Nothing prepares you for Machu Picchu, not pictures, descriptions, or words. Going to Machu Picchu has been a dream of mine for many years. Although I'd read about the amazing accomplishments, the actual trip, with a fantastic guide whose name is Marco, brought this journey to life and gave it its due. Despite the many people who are always present in Machu Picchu, the magic begins with the bus ride, snaking its way over myriad switchbacks from the little town of Machu Picchu toward the top, where the ruins stand. When you climb the stairs and follow the path to the ruins, words become so inadequate. It sits, green and glistening, amid mountain peaks which surround it like a secret. First, you just stare, awestruck. Then, you are imbued with a sense of peace, almost as if you are the first person to ever witness it.
Marco explained many things to our group, as he took us over what he called the "highlights". He explained that Machu Picchu was really designed to be a scientific laboratory, where the best and the brightest of the vast Inca population came to study the heavens, and figure out the most productive ways to feed the thousands of people that inhabited it and worked to create it. He was also quick to point out the mysteries, which, undoubtedly, are part of the fascination. How could such an ancient culture have figured out so much scientific knowledge - knowledge that modern scientists, with their advanced technology have discovered, or are still discovering? Marco pointed out so many ways the ancient Incans understood the tilt of the earth, the study of the heavens' movements, the times of planting, grew herbs for healing, predicted the coming weather, and used the terraces which they built to produce micro-climates, and triple sets of crops in one season, as well as different crops for the various terraces. His understanding, based on much reading and studying, created a magic about the place, which when added to its beauty, peace, and seclusion, made it unforgettable.
Our trip took us in and around the ruins of Cusco, the Temple of the Sun, Sacsayhuaman, the Temple of the Air, Qengo, and the Temple of Water, Tambo Machay, where the source for the waterfalls remains a mystery to this day.
We also traversed almost the entire length of the Sacred Valley, and stayed overnight at Taypikala, where we caught the train to Machu Picchu. This picturesque little town has often been the subject of articles in National Geographic magazine. It was easy to see why this is - we had a few hours before the train ride to do some walking and exploring in this charming little town surrounded by Inca walls and buildings. A little stream ran through it, and streets of stone meandered up and down. The train ride itself was amazing. It's a journey of a few hours through some of the most amazing terrain. We traveled alongside a running river at the base of the mountains, traveling from mountainous desert scenery to cloud forest, complete with bromiliads and other tropical plants. This entire trip, which began in Lima, and went to Cusco, and on to Machu Picchu by train, then back to Cusco has been a revelation in many ways. Contrasting modern Peru with the Incan culture and history gave me a better understanding of the ways in which modern Peruvians have struggled over their heritage, have lost some of their beautiful knowledge of the natural ways their ancestors understood so well, and yet, at the same time, are working to preserve their culture in weavings and art work, and reviving the spiritual aspects of their amazing ancestry. One can sense the ways in which their Spanish blood has caused conflict and a need to try to recreate their previous culture.
I found myself feeling pained that the terraces wherever we traveled, which produced so much abundance in ancient times have virtually been abandoned. This is due to lack of resources to re-develop them. Although as a tourist, I enjoyed traveling there, it saddened me to see farming give way to airports and many people in the cities struggling with subsistence living. I kept asking why this was, but got only the answer that there was no money, the people for the most part are too poor to make any changes in the way they live and farm, and many farmers are giving in to big developers who want to boost tourism.
This is a magnificent country, with vistas that defy imagination. As an addendum to our basic Adventure Life trip, my traveling companion and I traveled by Inca Express to Lake Titicaca for an overnight stay in Puno, and a day long tour of the floating islands, as well as a visit to a natural island towering above the lake. The trip to Puno was long, with several stops for sightseeing, but as we climbed, the terrain became more and more majestic. It seemed as if we were nearing the very top of the world as we viewed the rolling hillsides and the pampas from the bus. Our destination was Puno, elevation about 14,000 feet, where we were met and taken to our hotel. Early the next morning we were taken to a launch for our tour. We traveled to one of the floating islands, and there we learned how the islands were made, and how the people who inhabited them lived. While the islands are myriad, with people living on all of them, only a few are turned over to tourism as a main source of survival. Even though it was these tourist islands we visited, it was still interesting to imagine living on them - like camping for your entire life! There has to be a strong connection with the outdoors, and a strength of character created from this way of life. Everything is made from the reeds growing in the lake that make their "land", homes, and boats. From the floating islands, we went across the vast blue lake to another island which exists literally in past time. The social organization is structured so that everyone knows the "status" of all who live on the island, by the design and color of their clothes and hats. It is an interesting example of how a group can cooperate peacefully for the benefit of all concerned. It was there we learned a little about the social structure of the island people, and it was there that I had the best fresh trout luncheon I have ever tasted, in a simple little restaurant, at the literal top of the world, overlooking one of the bluest lakes I have ever seen.
My overall impressions of Peru contain a kaleidoscope of images echoing for me in the traditional reed pipe Peruvian music, sometimes happy and lilting, then with a haunting pathos, or again, a sound so mystical it evokes a meditative sense. These beautiful sounds seem to blend in my mind like the beautiful colors and designs found in the weavings. And, as part of the music sings its song, I hear it as well in the soft, melting eyes of the llamas, and the beautiful Andean faces of young and old, and in the gentleness and calm of the Andean people. It echoes as well from the tireless workers in countryside and city, and in the bustle and rush of the cities' traffic. It is singing there, as well, in the fabulous cuisine, and in the Andes' ageless peace and seeming timelessness that is Peru.