January 31, 2010
After a magical week in the Galapagos Islands, I expected an add-on to nearby Peru to be a letdown. But Machu Picchu had also been on my must-see list for years. And so we went.
Machu Picchu is “one of the new seven wonders of the world.” An Inca city from the 15th century, abandoned by its inhabitants in the 16th century because of the Spanish conquests, it was in such an unlikely and hard to reach spot high in the Andes and so hidden by an overgrowth of vegetation that it was not fully re-discovered until 1911.
No list of “places to see before you die” would exclude Machu Picchu.
Since we were coming from sea level to 8000 ft, we spent a few days in the (lower) Sacred Valley of the Incas to adjust to the altitude. This is an agriculturally-rich area with farming both in the valley and on terraces built high into the mountains. There, the fields are still plowed by oxen. It was the rainy season so everything was lush and the green and iron-red mountains, part of the Andes, are “new” enough to present impressive ragged edges.
The village of Urumbamba and the nearby Inca fortress at Ollantaytamba were a good introduction to the savvy and strength of the Incas. From Ollantaytamba, it is an hour-and- a half-train ride through the valley to Aguas Calientes followed by a twenty minute bus ride on a narrow climbing road from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu site.
Words or photos cannot adequately capture Machu Picchu. It is a city of 80 acres that once had a population of several thousand people. The buildings left by the Incas are built of huge granite boulders fit together with precision to make temples and living quarters. We spent hours climbing up trails and among the terraces used to grow crops and through the remains of these buildings. The mist moved in and out among the peaks; the view changing from moment to moment.
The Incas of Machu Picchu worshipped the sun and moon and nature. Their stories have been mostly lost, but the power of their spirit is still there.
And it is very moving.