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Machu Picchu

12 years ago I was on the Ecuadorian side of the border to Peru, deciding whether to return home or push on to the southern parts of Peru. Often, I find, we are in similar situations, having to decide to go or not to go somewhere, and then eventually falling back on the premise that “I can always come back”. Well that decision took me over a decade.

My job in Bolivia opened up the opportunity to visit Peru and the lost world that is Machu Picchu. Time, pictures nor dreams could have prepared me for the experience.

From our base in Cusco, we went to stay one night in Aguas Calientes. Although not a very interesting town, its location makes it worthwhile to say the least. Its only 8km from Machu Picchu itself, hidden between towering rock faces climbing straight up into the sky, high above the city. There are several possible treks you can do from Aguas Calientes, and the one we had time for was Mount Putucusi, which climbs the rock standing on its own in the Urubamba valley. From there you can actually see Machu Picchu. The climb up to the hanging robe ladder, was rather easy, yet beautiful, since you go through the temperate cloud forest. On our way we had about 30 green parrots flying through the valley, an awesome sight.

Urubamba
Urubamba Valley/River

Once at the ladder, we saw that nothing was as it should have been. A landslide had destroyed the ladder, as to make it nigh on impossible to climb. We gave it a shot but didn’t even come halfway up, way too dangerous without a robe. So we sat for a bit and played on the Charango we were carrying, (a very small Bolivian guitar like instrument) and took in the view.

It is worth noting one restaurant in town called Inkaterra, which is also a hotel. The food there was fantastic.

Waking up at 3:30am the following morning, we headed out to be among the first to get to Machu Picchu and Huyana Picchu. Only about the 400 first to the entrance, gets to climb Huyana Picchu, and that was our plan. At 5am we were on one of the busses going up the mountain.

We were among the ten or so first to enter the ruins, and by heading straight, instead of left (up to the famous viewpoint), we had the entire place for ourselves for some time. It was like you could almost feel the ghosts of the night, disappearing with the presence of gringos, disturbing the tranquility of the lost world. But right there, for a few moments, we were invited to a view back in time, so we just stood there mesmerized. Not least by thoughts of what might have pushed the Inkas to build a city in such a remote and impossible a place as this.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu at the break of dawn

Also I couldn’t stop thinking about Hiram Bingham, who were the “scientific discoverer” of the city. He came here in 1911, while looking for something else. And what he saw was a few overgrown and scattered ruins. In fact Bingham hardly noted the discovery in his diary, not even telling his fellow explorers once he got back to his camp. He only spent a few hours at the site, before returning down the mountain! It would be another year before he would be back, and slowly start to realize the vastness of his discovery. The 1913 issue of National Geographic was dedicated fully to the discovery. By then it was obvious that this was something special.

Machu Picchu
View from center of Machu Picchu, towards Putucusi

What makes this site special though, is its location, and its undisturbed nature. The Spaniards didn’t reach Machu Picchu, and so didn’t have the opportunity to destroy it, as they have destroyed almost everything else they have chanced upon. Fear of difference is a great catalyst for destruction.

After our little dance with the ghosts from the past, we went on to Huyana Picchu, which should prove to be quite a climb. Not very technical, but the drop offs here and there, made it a fantastic voyage. The views over the valley, that most of all looks like something out of Conan Doyle’s Lost World, are mind boggling, but the view once at the top, is absolutely breathtaking, literally. Coming from Denmark, sheer drop offs miles down, will never be second nature. It is from the top of Huyana Picchu that you can truly appreciate the magnitude of this Inka City. Ive been to other lost cities and ruins, but nothing is as well preserved as this, nor have I seen ruins as unreachable, was it not for the access we have today.

Machu Picchu
View from Huayna Picchu

Its ironic that the beauty and magnificence of such a place is also its biggest drawback. Tourists flock here like flies on sugar. But if you get up early you still have a chance to get close to the ambiance that must once have been an incredible everyday life here.

Absolutely stunning experience.

See more pictures here.
See Topas Travel for more info.

Thomas Sindberg

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