May 06, 2006 GMT
Magical Machu Picchu

The absolute magic of Machu Picchu. As SonGlenn would say, "It takes all my knowing!" just to fumble for the words to describe how this 15th century pueblo/citadel/university/astronomical observatory touches me. Resting in the col of an Andes montaña, its steep terraced slopes drop dramatically to the Rio Urubamba far below.

I arrive at 6 in the morning at the parque ingresso of Machu Picchu after a pleasant 4 kilometre bus ride climbing steadily from Aquas Calientes. The night before, as we rode the narrow gauge train to Aquas Calientes, I had talked several fellow travellers into meeting at the town plaza at 5 am and walking up the road in order to arrive before sunrise. As I passed my gang hiking about 3/4 of the way up the next morning, I nearly spilled my coffee trying to hide from view. Ah, the last minute whims of an old biker but really, my guide had convinced me late last moment to take the bus and so I did. Sorry gang. The cool thing is we still all get to see the yellow light of sunrise spill onto the ancient ruins.


My lovely wife Joyce gives some credibility to the theory that Machu Picchu is one of the few places on earth that have a vortex connection to the universe. I don´t know about that but I stay here all day, wandering about, sitting on high terraces overlooking the site, within the pueblo itself and on the high peak of Waynapicchu nearby. It is such a compelling, peaceful and beautiful site. I have a hard time leaving when the parque closes at the end of the dia.


I take an organized tour with a very knowledgeable Quechua guide. It would be hard to read in a book what this man knows. In addition to the scientific, religious, agricultural and astronomical perspectives, he adds his connection to the mountains, to his peoples who once inhabited Machu Picchu and shares his own spirituality of this special place. Among many other details, he explains the use of the coca leaf to the Quechua and we all get to jam in a bunch of leaves in our mouths for a chaw. Placed between the cheek and gum, you swallow the juice produced, not the leaves, don´t you know. I take my ration and for the next hours savor its tea-leaf like taste in my mouth. I´m not sure if it helps when I climb the hour to the peak of Waynapicchu, but it sure doesn´t hurt. Must of been the Quechan substitute for oxygen in this high altitude town (although surprisingly, Cusco is higher than Machu Picchu - but then they´re chewing and drinking coca leaves there tambien). Waynapicchu is the peak you always see framing the backdrop in the classic Machu Picchu photos. Check out my first picture again.


As well as water pools to better observe the stars at night, los Incas were clever little devils in figuring out compass directions. Look at the image below. One might think at first glance the rock is the draft stage of becoming a kite without the laws of aerodynamics being fully thought through. But wait, my friends, it is really the shape of the Cruz del Sur. The Southern Cross is the equivalent in reliability for navigation as our North Star. Look closely at the rock face. Each of its four corners point to a cardinal direction, north, south, east and west. The guide places a compass on the top point to demonstrate. As well, when the sun rises on the summer solstice the combination of piedra and its shadow outline the head and neck of the sacred llama. Oh man, this is spooky how smart they were.


Not to mention the incredible stone masonery. How did they quarry, move and finish such huge granite rocks then fit them with such incredible precision that not even earthquakes have disturbed them for centuries? I am told the master Incas and Quechua people carved the granite with the only stone they knew harder than that: precious pieces of meteorites, heavy with iron. The more questions answered, the more that take their place.


The day before in present day Ollantaytambo, also the site of another great feat of los Incas, I met a vendadora by the name of Frida Vara Rado. After she realized I wasn´t interested in buying one of her muñeca dolls, she accompanied me on my walk around town. Frida is one of those friendly and intelligent people who will sadly never get a chance to live up to potential. Even with my limited spanish I was amazed at her unaffected story about her family life (many brothers and sisters and no father), her dream of working as a hotel administrator or elsewhere in the tourist industry, the proud history of the Quechan and Incas, the local geography and many other things. Although I use my kindergarten-dropout spanish everyday, it is the hour listening to Frida and asking questions that I am the most thankful for my "second" language.


Amigobob and I shake hands in Cusco, he to head south to Bolivia, me to head north to Columbia. Travelling solo is not my first choice but Katie and I will be fine. We will meet lots of excellent people along the way. The roads of los Andes norte are calling.


Posted by Murray Castle at May 06, 2006 10:55 PM GMT

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