Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peru III - Among the Gods


The adventure begins.... Trekkers and train passengers disembark at Ollantaytambo
Getting to Machu Picchu wasn't easy, even for a non - trekker.  I knew my limitations and  was still weak every time I had to walk uphill. Just walking to San Blas about ten metres above central Cusco already had me looking for somewhere to sit down. Because I felt queasy most mornings, I had started taking sirroche capsules along with my mate, though some say this is not wise since they may mask the symptoms of altitude sickness. The cost of trekking was daunting too - around $500 plus your guide and tips etc. Not that it was much cheaper the way I did it, but it was a lot more relaxing. First you took a minibus, then the train, then after an overnight stay in the valley at Aguas Calientes, you took another bus the following morning.

As the mini bus trundled up and out of town,  I couldn't help thinking that nothing exemplifies the contrast between the old and the new as the sight of an elderly woman in traditional dress picking bits of wood and straw out of the rubble among the pise houses, while young men in jeans hurried by, talking into their mobiles.



The train was an unexpected treat
The train was quite luxurious. It had windows in the roof so you could see the mountains.Some of the mountains were snow capped or covered by glaciers and occasionally there would be a waterfall. Pan pipes played over the speakers and afternoon tea was served. Thanks Peru Rail!

 

The village of Aguas Calientes was a delightful place too, despite being full of tourists. It  was almost tropical with banana palms and extravagantly flowering trees. An assortment of colourful buildings clawed their way up the steep sides of the valley and its narrow cobbled streets allowed for foot traffic only. Aguas Calientes means "warm waters" so I set about looking for the hot springs which the name usually implies. There were indeed some at the head of the valley and after renting some rather unflattering swimwear I was able to join in. Afterwards I ate in one of the many cafes - alpaca steak if you don't mind - tough and lean, just like kangaroo steak, and a very delicious avocado entree which came with a free glass of wine. I passed on the guinea pig -like creatures. Someone told me they are served with their heads and paws on and their little faces look too cute. I slept in a small and friendly hostel and prepared for my four a.m. start.

Arriving in Aguas Calientes
Hot Springs
The Hostel
Two hours before dawn, after much queueing, shoving and showing of passports, we finally wound our way  up by bus to the top of the mountain. The tropical vegetation gradually gave way to more temperate rain forest - thousands of species and twenty -eight different eco -systems I'm told, though you couldn't see much of them at this hour. Then we located our guide, an English speaker thank goodness, and of course you had to have one, and proceeded to wait for the sunrise. It was good having a guide though, because he not only s explained what was at the site and Inca social structure and so on, but also answered many of my questions.

Waiting for a sunrise which never really happened
The view for most of the morning
Was it something I said?
I get it.  You want a selfie too
For a long time, mists swirled, but the mountain stubbornly refused to show its face. Then, after a brief encounter with the resident alpacas* and getting a bit annoyed with all the people getting in the way while taking selfies or worse still, asking me to take photos of them, the mountain finally revealed itself.

Not a postcard - the Real Deal. Have left the guide's sleeve in to prove it
Machu Picchu was the most sacred place of the highest Incas who were especially knowledgeable about astronomy. Their predictions were of great importance to agriculture. They had good reason to want to get it right. Failure to do so, or a bad season, meant that one of them would have to offer himself as a sacrifice. Don't worry though,  the Incas did it voluntarily as it was an honour. Several sites are to do with astronomy, but in the above  photo you can also see the ruins of dwellings, grain stores, ball courts, artisan's  workshops and agricultural terraces as well as some of the temples. An astronomy observatory was also located on the hill opposite. You could climb that too if you had the energy, but after several hours of climbing terrace after terrace I thought I should quit while I was ahead. As the guide said when we were looking at the irrigation and water control systems, "The Incas thought of everything, -except lifts!."

* At least I didn't steal them or go naked  
http://www.fertur-travel.com/blog/2014/crackdown-on-streakers-and-nude-posers-at-machu-picchu/8478/
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/aug/22/tourists-behaving-badly-top-5-bad-traveller-tales?CMP=fb_gu

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