May 10, 2012 by Amie M
After walking, climbing, walking, and waking up early to walk again, we made it to Machu Picchu: the Royal Retreat of the Incan Empire, destroyed by its own people in an effort to leave nothing behind for Pizarro and his pillaging Spaniards in their search for gold. Miraculously, Pizarro never found it. He never saw the beauty of this place. For generations Quechan families have lived in the shadows of the ruins, and some even in the ruins themselves. But it wasn’t until a prideful Hirram Bingham took photos of the place and claimed he discovered it, did the world even know it existed.
We arrived at the ruins in the morning, as the sun was rising and the stones started to glow. We took some great photos, and went down to the park gate. Even though the Trail Pilgrims can access the Park from where we were, regulations still demanded us to leave the Park, then reenter so we can be accounted for.
We went down to where the buses drop the day visitors off, had a snack, then made our way into line. Carlos was all official with a guide badge and identification to get into the Park. Our passports were scanned and our tickets for Park entrance were checked. In we went!
The tour Carlos gave us was a winding one. We started off near the Sun Temple, and he explained the terraces. It is believed that the terraces around Machu Picchu were not used for food or conventional agriculture, they were laboratories where Incan horticulturalist would breed and adapt lower altitude species to the high altitude and climate of the Andes. Some terraces were also used for herbs, spices and medicinals.
The Sun Temple was one of the most prominent features. Cut from a large stone, the tomb underneath the Temple was thought to hold one of the Emperors. The Temple itself has three windows. The windows are aligned as such to catch the sun on important days in the celestial calendar: winter and summer solstices and the equinoxes. When Henry Bingham first happened upon the Temple, the entrance was a large wooden door locked and tied shut, from the inside. It was only due to the age of the wood that he was able to remove it and enter. The speculation over this is that the High Priest barricaded the Temple against Pizarro, in an effort to keep it sacred and safe.
The Incan builders were fantastic engineers. They built all of their structures without the use of mortar. Rocks were cut in the quarry on the mountain and brought to the walls to be put in place. They were chiseled in a tongue and groove fashion so they would interlock and be sturdy.
The majority of the windows in the ruins faced east, to watch the sun rise and the dawning of a new day.
Little pockets of gardens, remnants of the Incan times showed their care for the natural world as they all hosted adapted versions of the orchids and flowers we encountered on our trek.
As we had such a beautiful day to explore the ruins, we also noticed other life flitting around.
The complex was a maze of old houses warehouses, storehouses, plazas, temples and what had to be various crafter and crofter workshops. But the uses of these buildings are all speculative and left to the wonder of the archaeologists that study them.
The only buildings that their purposes are known for certain are the temples.
The Temple of the Condor is one of such. With a twist of the imagination, you can see how a condor is flight marks this Temple for its importance. The narrow crevasse through which you walk into the sanctum marks the body of the birds. To either side of the entrance, blacken marks of striated minerals make up the wings in flight.
There are other holy places in the ruins. Such as the temple for the commons, where sacrifices and the working class would worship and hear news. The highest point also featured a sundial, where the length of shadows and direction the sun is shining at its peak marks the days of the year. It is here that the black llamas were sacrificed in a plea to bring the sun back on the winter solstice.
The mountain that you see in the majority of the photos of Machu Picchu is Huayna Picchu. There is another temple and terrace complex on it. And if you buy your ticket in advance, you can climb it! The only let 200 people a day do the climb, and before we got to Peru, we were debating if we wanted to. The way our legs were feeling like jelly as we walked around the Park, we were glad that you had to buy tickets in advance, because there was no way we would be making it up.
Machu Picchu held much more than these photos and notes. There is much more to say about this magical place, and why it holds so much allure to visitors and curious people. And I can offer that when I find the photos. I have photos of llamas, plants and people, and more stories about us and our conversations with Carlos and the other visitors to Machu Picchu.