The ruins

 

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The road to the ruins is a switchback which rises over 2000ft.  Our little bus was tootling up this rather precarious road and we were glad we were in the hands of someone who drives it frequently.

 

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My apologies for the reflection but I wanted to share the road surface with you.  Mostly unmetalled and simple, compressed mud, at the corners there were short paved sections.  It was very bumpy and would be slippery after a rainstorm, no doubt.  Thankfully, this morning, it was dry.

 

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On a couple of the bends there was the evidence of serious landslips which had occurred in the last two weeks.  Hmm.  Not sure I want to think about one of those rocks tumbling down when we are driving along.

Every so often, we’d pass a flight of steps which by passed the long switches on the road and went straight up the steep – very steep – hilllside.  These were the paths the chaskis would have run with the messages recorded in the quipus.  They must have had remarkable strength and tenacity!

 

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Once at the top, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the destination blind on our bus: Machu Picchu, of course. 

 

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The plaza by the ticket office and entrance was bustling and the usual Peruvian dogs were laid out snoozing, bothered by noone.  I’m not sure I’ve written about the street dogs previously – it’s reckoned that there are three dogs for every person in Peru!  They’re not pets but are fed on the street and seem fairly benign – apart from a little white fluffy one which went for my ankles earlier this morning in the market!

 

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We passed through the turnstile, showing our passports (which is done frequently here) and on seeing my camera, the young woman asked if I’d like to take her photo.  how could I refuse?!

 

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Before going any further, we looked over the edge to see where we’d come from.  Oh my, it’s a long way down there to the Urubamba river (a tributary of the Amazon, by the way)

 

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Then, just around the corner we got our first glimpse.  

Oooh!  Just a little cloud on the peak of Huayna Picchu opposite, putting sense to the term “cloud forest”, but otherwise, looking great!

 

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Actually, we could see people on the peak and Adriana pointed out the trail to us.  Very steep and in places, requiring hikers to hang onto wire handrails, this wasn’t for us!  When I asked if she’d hiked that particular trail, she smiled and said “oh yes, many times, whenever my clients wish to make that trip”.   Respect, Adriana!

 

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At this stage, the going was easy.  Broad flat pathways led us into the main site and we simply took the route Adriana recommended.  She had the best idea – make our way to the top first, get the climb done and then potter back down through some of the other areas.

 

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So, up we went.  Mostly, the steps were stone faced, didn’t have handrails and in places they were pretty steep and uneven.  The voice of experience told us to take it easy, to stick to the wall side of the pathway and when we wanted to take a photo, to stop and concentrate on where we were.

 

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We made our first stop somewhere  around half way up to the highest spot.  Breathless and slightly headachey, we were pleased to have a break and to take a photograph of the classic view.

Did we want to go on up to the House of the Guardians?  That’s the little hut right at the very top of this section – the highest point in the ruins, I think – and the place from where all the “usual” Machu Picchu shots are taken. 

Oh, why not.  We’d come so far, after all!

 

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We made it!  I can’t say it was a piece of cake to get up there, but once we were standing on the summit, the view was breathtaking.  The whole of Machu Picchu spread out beneath us and though there was a racket from a couple of noisy groups up there too, to stand and stare at this wonderful sight made for a rather emotional moment.

 

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Well, coming down is almost as difficult as going up I find, and these steps needed the greatest concentration.  So, no pictures of those bits I’m afraid…my eyes were firmly on the ground! 

 

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But this large rock, shaped very carefully with a loop carved out at one end was a feature worth a closer look.  What was it?  Why was it there?  Well, I’m not sure anyone is certain, but the small stones scattered around it appear to have been brought from different places and since it was an inca tradition to bring a stone from your village when visiting, then this could have been the central focus of some ceremony or other.

 

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This was typical of many of the pathways around the ruins.  Secure stones set into a solid base, mostly even but irregular enough to mean that full concentration was required,  Steps didn’t have handrails for the most part, so Adriana’s advice to stick to the wall was a good one.  Thankfully it was dry this morning, for in rainy weather, I imagine those stones are treacherous.

 

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Though the total place is stunning, it was the small details which Adriana pointed out to us which made it special.  Like this gateway.  Trapezoidal (of course) above the lintel is a stone peg on which may have hung a textile “door”, perhaps, and that fabric could have been tied to one of the two fittings on either side of the frame, set into the stones so accurately.

 

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By now it was gone 11am and it was starting to get busy with large groups.  Not that they got in our way, but somehow, it’s quite nice to have the place almost to ourselves!

 

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Adriana pointed out this rock, where it had been marked for cutting, just above the place where it might have formed a new wall.  The jigsaw pieces would all have fitted perfectly together because they’d have been cut from the same rock – clever, eh?

 

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But Machu Picchu had been abandoned less than a century after construction had begun.  This trapezoidal window in the Temple of the Three Windows offers a super view over the valley and one can only imagine what it must have been like to have discovered this place as Hiram Bingham had done – or was it someone else?

 

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The curved structure in the centre of the photograph is the Temple of the Sun and just across the valley, in between two mountains, was the Sun Gate, a landmark on the inca trail which is connected to the temple by the sun’s rays each solstice.

 

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Though we were weary, we never tired of spotting the small things, like the pegs built into the sides of the gables on these houses.  The thatch is attached each year to demonstrate how these buildings might have looked: It doesn’t last long in this climate so needs frequent renewal and as a result, only a few houses are reconstructed in this way.

 

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The single thing I’d associated with the inca buildings here had, so far, remained elusive.  We’d been walking through fairly commonplace buildings, so had seen few of those incredibly accurately contructed walls.

 

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Here, however, we were by the wall to a more important building and therefore, those wonderfully cut and dressed stones were very much in evidence.

 

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A couple had shifted in an earthquake some time ago, but the structure remained sound in spite of that.

 

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Rather more significant damage here, but the building still stands.

 

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Just as we were peering through windows and looking at the most beautiful walls, a group of llamas appeared.  They help keep the grass in trim around the ruin and were rather cute – especially the youngster.

 

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On our way back to the entrance, we passed by this fine example of how the inca utilised huge rock formations to create the spaces they needed for all kinds of purpose – in this case a mausoleum (I think!)

 

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With one last look over the ruins, it was time for lunch, after which Adriana had to return to Cuzco.  Before she caught her train however, she came with us to our lovely hotel here in Aguas Calientes.

 

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We said an unexpected final goodbye to her, for sadly, family events mean she must fly to Lima tomorrow and won’t be with us on Friday as expected.  We’ll miss her lively sense of humour and excellent guiding expertise but we are told we’ll be in safe hands of another of her colleagues – her husband.

 

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For now, we’re sitting in our lovely “casita” feeling snug and warm by an open fire.  The hot water bottles have just arrived and been placed in our bed, too!

Tomorrow morning, we’ll return to Machu Picchu by ourselves, to enjoy some time there independently and maybe visit a few corners which we didn’t have time to see today.  I hope the weather is kind!

Barefoot luxury

The Big Adventure