Monday, March 16, 2015

Machu Picchu

The lost Inca town, hidden in the mountains. It took 50 years and thousands of workers to build it. It has a nice location with a river flowing by and several mountain chains as natural protection. No pictures can describe Machu Picchu. By the way have you ever noticed that it has an extra C in Picchu? It is pronounced by the way so the name is sounded like Matchu Piktchu.
The real name of this town is lost in time. It's known as Machu Picchu because that's the name of the mountain it's built on. The name means old mountain. Next to it is Huayna Picchu, i.e. The young mountain. Huayna Picchu also has ruins, but it requires an extra ticket reserved at least a month before and it probably also requires that you don't have fear of heights.
Machu Picchu is much larger than it seems in the pictures. It's said to have between 400 and 600 inhabitants, possibly from the Inca nobility, including astronomers and engineers.
There's a path that goes all the way to Cusco, and according to the guides it had another 7 paths leading to it. The speculation is that the other paths were destroyed when the Incas were forced to flee the town.
It was built around 1450 and lasted for almost 100 years until the Spaniards arrived to rape, kill and pillage everything, forcing residents to go away. In an incredible strike of luck, the Spaniards never found it and that's why it's so well conserved even after 600 years.
The Incas used what are considered current methods of architecture and engineering which made sure the city would resist the weather and the earthquakes.
The locals have a slightly different version about when the city was discovered by the Yale university researcher Hiram Bingham between 1909 and 1912. The official story is that he was doing research and he's a nice hero for discovering the city. That's what's on wikipedia as well. The local version is that he was searching for gold from the Inca nobility. Word on the street is that he helped to steal 48000 artifacts from Machu Picchu, making a fortune out of it.
There's much pride from many of the locals about the Inca empire and rightfully so. One thing that comes to my mind though is that the Incas didn't conquer such a vast territory by sending flowers and giving free hugs.
The city itself is stunning and one can't help but be marveled at the ingenious ability of the Incas. There's even an aqueduct bring fresh water from the mountain. The part of the mountain above the city was used as a cemetery, many mummies were found.
We had an interesting encounter when were strolling around looking for nice picture angles. We decided to get inside one of the few stone houses that has a roof. As we got inside a young girl pulled her pants up quickly and vanished outside. I hope she was only peeing on the sacred ground. The toilets cost only 1 nuevo sole, it's a shame she had to do that.
I'd say a guide is a must to have a better understanding of the ruins. I noticed that some people prey for tour groups and simply follow a tour guide once inside.

Practical information:
You need to get to Ollantaytambo to get the train to Machu Picchu. You can buy the train ticket online. You can also buy the Machu Picchu ticket online. The train leaves you at the village Aguas Calientes, now renamed to Machu Picchu pueblo.
To get to the lost town you can either get the bus for USD 12 each way or walk around 2 hours up.
In Machu Picchu pueblo there are only overpriced shops and restaurants. If you are on a budget you'd rather pack food.

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