An old, abandoned settlement has captured my imagination and easily stolen the spot for my favourite place in Latin America.
There are two ways of arriving at this beautiful place: you can take the easy option and get a train to Aguas Calientes town and then a bus up the hill to it or you can go for the more challenging option and hike for 4 days. That’s what we did and it was so eventful that I couldn’t fit both the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu in the same blog post.
On day 4 of the Inca Trail we woke up at 3.15am and walked (and crawled) 6km until we arrived at the Sun Gate. The sun gate nowadays is just a viewpoint for Machu Picchu and you can see Machu Picchu Mountain, the main settlement and all the land around it including many terraces where people in Inca times would have grown their food. We were lucky enough that we could see it all clearly as 80% of the time, cloud covers the view! It was about 7am at this point but we were all so lively that we then ran down the last section of the path, crossing lots of clean, fresh smelling tourists on our way who had got the bus up and were walking to the sun gate for the view. We only stopped once and that was to make the sacrifice of our youngest member. Sorry Emily.
When we finally arrived, the view was incredible. I had seen some pictures of Machu Picchu before but I didn’t want to do lots of research as I wanted to see it for myself. I had no idea how big and impressive it really is. One of the things that fascinates me so much is how well the structures have stood the test of time. Most buildings still had complete walls and were just missing the straw roof so it was so easy to imagine how this used to be a town. We got so many pictures and I think other tourists who were waiting for the best spot could tell that we had hiked for 4 days and therefore deserved to take our time and really enjoy the moment.
We then had to leave the area and return with tickets with a bit of admin in between. We all went to the loo as there are no toilets in Machu Picchu reserve and got a good breakfast of pizzas, hot dogs and I went for a massive chocolate brownie. There was also the chance to stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp which Ammun and I got a little bit excited over and stamped out hands as well!
We then began our tour with Kantu as our tour guide and learnt so much about the Incas and Incan life. The first thing she taught us was the correct pronunciation of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is Quechuan for Old Mountain however, when saying the word Picchu, one must pronounce both the c’s and make a slightly throaty kinda sound otherwise you are just saying Old Penis. Now you see why I started my blog with rude language.
The “scientific discovery” of Machu Picchu was in 1911 when an American professor from Yale University called Hiram Bingham. He stumbled upon it when trying to find the ‘last battle place of the Incas’. He did find this too but it was so destroyed from battle and he was much more interested in Machu Picchu. While he was in Aguas Calientes, the locals told him about it and he paid a local boy 1 sole (about 25p) to take him up where he found the city occupied by 3 families (hence why it is the scientific discovery and not the actual discovery). It appears that he did the conservation well over the next 2 years and he documented absolutely everything. There is controversy however, (isn’t there always?!) as Bingham took 98% of what he found and until 2011 it was on display in Yale University. It has now all been returned and is in the Casa Concha museum in Cusco. He also claimed that there was no gold or silver yet in the years afterwards, a local student dug down 2 metres and found a royal golden breast plate so we can’t be sure if he had found any or not. As the Incas didn’t have a written language, there is no explanation for anything from the Incan times except from what the Spanish wrote when they arrived. The discovery was named after the mountain where it’s located as no one knew it’s original name and research suggests that this used to be a Royal settlement. White granite stones are used throughout which are really hard but no iron tools were ever found. Machu Picchu consists of 3 parts – terrace, urban areas, sacred area. 37,000 hectares protected at Machu Picchu and about 600 people lived there in the dry season. Kantu gave us a great tour of all three areas that was jam packed with information and it was so interesting!
The sacred plaza was the first place to be discovered although there is evidence that the Incas hadn’t finished building it.
The Temple of the 3 Windows has a Chakra cross in front. The number 3 was very important in inca religion and the there things they preached were love, knowledge and practice (all vey peaceful but military force was an option).
They sacrificed black llamas. They used to sacrifice humans too but it must be a beautiful Virgin woman. Was an honour for a family to give a daughter or sometimes sacrifices came from a convent. The incas believed in life after death so they were not scared. 153 bodies were found at the site and Bingham believed them all to be women but as Peruvians are generally quite short, people now aren’t convinced. You can also see evidence of big earthquakes here which happen every 300 years
There is one thing in the Sacred Plaza that is not so obvious. There is a diamond shaped rock that points perfectly to North, East, South and West (I checked!) and the 4 main mountains around Machu Picchu. It also lines up with the Southern Cross constellation which I think is so clever for someone to do without modern day technology!
A thatched roof is only 80% impermeable so they added llama fat for 100% coverage and would have redone it every 4 years.
Religion was so important and Intiraimi (winter solstice) is still celebrated in Cusco and all 4 regions send someone to dance. All houses had facilities for household worship as common people could only join in at big celebrations and the elite could go to temples.
Water mirrors in a room that doesn’t have a roof to see the sun and Equinox
Temple of the condor – mummies went above and llama and chinchilla sacrifice bones were found below. Condor takes them to the cosmos. (It’s body is on the floor and wings are the bedrocks)
Temple of the sun is situated over a bedrock as the people liked to work with the mountain. Bingham found 4 tombs underneath for the chiefs of the 4 inca regions. It has one window for winter solstice and one for summer solstice. Next to it is the priests house which has more precise rocks than normal people. The Incas planned everything to perfection before building.
Another clever thing they built was an aqueduct from top of Machu Picchu mountain which still has water flowing today.
The next section we visited was the king’s quarters. Inca actually means King and he was considered a semi God with female slaves. Everything he touched was burnt in fear of someone cursing it. It’s the only place with an en suite toilet – that’s true luxury!!
After a lot of wandering around, taking photos and running in and out of houses, we made it to the end and got the bus down the hill to go for lunch in Aguas Calientes. It was so nice to sit on a real chair and I had Mexican food with a glass of wine and I was very happy. We said our goodbyes to Kantu, Rudy and Rene who had been absolutely amazing.
At 3pm we got the train back to Ollantaytambo to collect our stuff, grab an ice cream and get a private bus back to Cusco. However, on the way we adopted a new member into the group: toilet the dog. She came and joined us in the toilet at the train station and then refused to leave us alone. Turns out she’s a bit of a girl about town and the driver told us to bring her on the bus so we can drop her away from all the male dogs and save her from getting pregnant and making even more stray dogs.
The next few days in Cusco consisted of relaxing and celebrating and the vibe in the group was so nice. Everyone was so happy (minus the grudges from playing Mafia) and stress free and it was beautiful.
Machu Picchu, thank you for existing.