2011 Machu Picchu

No amount of National Geographic or movies can capture the grandeur of actually standing at Machu Picchu, the enormity of it all, the green, the perfectly fitted stones, the water system, the buildings and most of all the terraces….and all of this was set among the peaks of the Andies. There were sheer rock walls, misty clouds hanging on the tops, and we caught glimpses of the Urubamba River below in the canyon.

Machu Picchu (also known as “The lost City of the Incas”) is located 7,970 ft above sea level and is situated on an Andes mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, South America, which is 50 mi northwest of Cusco, Peru. Most archeologists deem that Machu Picchu was constructed as a manor for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). It is the most renowned Inca construction that has been built and known to date.

Machu Picchu is a National Park with rangers, many speaking English. No vendors and that added to the peace of the place, even among 2000 visitors each day. Pete helped me a lot with the steep rock steps as they are irregular, not smooth or the same size.

Constructed in the 1400’s at the explosion of the Inca Empire, this lost city was abandoned less than 100 years from its construction. It was abandoned as a delayed result of the Spanish Conquest. It is likely that most of its population died from smallpox, launched by voyagers before the Spanish conquistadors.

At one point we were resting near a rock wall and noticed swallows coming and going from holes in the walls. The behavior of the golondrinas (swallows) seemed to be flying out of fill their beaks with mosquitoes and then returning to the holes. Repeated again and again, so I assumed there must be chicks in a nest being fed. Indeed that was the case. I peered into a hole to discover two chicks just 6″ form my eyes!

There are no historical records of the Spanish ever knowing of this fascinating Inca city, it was of vital importance to its survival, as most of the Inca constructions in the Cusco area were completely destroyed by the conquistadores and new European constructions were built on top of these destroyed ruins. However, today most of the remote structures have been restored in hopes of giving tourist an enhanced concept of what the buildings looked like from the beginning.

There were also llamas and vicunas wandering about. The ranger said the grass is mowed to keep it so perfect. I didn’t think that grazing camelids could possibly accomplish such neatness. The staff preferred the tourists leave the llamas alone, but for the sake of photographs, I assume it was a hopeless task for the rangers.

Although Machu Picchu was already known locally, it was anonymous to outsiders until American historian Hiram Bingham brought the mysterious wonder to international attention. Since then it has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Peru and worldwide. 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of this site.

In 1981, Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary and in 1983 it was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Additionally, on July 7, 2007 it was declared one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”.

In the photo below, look into the depths of the valley and that sliver of light is the white water of the Urubamba River. For the size of the llamas the hooves are extremely small.

Interestingly, the dwelling of the emperor himself appears to be in the southwest part of the site, away from the other elite residences. A building known today as the “Temple of the Sun” is adjacent to it.

A staircase running beside the royal compound leads to a plaza below, and the emperor was afforded a garden, a private bath and even a private toilet area — the only private one on site.
Although Machu Picchu has a wall, modest gateway and dry moat (likely used for collecting rainwater) it doesn’t appear to have been set up with military purposes in mind, and there is no evidence that a battle of any sort was fought there.

The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels.

It was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction, probably around the time the Spanish began their conquest of the mighty pre-Columbian civilization in the 1530s. There is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel, however; for this reason, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic.

Urubamba River, Spanish Río Urubamba, river in the Amazon drainage system, rising in the Andes of southern Peru. Below Urubamba, in the Gorge of Torontoy, the river plunges from 11,000 to 8,000 feet in 20 miles. The railroad from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, popular with tourists headed to Machu Picchu, parallels this portion of the river. We took this narrow gauge railroad, spectacular scenery. We also stayed in Aguas Calientes for the two days we spent in this area.

The smallest of all camels, the vicuna weighs about 90 pounds and stands just under three feet at the shoulder. Like all South American camel species, the vicuna has a long, supple neck; slender legs; padded, cloven feet; large round eyes; and a dense and fine tawny coat.

The vicuna is a hardy survivor adapted to high altitudes, where drought and freezing nights are the rule. It is a natural pacer and well designed to travel fast for great distances. Keen eyesight allows early detection for flights to safety.

Amazing farming on the terraces…. The three staple crops were corn, potatoes, and quinoa – quinoa seeds were used to make cereal, flour, and soups. Corn was special to the Incas. It was used in religious ceremonies. They also used it to make a drink called chicha. The Incas were the first civilization to plant and harvest potatoes.

Besides the staple crops, they grew tomatoes, avocados, peppers, strawberries, peanuts, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, pineapple, bananas, peanuts, spices, and coco leaves to make chocolate. They kept honeybees. Occasionally, seasonal hunts were organized to catch meat for the nobility. Commoners ate very little meat, but they did not go hungry.

They left their food out in the cold to freeze. Then they stomped on the frozen food to squeeze out the water. They left their stomped-on food in the sun to dry. It worked. When they wanted to use the dehydrated foods, they simply added water.