MACHU PICCHU [Excerpt from journal]|
BY RUTH MARIE and JIMMY A. LYONS
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Finally we are on the last leg of our journey to the fabled Machu
Picchu! Ruth Marie can hardly contain herself. Jim says she's like a
kid getting ready to go to Disney World. The twenty minute bus ride
up all those switchbacks is quite exciting in itself. There is
something new to see around each turn (or, perhaps, we should say
each wild swing through 180 degrees) while we then head pell-mell in
another cloud of dust.
We heard from various guides that there is talk of putting a cable
car from the small town up to Machu Picchu but we hope it never
happens. The bus ride allows the anticipation to build tremendously
and the cable car seems to be, in my opinion, just too modern and
too fast. Treasures such as this need to be visited slowly so that
the body and mind can acclimate to their surroundings. The majority
of people who visit Machu Picchu will do it only once in their
lifetime. Taking time to observe and learn leaves a lasting
As the buses near the top, it's possible to catch glimpses of the
lower terraces and a few fleeting images of stone walls. However,
there is no real lessening of anticipation. For that reason, once we
stepped inside the control point for the site, and the actual extent
of the site becomes evident, it becomes overwhelming. All the
pictures in the world cannot do justice to this magnificent place and
our words will not do justice to it either.
Machu Picchu actually means old peak, so Machu Picchu is named for
the old peak that is located to the southwest corner of the ruins.
Really, Machu Picchu was named after the small town of Machu Picchu
that used to be located at the base of Machu Picchu peak, which of
course was named after the old peak itself... but you get the idea.
In the Andes, when you find an old mountain, usually there is a
Huayna (pronounced why-na) or young peak nearby. So, you won't be
surprised to learn there is a Huayna Picchu located at the northeast
corner of the ruins.
The ruins sit atop a high saddle, between Machu and Huayna peaks,
which forms a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba
River. Since the Urubamba was (is?) sacred, it is easy to understand
why a spot of land almost enclosed by the river would also be
considered sacred. The location is, to put it simply, spectacular.
The valley walls are precipitous, the peaks verdant and soaring, the
sky (whether brilliantly clear or brooding with weeping mists and
clouds) overwhelming. Jim, who has traveled much of the earth, was
stunned by the sheer breathtaking beauty of the location. It is hard
to imagine that anyone would not be struck by Machu Picchu's
undeniable aura. We glanced at each other and nodded. Walking into
Machu Picchu gives the same sense of holy presence as walking into
Saint Peter's in Rome. You don't need to be Catholic, you don't need
to be religious, you don't need to be spiritual to feel the power
from those stones and plants that now mark the ruins and their
setting... you only need to be alive.
The archeological site is divided into two parts, the agricultural
and the urban. The urban area is further divided into the Hunan or
upper, and the Urin or lower sectors. Whether you enter by the
tourist gate from the buses or from the Gate of the Sun on the Inca
trail, you are in the agricultural part, so called because it
consists mostly of terraces used to grow crops.
The only buildings in this section are several "caretaker's" houses
and the "resting place," which were probably originally a guard
house or watch tower. Since the agricultural area is mostly
terraces, there is little to block the view and one has a
spectacular vista overlooking the ruins and on to the unbelievable
Andean peaks serving as a backdrop.
We spent approximately two hours before lunch and two hours after
with our guide. The main points of interest are the:
The Temple of the Sun with its closely fitted and rounded walls
which was used as an astronomical observatory.
One of the most interesting aspects of Machu Picchu is
contemplating its purpose for the Inca, how it was constructed,
and why. The worked stones that compose the buildings and
terrace walls were for the most part obtained at the site itself,
although some of them probably had to be transported up from the
valley or from more considerable distances.
Temple of Three Windows with its marvelous vistas and finely
Intihuatana (hitching post of the Sun) which was used in
determining solstices and equinoxes and establishing the
calendar. The fact that the Intihuatana was not damaged is
considered proof that the Spanish Conquistadores never discovered
Machu Picchu. Every Intihuatana discovered by the Spanish was
The Sacred Rock, which is a huge slab of granite lifted
upright by the Inca and shaped to mimic the outline of the Andes
mountains seen behind.
Qolqas (granaries), where surplus grain was stored. In the case
of Machu Picchu which probably could only produce a fraction of
the food necessary to support its inhabitants, the Qolqas were
probably used to store most of their imported supplies.
House of Three Fronts, which more importantly, had three levels,
and Condor's Temple where a sculpted granite rock on the floor is
shaped to represent the head of a sacred condor, and naturally
occurring rocks are shaped like its wings.
The Mortars, which are circular stones or mortars that probably
were used in the grinding of medicines. There were different
sizes and shapes of mortars used to grind grain, inks, etc.
Also, some circular stones in the floors of buildings were used
to make astronomical observations. Each of these are worthy of a
long discussion, but we'll spare you.
However, for the people to actually be able to grow crops in those
artificially created terraces, all the soil had to be carried in
baskets all the way from the shores of the Urubamba river, or even
from other valleys. Fortunately, there does seem to be sufficient
naturally occurring water (either rainfall or water imported)
through the Inca's astounding waterworks and "fountains."
After our guided tour, we were given the option of remaining in the
area on our own, or returning to our hotel. Of course, we stayed.
All the day trippers had left several hours earlier to catch the
train back to Cusco and now by 4 p.m. most of the other visitors had
left as well.
Taking both the video camera and my small camera, Jim practically
sprinted up the pathway to the guard house where the classic photo
of Machu Picchu is always taken. Except for a group of six new
age/spiritualist travelers working with a shaman on the opposite
side of Plaza III we were the only ones there.
Ruth Marie sat to commune with the last rays of the sun as it
settled behind Huayna Picchu, and to listen to the faint strains of
flute music coming from the new age group.
It is impossible to describe the peacefulness of this place. One feels suspended in
time and space and wishes the moment would never end.
- Ruth Marie and Jimmy A. Lyons