Thursday, June 21, 2007

Past Vacation #19 - Peru 2006 - Part Four - Machu Picchu

Day 5 started early and full of anticipation. We were going to Machu Picchu where we would spend the next two days. Machu Picchu was the crown jewel of this vacation. This was the reason I was here. It did not disappoint.

We woke early and took a bus to the train station in Ollantaytambo. We boarded the train that would take us to
Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu and can only be reached by train or helicopter. The train stops at a couple places along the way to drop off hikers who were walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We arrived at Aguas Calientes and walked to the bus that would take us up to Machu Picchu. The bus lets you off at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at Machu Picchu - I will talk more about it later.

We passed through the gates and we saw the awesome sight of Machu Picchu. The ruins are built of stone. There is no mortar holding the stones - they are simply cut so they fit together tightly. The views are incredible. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn't been there. It has a very spiritual feel to it. We spent the morning touring the ruins. The aqueducts still discharged water in parts of the ruins. Our guide pointed out different architectural features.

The tour was interrupted so that we could eat lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. We ate some good food and listened to Incan pan flute music. After getting our fill, we continued our tour of the ruins. We saw the clever
solar observatory using pools of water to image the sun. We saw the temple of the condor. We saw the astronomical clock said to have mystical powers. We also saw our first alpaca up close. The strange thing is, Machu Picchu is too low for these animals - the ones living here today were brought in for the tourists. Alpaca, and their cousins the Llama, Vicuña and Guanaco, usually live at a higher altitudes.

In a garden amongst the ruins were examples of indigenous plants including the Coca plant. We wandered the ruins. Everything was fascinating to me. One holy stone mirrored the mountain in the background. The mountains were important to the Inca as they believed the Sun God, Inti, lived at the top of the mountains.
At the end of the day everyone got on the bus to go back to Aguas Calientes - everyone except the Sioux City folks, the wife, and I. Our travel agent had told us about the
Sanctuary Lodge and we were lucky enough to get reservations. The Sioux City folks had a more difficult time but were lucky when there was a last minute cancellation at the lodge. The lodge has 31 rooms and is situated so that you cannot see it from the ruins. After the rest of the tour group left, we went back into the ruins and wandered around a little. The sun went down early as Machu Picchu is surrounded my high mountains. There was a fairly large crowd of people who stayed to see the sun set over the mountains. The ruins close at dusk so we had to return to the lodge just after sundown.
That evening we enjoyed a slideshow showing the various plants and animals in the region and history of the ruins. While we ate dinner we discovered that another guest at the lodge was from Ventura - he was a teacher - he knew someone that the wife knew - her magic strikes again. Drinks at the bar were free which we enjoyed immensely. We were tired from our long day so we headed for our room. I kind of regret not sitting in the lounge as there was a big fireplace and I am sure the conversation with the other travelers would have been interesting but we were both bushed.
We did do one thing before going to bed. We went outside and laid on lounge chairs and looked up at the stars. The night sky was clear, there was no moon, and the number of stars was staggering. The milky way arched overhead and was surprisingly bright - a result of the altitude, 7,970 feet, and the lack of city lights to wash out the starlight. This just added to the spiritual feel of the place. The wife had never seen the milky way before that night and she saw her first shooting star. The temperature dropped quickly and we reluctantly went back inside to escape the chill.

I went to bed early as I was planning to get up early the next day. Before our tour group split up at the end of the first day, one of our tour group approached me and asked me if I would go to the summit of
Wayna Picchu with her. Her father didn't want her to go on the hike alone. I didn't even know you could go up there so I said sure. We agreed to meet early in the next morning and do the hike to the Sun Gate followed by the hike up Wayna Picchu.
The day was full of wonder and awe and this post just scratches the surface. There is so much to see and experience - so much that is hard to get into writing.

Here ends Chapter Four. Pictures can be found
here. Coming up in the next chapter: Day 2 at Machu Picchu with hikes to the Gate of the Sun and Waina Picchu.

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