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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Peru Trip: Machu Picchu

I barely have words to describe Machu Picchu. When we entered the gates, we were suddenly looking down on an enormous stone city, terrace after terrace of white granite cutting into the sheer face of the mountain. It was breathtaking.
The beauty can almost be overwhelming. You are surrounded by the Andes mountains in all their glorious splendor, one of God's masterpieces, then right in the middle of it is a feat of human engineering - a city of stone, created entirely through manual labor, covering the side of a mountain. My awe increased as we toured - the agricultural and astronomical knowledge of the Incas was equal to their architectural skills.

We began with a guided tour of the main sites in Machu Picchu, and while our guide did a good job, I don't know how accurate it was. We overheard many other tour guides while we wandered the ruins, and not one of their stories matched! I guess it's hard to know who's correct when a culture doesn't leave a written language.

 Our tour was about two hours, then we were on our own. There are no bathrooms in the ruins, so we exited to make a bathroom stop before spending the entire rest of the day exploring. There is so much freedom at the site: you can climb all over the stone buildings and terraces, inch your way along narrow paths on the edge of sharp drops, explore the wooded areas nearby. Only a few areas are roped off for excavation or repair (Interestingly, excavation has only just begun on the site: before it was just maintained and kept clear for visitors, but no real archeological work has been done since it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in the early 1900's).

This kind of thing would NEVER fly in the USA. For one thing, the ruins aren't protected at all. And for another thing, the visitors aren't protected at all, either! Machu Picchu is not the safest place in the world, and there isn't the slightest nod to safety at all. If you want to enjoy the trip and visit every nook and cranny, go when you're young and fit and don't have family. Kids couldn't make the whole thing (they'd get tired and you might not want to spend all day saving them from certain death off a cliff) and the older people we saw - oh, man. They were almost all struggling and miserable. And they couldn't see some of the best parts because the climb would be too difficult. You COULD do Machu Picchu in retirement, but unless you were in decent shape, you wouldn't be able to do everything.

We fit in almost the entire site on that first day, including the easy climb to the sun gate (incredible views) -
I got sick of my shoes and did half the day barefoot

and the petrifying walk to the Inca bridge. I would only stop for pictures where there was a slight ledge because the thousand-foot drop to the river (a silver ribbon below us) was just about a foot away along the path.
Not even going one inch closer to the edge
Looking down at the Urubamba from the path to the Inca Bridge. David took this. I would NEVER put my head that close to the edge. 
Obviously no chance of falling off this path to your death. The Inca Bridge is the gap you see in the stone path, right above the branches in the foreground. The idea was that there was this huge, tall gap in the stone with a wooden bridge laid over it - then when invaders came, the Inca could just remove the wooden bridge to prevent access to their path into Machu Picchu.

We didn't leave until the park was closing. We kept seeing new things! And when we left, we decided to descend the foot path, which sort of cuts across the bus route, to get back to Aguas Calientes. The walk down wasn't bad, but it decided for us whether or not to attempt to walk up the next day: no way. It would trash our legs. And even descending wasn't completely easy; it's a long journey because even after you reach the bottom of the mountain, you have to walk along the river back to Aguas Calientes, and the whole trip took over an hour. Meanwhile, I was still sick - but I was refusing to let stomach pain and some fever get in the way of the experience of a lifetime.
Exhausted, sweaty, and a little sick, on the footbridge over the Urubamba on the way back to Aguas Calientes
Back at Aguas Calientes, we had pizza cozied up to a wood-burning stove and planned the next day's activity: climbing Huayna Picchu!


  1. Thanks for this post! Your pictures are great. That Inca Bridge was terrifying, I don't think I have any pictures from there. I am pretty terrified of heights and impressed I was able to navigate it.

    Glad you had a great time - and funny how there is ALWAYS fog at Machu Picchu.

  2. It looks amazing! But all those steps - I think I'm too old already.

  3. This is just incredible. I'd love to visit. How wonderful that you can now and can appreciate the opportunity!

  4. Thank you for sharing your trip with us! Peru is on my bucket list, although sometimes I feel like it's something that could be done later in life. Maybe not!

  5. you got some gorgeous pictures - especially numbers 8 and 12 here wow. Those could go on the cover of a tourist book.