Sunday, July 26, 2009


The phone in our hotel room in Aguas Calientes rang at 4 in the morning. That meant that it was time to get up and get ready to walk to the station to take the bus to Machu Picchu.

Normally when I am in unfamiliar territory I check directions thoroughly beforehand, but we were so confident that we could follow the map that this time I didn't. Wrong! We ended up at the train station instead. Conveniently though, Aguas Calientes is a small town and one cannot get lost for long. A guard at the train station pointed the way and we hurriedly walked over the bridge to the other side. Soon after, we were standing in line in the darkness of the morning.

The idea behind taking the first bus was to arrive in Machu Picchu in time to see the sunrise. As you can see, that same idea had been in the mind of many. There were at least a hundred people and it took a while for all of us to board the buses. After the 30-min ride, we had to stand in line again to go through the entrance gate and by the time we all went through it, the sun had already risen. So much for that idea!

During the bus ride to Machu Picchu I had been absorbed by the view of the forested mountains and they were still surrounding us as we proceeded up the path to the ruins. I cannot get over what happened next. All of a sudden as we turned around one side of the mountain, there it was Machu Picchu presenting itself to us in all its might. It was like an apparition and my heart almost stopped!

At this point I must mention that what we had in front of us may very well be Vilcapampa, "the lost city of the Incas". The one Inca city the Spaniards never reached and never destroyed.

When in 1911 Hiram Bingham was in the Urubamba region searching for Vilcapampa, he got word that there were some "very good ruins" on the ridge between Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. He writes: "The Ruins ..are called the ruins of Machu Picchu because when we found them no one knew what else to call them.... even though no one now disputes that this was the site of ancient Vicapampa."

As we explored the city, I noticed that the architects of Machu Picchu did not build many windows. As it's human nature, whenever I saw one I found myself looking out.

From the inside out, it is indeed a dramatic contrast between the solid stone construction and the untouched world on the other side.

There are many stairways (over a hundred I understand) and we climbed as many as we could. Not all of them, obviously, because if we had I wouldn't be here now writing this.

One of those stairways took us to the Intihuatana Stone, 'the place to which the sun is tied'. My mind must have wandered during the explanation as I didn't clearly understand what was said so I resorted to the Internet (where else!) to help me make sense of it.

The best explanation I found was at:

"One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes... At midday on March 21 and September 21, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all.. At this precise moment the sun 'sits' ... upon the 'pillar' and is for a moment 'tied' to the rock."

Our guide also emphasized the Inca's knowledge of physics and he brought to our attention one of the corners of the nub that protrudes from the stone. He said that it points directly to the earth's north magnetic pole and if we had a compass we could try it. We did and it worked!

What I find so amazing about this place that we call ruins is that is so intact.

Our guide showed us a picture of what Machu Picchu City might have looked with thatched roofs. I thought, the only thing missing here are the roofs! I seriously believe that if roofs are placed over the structures, one can probably reenact life in Machu Picchu as it was back then.

At midday we returned to Aguas Calientes for lunch and I took a moment to stand by the side of the river lost in thought reliving the experience I just had.

In a previous section I mentioned that I went to Cusco in 1968. Machu Picchu had been the primary reason for that trip. Before then and after I have seen so many photographs of it that I couldn't imagine discovering anything new. True indeed. What I wasn't prepared for was the emotion I felt as I saw the ruins once again. It was a combination of pride, amazement and disbelief. When one considers the tremendous human effort that must have required to build this city, one cannot possibly stand there without feeling great respect for its architects and its builders. If it weren't because it exists, I would've said that it was impossible to build it.

That afternoon, we left Aguas Calientes on the 3 o'clock train to Cusco to spend the night and leave the next morning to Puno and Lake Titicaca.

See you then!

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