Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Machu Picchu

The foremost tourist attraction in Peru is Machu Picchu. There's no doubt about it. There's a romance, grandeur and mystery about a place called "The Lost City of the Incas" that draws tourists by the thousands to this half-completed ancient city.

There are 3 main ways to get to Machu Picchu.

1. The most popular and probably the most tiring - sign up for the Inca Trail trek about 2-3 months in advance, and you trek from the Urubamba River to directly Machu Picchu. This is a 4 day trek that also includes a climb to the Dead Woman's Pass at 4,215 metres above sea level. This is what our friends Rhys and Elaine did.

2. If you are a disorganised super-busy person like our other friends Ching Ching and Mark, then you probably would not be able to sign up for the Inca Trail, since only 500 people are allowed to start the trek every day. In that case, you would sign up for the Lares trek. There are a few variations, but essentially, you trek to a town called Ollantaytambo, then take a PeruRail train to Aguas Caliente (it is the nearest town to Machu Picchu) then take a bus up to Machu Picchu itself.

3. Option 3 is what the wife and I took. The easy way out. Just take a PeruRail train from Cusco to Aguas Caliente then take the bus up to Machu Picchu.

We were a little worried because the tour agent Rhys and Elaine booked with had told us of a nationwide strike in Peru on the day we booked our train tickets. But fortunately, all went well - we managed to get a cab to the train station, and the train was also operating. So, we were on our way!
Yi Lin gave my ticket to her doll

Whether you trek or train, there's amazing scenery to be appreciated

Along the Urubamba River

There is also another option to trek through the jungle. But I don't understand why anyone would want to do that!

We arrived at Aguas Caliente in time for lunch. But first things first - we purchased entrance tickets for Machu Picchu for 124 soles (about USD 40). You can purchase the tickets for only 62 soles if you had a student card with an expiry date on it! Damn... we should have prepared some ID when we were in Singapore! In Peru, who would know, right? :p *evil evil*

We also purchased a two-way shuttle bus transfer for 40.50 soles each, and we were set for Machu Picchu!

Now, in true Singaporean fashion, our plan was to take the earliest bus possible up to Machu Picchu (because the ruins will be more deserted), rush through the length of the ruins to the gateway to Wayna Picchu (by 7am!), where you can climb another mountain (yay!) to get a bird's eye view of the Machu Picchu ruins. Count backwards and you have us waking up at an unearthly hour of 4am and leaving the hostel by 4.30am to catch the first bus at 5am!

Fortunately, Aguas Caliente is so touristy that it is safe to walk around at night

We were not the first! We've disgraced our fellow Singaporeans with our too-low level of kiasu-ness! :(

First sight of Machu Picchu. But no time to waste...

...because we are climbing up THERE!

The climb to Wayna Picchu was tough, but definitely do-able. We overtook 3 persons, but were overtaken by almost 10 others. But all-in-all, we only took 50 mins to do a hour's climb, so that's a pretty good indication of how well we have acclimatised to climbing up slopes.

That being said, the first part of the climb was pretty easy, but as you got higher, the steps got narrower. Think of climbing the stairs up a 40-storey building. For the first half, climb normally. From the 21st floor onwards, climb with only half your foot on every step, and take 2 steps at a time. That burning-in-the-calves is what we experienced as we ascended Wayna Picchu!

Already so high, but still only about a quarter of the way up!

Start of the painfully narrow steps

Each step is only wide enough to accommodate half a foot!

Posed picture of a tired man

When we finally reached the peak of Wayna Picchu, we realised that we had actually missed a turn on the super-narrow steps, and could not stand at the highest point without climbing a sheer rock-face. Fortunately, Spider-Man (in a new costume!) was around to lend a hand.

... does whatever, a Spider-Man can...

Wayna Picchu - conquered!

Please don't try this at home. You should try it on mountaintops.

So, was the climb worth it? Definitely. From our new vantage point, we could behold the layout of Machu Picchu, which was supposed to be in the shape of a condor. Not that I could figure out which part was the head, which were the wings, etc. But yeah... we have already seen how other ancient cities are supposed to be shaped like llamas, pumas and whatnot, so okay, Machu Picchu is shaped like a condor. ;P

Resting our weary legs

Our view of Machu Picchu

Flip it the other way round and you get your condor!
Image taken from: http://www.infoperu.com/en/view.php?lang=en&p=85

"Okay, baby. I want to see the Inca Bridge next."

I groaned. To get to the Inca Bridge, we had to descend Wayna Picchu, walk across the length of Machu Picchu, climb the terraces on the other end, and walk along another "gentle up-slope"!

Heaving a sigh, we got going.

Halfway through, I asked,"Hey, this Inca Bridge. How do we know when we come to it? Is it a bridge as we know it, or a more figurative meaning to say this is the route the Incas took to reach another settlement?"

"It's a bridge. A real bridge. I think."

Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Climb. Climb. Trudge. Trudge. Walk. Walk. Climb. Walk. Walk. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge. Trudge...

And there we were, the most unimpressive looking bridge ever!

Voila! This is the Inca Bridge!

It was so unimpressive that we were a little uncertain that this was the correct bridge. Then another group came along the trail with a guide, and the guide said,"And here is the Inca Bridge!"


So not worth the walk! Or so we thought. It was only when we got back and got online that we realised that the value of the bridge was not in its looks, (you want to see pretty bridges, go to San Francisco or something!) but in its defense value.

If anyone were foolish enough to attack, it would be easy enough for snipers to pick off the attackers along the narrow trail. If the enemy still manages to step foot on the bridge, then the demolitions experts will blow it up, causing the enemies to fall some 500+ metres to the bottom of the cliff! Bwahahahahahaa!!!


So, if you did not have the power of the internet to tell you this, you would have been really bored by the bridge. We did not even bother to walk down to it! Just lay on the rock and looked.

Finished looking? Good, back we go!

Kua simi kua?

And so we went back to the main event. Machu Picchu was constructed in the mid-15th Century. It is widely believed that this massive city was still under construction when the Spaniards waged war on the Incas. Machu Picchu was then abandoned, since only the foreign workers were there at that time, and we know no one cares about foreign workers.

What we can learn from the Incas is how to keep secrets. For so smoothly and quietly was the evacuation done was that even after Spanish conquest, the Spaniards did not know that this monumental city existed. No need for any Official Secrets Act here!

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background

The amazing thing about how these cities were constructed is that no mortar is used. It is not a matter of sealing the stones with cement and letting it set. The Incas had developed a way where huge stone slabs were cut and placed together in such a way that everything dovetailed perfectly, thereby granting stability to the structures. Considering that Peru encounters more than its share of earthquakes (5 earthquakes in the past 30 years!), and these cities have been standing since the 1500s, this dovetailing method of construction worked really well for the Incas!

The wife brings color to the grey ruins

Locals in their indigenous ponchos

Non-locals in their jackets
Non-locals in their sock-clothes

At this point, I was really too exhausted to concentrate properly on identifying what we were walking through. Anyway, the real influx of tourists have arrived, and taking good photos became a chore.

Precious artifacts in cubby holes in the Temple of the Sun

We quickly browsed through the major parts of the complex, taking note of the Temple of the Sun and the Room of Three Windows (actually, there were only two windows). After that, it was a huge sigh of relief, as we completed our visit of the most important must-see place in Peru!

Back to Aguas Caliente, for I hunger!


Tracy Su said...

Cool! Like Tomb Raider...do people ever give you funny looks when you whip out your dollies?

Steph Koh said...

I must must make it Machu Picchu someday!!

Rhys said...

That's not the room of three windows! By the way, your pics look fantastic!

Dannie said...

Tracy: Yeah, they do. I just hold out my action figure and smile. They get the idea... :)

Steph: Less talk, more action! :p

Rhys: Ummm... I didn't post any pics of the Room of Three Windows. That last pic is the outside wall of the Temple of the Sun. That being said, the Room of Three Windows did only have 2 windows though. I've been trying to come up with some pun about Bill Gates took one Window and made it crap, but so far nothing makes sense. Make up your own pun! Hahaa!

Antisuyo Trek Peru said...

Nice article.
I am very appriciate this article.
machupicchu packages

Salkantay Trek said...

Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

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