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Day 6: Machu Picchu

Friday, May 12, 2001. Sunny 65°

Today we were up at 4:15AM in order to get to the ruins before sunrise. The hotel hadn't yet turned on the outside lights, so we stumbled our way to the registration desk. Normally the site doesn't officially open until 7:00 AM and the first bus doesn't leave Aguas Calientes until 6:30. Glenn's response was, “Let's rent our own bus” and he whipped out his wallet. Marco was able to hire a bus for an earlier arrival and arrange for our early entry. Linda said that traveling with Glenn is like traveling with Captain Jean Luc Piccard of the Starship Enterprise. He says, “Make it so” and it happens!

Once there, we congregated by the Temple of the Moon on the East side to see the sun rise over the mountains. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast and we didn't get the spectacular sunrise. Regardless, we all felt just how special this place. No one stirred or spoke for about two hours. It was magical as Marco played the flute and we transported ourselves back through the centuries. And just as the sun was fully up, the clouds rolled up from the valley below and it became inspriational. Machu Picchu is clearly a place where you not only take something away but also leave something behind.

Off to the South and high up on the Inca Trail, we could see flashes of light as hikers fruitlessly used the flash with their cameras to capture the panoramic sight. (We certainly hope they are better hikers than photographers.) The final campsite on the Inca trail is about one hour walk from Intipunku (Sun Gate) and most hikers try to overnight there so they can see a spectacular sunrise. But the sight must have been magnificent as they descended through the Sun Gate and down the last thousand yards to Machu Picchu.

We then went to the Machu Picchu Ruinas Hotel (the only hotel on the site) for breakfast. We had a wonderful brunch with American prices US$15.00. One of the sugar packets indicated it was run by the same company that owns the Orient Express Railroad. No wonder it was nice and expensive. Oh well. It was worth every penny.

Tour Group at Machu Picchu, PeruWe then went back to the ruins and Marco gave a short description of Inca life and the various levels of society - from the king (who was the Inca) to the lowest worker. Most of the workers would be considered slaves in any other culture. Part of the reason 150-180 conquistadors were able to conquer of civilization of 10 million because the society was based upon the conquest and servitude of surrounding cultures. In addition, the Inca were in the middle of civil war between the two sons of the king. The non-indigenous population decided that life under the Spanish had to be better than life under the Incas and therefore supported the Spanish.

We also stopped at one area that Marco's believed was erroneously called the prison area. He believes it was a sacred area because the figure on the floor has the shape of the head and neck of a condor and the surrounding rock represent the wings. He also pointed out a seemingly unimpressive piece of jagged rock jutting up from a level wall. He noted that it was nearly a perfect representation of the mountain range in the background.

At the Top of Huayna Picchu in PeruIn mid-morning, Chris, Charlie, and Percilla decided they wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, (or Young Peak) which towers 2,000 feet over the ruins and provides the backdrop for all the pictures of Machu Picchu. The guidebooks say it is only for those who are:

Not afraid of heights,
Willing to climb lots of steps,
Do not suffer from vertigo, and
In good physical shape.
The climb is supposed to take 90 minutes. Because it is also recommended you take a guide, both Marco and Wilner went. They returned about 2½ hours later, exhausted, but elated that they had done it. And the view was spectacular. Chris said you did it by taking one step at a time and by not looking down to see how far you'd fall or up to see how much further you have to climb. Percilla said the coming down was harder than going up. Yeah sure.

The rest of us stayed behind to further explore the ruins and watch them through our binoculars. Randy even spotted a Blue Capped Tanager, Rufus Collared Sparrow, and Black and White (Andean) Swallow and a rabbit with a long tail, aka an Andean Chinchilla. As we were leaving the park, we were joined by Juan Watanabe Avalos, who would be our bird guide that afternoon.

Tour Group at Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in BackgroundThat afternoon we returned to the town of Aguas Calientes for lunch and some bird watching. We had lunch at a little restaurant along side the tracks. The lomo saltado, a kind of stir-fried beef with onion, tomatoes, and fried potatoes was wonderful, as was the pizza. Lana bought several great t-shirts, but later found out that the extra large shirts she had purchased were only a large. Coca leaves where also encased in cellophane and attached to each t-shirt as a souvenir. Not sure US Customs would approve.

While some decided to take a nap, Randy, Lana, Joe, Charlie, and Percilla went with Juan and Marco to do some bird watching. (Glenn wimped out to catch a few zzz's.) We were amazed that after their rigorous hike up Huayna Picchu, Charlie and Percilla wanted to go hiking again. Considering it was his first time, Charlie was very good at spotting birds. Although Juan's experience was mostly in the jungle and not the high forest, he was very helpful. It just took a little longer to identify the bird. Regrettably, the time of day was wrong and we only saw a few birds, including a Redstart, Vermillion Flycatcher, Tropical PeWee, Speckled Chachalaca (a great find), Amazon Hummingbird, White Tipped Dove, White Banded Swallow, and House Sparrow. We probably could have seen just as many birds, drinking Pisco Sours down by the empty pool as we saw hiking all over the hills behind the hotel. Oh well.

We did, however, run across a poisonous snake called a Fer-De-Lance, the most common pit viper of Peru and Ecuador. Afterwards, we couldn't view our room with its open doors and windows in quite the same way. We also saw a Black Agouti about 24 inches tall and part of the squirrel family, but looks like a pig or a cat. In the middle of the hike we were joined by the head gardener for the hotel who ointed out many of the hotel's 200 different orchids.

That night we went to the hot springs for which the town is named. Marco said it was only a short hike, but that also meant lots of steps. The thermal baths are sulphur hot springs encased in concrete with sand bottoms. It was almost magical, floating in the pools with good friends while it was raining. Too bad the changing rooms were so unappealing. Later we walked to a great restaurant with an open hearth in the middle and once again had lomo saltado and pizza.

During dinner, Lana and Joe had a great conversation with Juan. We found out he had spent three years in the Peruvian Amazon jungle, first studying pygmy monkeys, then Macaw Parrots, and finally hummingbirds. He said the best way to see the birds of the Amazon was to first go to the cloud forests for a week and then descend into the jungle for another week. Both places have “nice” lodges. We've added it to our trip back to Peru.

That night Joe complained to Lana about the tops of his ears hurting. She couldn't see anything. Didn't dawn on them until later that he was the first to suffer from sunburn.

Footnotes:

South America's national drink of tequila, lemon, egg white, and sugar. Yum, yum.

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