The culmination of the Lares Trek - Machu Picchu

The hotels in Aqua Calientes start serving breakfast at 4am - that's the sort of time you have to get up to either walk up or take the first bus up to Machu Picchu.  We opted for the bus rather than the 4 hours climb!  Got to the bus stop at 5.15am for the first bus up and found a queue of people there already.  The buses fill up and then set off - on average around every 15 minutes.  It's about half hour drive up a winding road and then into the queue for the entrance. 

                                    Winding bus route                                          Typical post card view of Machu Picchu

Joseph took us straight up past the terraces so we could get the typical 'postcard' view of Machu Picchu without people in it.  It's not a fantastic feat of building by comparison with Rome or Athens and not that old but it's the location which makes the whole thing amazing. The 'Sacred Plaza' is at a height of 2453m and it's built in the high jungle on top of a mountain ridge which is part of the Vilcabamba range.  It is thought that it was built around 1400 a.d. - maybe as a place of learning - almost a university town and would have been peopled by academics and important people.  There is evidence that there was some research into different agricultural methods and a huge variety of plants were grown.  The terraces are very impressive and would have been used to grow different varieties of potato and corn. 

                                    Terraces and residential area                         A variety of plants which may have been grown

There is also evidence that some sacrifices were held there so may have been built as a religious centre.  It's location, high up in the mountains, would also point to it being as great religious significance - being near to the Inca Gods.

                                    Looking down to Urubamba river                             Looking across at Waynapicchu

The Temple of the Sun and the Room of 3 windows were built of stone very which had a very fine finish - as these were temples to their Gods, the best stone was used. There is some evidence (unfinished walls, sacrificial stone not in the centre) that it was unfinished when it was abandoned.  It was probably abandoned by the Incas for Vilcabamba (thought to be the last Inca stronghold) after the spanish invasion of Peru but was never discovered by the Spanish (even though it is only about 50 miles from Cusco). 

                                    Inside the Temple of the Sun                             Walls were finished according to status

There are residential areas as well as temples and study areas.  The whole site is supplied by water from the mountains which is routed through channels cut out of the stone. 

                                    The house with 3 windows                                                     Water channel

The story of it's discovery is that, although it was seen by some explorers before 1911, it was Hiram Bingham, an American professor, who 'discovered' it.  He had been researching Simon Bolivar but became interested in the Incas and had thought he had found the last Incan stronghold when he got to Vilcabamba.  However, on a visit to the home of one of his local companions, he found several items of interest and asked how the man had come to have them.  The information given to him was that there were a couple of families living up on the mountain and farming some of the terraces (probably evading the authorities and tax).  One of the children of these farming families took Hiram on the first 'tour' of Machu Picchu.  At the time it was in a state of disrepair and totally overgrown by jungle.  Between 1912 and 1915 he organised other expeditions with specialists and the clearing of the area began.  The site has been partially reconstructed and is kept in a pristine condition.  The number of visitors to the site has recently been cut from 4000 to 2500 per day and there is talk of it being cut further.  Around the site, sensors are located to measure the movements caused by the shear number of people.  Llamas keep the grass down.

                                               Llamas keep the grass short                                    Joseph gives us another talk

Joseph guided us around the site for a couple of hours and then left us to our own devices.  We took a hike up to the Sun gate (where the Inca trails ends). It was quite a hike too so we spent a while resting and had a picnic lunch. 

                                              Matt nearly at the Sun Gate                                        Matt & Jean at the Sun Gate

Then down again and on to the Inca bridge - we were expecting a fantastic suspension bridge over a ravine but in fact when we eventually got there (that was quite a hike too!) it turned out to be a plank across a gap on the side of the mountain - a simple but effective way to cut off any approaching enemies!

                                             Another hike to the Inca Bridge                                      A bit of a drop opposite the Inca bridge

                                                                                                                        Inca bridge - note the steps on either side

By the time we got back from the Inca bridge we were pooped so caught the bus back down to Aquas Calientes for a nice quiet lunch with Joseph before catching the train back to Cusco. What a fantastic way to end our 7 week land holiday.

 

 

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