Machu Picchu, the Inca ruins in the Peruvian Andes, fascinated me when I taught 7th grade social studies. So, in 2003, when a travel catalog advertising an 18-day tour that combined the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon River, and Machu Picchu, Judy and I were on board.
The Incas lived and thrived there for approximately 50-70 years in the 1400-1500s. There are many theories on what may have happened to the people. Since very few artifacts were found, some scholars say that the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu. Common knowledge of its existence came when U.S. archaeologist Hiram Bingham found his way there in 1911.
Getting there was an adventure. We’d stayed in Cusco for several days, taking day trips and acclimating to the high elevation. From there, traveling by bus, we drove over passes up to 12,500 ft., eventually dropping into the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. As often happens on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour, we stopped at a local market so we could walk among the native people.
Soon we boarded a train that traveled up the Urubamba River gorge. Seated on the river side, we had a terrific view of the noisy, churning, brown water. This swift, boulder-filled river has Class 4 to Class 6+ rapids. Soon we arrived at the small town of Aguas Caliente, which sits right on the river and is the gateway to Machu Picchu, a few miles away.
After lunch, the 30-minute shuttle bus ride stood us on our heads as we negotiated the hairpin curves of a stripe of hard-packed dirt that would deliver us to our much-anticipated Machu Picchu.
Unfolding before us as we stood at the entry gate was a breathtaking view of an entire Inca City. Many walls remained, or had been reconstructed, so only the thatched roofs needed to be imagined.
It was the rainy season, which colored the landscaped terraces and plazas shades of vibrant greens. We looked out over the expanse of the city to take in the areas designated as the agricultural section, the industrial district, the homes for the commoners and those of nobility.
Climbing up to one of the restored huts, thought to have served as a guardhouse, we had an outstanding view, and I felt the presence of the Incas who had lived and worked there.
We explored the Temple of the Sun and saw the carved live rock, which, according to the sun´s position and the shadows the rock cast, told the Incas when it was the time to plant their crops.
One thing written up in the literature that we wanted to see was the "jail." But, our guide told us Hiram Bingham may have called it a jail, but the Incas had no need for such a thing. They had three basic rules to live by: don´t be a thief, don´t be a liar, and don´t be lazy. Anyone who broke any of these rules was punished by death.
Machu Picchu is one of the world´s wonders that begs to be experienced firsthand. The full impact of this place is a feast for all the senses. But, do make sure you’re in good physical condition so you can enjoy yourself while hiking and climbing in the area.
~ xoA ~