Do you have a bucket list? I’d be surprised if you didn’t. Everyone seems to have a bucket list these days, but if the term is one that is new to you, perhaps a short definition is in order. Merriam-Webster defines it as,”a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying”. During this journey I have accomplished several bucket list level items but I never actually formalized my list. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to return to the place of my birth, Japan, done! I always wanted to be a Dad, done! Explore Machu Picchu, done! Bucket list items are not goals but rather dreams to accomplish. That said it does help to have a formalized system similar to goal setting. Thanks to the internet and social media we now have a great system at www.bucketlist.org. I recently signed up and I want to encourage you to do the same!!!
Traveling to Machu Picchu has been on my list for years. I always knew that in some way, for some reason, it would be a pinnacle experience for me. Whether the wanderlust I share with my father , a past life experience, or simply the lure of a story I heard as a child, walking the grounds of Machu Picchu has always called to me and been a dream of mine.
We met Jared in Cusco, Peru with climbing up to Machu Picchu as a primary objective. We allowed a few days after meeting up with Jared to acclimate to the altitude. Cusco is at 11,200 feet! Laurie and I took medication, chewed Coca leaves, and drank Coca tea to prepare. On our forth day at altitude, I became quite ill with AMS (acute mountain sickness). Thankfully I recognized it in time and with proper treatment I recovered quickly. We decided to sign up for a week of Spanish language classes to allow more time to adapt. Class was great however mid-week I became ill from food poisoning! I remained undeterred but I was definitely weakened and frustrated at the continued postponement. It took almost a week to recover from the food poisoning. Finally we signed up for our trip to Machu Picchu. It would not be the four-day Inca Trail trek I originally envisioned as we signed up for an easier journey. My concession to the fact that the AMS and food poisoning had kicked my ass!
Our journey would be a two-day adventure. The first day would be a six-hour bus ride to Hidroelectrica followed by a 3-hour hike to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the base for all Machu Picchu activity. The second day would be our ascent to Machu Picchu followed by a late night train back to Cusco. It sounded sedate compared to the four day trek I had envisioned but it was still Machu Picchu.
Our two-day trek was anything but sedate! It was the weekend before Easter and all of Peru was abuzz with activity. Peru being a Catholic nation takes the the progression to Easter very seriously. The Sunday we started our trek was Señor de Los Temblores, or Lord of the Earthquakes, which I affectionately refer to as “Black Jesus Sunday”. The central focus of the celebration consists of carrying a large statue of a black Jesus on the cross through the streets of Cusco.
The procession starts sometime in the early afternoon and continues on well past dark, stopping in several of the churches around town. The honoring of the icon and the multi-hour procession are done each year in hopes of warding off earthquakes and protecting the city of Cusco.
As we left our hostel and walked downhill to the Plaza de Armas we noticed the narrow streets were blocked off. The plaza, unusually quiet provided a great opportunity for photos. Television camera crews were setting up as police began to man roadblocks. We could really sense that we were going to miss a really big event.
This is what we missed:
Unfortunately I could not reschedule! We waited an hour for our tour guide to finally get to us. Our guide had struggled to get to us and was late due to the road blocks. She lead our group uphill past our hostel where we started, out of the historic center, and then quite a distance further. As we climbed the hills we were like salmon swimming upstream. Hoards of people had come from out of nowhere and were now scurrying their way downhill to the plaza that we had just left. Many people were running down the slippery smooth stone sidewalks and streets. It had gone from quiet to crazy. It was like someone had suddenly flipped the “on” switch.
Our group had scattered and was nowhere to be seen. At the top of the hill we scanned each direction looking for our group. Waiting on a street corner I noticed an old Peruvian woman selling Palta (avocado) sandwiches from a small cart. She would spread the avocado, lick her fingers, add the sandwich to the stack, and then repeat the process. So much for sanitation!
Finally we found the bus and our group. We collapsed into our seats and then proceeded to wait there for another thirty minutes as the crowds had blocked the road!
The bus ride was not what I had imagined. City streets became windy mountain roads. Pavement gave way to dirt. Two lanes became one. Partly cloudy skies to torrential downpours. Driving on roads covered with rushing water and across the narrowest makeshift wooden bridges I have ever crossed!
Finally after our white-knuckle ride we arrived at Hidroelectrica! This would be the starting point for our 2 1/2 to 3 hour hike to Aguas Calientes.
The only way to get to Machu Picchu is by train, period. If you choose not to come by train then you must take a bus to Hidroelectrica and then you must walk for approximately fifteen kilometers along train tracks until you get to Aguas Calientes. This hike was way tougher than I expected. The entire walk was on loose gravel or on railroad ties. What should have been a short hike (we were told) became a four-hour trek. Walking on loose gravel for hours became quite wearisome and hard on the body. At some point I pulled a groin muscle and twisted a knee. In the middle of nowhere there was only one option, to press through. Halfway through the trek The skies let loose a steady, heavy, rain. Then, thanks to our late start caused by Black Jesus Day, darkness set in! Officially, Peru Rail does not allow people to walk on the tracks and there are several short tunnels which can be dangerous. Trains appear round blind corners with little warning – it is hard to hear them over the noise of the river. With this in mind, hiking in the dark and rain, bodies tired and in pain, we were crossing rapid rivers of water stepping from wet railroad tie to wet railroad tie. One misstep could have cause serious injury or sent us plummeting into the water below. Flashlights on, we walked through the train tunnels, prepared to flatten our bodies against tunnel walls should a train suddenly appear! We were so happy when the lights of Aguas Calientes finally appeared in the distance!!
Finally it was time to take the bus to Machu Picchu City. You could climb stair for 1 1/2 hours or take a thirty-minute bus ride. We chose the bus! These buses were specially built for this and were brought into Aguas Calientes by train.
This PBS video on Machu Picchu is so great!! Please watch it.
This is the Intihuatana Stone. The Intihuatana Stone’s name is translated into English as “The Hitching Post of the Sun”, because the Incas believed that the stone can hold the sun in its place along its annual path in the sky. The sun almost stands at the pillar at midday on March 19th and September 22nd, when the equinoxes occur. Then, no shadow is cast at all.
Specialists say that the Intihuatana was an astronomical clock or some sort of a calendar. Certainly, it was also used in religious rituals and it has deep religious significance: the Incas have been venerating Inti, the Sun God, one of their main Inca gods.
We were here on March 22,2016 – three days after the equinox. It was so cloudy at midday it would not have been possible to notice a shadow!
The Temple of the Sun, also known as the Torreon, may have served as a primitive solar observatory. It was dedicated to their greatest deity, the Sun. Enclosed by a semicircular wall, the only one in Machu Picchu, the room contains a stone altar and windows strategically placed to observe astronomical events. Two windows are aligned to the stone altar, which is located at the center of the room. According to how it catches the sun’s rays it signals the winter and summer solstices, the longest and shortest days of the year. The window facing southeast provides a view of the constellation Pleiades also known as Collca by the Incas. This constellation was responsible for the preservation of seed and was especially revered. The observation of Pleiades helped them calculate changes in season to make decisions about the times of planting and harvest. The Temple of the Sun is the best display of Inca masonry skills. Large granite walls were shaped to fit perfectly together to form rounded walls without the use of cement or mortar. This wall and the ingeniously carved steps formed some sort of altar where priests offered gifts to the Sun to keep him happy.
This is what the Sun Temple looks like after the clouds lift!
The Temple of the Condor in Machu Picchu is a breathtaking example of Inca stonemasonry. A natural rock formation began to take shape millions of years ago and the Inca skillfully shaped the rock into the outspread wings of a condor in flight. On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feathers, completing the figure of a three-dimensional bird. Historians speculate that the head of the condor was used as a sacrificial altar. Under the temple is a small cave that contained a mummy. A prison complex stands directly behind the temple, and is comprised of human-sized niches and an underground maze of dungeons. According to historical chronicles that documented similar Inca prison sites, an accused citizen would be shackled into the niches for up to 3 days to await the deliberation of his fate. He could be put to death for such sins as laziness, lust, or theft.
The Peruvian Hairless Dog is a breed of dog with its origins in Peruvian pre-Inca cultures. It is one of several breeds of hairless dog. This was was simply relaxing and showing off its bling in front of a local shop.
I end this blog post with so much gratitude for the ability to make this journey. I feel so very blessed. I hope to come here again, perhaps with my other sons. Next time though I am taking the train!!!