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Machu Picchu September 16, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Machu Picchu, Peru Posts.
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It’s rare for an experience to come along that virtually renders language useless. Yesterday, Machu Picchu did just that, so please bear with me throughout this post…

            We traveled to Machu Picchu by train, arriving in the small town of Aguas Calientes three hours outside of Cusco. Immediately beyond the train station lies an enclosed maze of shop stalls selling the usual tourist fare. After weaving through these, we found ourselves in the middle of a makeshift town, flanked by monolithic mountains on all sides. It was unbelievable: sheer, massive cliffs towering over a minuscule smattering of restaurants and hotels in the middle of nowhere.

            We purchased our (expensive) entrance and bus tickets in town before getting in line for the shuttle that would be taking us straight up the mountain with the rest of the tourists. Before I go any further, however, a quick history lesson.

            Machu Picchu means “old mountain” in Quechua, is thought to have been built around 1460 and was only inhabited for less than the 100 years the Incas were in power. To be honest, not much is known about how or why the city was built. It was only re-discovered back in 1911 by an enterprising American, Hiram Bingham, who was actually in search of a different set of ruins. Whatever it’s purpose, one thing remains abundantly clear; Machu Picchu is a magical feat of engineering, still standing high and proud above the Urubamba river chasm some 550 years later.

            Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we were left wondering why in the hell anyone would choose to build a city here. Remote does not describe it, nor does impenetrable. Basically, Machu Picchu is a citadel in the sky. A mysterious fortress built on the apex of the natural world. For anime fans, think “Howl’s Moving Castle” meets South America.

The Machu Picchu money shot

The Machu Picchu money shot

          We spent the next three hours hiking up and down the tiers that make up each level of the city. This place is not for the faint of heart, there are some serious, steep climbs to navigate and very few guardrails or signs. We started out at the guardhouse, definitely the best place for those panoramic, inspirational-type photos the city is known for before detouring off on a small hike that led to an old Inca drawbridge. Very precarious stuff. One wrong step and seriously, down the cliffs you go. (Sorry, moms). We returned to a grassy overlook to rest before braving the tour groups down in the heart of the city.

hike to the Inca Drawbridge at Machu Picchu ...not a good time to trip

hike to the Inca Drawbridge at Machu Picchu ...not a good time to trip

      I can’t be sure, but I think Steve snapped upwards of about 200 photos while we there. Machu Picchu is known for its intricate stonework, so he had a lot of fun playing with the strange juxtaposition of ancient architecture framed within the unreal setting. Alpaca and llamas grazed in happy oblivion among the throng of chattering tourists, only adding to the surreal quality of the entire day.

            All in all, yes, we were amazed and yes, it was impressive, but I think the most lasting impression was how much Machu Picchu plays to the imagination. It’s just a magical place, one that no longer seems possible in our modern time. Steve and I both agreed we could have sat for hours just looking at what lay before us without any need for conversation or cameras.

            We also agreed that llamas are hilarious, old people with health problems should stay at home, and Americans are control freaks. Proof in point: people can pretty much walk wherever they please in Machu Picchu, you could fall off a cliff or die from heart failure and no one would care. The only possible repercussion is being reprimanded by a man with a gym class whistle, and only if you decide to take a nap on the ruins or mess with the llamas.

            Disneyland, this was not. Thank God.