Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Machu Picchu

We caught the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, a town below the mountain ridge which the Inca selected as the site of the spectacular Machu Picchu.  We met our guide at the station and quickly boarded a bus to travel the dirt road, primarily a series of switchbacks, to the fabled lost city.  Machu Picchu was never plundered by the Spanish.  Instead, the Inca abandoned the citadel rather than see it fall to European hands, and nature reclaimed the intricate stonework.  Hiram Bingham, a Yale explorer known to everyone in Peru, is credited with 'rediscovering' Machu Picchu in 1911.  In fact, there is evidence of a prior visit by an Italian explorer and, at the time Bingham first visited the site, native people in fact lived there and farmed the stone terraces.

Aguas Calientes

Agricultural Terraces


When visiting an iconic attraction, I often wonder if it will live up to its billing.  After all, everyone has seen countless photos of Machu Picchu--would an in-person visit be a disappointment?  The answer: a resounding 'no'.  The ruins themselves are awe-inspiring and the setting, a lush, vertiginous mountaintop flanked by sheer drops to the valley far below, must be seen to be fully appreciated.   The only man-made structure I have personally visited that comes close to rivaling Machu Picchu is the Angkor Wat temple complex (see post of March 2, 2013), but I give the edge to Machu Picchu simply because of its glorious mountaintop setting.  I arose early one morning, to capture the mist slowly dissipating and gradually revealing the lost city.  The vision was jaw-dropping. 

I'll let additional photographs tell the rest of the story, as the photos are worth far more than any sentences that I can craft. 

The Temple of the Sun--the window is aligned to the position where the sun rises on the summer and winter soltices

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