A Travellerspoint blog

Machu Picchu

The Gold at the end of the Rainbow

sunny 28 °C

Four hundred blogs and counting.

In roughly 200,000 words, accompanied by 2,500 photos, we have taken you to 36 countries on 6 continents, and to celebrate our four hundredth blog entry we will show you one of the manmade wonders of the world – the great Inca city of Machu Picchu, perched eight thousand feet up in the Peruvian Andes.

Our journey begins in Cusco, but there is no road: only treacherous mountain paths trod long ago by Inca runners, or the snaking narrow gauge railway that follows the deep gorges carved by the tumbling Urubamba river as it plummets from the High Andes into Amazonia on its protracted passage to the Atlantic. We eschew the five day tortuous hike in favour of the train and arrive in the hotel-heavy riverside town of Aguas Calientes without a blister…
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The dimly lit pre-dawn streets of Aguas Calientes are abuzz with expectant sightseers at 5am as we hustle for the first bus to Machu Picchu. Five hundred people beat us to the bus stop and we shuffle forward anxiously, hoping to reach the ancient ruins before they are obscured by throngs of camera clutchers. Thick clouds swirl in the sheer sided valleys and the towering mountains are merely mirages as our bus ascends the rock strewn road that precariously clings to the cliffs’ edges. Vertiginous drops into bottomless valleys are made less terrifying by the knowledge that the driver has made this trip a thousand times before, and in thirty minutes we reach the sky, but find only shadows…
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Beneath us, we are told, is one of the greatest wonders of the world. There are temples, houses, streets and terraces built nearly six hundred years ago on a mountaintop by a lost civilization. We peer frantically into the fog – surely we will not be disappointed after such a long journey. And then the sun rises and pulls back the curtains on one of the most stunning sights in the world…
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This is Machu Picchu – a city built in the clouds for reasons that may forever remain a mystery. However, the purpose of the various temples seems clear. There is the Condor Temple, built to deify the Andean bird that in Inca mythology ruled the sky where the great sun god, Inti, lived…
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All of the temples of Machu Picchu were crafted from granite by highly skilled stonemasons using basic tools and these building blocks have stood more than five centuries without the aid of mortar and not a blade of grass can squeeze between them…
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Lesser buildings like these dwellings may well have been to house the builders and inhabitants…
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While these more roughly built terraces were for the production of food…
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But, since the re-discovery of this ‘lost’ city by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1912, no one has explained with certainty why the Incas built this city in such a precarious place. Maybe, like us, they just loved the spectacular views…
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Maybe, like us, they were moved to tears by the sight of their extraordinary city in the sky.
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Posted by Hawkson 07:09 Archived in Peru Comments (6)

The Inca Trail

rain 15 °C

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Whenever there is tourist-talk of the Incas the ruined city of Machu-Picchu is first in line. But the Inca Empire was spread far and wide in the 15th and 16th centuries and there are ruins and relics scattered throughout the Andean region from Colombia to Chile. This is one of the many Inca statues from the ruins of a great pyramid in Pukarani…
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Agriculture played a large role in bolstering the prowess of the Incas. By producing and storing great quantities of food they were able to live in large settlements without the need to constantly follow herds or scavenge for wild fruits and plants. The amazing circular terraces in Maras near Cusco take up an entire valley and create a significantly beneficial micro-climate for growing produce at high altitudes…(Can you spot the people?)
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Perhaps the most successful agricultural accomplishment of the Incas was to domesticate the humble potato and they appear in one form or another on almost every Peruvian plate. McDonald’s are appearing in the cities of Peru, but the damage may already be done…
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The Incas were rulers of most of the Andean region for 100 years and examples of their handiwork can be found from Colombia to Chile despite the conquistadors attempts to eradicate all traces of them. We spotted these ruins and terraces on a mountainside somewhere between Puno and Cusco…
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Cusco, (previously Qusqu in quechua), was the great capital city of the Incas and would have been a magnificent sight in the early 15th century. But the Spanish conquerors wanted to impose their religion and their will on the peoples of the Andes so they not only destroyed the city but they used the foundations of the Inca’s temples and other buildings as the basis for their religious edifices. This is the magnificent Archbishop’s Palace standing on an equally magnificent Inca plinth of tightly fitting granite blocks…
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Cusco today is a city bursting with tourists from all corners of the world and there are hundreds of shops, restaurants and touts all angling for a piece of the pie. It seems that almost every garment under the sun can be woven with alpaca, llama or vicuna fleece, but, we have been warned, all that weaves is not necessarily natural.
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The central market in Cusco is definitely not a place to buy a ‘genuine baby alpaca’ sweater or even a pair of vicuna socks, but the local cheeses looked genuine enough as did this selection of fish roe and seaweed…
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The Incas had no wheels so there was no need for roads. There was, however, a relay system of couriers called Chaskis who were stationed at 30 kilometre intervals throughout the Empire. Each runner would carry messages, or delicacies like fresh fish, for the Inca rulers from his station to the next over well used paths. He would then hand it over to the next runner before returning home – an early form of telephone tag.

Posted by Hawkson 17:27 Archived in Peru Comments (3)

A Rainy Day in Puno

overcast 21 °C

Many waterways in the world are being slowly strangled by weeds fed by pollution from agriculture run-off, industrial waste and over-population. Lake Titicaca is nearly 13000 feet above sea level, (higher than many peaks in the Canadian Rockies), and should be above all that – but it’s not. This worker had his job cut out trying to gather up this lot…
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In world rankings Lake Titicaca, on the Peru/Bolivia border, is big - in the top twenty when it comes to area - and it’s deep, but rampant development in lakeside cities on both sides of the border are turning it into a cesspit. This swampland should be pristine lake…
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Overall it is difficult to describe Puno as a pretty city and the fact that it rained heavily during much of our two-day visit didn’t make it more attractive. However, the sun did eventually come out and gave us some nice views of the cathedral…
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What Puno lacked in charm was more than compensated by some wonders we saw on the 10 hour bus trip to our next stop, Cusco – the centre of the Inca empire. (Although the road through the city of Juliaca wasn’t exactly a picture)…
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We will learn much more about the Incas in the next week as we visit their heartland in the mountains surrounding Cusco, but we had a good introduction to their agricultural methods in Raqchi where huge amounts of corn and grains were stored in these massive stone roundhouses…
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This massive Inca construction is all that remains of the great temple of Raqchi which was destroyed by the conquistadors in th 1570s…
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The Incas were not a separate race of people, they were a class of rulers and noblemen who took control of the western half of South America in 1438 by superior organisational skills. Their ‘empire’ was very shortlived, lasting just one hundred years, until they were wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors. However, during that time the Incas built many great cities and amassed a great wealth of precious metals – subsequently appropriated by the Iberian invaders. The high status of Incas over their country cousins was denoted by their greatly extended skulls.
From birth until 10 years of age the heads of Inca boys were encased in tightly bound wooden blocks that caused the growing skull to become highly extended. The belief was that people with bigger heads had larger brains – a belief not exactly borne out by their religious rites which included sacrificing their brightest youngsters to improve the harvest.
This is the mummified remains of a big-head…
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Big heads need big hats and in Raqchi we discovered that local women wear hats that have a distinctly Chinese appearance…
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The differing hats of these three women in Raqchi denote their affiliation to three diverse ethnic groups. However, one thing that is consistent in this part of Peru is the belief that having two ceramic bulls on your roof will bring your household good fortune…
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Good luck with that!

Posted by Hawkson 14:51 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Hitting the Heights in Peru

semi-overcast 17 °C

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As we watch the Andean condors soaring off into the clear blue sky above an erupting volcano we drive back along the Colca Canyon to the town of Chivay and pass the incredible vistas of ancient terraces that have tattooed these mountainsides for millennia…
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The Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona but its remote location in Southern Peru ensures that tourists arrive in dozens not thousands. The starting point for visitors is the small town of Chivay, an eight hour minibus ride from Arequipa across some of the highest passes in Peru. At times we were 15,000 feet above sea level. This is how part of the canyon looks from above...
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The weather was perfect for our trip and the mountainscapes and volcanoes were magnificent as were the herds of alpacas and llamas that live on the sparse vegetation in the alto plano, (the high plain)…
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Along with the domesticated alpacas and llamas we saw many herds of wild vicunas and their cousins the guanacos. However, we have to admit that at the end of the day we couldn’t always tell one from another – something these cuddly looking animals apparently do by smell…
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In bad weather the narrow twisting road is notoriously dangerous and the entire route is marked with hundreds of shrines commemorating the places where people have died, (often in bus sized groups of 10 or more). But, thanks to our excellent driver, we arrived in Chivay in time to visit the market where the women who work the high altitude, steeply inclined, terraces of the Colca Canyon sell their produce…
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Life is very hard in this remote mountainous region and the steep gradients mean that everything has to be done by hand or by animals. Donkeys are the favourite pack animals as they are apparently stronger than the traditional llamas…
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Potatoes are a staple in Peru, along with a particular kind of white corn called ‘choclo’. and many of the market women in their traditional dress had numerous varieties of spuds on offer…
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Many other local women make a few dollars, (Soles here in Peru), by posing for photos with their animals at the roaadside...
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Women’s hats are unique to each region of Peru and here in the alto plano and the Colca Canyon they wear an embroidered bonnet that matches the elaborate blouses and dresses introduced by the Spanish ladies in colonial times.

We loved our time visiting the colourful people and the magnificent condors of the Colca Canyon, but we must press on. Our next stop is the highest navigable waterway in the world – Lake Titicaca – where Peru meets Bolivia at more than 12,000 feet above sea level.
And for those of you who have expressed concern about altitude sickness – we came prepared but found that we weren’t affected at all, so we donated our medication to a young American girl who was suffering badly.

Posted by Hawkson 19:42 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

El Condor Pasa

The Condor passes by

sunny 22 °C

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As the rays of dawn eclipse the lip of the Colca Canyon in southern Peru it awakens the giant condors and, like prehistoric creatures, they rise from their craggy perches to soar in the warming air…
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Never needing to flap their enormous wings, these solar powered mammoths of the heavens soar higher and higher with the ascending sun until they meet us, eye to eye, on the rim of the canyon. The clock reverses as we become engrossed in a matchless aerobatic display that melds us and them into a dance with the firmament that has been witnessed by man for millennia…
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We stand in wonder, mesmerised by the aerial ballet that is being performed seemingly for our sole benefit. It is as if these mystical beings have awaited our arrival to swoop and soar time and again as the thermals lift them more than three kilometres from the canyon’s depths until they can survey all that lies beneath…
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Worshipped by the Incas as the embodiment of the gods, and demonised by the conquistadors for that same reason, these ancient beings were hunted to near extinction by the Christians who feared their demonic powers, And so it was with a sense of great gratitude, (and with a few tears of joy), that we were privileged to witness one of the most awe inspiring sights on earth – the dance of the Andean condors.
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Wherever we travel in South America we hear panpipes playing the haunting folk tune "El Condor Pasa", and this tune will forever remind us of the day we joined the condors in their celestial dance.

Posted by Hawkson 11:08 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

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