Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Visit to the Old Hill


This weekend I went to Machu Picchu with Claire, Maddie, and Michaela, which was probably one of the most awe-inspiring trips of my life. We didn't get to spend the night up there, but we had lots of amazing time to explore, reflect, wander, comment, and ponder.

We took an early early early train from Ollantaytambo (about 45 minutes from Urubamba) to Machu Picchu. It was a cute blue train with yellow letters, old-style, and took us slowly through the winding country and up towards Machu Picchu. Gradually the land outside began to get greener and greener and the hills surrounding us higher and higher as we approached this sacred Inca place. Claire and I were sitting together in a sea of French tourists who were all completely delighted with everything and took pictures of all they saw. Their tour guide was full of energy and kept walking up and down the aisle, pointing out things in an excited voice and telling them more about the surrounding countryside (or at least that's what I guess, since I don't speak French). At one point he came by playing Celene Dion for them on a mp3 player and stopped at our seats to chat with us. He was excited to find out that we spoke Spanish and soon we were talking in Spanish and English about our work and Peru while he occasionally translated the important points to the French tourists sitting facing us. Nice little language 3-way there!!

When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, the last stop for the train, we had to take a bus up a curvy, steep, and narrow mountain road to Machu Picchu itself. I kept my eyes very resolutely focused ahead as we climbed, since often as not we seemed to be driving right on the edge, and there was barely room for a bus coming down to pass us. But fortunately, these bus drivers did not drive like most Peruvian drivers, so we were safe!

Finally we were up at the top and in we went (after stamping our passports with Machu Picchu stamps, of course), all excitedly commenting to each other that the day had finally come and we were actually at the most impressive Inca site. Then it was through the gates and we found ourselves on the edge of Machu Picchu, with all of its different facets open to our exploration. Machu Picchu is huge, much grander than you may imagine, with ample open and green space (for llama grazing, which we did see!), residencies (including a special residential wing for the King and Queen), temples (The Temple of the Condor, where they did animal sacrifices, and the Temple of the Sun), an astronomy tower, agricultural terraces, a guard/observation house, water fountains, and irrigation channels. The fact that this entire architectural marvel was built in only 50 years completely astounds me and leads me to believe that we are still far behind the Incas in many respects.

The four of us climbed and explored everywhere, sometimes following lines of tour groups (and listening in about the significance of certain spots), other times following the signs that said "Alternate" and descending along paths and next to granite stones that no one else seemed to frequent. In the morning there were lots of tour groups and it was quite busy, but in the afternoon it calmed down some, and we were able to sit high on one of the agricultural terraces and marvel about the wonder laid out below us. We had probably the most perfect weather we could ask for: sun, but not burning sun (like we had Sunday and Monday here in Urubamba), followed by a little breeze and high clouds in the afternoon. The surrounding hills were lush and green, wreathed by caps of fog and clouds, and I could completely understand why this was such a sacred spot to the Incas.

Eventually, we descended from this mystical land back into the tourist trap of Aguas Calientes, then boarded our train back to Ollantaytambo. all of us slept the entire journey home, then, when we arrived back in town, quickly washed the caked-on dirt off our faces and arms, changed clothes, gave a quick run-down to our families here, and then ran out for a fun group Saturday night "on the town". From Inca ruins to a modern bar, from hiking to dancing, a day in Peru can have it all!

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