inca sunrise

Yes, we are crazy! We got up at 4am to dress, grab a quick breakfast and scoot down to the bus station in the dark and it was exhilarating! The bus negotiated numerous switchbacks up a steep slope to drop us 25 minutes later at the entrance to Machupicchu where we waited in line for a few minutes with the 300 or so other early birds, eagerly anticipating entering the grounds of this incredible ancient Inca city. As we rounded a corner just past the gate I caught my first sight of Machupicchu and I was blown away. We have all seen pictures and you will see many at the end of this blog, but the experience of being here is unparalleled.

We climbed to the top of the terraces that were for agricultural use and took lots of pictures as we waited for the sun to peak over the distant mountain ridge and light up the city. The numerous terraces around the city were used to grow multiple crops and were designed to face the sun year round. The Incas cultivated pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, peppers and other indigenous tubers, such as yacon, which is used to treat diabetes.

We were very fortunate as the sky was clear and it was not too cold. There was a loud cheer as the sun edged over the ridge; we all knew it would soon turn the whole city on. The light from the sun was blinding. I watched for a minute or so and closed my eyes and just enjoyed the light on my face. I sat there as the colour red washed over me and it was fabulous! (I know it was the blood in my eye balls, but the experience was awesome).

More pictures were taken as we watched the sunlight work its way across the city, and then we started our exploration of the site. We decided as we were already so high up, we would do the trail to the Inca Bridge. It was on the other side of the mountain and quite a trail. As it was not crowded it took about 20 minutes to walk there. We were very impressed with the construction of this ancient trail 500 metres above the valley floor. There were places where, if you slipped, you would meet you maker sooner than you expected.

On our return to the city, we had to strategize our day as there was so much to see.   We started at the highest point of the ceremonial area, passing through the quarry and into the main area of temples. Royalty and the Priests lived in this area as it was higher and made with more precision than the worker and servant area. Many temples and sacred spaces are located in the ceremonial area; we enjoyed seeing the famous Temple of Three Windows and the Principal Temple, which was damaged by earthquakes. Pictures show the damage to the Principal Temple was there in 1912 when Hiram Bingham returned to Machupicchu to do an archaeological dig. He had discovered Machupicchu the year before.

The correct names for these particular temples have been lost, but have been named for their particular features… the Temple of the Three Windows has three windows… hence the name.

We then climbed more steps to the observatory which is the home of Intihuatana. This four sided stone is made of bedrock and though scholars don’t quite understand what function it served, this stone carving is considered by one tour book writer to be the world’s first truly abstract piece of art.

Off to find the Sacred Rock we went. On the way we saw half a dozen Llamas grazing in the Plaza Principal which is now a lovely green grassy plaza. The Sacred Rock is a very large rock in the shape of Yanantin Mountain, one of the many mountains in the area. Every day, until a couple of years ago, hundreds of people would spread their arms across the stone to feel its energy. We can’t do this anymore as it is protected and surrounded by ropes so no one can get too close. Since I couldn’t touch the rock, I put out both hands towards it, as close as I could reach. I could feel the energy emanating from the rock and it was very cool to feel the energy coming into my hands… yeah!

We walked around for quite a few hours and looked at so many wonderful buildings … the Royal Tomb and the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Condor, waterfalls… to name just a few.

We were looking for what is called the Mortars… it took a while, but we eventually found them. The Mortars, also known as the Astrological Mirrors, were really interesting.  These two sculpted stone slabs, embedded in the ground, are circular and concave in order to hold water. The modern day thought is that they were filled with water and used as earthquake detectors. Another speculation is that they were mirrors to view constellations.

There was so much to view and to think about that we were in Machupicchu from 6:15am until 2:00pm. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and were reluctant to leave. This visit is definitely a major highlight of our year.

This is the end of our fifth month on the road and we have enjoyed being in the moment. We are thoroughly looking forward to the next seven months.

Love and happiness to you all!


valle segrado de los incas

We are now firmly in the sacred valley of the Incas, in thin air some 3400m above sea level. Cusco is our base camp, and Don’s oldest son Christopher and his girlfriend Tiffany have joined us for our exploration of the valley and Machupicchu (it’s one word here, not two).

We started with purchasing a mandatory boleto turistico each, which gives us access to Inca sites near town and up the valley, and then stuffed ourselves into a little Renault taxi for the 8 km ride to Tambomachay, often referred to as the Inca Baths, and sometimes thought of as an ancient resort for the ruling class. It features an underground water source that has never ceased to flow into what used to be the bathing pools (must have been cold though!). We then walked along the road back towards town for the next attraction, Pucapucara. It is known as the Red Fortress but the current thinking is that it was less a fort and more likely a checkpoint and perhaps roadhouse for Inca leaders and commoners on their way up the valley. It does have a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, so no chance of a sneak attack here.

Several kilometres further we reached Qenqo, an outcrop of rock set in a low bit of land on the side of a hill. the Incas cut pathways and staircases into the rocks, and made use of underground areas for what some travel books suggest were either human or llama sacrifices, but our guide the following day said this was where the Inca mummified their dead from throughout the valley, prior to further ceremony and then burial. A large monolith at one end of the outcrop that faces an amphitheatre likely featured carved images at one time, but the Spanish conquistadors so hated and feared Inca culture they destroyed everything they could find. Sadly this was the case at all the sites we visited – often all that remains of a once powerful empire are the foundations. But even these are often strikingly impressive.

The last stop on our self-directed trek was the fortification at Sacsayhuaman, the largest of the four sites with its unique set of zigzag walls, wide ceremonial grounds, and numerous other structures. The walls, which run for 360m, feature stones that had to be brought here and sculpted to fit perfectly together, some as high as 8.5m and weighing as much at 130 tons. There is some speculation that this was primarily a temple to the sun, rather than a fort, based in part on the discovery in 1982 of the graves of priests buried on site.

Unfortunately, between Spanish destruction, general looting, and the fact builders were allowed to truck away the carved stone for construction right up until the 1930s, much remains unknown about this site. Nevertheless, from the top one gets a panoramic view of the entire city of Cusco.

To reach sites further up the valley we signed up for a day tour, first stop, Pisaq. This incredible site is set on a mountaintop with massive, terraced agricultural fields running halfway down one side, another fountain that taps into an underground stream, and across a narrow valley behind, a wall of holes in the rock that once housed hundreds of mummies, long since looted by the Spanish for the silver and gold items usually buried with the deceased. At the top of the mountain was the astronomer’s residence/workspace – a very important figure in the Inca hierarchy. The tour stopped in some small colonial towns for us to wander through markets, and later enjoy a buffet lunch, but the next Inca site was the almost as incredible ruins at Ollantaytambo. More terraced fields and mountaintop construction – and a view of buildings and huge carving in the mountainside across the valley.

The temple of the sun at the top features six huge carved stones arranged in a row like a wall; you can barely make out relief-carved pumas probably defaced by the Spanish. At the base of the whole site is the Temple of Water – the fountain here is fed from melting glaciers several kilometres away which our guide optimistically states “will never disappear”. We were told that it was here that the bodies processed at Qenqo were brought for final rites involving water, before being taken to Pisaq for hillside burial (about 65 km away). The city below was laid out by the Inca in the shape of a puma, and according to our guide, about 80 percent of the buildings and houses there now are built on Incan foundations.

Our last stop for the day was the colonial town of Chinchero for a visit to the old church, built on the foundation of a destroyed Inca palace, and featuring another panoramic view. The palace was home to one of the last Inca rulers to resist the Spanish invasion and they made sure no sign was left here of the Inca.

The visit to Chinchero included visiting a local home/workshop for a brief demonstration of traditional wool dyeing and weaving techniques, and of course a pitch from our tour guide to buy from their vast stock of sheep and alpaca wool clothes, blankets, and stuffed llamas! These past two days involved climbing more crooked and rocky steps than we thought we might see in a lifetime – hopefully we’re hardened up and ready for Machupicchu!

A shout out to Jeremy W. today – Happy Birthday!