A Cloudy Sky Hung Over Machu Picchu When We Arrived
Bob and I managed to get aboard the first bus of the day up to Machu Picchu. The 20-minute bus ride up the switchbacks of the dirt road had us clinging to our seats whenever we rounded the sharp corners. The other option for getting to Machu Picchu is to hike up the mountain, but it is supposed to be a pretty long and very tough climb. We preferred to use that time to explore the ruins at the top.
Unlike the previous day, when we arrived here from the Inca Trail in pouring rain, we were blessed with intermittent blue skies and bright sunshine. Machu Picchu, which stands in the midst of a tropical mountain forest in the Andes mountains, was built for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-71). The role of this ancient city still remains a mystery. It was abandoned by the Inca rulers during the Spanish Conquest. The site was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in July, 1911. Machu Picchu, today, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found it a magnificent place to visit!
In the early morning hours, Bob and I took time for a quick mugshot as the clouds blew across the mountain tops of Machu Picchu.
This is the defensive main gate entrance to Machu Picchu.
After crossing the threshold into the ruins of Machu Picchu, we were mesmerized by the scale and beauty of the place. In this picture, you see part of the main square and also the round “Tower of the Sun” in the center of the picture. The walls and buildings were built from white granite.
The most important building at Machu Picchu is the “Tower of the Sun”. This structure was built on top of a large granite rock that projects from the mountain. The stonework is amazing! Somehow, the Inca stone masons figured out a means to cut and then fit together granite stones to form a building without using mortar….and it has remained solid and stable for centuries!
The “Tower of the Sun” is built around a natural rock feature which is inside the tower’s walls; the building has a trapezoidal window in it.
The trapezoidal window perhaps permitted observation of the mid-winter solstice.
Historians are unsure as to the use of each of the areas within the ruins, but this hillside, above the “Tower of the Sun”, was believed to be an Agricultural Zone.
The whole area of the settlement was built upon solid granite, with bedrock frequently utilized as the foundation for the buildings. The stonework gives evidence of exceptional masonry skills, and the monolithic size of boulders moved into place for certain purposes certainly shows the Inca to be very hard-working and creative.
To give visitors some semblance of the original Inca village, the roof has been restored on one of the buildings beside the “Tower of the Sun”.
Near the agricultural zone are more “storage” buildings which have had their roofs restored. The incredible amount of work that was done to create this high altitude sanctuary is mind-boggling.
We were told by our guide that tons and tons of boulders, then gravel, then sand and finally earth were carried up to this mountain top from the river at the bottom of the valley via the impossibly steep and narrow Inca Trail. The purpose of so much rock and soil was to build up and flatten out this plateau.
To prevent erosion at the sides of the plateau, terraces were constructed, each shored up with stone walls, which were also reinforced with soil.
The “Astronomical Observatory” sits high above the “Tower of the Sun”, and can be seen on the top left of this picture with people standing next to it.
In the “Temple of the Three Windows” is one of the few remaining stones which is sacred to the sun-god Inli. This stone is called either “The Hitching Post”, or the “Sukhanka Stone”, or the “Intihuatana”. This huge stone sundial was carved out of natural rock, and it is believed that it was used to indicate equinoxes and lunar movements.
Here you see the “Temple of the Condor”. Many anthropologists believe the shape and position of the two large rocks serve to create the shape of a Condor. Each represents one of the condor’s wings spread in flight. The Condor was a key figure in the Inca civilization. It represented fertility, and also, with the movement of its’ wings, the gathering of clouds to produce rain.
The Condor’s head and beak were carved into the ground below the wing formations. Condors remain the largest birds in the Andes, and like in the times of the Inca, they are still revered by many in South America.
Nestled amongst the rocks of “The Temple of the Condor” were numerous Chinchillas sleeping away the day. Chinchillas got their name from the Chincha Indians of Peru. Chinchilla means “Little Chinta”. When the Inca conquered the Chincha people, they forbade the Chincha people to wear clothing made from Chinchilla fur. The fur of the Chinchilla was declared the fur of Inca Royalty, and could only be worn by Inca of Royal birth.
We were able to get quite close to this Chinchilla near the Royal enclosure, but not close enough to touch his velvety fur.
Beyond seeing chinchillas, we also were in very close proximity to the numerous llamas that graze at Machu Picchu. According to scientists in France and Peru, llamas have played a key role in the agricultural world of places like Machu Picchu. Modern-day research shows that the Inca used llama dung as fertilizer, a key component that helped the Inca develop their massive, widespread agricultural base.
Today, the llamas’ purpose is to keep the grass clipped, and most certainly fertilized, in and around the ruins.
There are two mountains at Machu Picchu, the tallest one on the right is called Huayna Picchu, the smaller one on the left is called Huchuy Picchu. On our first day at Machu Picchu, we thought we would try to climb the tallest mountain, Huayna Picchu. Arriving at the control gates at the foot of that mountain at 1:30 p.m., we learned that hikers must commence the climb starting no later than 1 p.m. So, we decided to return and climb Huayna Picchu the following day.
Bob and I then headed over to climb the small mountain of Huchuy Picchu (8,133 feet/2,479 meters). As we would soon learn, even this supposed little mountain was a fairly big challenge, particularly with our legs still tired from the previous day’s hike on the Inca Trail. The climb was worth it, rewarding us with a wonderful view of Machu Picchu below from our mountain top perch.
One obstacle, as we climbed up Huchuy Picchu, was a massive boulder. The provision of a thick knotted rope enabled us to pull ourselves up and over the vertical obstruction, like these two young ladies behind us.
After a very short climb, Bob and I made it to the top of Huchuy Picchu, seen here with Machu Picchu in the background. Only later, when we returned to the base, would we meet a person who had just caught a highly poisonous snake on the same mountain – while we were up there! The lessons from our hike the day before, on the Inca Trail, had not even been considered as we pulled ourselves up through the rocks and plants of Huchuy Picchu. Lady luck had shone on us once again on the “Little Mountain”.
As we stood on the top of the little mountain, Huchuy Picchu, with the larger mountain of Huayna Picchu in the background, Bob and I firmed up our plans to return the next day and undertake the 90- minute climb to its’ peak.
Climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu would not be an easy undertaking. It is a world of ladders, tunnels, and sheer drops into nothingness, plus I have a fear of heights.
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