Lima doesn’t have many historic sites compared to other big cities, but we did manage to find an unexpected one. Huaca Pucllana, what looks like a unadorned pile of clay bricks in the middle of a busy commercial and residential neighborhood.
The site itself only opened in 1981, but the people who lived there dated back to 700 A.D. Multiple empires swept across the area until the Spanish ultimately arrived. They built ceremonial centers with bricks, structures like this flat-topped pyramid. Which begs the question of how the site wasn’t discovered until the 1980s… but at least it’s protected and celebrated now.
At the very beginning of the Inca Trail, our guides said that for the next few days, we were family. Yaneth was our knowledgeable, humorous mom, and Jaime was our dependable, helpful papa. We were the baby chicks with no clue what we had gotten ourselves into. And the chaskis were our humble providers, pillars of strength and inspiration if we needed any during the trek.
Even though it was only 4 days, at the end I was surprised at how close we had all become. And, especially based on the glimpses I got of some other groups, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to go with. Saying farewell wasn’t easy, but even if we don’t meet again, “tupananchis kamam”: see you in the next life. A great big thank you to everyone for being part of such amazing memories – and for making them special.
The mountain in the classic Machu Picchu shot is Waynapicchu. At the top of it is the Temple of the Moon, where the high priest made offerings when the temperature dropped and products died during the full moon.
A separate ticket is needed to climb Waynapicchu, so I returned to Machu Picchu for a second day to do just that. This way, I also had a second chance to see Machu Picchu in case the weather on the first day wasn’t optimal. Thankfully the first day was gorgeous, because the second day started off overcast and rainy and then stayed that way.
The path up to Waynapicchu is reassuringly referred to as the “stairs of death.” It didn’t take me long to figure out why. Epecially at the temple at the top, the stairs were so narrow that even my size 5 feet hung off the edges, and so steep that I had to crawl up on all fours. The pouring rain made the nickname all the more convincing.
I couldn’t see a thing when I reached the top, but within 10 minutes, the clouds shifted. There it was, Machu Picchu, with its own misty kind of beauty.
If you get a chance to climb Waynapicchu, I highly recommend it. But definitely take care!
There are llamas wandering around all over Machu Picchu, but this one picked the most photogenic spot and plopped itself right in the middle of it. It even looked like it was posing for a photo shoot. Was it specially trained, or….was it an animatronic llama?
When I heard that men worked at Machu Picchu during the dry season and left their wives and kids behind for 5 months at a time, I couldn’t help but ask our guide about prostitution.
Her answer was that prostitution did not exist. The common people had only one wife, and the men kept themselves faithful with a special fingerling potato. They boiled it and drank it, and it put to sleep the “feeling to be with another person.” So all they did was work and work.
I admit that my dirty mind thought she was going to go in a different direction with the potato, though I won’t elaborate what exactly I thought. Either way, I’m not convinced that potatoes would do the job. If the Incas really didn’t have prostitution, they would be the first society in history to have ever achieved it!
Intihuatana is a special ritual stone in the middle of Machu Picchu. It’s located at the top of a hilltop, on the side of a narrow path that has signs urging visitors to keep moving, stopping not allowed. Though its exact function is lost to history, it was possibly used as a sundial.
It’s not possible to see in this picture, but one of the corners of the rock protruding at the top is chipped. In 2000, during the filming of a Cusqueña beer commercial, the arm of a crane fell and irreparably damaged this irreplaceable artifact.
Machu Picchu was built from a granite quarry right in the center of it. One technique to split the giant rocks was to make a hole in the rock, put wood in it, make a fire, and then drop cold water on it. Another was to put wood in the hole and wet it so that it expanded. Once they had the stones cut to size, they used llama skin and sand to polish them.
All of the walls, including the terraces, were all built with a 13 degree inclination for earthquake protection. Earthquakes passed through this area every 25 years, and with the buildings still in good condition after 500 years, this construction technique has withstood the test of time.
Another interesting feature of Incan construction are the small closed windows. Without much other furniture, the Incas used these as shelves.
The Templo del Sol is a polished tower with two strategically-placed windows. One points at the sun gate while the other points towards the opposing mountains.
On December 22nd, the winter solstice, the sun passes through the window facing the sun gate and signals the beginning of the rainy season. On June 21st, the summer solstice and the Incan new year, the sun passes through the other window. These two dates were very significant for the Incas, and they were celebrated with ceremonies involving mummies of kings and other important people, brought to the citadel via the Inca Trail.
For centuries Machu Picchu lay untouched until Hiram Bingham, an archeologist from the US, showed it to the world. In 1911, he came to Peru to find Bilkabamba, the last refuge of the Incas. He found it totally destroyed, but on his way back to Cuzco, he passed by this area and sought refuge for the night.
The locals served him food on plates covered with gold, silver, and bronze, and he asked where the plates had come from. They replied that they had found them up on the mountain, and Bingham eagerly asked to see where. The locals were all busy working the land, though, and in the end he paid an 11-year-old boy 1 sol to take him.
The rest is history. Now Machu Picchu is so popular that the government has to limit entry to 2,500 visitors a day. But back in the 1970s, when my stepdad took his post-graduation trip around South America, tourists were few and far in between. During his entire trek to Machu Picchu, he recounts, he only saw around 5 other gringos. That was the time to visit, but it’s still spectacular now.