Macho climbing at Machu Picchu
Trip Start May 23, 2010
32Trip End Aug 31, 2010
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Why so early? Well, as mentioned in the previous entry, we had decided to climb Huayna Picchu (Emma more grudgingly than I), which is the pyramid-shaped mountain you see in the background of all the postcard shots of Machu Picchu, standing 2667m tall. Park officials only issue 400 permits to do this per day. Half of these are for 7-8am, the other 200 allow people to do the climb between 10-11am. Since most guided tours of Machu Picchu are during the early slot to take advantage of the sunrise, we needed to be in the second allocation. Either way, we had to be at the gates of the site for 6am and buses only start running up from town at 5:30am
At 4am, there were already 100 people ahead of us in the bus queue, with more walking up from the town (are they mental?!). Two hours of waiting in the cold and dark later, we were in the scrum for the Huayna Picchu passes and managed to get stamps in the low 300s...Felt like an achievement in itself!
Our tour of the Machu Picchu ruins began just before sunrise. Even though everyone has seen pictures of it on telly, and in magazines etc., seeing it for the first time in reality is still breathtaking. An awed hush fell over our group (punctuated by a few gasps and excalamations...we were heavy on Americans, after all) as we took in the expanse of the ruins below us. As we would learn during our tour, the theory is that the entire site was built as a 'holiday retreat' for the Incan ruler and his entourage - kind of like Balmoral, only without the tweed and rampant inbreeding.
Houses, temples, terraces, a quarry, store rooms - it's a big place. Much of it seems to have been unfinished, abandoned in the mid-1400s possibly due to the outbreak of a civil war that spelled the end of the 100 year Incan Empire, and which was shortly followed by the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors
As the sun came up behind the thickly-forested mountain range to the East of Machu Picchu, the view was absolutely unbelievable. All you could hear was the beep and click of cameras as the warm morning sun slowly swept down over the ruins, illuminating the peak of Huayna Picchu and spreading down onto the tame llamas in the amphitheatrical main arena, then right up to the high terraces. Our tour continued, taking us through temples with crevices designed to reverberate the voices of singing priests, and a stylised condor that consisted of a carved head and offering hole with adjacent rockfaces forming the 'wings'. The highest point of the city contained the Hitching Post of the Sun, which it is thought was used as a way to divine the start and end of seasons using the shadow of the sun at equinoxes. In recent times, hippies and other unwashed ne'er-do-wells have proclaimed it a site of powerful Earth energy.
By 10am, the tour was finished and the increasing temperature signalled the start of our ascent of Huayna Picchu, which is Quechua for 'Young Peak' (Machu Picchu means 'Old Peak'). Em was still pretty nervous, but this soon gave way to plain exhaustion. After 40 minutes of climbing up narrow, dusty pathways and steep rock stairways (pausing periodically to quench our thirsts), we reached the start of the Incan ruins that indicated we were near the top. The city of Machu Picchu could be seen below us, a curiously small, cream-coloured star of buildings on the face of the mountainside. After a photo stop, we scrabbled our way to the top, squeezing through a tiny cavern passageway and out up on to the rocks at the very peak. Here, we caught our breath and took some pictures of the incredible panorama, before heading back down some dauntingly steep steps - some only 5 inches wide - that wound between the Incan ruins on the mountainside. We walked back through the ruins of the main ruins to the exit where we soothed our dry mouths with some of the best tasting ice creams we've ever had, purely due to their coldness!
In the afternoon, we visited the hot springs that earned Aguas Calientes its name, soaking our tired bones and dusty skin, before catching the slow train back into Cusco, fatigued but elated from a fantastic couple of days.