Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Many Faces of Machu Picchu...

Soon after dawn the sun brightens the high peaks above the town of Ollataytembo. This is a place of early morning water sounds and bird sounds. Soon sunlight falls on the yellow golden stone Inca ruins on the hills above the town. This is a place to which we would like to return! But today we must make our next move and take the train to Aguas Caliente... It is the first train that I have ever encountered to declare a strict limit on the weight of luggage permitted... (Which we later found that they didn't enforce). We had to decide what to store here in the Apu Lodge where we are staying in Oyataytembo.

Do you remember the scene in the Hobbit movie where the intrepid band of adventurers enters a region of high steep mountains and rushing water...? Strange plants hang from the trees, the rocks forming steep cliffs down to the river. Hanging bridges cross the rushing rivers. Well, that was us today as we entered Aguas Caliente, the gateway to Machu Pichu. It is quite remote with only two means of entrance... Walking or a little narrow gauge railroad that never quite got its rails leveled. The train chugs it's way through the valley as the route gets ever more extreme.


Today we made it to Machu Picchu... What a grand experience! We were advised that is is very important to get there early before the tour busses arrived in late morning... Today it was raining lightly at 4: 30 am as we left the hotel... This is pretty typical Machu Picchu weather (It is after all rainforest.) We discovered a great long line of others at the bus station, with the same plan in mind. Several buses left at 5: 30.. And we were on the 3rd one. After a 30 minute ride we were deposited at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Our first moments were a little confused... Dawn was just breaking, and us without coffee. We were dressed in rain gear, but the rain made reading guide book difficult. Thunder roared and lightning flashed to add to the drama of the moment. Once we located a point of reference that we could identify the morning became easier. We had the trails pretty much to ourselves as the day brightened. The first face of Machu Picchu that we saw was the surreal moving misty clouds giving us momentary peeks at the landscape...The experience was quite mystical! The large stone features were softened and blurred in the foggy light... At times a clear expanse would show and then vanish within minutes. About 8 AM, I climbed up through the fog to reach the "watchman's cottage". I knew that I was very high and exposed but I could see little through the clouds... Suddenly a miracle occurred and the fog vanished and I looked down on the grand vista of Machu Picchu stretched out before me... For the next hour as conditions cleared..,I could see that in fact I was on a very high ridge that looked out at vast cliffs and peaks of dramatic height and all directions! Here are the stone remains of a significant city...a center of political and religious power. Even today the careful city planning to supply water, drainage, access to food, communication with the other parts of the empire serve as a brilliant example of public works that are both functional and beautiful. .

We continued our explorations and noticed that we were acquiring shadows ... The sun showed and strengthened as the day progressed... Now we could appreciate the green meadows among the stone buildings.

One wrinkle to the day was that my cameras, first one, and then my backup camera, malfunctioned because of the light rain that had fallen on them. With the bright sun shining we took a break for a snack, at the same time we discovered that all of our critical papers in the day pack had become soggy with the rain... So we carefully spread out the wet papers to dry, and also put the cameras in the sun... After the food, I checked my good camera and found it had returned to life...Soon after, the second camera was also doing well.

Judy preferred to sit and enjoy the view and I went off to capture the photos that I had missed earlier due to camera problems. By 10 am the scene changed considerably... Train loads of visitors from Cusco arrived and took the bus up to M. P. Suddenly we were sharing the site with great swarms of visitors. Most visitors were in groups with a guide giving dates and details... We know that our retention from such guide talks is poor...and we do better reading a guidebook and traveling on our own. Guides were speaking to their groups in Spanish, English, Japanese, Italian, French, German, and maybe a few other languages. Still the whole scene was so special we were in no hurry to leave.

We left Machu Picchu by mid afternoon with a happy and satisfied feeling that we had seen at least some of the faces of Machu Picchu. ... And in the process had caught a glimpse of the people who had built this amazing city.