Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Our trip to Machu Picchu started with a quick bus trip to Poroy, just outside Cusco. The train station is there, we waited in the station til they were ready for us to board. We were assigned a car and seat number, there were people checking passports and tickets as we boarded. The train was immaculate with pairs of bench seats facing each other with a small table in between. Once the train got started they brought table runners and small vases of flowers for each table. Then they served breakfast, we had pancakes, fruit, and spinach and cheese in puff pastry. We had coffee and settled in. It is only 60 miles from Poroy to Aguas Calientes but it takes 3 hours because the terrain is rugged and the train can’t go fast. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside. We saw small farms using the same techniques as the Incans. The land is terraced, they plow with with horses or by hand, keep chickens, just very simple rural living.
As we came into Aguas Calientes we could see the bridge over the Urubamba River where the Inca Trail starts. Crazy people can hike along the trail that the Incas used to travel into Machu Piccu. It takes 4 days of steady hiking, camping along the way. There are porters who travel ahead of the hikers, carrying food, water, propane (fire is not allowed), tents, tables, chairs, etc. There are 3 established camp sites along the way. The porters set up camp and cook, so all the hikers have to carry is a day pack. They spend the night and after breakfast start out again. The porters break down the camp and walk it to the next site, passing the hikers along the way so camp is set up when they get there.
We boarded shuttle buses to travel up the narrow winding road to the top of the mountain. It was damn scary especially when we passed a bus going the other way. At the top we found the entrance to the site, showed our tickets and went in. Our tour director had arranged for local guides for us and we split into 2 groups of 20. It was truly amazing, this site on the top of the world, built in the 1400’s out of huge granite blocks weighing 15 to 20 tons each, fitted into one another without any type of mortar and still standing. The hillside is terraced all the way down to the river. The Incas were geniuses with water, they built underground aqueducts with some kind of siphon system to bring water up from the river and the water is STILL FLOWING. Everywhere we went there were drainage systems, channels in the base of the steps, cut outs on each level of the terraces, drainage ditches in the residences. When the Incas were there the stone walls were topped with thatch roofs. In a couple places they had been reproduced to show what it had been like. We walked all over, learning about each part as we went. The current theory is the site was used as a retreat for the king and his extended family, there was space for the priests to live and study, and room for servants. It took many, many people to build it, but most did not stay at the site for long. As different lands and peoples were conquered, everyone owed a tax to the king and some paid their debts by working at Machu Piccu for several months, then returning home. When the Spanish came and took over, they modified most of the Inca religious sites to become Christian places of worship. No one ever told about Machu Piccu so it remain unspoiled.
The whole thing was unbelievable. I wish we had had more time, but we had a train to catch. So back to the bus, down the mountain, a quick lunch and back on the train. They served a meal again on the way home but I wasn’t hungry. After dinner was cleaned up, the attendants on the train put on a fashion show, modeling gorgeous alpaca clothing. It was probably after 8 when we got back to the hotel. Just enough time to get ready for the flight to Lima the next day and get a few hours sleep.