Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Peru- Machu Picchu

Craig Writes;
23/03/13. Shuttle bus to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Machu Picchu. Great little town with the Urambamba river coursing by on it's way to join the Amazon, it's the last stop for people who are walking the 40km Inca Trail and it's where the road finally runs out. It's only trains from here. We're 2800 metres up. In the Inca days this was the place where the nobility lived and was a personal estate of the Emperor.  During the Spanish invasion this was one of the last strongholds. There are many dwellings being used today that date back to the 15th century. Our train ride was only about an hour to Aguas Calientes where it's a short bus trip up the Hiram Bingham bus route to the ruins. Hiram was the American explorer working for Yale University who rediscovered the ruins in 1911. 

We met a lovely couple from South Africa on the train here. Hello Sergio and Estelle if you get to read this. Yes we will let you know when we're heading to South Africa and hopefully we can catch up.
Train food cuisine..yum
I have to mention our hotel here, The Andina Luxury. In a span of 50 metres they have crammed in a sidewalk, a train track, another side walk and a hotel. Bloody marvellous piece of planning. Your room is either facing directly onto the train tracks which run from 4.30am to 10pm, regularly, or onto the Urabamba River which screams and shouts it's way  literally at the bottom of your balcony 24/7. We chose the River thinking, being a regular noise we'll get used to it.  We did, and the view was spectacular.

The view from our balcony 
Path, train track, path, hotel in less than 50 metres...brilliant
The building of Machu Picchu  started in 1450 and was never really finished. The quarry at the top near the Temple of the Sun has unfinished monoliths and piles of stones separated and ready for use. It was inhabited from the beginning and construction continued around the residents over more than 100 years until they suddenly left in 1572. The population was small, only around 800, excluding the thousands of villagers who came and went during the building process. It was a place for intellectuals, philosophers, doctors, astronomers and scientists. Not a place for the ordinary person. It is thought the Spanish conquest of neighbouring Ollantaytambo spooked them and they left and headed to the Amazon. Ironically  the Spanish never discovered it and to this day you have to wonder if they ever would have and what could these people have  achieved if they had stayed.

Us and Machu Picchu

WOW !!
We arrived via a very narrow bus route, several times stopping and reversing to let other buses pass. The drop down the side is too far to even contemplate. A bit like the line to get in when you finally reach the top.
It's a long drop
But, like you would expect of Peru's major tourist  attraction and one of the new Wonders Of The Ancient World, it's well organised and things move quickly. The city is divided into two sections, urban and agricultural as well as an upper town and a lower town.  The religious temples were in the upper town. 
There are about 2500 people a day visiting Machu Picchu but the city is that vast that you can easily find a quite corner to sit and contemplate what life must have been for these incredible people. It could have easily accommodated more people and they grew up to four times more food than they needed, becoming experts at long term storage of grains and potatoes. 
The lower buildings weren't to fancy but they're still standing after 700 years
All made out of one massive piece of stone.
You can not get a blade between these joins.
What stands Machu Picchu apart from say, the Roman Forum, Angor Wat, Angkor Thom or just about any other amazing ancient ruins you can think of is the geography. The city is at 2500 metres and sits in the saddle of two mountains, Machu Picchu, the old mountain, and Huayna Picchu, the young mountain, with another massive mountain to it's back. It looks down two valleys with the raging Urubamba river forming a loop at the bottom. The site was chosen because it looked east and the Sun God was their most important and powerful god. It also didn't hurt that there was a natural spring at the top of the mountain which would gravity feed all of their water requirements. They built an ingenious aqua duct system to deliver water to sixteen major points in the village.

 I wonder how many slipped over the edge trying to build those terraces
The original Inca aqua-duct still runs today
It was a perfect day to be there, warm but not hot and with clear blue skies. We went back in after lunch and the crowd had thinned considerably making the experience seem just that little more personal.
24/03/13.The next morning when we thought we'd get up early, 4.45am, to catch the very first bus up before anyone else got there. HAHAHAHEHE. What were we thinking. For a start it was raining so we had to buy some plastic poncho rain coats. Good to see capitalism at work here. A poncho in the hotel was 3 Sol, at the bus stop it was 5 Sol and once they had you up on the mountain it was 7 Sol. Brilliant. We got to the bus stop a little  before the first bus was scheduled to leave and joined the back of a cue a couple of hundred long. Still, a couple of hundred was going to be better than a couple of thousand.  It didn't take long as we surged up the mountain side to see that this was a vastly different day to yesterday. The morning mist from the river had risen to completely shroud the city. It was like the place had been packed away in cotton wool for the day. I felt sorry for those who had made the four day trek to breach the Sun Gates and see....nothing. But isn't Mother Nature a tease. A soft breeze would come through or a light shower and there she would be. Mystically appearing through shedding veils, slowly revealing herself to you, then, just as quickly, gone. Consumed by the mist. It is such a magnificent site to see in broad daylight. For us it was different. We were seeing both sides of the mountain and the city.  We have been so fortunate on this trip with weather, opportunities and the people we have met. This was another great blessing.
Pity the poor buggers who trekked four days up a mountain to see this.
What a difference a day makes
A travel day today, we leave the Andina Luxury in Aguas Calientas for a train trip back to Ollantaytembo and then a bus ride up to Cuzco for an overnighter. Next stop Ecuador and the Galapagos.  Well silly me for thinking it was going to be a simple little train ride back to Ollantaytempo. I don't know why no has thought about it before, but what do you do with a train full of captive potential customers in the middle of the Peruvian countryside. Why you pull over off onto a side track and stop, crank up the Peruvian pop on a crappy sound system that sounded like the one I had in my bedroom when I was ten... and put on a fashion parade. Oh yes indeedy. A fashion show.  $100 to anyone who that's happened to before. But, before they could shake their little toush on the catwalk, a guy dressed up in a clown suit with Christmas tree beads hanging off him, a giant Spider man logo on the back and a clown wig and face straight off a Steven King novel came and did a little gig up and down the carriage. Not content scaring small children he starts pulling unsuspecting women, including the foxy one, from their seats to do the Spidey Boogy.  Sorry I didnt get a shot of that one.
Scary Spider guy
After "IT" had emotionally scarred everyone under five and disappeared into the toilets it was a quick change of dress for our cabin attendants into the latest in Baby Alpaca fashion. "Here mister feel how soft this jacket is". So I did and then ran my hand up his arm and gave his bicep a little squeeze. " Ooh such big muscles I said", he smiled nervously and moved off, quickly. When he came back I told Christina I was going to go for one off his pecs but she said no. And that's how it was for the next fifteen minutes. Up and down, more jackets, scarfs and shawls. Finally, the train started to move, but it didn't stop there. Oh no. Next came the big sell. They started wheeling clothes racks down the isle and if you had been foolish enough to say " yeh that's really nice", or "yeh I like that", during the Milan in Peru show they were on you like snow on Santa. I told Christina if he didn't go away I was going to squeeze his inside leg.  Fortunately he finally took no for an answer and saved us both a bit of embarrassment.

Finally a bit of crap comes our way. We get dropped off in the centre of town at the wrong hotel on the eve of El Senor De Los Temblores, the biggest Easter Procession to hit Cuzco. The place is starting to fill up and we cant get a taxi to take us close enough to our hotel. Much ringing around, many frowned looks and furrowed brows later we get our agents in Peru, Condor Travel, to change our reservation to a hotel just down the road. We wait "patiently" on the narrow road side where the ratio of carbon monoxide to air would be 50 - 50 at best. Finally a little fella pushing a whopping big trolley comes weaving down the sidewalk, throws our four suitcases on with the ease of a circus strongman and we follow him duck like back up the path to our "new" hotel. The Procession sounds interesting so we lock the boys in their room with water and Pringles and head off the few blocks to The Plaza De Armes where the crowds are starting to gather.
The crowd slowly starts to gather

And we've got a primo spot to watch
It's still two hours away and all the restaurant balconies around the square are filling up. We spy a gap at the Plaza Grill and Pancake and steam on in just squeezing in front of another couple who had the same idea. Here we settle overlooking the square drinking Pisco Sours and eating Chorizo and fries and caramel pancakes with coffee.  By the time the Procession starts there must be 100 to 150 thousand people crammed into the square. It's like someone kicked an ants nest.
We were expecting a Mardi Gras of floats
They are swarming in from every side street and they don't stop till people in the middle start popping out the top. And the big attraction? No big fancy floats with spectacular nativity scenes or giant rabbits dispersing Easter eggs to the masses, not even a benevolent looking Jesus look alike waving to the crowd and uttering heavenly blessings.  Nope, just a giant illuminated Black Jesus being carried by about 40 people, very slowly  around the square of The Plaza De Armes.
Black Jesus makes his big entrance
Being a card carrying "non believer" of your commercial brands of religion, the religious significance is lost on me but the spectacle of so many people coming together to share their faith is very powerful. While I don't share their beliefs I do have a great respect for faith, in whatever form that takes. 

Nothing day, flew then flew some more till we landed in Quito, Ecuador. If God had a Lego set and a lazy sunday arvo he would have built Quito and stuck it up on top of this mountain.
Another lazy day, packing for Galapagos, got some laundry done, just the two of us went out and I ended getting a new hat and foxy got a new ring. Coffee and chocky and back to journal. Early start tomorrow. 4.50am pick up so alarm set for 4.20am. uuurrrggh 
New hat :)
New ring :)