Monday, September 1, 2008

23 August 2008

Machu Picchu ~

We began hiking to the ruins of Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes at 4:30 am. The goal was to be in position at the site before sun rise. The climb up was well-traveled (today alone had a constant stream of people on the hike) and considering easier than the prior day walk. We arrived to the ruins at about 6 AM, just as the park was about to open. The site is immensely popular, so the officials have to limit the number of people who can do some of the activities. For example, climbing Huayna Picchu, the most accessible mountain peak from the ruins, is limited to 400 people a day. We had started walking at 4:30 to get to the park early, only to be met by bus loads of people who took a ten minute charter bus ride up the mountain. When the park opened, people rushed in (like on Black Friday) trying to find the best spots and to rush to the sign-up location to see Huayna Picchu. Ironically, it was far too cloudy to see the sunrise, and those who rushed to get the first tickets to climb Huayna Picchu at 7 AM encountered too much fog to see anything. I was the 333 person signed up to climb the mountain, meaning that I could start climbing it between 10 and 11 am. Due to all the fog, you couldn’t see any of the other neighboring peaks, including Putu Cosi.

From about 7 to 9, I took a tour of the ruins. The ruins themselves were not very amazing relative to other pre-Columbian ruins I have visited. However, this site is so amazing because of its location on a mountain top and because it escaped the pillage of the Spanish empire. At this time in the morning, when the fog was too thick to see anything, the ruins were fascinating but definitely not worthy of being one of the 7 wonders of the world. Machu Picchu is a huge archeological site. What’s most surprising is that you are allowed to trample over the whole site with few restrictions. Over the past few years, this gem has been greatly over trampled and is beginning to be threatened. Apparently, the site is gradually sliding off the mountaintop, among other things. At its current level of use, the site won’t be around much longer. However, due to all of the money that the attraction brings to the area, it is hard to regulate its use. Even though I contributed to the problem, I’m happy to have seen the site sooner than later.

By 10:30 the crowds had multiplied so I made my way to the trail to climb Huayna Picchu. This too was a relatively steep trail, but was by far the easiest that I have trekked yet on the trip. Even though the trail was crowded with people, I made the hour long climb in about 20 minutes. By the time I reached the top, the clouds had lifted, and I had reached my 3rd Andean summit in less than 12 months. This was the easiest climb and took only about 2 hours if you count the morning hike I made from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (this trail began at Machu Picchu). This summit offered a different angle of Machu Picchu than from Putu Cosi yesterday. Additionally, from here, I could see the railroad that I walked along the day before. Yesterday, this was just one of the many mountains that flanked the trail; today it has some connection. I enjoyed the beauty of Machu Picchu from above, far more than I enjoyed the beauty from amongst the crowds at the actual site. Despite this, the summit was still over crowded for my likes.

I began descending but the crowds were so large, I abruptly opted to take an alternative route to the far sitde of the mountain to another set of Incan ruins. The walk to these ruins took about an hour of steep declines, and I surprisingly didn’t encounter another soul on the route. Apparently it was cool to see HP but just isn’t worth the effort to hike to the other ruins, the Gran Caverna. I’ll admit, while cool, the Gran Caverna was pretty pathetic when compared to its neighbor Machu Picchu. Nevertheless, it was awesome to be alone, away from the crowds.

I could have happily stayed awhile, relaxing in the caves, but I was incredibly dehydrated and was famished. Despite being on my feet for about 8 hours and having ascended and descended thousands of meters, I had hardly eaten or drank anything all day. I needed energy. The walk back to Machu Picchu offered some phenomenal alternative views of the site, but the 500 meter incline back required all of my energy, and I had trouble enjoying the climb. I arrived back to Machu Picchu in dire need of food. As I gradually carried myself across one of the 7 wonders of the world as if it were any other site, I encountered some friends who kindly gave me a much needed mandarin. This small piece of fruit gave me the sustenance to force myself partly up a small hill overlooking MP from a different angle. This was my 4th distinct overlook of the ruins. To me, seeing the ruins amidst the natural beauty was far superior to the ruins themselves. However, I needed to leave the site. I had been there multiple times longer than the typical tourist, and I needed food.

I met Adam at the park entrance—he had been reading for most of the day—and we began the descent from Machu Picchu. Nost most people bus down to town, I was determined to hike down despite my shape of little food, little sleep, and almost non-stop hiking for the past 24 hours. The descent was difficult for me due to intense aggravation in my recently broken right leg and in my historically troublesome left knee. Upon reaching the city, I was unfazed by the quick consumption of a pizza and 2.5 liters of liquids. Some friends noticed us from the street and joined us as we talked until it was time to catch our transportation back to Cuzco.

Despite being an aficionado of Latin American history and culture, I admit that I was turned off by the most famous single site of Latin America. Machu Picchu is an archeological site of enormous cultural and historical significance and indescribable natural beauty; however, to me it is being treated as an item on the to-do list of the world’s upper class. I regret only having two weeks to experience a small part of Peruvian culture. I regret only having 4 days to spend hiking through mountains near MP, witnessing the true life of the valley’s inhabitants. In fact, I only went to Machu Picchu because it was considered a “must see” and I didn’t want to have to explain to everyone why I went to Peru and didn’t see MP. Despite being overwhelmed by the site’s natural beauty, I was deeply disheartened by how it is being treated. I imagine that the typical visitor I encountered there (but no where else in South America) flew to Cuzco without spending time in any of the transfer cities, spent at most 1 night in Cuzco before taking a luxury train to Aguas Calientes, bussed from AC to MP, spending 2 hours taking photos before returning home, completing a trip to MP from anywhere in the world in less than 1 week. The visitor saw Machu Picchu, removing it from their to-do list without having experienced it.

It troubles me how much is done for the sake of being able to say you have done so and not for the sake to learn about yourself and the world we share. Today I participated in a trend, and I am confident that many people will inquire about my day because I participated in a trend, not because I experienced something amazing. I will develop a standard reply which will appease my audience. However, if you want to discuss what I got out of today—or any day for that matter—we’ll need more than a five minute conversation.

Photo Credits:
1. Movie of Machu Picchu in the morning when it was still too cloudy to see much
2. Adam cold in the morning shortly after arriving at the park
3. Llamas walking around the ruins before many tourist arrived
4. Fog hanging around the ruins, preventing any visual of the neighboring mountains
5. Lizard with ruins in background
6. Movie from Huayana Picchu which shows part of our walk from the day before
7. Me posing oddly at Huayana Picchu, giving another view of the ruins
8. View looking out of one of the caves at Gran Caverna
9. Me with the ruins and Huayana Picchu over my shoulder
10. Another unique angle of the ruins in the mountains
11. More of me at the summit of Huayana Picchu
12. A rare shot where I got no people
13. Movie while walking back from Gran Caverna
14. A condor in the rocks (the wings are the two big rocks in the background and the beak is the rock right in front)
15. Steffen going through a small crevice on the hike up Huayana Picchu

1 comment:

sylviadl said...

Sorry MP is being treated so poorly. I will cross it off my list having experienced it vicariously through you. sdl