Machu Picchu, 9:20am
Anna, totally not bothered by rain
Just as one travelling near Cusco has to visit Machu Picchu, one blogging about travelling near Cusco has to blog about Machu Picchu. So I start like this: Machu Picchu could have been a bit disappointing, given that the Inca structures at Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo are so impressive, as well as much less expensive and less crowded.
Zeke and Leticia
The bus ride up to Machu Picchu goes up at least ten switchbacks. The road is mostly one lane and occasionally busses have to back down to let other busses by. For those who have seen too many disaster movies, it is sometimes better not to look out the window. After being on and off the Gringo Trail a bit, Machu Picchu is a shock – there are just so many people there. Many are in large groups with tour guides who stop in the middle of the only way to get from one spot to another. There are some places where we say “Wow, that looks neat, but we can’t get there right now.” It is raining, and Leticia and I are preoccupied with making sure the kids stay dry enough and warm enough. We are also preoccupied (at least I am) in making sure Zeke doesn’t wander off a terrace into the abyss. Early on, Zeke says “I’m tired of ruins.” There have been a lot of ruins in the last week. Anna doesn’t seem brought down by the weather or the crowds, though, and gradually the magic of Machu Picchu – the location, the scale, the amount of work and craftsmanship required to create it – win out over the downers. I have brought along a copy of Peter Frost’s book Exploring Cusco, which I have been reading religiously for the last week, and am using it to explain things as we go. At one point a professional guide says to Leticia, “you have a good guide!” (This was also the guy to whom Zeke said “Incas love niches!”)
Still, at our lunch break outside the gates (food isn’t supposed to be consumed inside, though we broke that rule) we are a little let down.We decide to hike upthe Inca Trail to the Intipunku, or Sun Gate, said to be a 90 minute hike. Already things are better – as we pass above Machu Picchu, the clowds have cleared a bit, and we can see Huayna Picchu (the hornlike mountain that towers above the ruins) for the first time. Even better, there are llamas, and one is standing still so that people can take pictures with it. Actually, it is pooping. Nothing I know can raise the spirits of damp children like the sight of a llama pooping above one of the wonders of the world.
At the Intipunku
Machu Picchu from the Intipunku
The Inca Trail is itself impressive, and for the most part I am happy with it, as it goes above terraces, or at least has some plant life around it instead of the naked vertical drop I survived at Pisac. At some point Zeke decides he is ready to rest, so he and Leticia stay behind at a set of ruins and Anna and I continue on. The trail gets a bit narrower, the dropoffs a bit more vertical, but it is so foggy you can’t really tell what is to your left. I am thankful that a) Zeke is not with us (I love Zeke dearly, but he is a bit out of control at times. That is, he is five) and b) that Anna is so calm and steady. We reach some steep twisting stairs that make both of us a little nervous, but the Intipunku is close, so we keep on. The last few minutes have a little more narrow path, but soon we are past and at the sun gate – us, ten friendly Japanese, and the fog. So we take pictures for the Japanese and they of us, we have a little snack and think about the way back, and then there is a collective “ooooh!” from all ten Japanese tourists, and we hurry back up to see the clouds have blown off and there is Machu Picchu below us. I have read in a few places that the Inca Trail seems to have been designed specifically to create these “oooh” moments, bringing various sites into view from dramatic locations. I believe it.
Back side of Temple of the Sun
at the far end of the plaza
the royal tomb - they think maybe Pachacutec's mummy was kept here
So Anna and I make our way down, very carefully at first and then more easily. We find Leticia and Zeke right where we left them – Zeke has been happily playing with plants in a small puddle for the last 45 minutes. We have more great views of Machu Picchu, and when we get back to the main ruins we find them both clear of clouds and almost deserted. Machu Picchu closes at 5pm; it is now about 3:30, but the people doing a day trip are already down the mountain and perhaps on the train in order to be back to Cusco by supper time. The guards who five hours ago were asking us to keep going in a clockwise direction are either not around or they let us go whichever way we want. For a little while, we just stand at an overlook, soaking in the silence and the views. We go and see almost everything we saw the first time, spending more time highlights like the Sun Temple, and we see things that were too crowded to see the first time. We find more grazing llamas, and by the time we leave, we are truly satisfied, though Anna wants to come back the next day.