The much awaited day! Up very early to meet our guide, Miguel, and the van to take us to the Ollantaytambo Train Station – about a two hour drive. We went through many little towns. In one, we saw a gathering of people who mainly speak the original Incan language. They were dressed in their native clothing – not for tourists, but just their every day outfits.
At the train station, there are several different kinds of trains one can take. On Sundays (which was today) the train and entrance to Machu Picchu are free to the residents of Cusco, so it was a bit more crowded. A basic, local train is one kind of train. The other train is the Vistadome, which we took. It has open windows near the roof of the train car so that you have wonderful views of the scenic ride to the base of Machu Picchu. The train we were originally scheduled to take is the Orient Express or Hiram Bingham train – the most luxurious train – but it doesn’t run on Sundays.
It took about 1 1/2 hour by train to reach the little town of Aguas Calientes. This town only exists because of visitors to Machu Picchu. It is at the base of the mountain and has lots of little souvenir shops, restaurants and lodging. The train ride getting there was beautiful – the scenery was a great beginning for what we were to see later in the day. The train runs through part of the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. Along the mountain side is also the original Inca Trail, part of which can be hiked today. It takes about four long, hard days to get to Machu Picchu this way. During the rainy season, the trail is closed because of the danger of mud slides.
From this small town, we took a bus (a nice Mercedes) to the top of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. It took about 20 minutes. It was a narrow road, but the bus drivers were cautious so it was not scary like I had been warned. At the top, there is only one place to stay and eat. It is called the Sanctuary. It is a great place to stay if you want to see and walk around the ruins both before and after the visitors leave for the day.
Since the pictures here describe much better what this place is really like, I will just make a few comments about the ones I post. But a brief history enhances what we saw. Machu Picchu means “old mountain.” When you stand here, you can look out and see Wayna Picchu, meaning “new mountain.” Only 400 visitors a day are allowed to hike to the top of this mountain and you have to have a reservation in advance. It is a difficult climb with a “one-way” narrow pathway going up and down. It is from this peak that the most famous picture of Machu Picchu is taken, that appears in many travel catalogs. From where we stood, the people looked like little specs.
The Spaniards never found this Incan settlement high on top of the mountain side. It served as a sanctuary for the Incas as well as a farming and residential complex. Why the Incas disappeared from here is still a mystery with many various theories by scholars. The complex is basically divided into three parts – the terraced agricultural area, the residential area, and the temple or sacred area.
In 1911 Hiram Bingham, a N. American professor, came to S. America to research the military campaigns of the liberator Simon Bolivar. Having an interest in Incan culture, Bingham visited Cusco and traveled through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. There he met a farmer who who told him about the existence of some “ruins” at the top of the Old Mountain (Machu Picchu.) When Bingham reached the mountain, he met two families farming its steep sides. One of their young sons led Bingham to what we now know as Machu Picchu. In 1912 Bingham returned with an expedition of specialists who conducted archaeological research. Both Yale University and the National Geographic Society co-sponsored this work. In 1983 UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a world heritage site, and it continues to serve as an excellent example of the Incans’ architectural genius.
Following are pictures of some of the highlights of Machu Picchu. Be sure to click or double click on each one to get an enlarged view.
Terraced slopes used for growing their food. This was the agricultural part of the complex. Farmer houses are at the end of some of the terraces with the Guardian house at the top. We did not climb to the top of the terraces.
This is looking down into the residential area where they lived and worked. The mountains surrounding all of this were magnificent.
The sacred area more in the fore front with the terraced slopes in the background.
This is the back view of the Temple of the Sun. It is the most important building and the only rounded wall in the complex. On the Winter Solstice the sun would come in the window and fit perfectly in the U shaped rock structure in front of it.
These animals roamed freely throughout the complex. They were not afraid of people.
WE DID IT!
The altitude here is about 9,000 feet, and while lower than Cusco, we could feel it. We huffed and puffed our way up the many, many steps that were uneven in size making it a bit more challenging. But it was well worth it. A great experience and a dream come true!
We had lunch at the Sanctuary lodge and were very fortunate that the rain came after we had done our climbing around. We boarded the bus taking us back down to where we would catch our train. We had time to shop a little in the local handicraft stalls and shared a local Cusco beer, Cusquena, with our wonderful guide, Miguel.
On the train going back, they had a snack for us and also a fashion show. In the van back to Cusco, we mainly rested as it was already dark. Didn’t get back until about 9:30 so just had an apple in the room and tucked our weary bodies in with our hot water bottles. It was a long and physically exhausting day – but one of the best in our lives!!