machu picchu peru

Mission Accomplished: Machu Picchu

We finally made it to Machu Picchu! We got up super early in Aguas Calientes so we could take one of the first buses up to the ruins. By the way, most people seem to really hate Aguas Calientes, and it’s only true purpose is a pit stop to Machu Picchu, but I didn’t think it was that bad. It’s an interesting town, with the railroad running straight through the middle of town, intersected by a river and surrounded by hostels, restaurants and gift shops. To me, it seems to symbolize a little mountain town.

Anyways, I digress. So, 5:30 am and we’re standing in the long, but quick-moving line of people waiting to be shuttled up the mountain. Our 30-minute bus ride was terrifying to say the least. Let’s just say the bus goes up along endless switchbacks and our bus driver was loco, speeding towards the edge of the road and whipping the big bus around bends at breakneck speed.

Mist creeping up the edge of a cliff of Machu Picchu
I’m pretty sure this is a famous stone platform at Machu Picchu

But we arrived alive at about 6 a.m. to Machu Picchu and it was beautiful. It was still a little quiet and had this calm air of mystery. Since the clouds were rolling through the ruins, at times you couldn’t see the surrounding mountains or even the entire city. It’s cool because Machu Picchu is this “jewel” almost hidden by the mountains around it, which are all higher. The ruins are actually located between two huge mountains, Mount Machu Picchu and Mount Huayna Picchu. I’ve been dreading writing this blog post, because it’s hard to describe this mountain of green grass and big boulders that still has such in-tact ruins which peek in and out of the early morning mist. In a way, it’s exactly how you would imagine Machu Picchu. Those first couple hours were my favorite time at the ruins.

Then, more tourists came. Machu Picchu only allows a few thousand visitors daily, but that’s way too many, if you ask me! It was annoying to have so many tourists packed into the space, some more respectful than others.

Regardless, Alex gave us the tour and it was interesting to imagine how life was back then. I still can’t get over the fact that the Inca seem like such an ancient culture but in reality were around from 1200 – 1500 AD, which in the grand scheme of things was not that long ago. Oddly, we still don’t really know a lot of things about Machu Picchu. Much of the tour even, is based on speculation and theories about the ruins and their purpose. It’s weird that none of these Andean civilizations had a written language. Especially at that point in time, in the 1500s, when most of the world did have a written language, what made these mountains so different that it never occurred to the people to create a formal written communication?

The temples at Machu Picchu were really interesting. I especially loved the Condor Temple, which seems to have wings just placed there by nature. It was interesting to learn about the three levels of Inca’s world: the condor reigning over the sky, the cat/panther/cougar on land, and the serpent overseeing the spiritual world below.

Perfectly carved steps into one big stone at the Royal Tomb

Other than that, the stonework was super cool. The Incas’ calling card is their ability to make flawless walls, with stones fit together so well that there was no mortar required. Just imagine the patience and dedication it took to perfectly shape and fit together the stones of those temples and royal homes. Does that kind of dedication even still exist today? If so, what motivates it in today’s world?

Some of the other “stonework” that stood out was the replicas of two mountains carved into a couple rocks at Machu Picchu, so that you could line up the outlines almost perfectly. Then, there was a solid large stone, barely carved but in a shape that perhaps represents a cuy (guinea pig)? Adrian didn’t buy that theory but I thought it was a fun one.

It’s kind of hard to tell because of the bright sunlight, but the carved stones in the front match the shape of the mountains in the background
Famous intihuatana stone at Machu Picchu – shaped after Huayna Picchu?
C’mon – that totally looks like a guinea pig!

The other thing I loved about Machu Picchu was the animals (big surprise). Sadly, I did not end up getting a photo with one of the llamas at the ruins. But I did snap a shot or two of them from afar. Then, we also saw a family of chinchillas hanging out on the rocks, almost camouflaged completely. They were super cute. The thing that surprised me was all the swallows up there. Their bright blue feathers and light, airy flight around these heavy, old ruins was beautiful.

A view of those famous Inca terraces at Machu Picchu

The misty, quiet morning at Machu Picchu turned into a hot, sunny afternoon. And while viewing the ruins on a clear sunny day is great, the atmosphere changes drastically also. All of a sudden, the place is brightly lit and teeming with tourists. I definitely loved those first hours at the ruins, and recommend you sacrifice a few hours of sleep to experience it! Next up, Huayna Picchu…


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