"Machu Picchu"
by Ruth Marie and Jimmy A. Lyons

(Copyright (c) August 1998 by Ruth Marie and Jimmy A. Lyons

The Lyons at Machu Picchu

MACHU PICCHU    [Excerpt from journal]

( New: Don't miss The Lyons go to Costa Rica )

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 impression.

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.

Temple of Three Windows with its marvelous vistas and finely finished stonework

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 broken.

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.

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.

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

Andrys here:
    Thanks to Ruth and Jim for allowing me to include the description of their experience. If you'd like to contact them, they can be reached by clicking here or by writing rlyons@boulder.nist.gov .

    You can find their journal for the entire trip, on Mary Dodge's excellent site, and you shouldn't miss Mary's own very informative Peru trip notes at their Peru site.

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