Our spectacular visit to glorious Machu Picchu
As the Machu Picchu ¨Backpacker Train¨- full to the brim with the usual enthusiastic, international rowdies - screeched into the Aguas Calientes station, Kelsey and I felt the excitement tickle our tummies. We were in the ugly, overpriced, exploitative little pueblo at the foot of Machu Picchu ruins mountain ridge...and we couldn´t be happier. We found a suprisingly reasonable place to stay and set the alarm clock for 4:21 a.m. We were going to be the first people into the ruins the next morning, by darn. With my mind filled with the Inca, I hardly slept a winka.
Arriving at the bus station a bit bleary-eyed but oh-so-excited, we were perturbed to find hoardes of similarly-minded early risers already in line. Like many backpackers, I prefer to think I´m the only good backpacker. Luckily, no one can really be cranky when headed to Machu Picchu...and the first bus was really five in a row. We boarded and began the steep ascent to the ruins.
Blinded by Machu Picchu ambition, we blew through the ticket gate and up the first staircase...supposedly a path to the famous postcard vista. Panting from too little sleep, too little oxygen and an overdose of adrenaline, we came upon our first sight of Machu Picchu with complete and total heart-pounding anticipation. Breaking through the morning clouds like a green and brown mirage, the ruins were more beautiful than any of our expectations.
Perched precariously on the top of a lush, gorgeous mountain - and surrounded by innumerable other, equally lush, gorgeous mountains - the Machu Picchu ruins are simply too magnificent for postcards, or pictures, or insignificant blog entries. We stood there, rendered speechless and altogether emotional by the mere reality of standing in front of one of the world´s most incredible, iconic sights. It was only 6 in the morning; a young, intensely yellow sun bathed the expansive ruins in the promising glow of a truly beautiful day. Morning fog still swirled around the mountains, its mystic fingers slowly withdrawing to the sky. It was as if we´d left the world behind: not a soul - not one single, enthusiastic rowdy international soul clambered about the site. ¨Can you believe this?! Can you believe where we are!?¨ Kelsey and I simply stared, reverant and awestruck, for a full Machu Picchu millenium.
Also known as the ¨Lost City of the Incas¨, Machu Picchu was built sometime around the year 1450, and abandoned only 100 years thereafter with the arrival of havoc-wreaking Europeans. American historian Hiram Bingham sauntered along in 1911, ´discovering´ the sight with guidance from long-forgotten locals. In the many decades to follow, innumerable scholars have hypothesized the purpose of beautiful Machu Picchu; remarkably remote, some contend the site was a prison for perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes, or perhaps, a citadel of extraordinary military defensive capabilities. Given the breathtaking natural beauty of the sight - and its inherently spiritual aura - others contend it was indubitably the birthplace of Inca deities, and therefore a spiritual center of the Empire. Most modern archaeologists, however, seem to agree that the city was likely an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. Regardless of their true intent and purposes, the 140 constructions of Machu Picchu are an extraordinary example of virtually unmatched Inca stone masonry. In recognition of this, the ruins were deemed World Heritage Site in 1983.
Kelsey and I explored the complex with all the eagerness of Christmas morning -ooohing, ahhhing, and slowly drawing our fingers over the flawless stonework walls. We were particularly awestruck to discover the truly astounding ingenuity of the craftmanship; the Inca had no metal tools and did not use the wheel. Even more remarkably, as Peru is a hotbed of seismic activity, the Inca took brilliant architectural measures to prevent the earthquake eradication of their city: trapezoidal windows, rounded corners, and slightly inwardly-tilted walls of often mortarless construction. To think, such enormous stones, expertly cut, drawn up an gigantic mountain, and levered into advanced architectural configurations without the help of even the most basic ´necessities.´
We spent over 7 hours marveling at Machu Picchu - at first examining every nook and cranny, later lounging on the agricultural terraces, drinking in the scene and daydreaming of Inca grandeur. We simmered in the sun, listening to floating snatches of tour guide monologues, as well as the gratingly unmistakeable midwestern twang of a middle aged, fanny packed American...walking up a set of stairs at least 100 yards away, the woman declared: ¨this is just like a StairMaster!¨Oh, a little slice of home in heaven. Luckily, no one can be annoyed when visiting Machu Picchu.
Even better, a countrywide strike had halted most of the tourist infrastructure - almost completely stemming the flow of admirers to the site. By noon, the entire complex felt utterly, blissfully, empty. We grinned at our lucky maneuvering, and pretended that Machu Picchu was ours.
Finally, with sunkissed cheeks and happy hearts, we peeled ourselves off the pretty green grass and said goodbye to the Inca-redible Machu Picchu. In the course of one perfect day, the excitement in our tummies had matured to a full-on, warm reverance for some of the world´s most remarkable ruins.
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