booth. While we were eating, we watched a band playing traditional Andean music. The most interesting instrument they used was a ten-string instrument that was shaped like a ukulele. The one song I recognized was El Condor Pasa, a song adapted by Simon & Garfunkel into El Condor Pasa (If I Could). We later saw the same band in downtown Aguas Calientes on the way back from dinner.
Heading back into the park, the first thing we did was to venture upwards towards the Inca Bridge for the classic view of Machu Picchu from above. Daddy had wanted to hike up to the sun gate, the final checkpoint on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but it wouldn’t have allowed time to see the rest of Machu Picchu. Thus, we continued our trail to the Inca Bridge. We spent several minutes at the photo spot I mentioned earlier before continuing our hike.
Just a few minutes later, we reached a booth, where we were charged a small fee and told to sign our name as visitors to the Inca Bridge. The walk there was quite interesting, as much of it was lined with an Inca wall. We had seen many walls before, but few were built in this interesting way with holes in the bottom every few feet. The purpose of these holes was to provide a spot for Incas to look upon enemies from. However, they didn’t have bows and arrows, so this was not a use.
Before long, we reached the Inca Bridge. While it is truly amazing that the bridge itself, which is made of wood to allow it to be drawn in case of an invasion, still survives, the more amazing structure is the Inca trail itself. It stretches from the point where we stood all the way across the side of the mountain (carved there) to distance places, such as Vilcabamba. Before the bridge, though, to allow the trail to continue to stretch across the face of the mountain, is a platform made of stone. It comes up nearly 50 feet to meet the bridge, and thus creates a drop of such depth when the bridge is drawn. While the trail would have been maintained in such a way at the time of the Incas that it would not have been visible, it is now discernible by a green line of vegetation lining it.
Hiking back down to the city was much easier, as climbing at high altitude is very difficult. As we reached the top of the city, we were able to observe the opposite side of Machu Picchu. Once again, there are terraces, though these served simply as retaining terraces, not agricultural areas. The unique thing about these terraces is that they have small niches in them. The purpose of these is to serve as a place to place offerings to deities, especially the sun god, as these terraces face west, the place of sunset (most of the city faces East).
Returning fully to the city itself, we entered through the original entrance. Directly before this is a small hut in front of which is small table at which guests just arriving at the city sat. Surrounding this table is a pile of rocks from all over the Cuzco area. It is assumed that guests to the city would have dropped rocks from their homes there.
The entrance itself is a great place to take pictures, but this caused a bottleneck. On the inside of the doorway are rings that are the remnants of a wooden door that would have swung upwards to allow guests in.
Our next destination was the observatory, though the area we first had to pass through was the gardens. These gardens, of course, are still maintained, and contain many different types of trees and flowers. The flower with the most species in the area is the orchid.
The observatory has two interesting features. First is a rock carving modeling the mountains to the East that the city overlooks. There is a similar one near the entrance to the Waynapicchu trail. The second feature is almost like a compass, like the fountain in the middle of Qorikancha. On top, though, is rock which casts a shadow directly into a groove on the West side of the observatory at 7:20 AM on the Summer Solstice every year. The most important thing about this rock, though, is that it contains a similar powerful energy to the hole in the rock at Sacsayhuman. Many people touch it to experience this energy.
Going downwards towards the entrance to Waynapicchu, we stopped at an overlook over the courtyard in the center of the city. The courtyard is acoustically designed to echo from the point where we stood. Thus, it allowed speakers to communicate to large groups of people that gathered in the courtyard.
Continuing downwards, we passed several llamas grazing on the grass on the retaining terraces. Pasquale told us that there had been an attempt to introduce alpacas to the area, but the altitude had killed them within 6 months.
Our stop at the entrance to Waynapicchu was in a small three-walled hut which had its roof restored 10 years ago. It acted as a resting place with shade in the past, and does today as well.
Heading back towards the entrance to the park, we stopped by the lower part of the city that we hadn’t previously seen. First was a large area that is conjectured to be a factory. On this note, Pasquale once again brought up the fact that the average Inca citizen didn’t know that Machu Picchu existed, yet there were obviously common people living there.
Heading down from this factory, we reached the residential area. Each house has two floors, one for living, the other for storage. It is important to remember, looking at these, that bathrooms weren’t found inside houses. Only in the houses of nobility were showers found inside the houses. The reason bathrooms were outside was to prevent the contamination of drinking water.
Access to the second floor wasn’t via a staircase or ladder inside the house. Rather, it belonged to the family that lived in the house on the terrace above the first house. Thus, storage sheds were directly in front of each family’s house. After the death or move of a family, the Inca government would reassign the house to another family.
The final thing we asked Pasquale to take us to was the cemetery. Incas were buried deep underground, so as to allow them to travel via the Pacha Mama to the world of the dead, then return as the same person. This sort of reincarnation is very different from other commonly known types of reincarnation, especially the Hindu type, as you return exactly as the person that you are. Interestingly, though, this had the same effect on Inca mentality as the Hindu idea does upon its believers: to increase belief in leading a good, fair life.
After seeing the pit that was a cemetery, we headed back towards the entrance, from where we could watch the sunset. The agricultural terraces were still lit at this time. The design of the terraces allows them to be lit all day, and, since they are built from a special type of rock, they stay warm for an hour after sunset. We didn’t stay until sunset, since we had to get in line for the bus back to Aguas Calientes before we got stuck at the back of a long line, like in the morning.
Upon our return to Aguas Calientes, Pasquale walked with us to our hotel, La Cabaña, where we watched Olympic weightlifting while checking in. While checking in, we realized that check-out tomorrow was at 9:00. Therefore, there was no point in waiting until 6:30 to go back to Cuzco. Knowing this, we went to the train station, where we bought tickets on the 10:30 train to Ollantaytambo.
On the way back from the train station, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Inka Wasi Restaurant and Pizzeria. I drank a Plátano con Leche drink (pretty much a banana milkshake) and shared a Hot Pepperoni Pizza with Sahil. The rest of the night consisted of sleeping.