Monday, June 4, 2007

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by the U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham. It is the only Inca city never to be found (and hence destroyed) by the Spanish conquistadors--and a result remains startingly intact. It's altitude ranges up to 3,800 meters above sea level. Set in the Andes mountain range, it is nothing short of spectacular.

Dennis and I started our big day at 5am. Here were are leaving the hostel before sunrise:

From Aguas Calientes one may take a short bus ride to Machu Picchu's entrance, or hike uphill for an hour and a half. Since we hadn't done the Inca trail or any other hikes (and being macho and stupid) Dennis and I decided to hike. It was hard. We basically climbed steep stairs for an hour and fifteen minutes straight. The blurry picture on the right will give you some sense of how steep the hike was.

In this picture you can see the road the bus takes. We walked straight up through the center.

Here's what I looked like by the time we got to the entrance (sweaty but happy):

We met our guide at the entrance at 6:30am and started our tour.

Here are some general shots of the city:

Here are some shots of the particular features of the site. The first two are of the Holy Plaza and the Temple of Three Windows (attached to the Holy Plaza).

You can see the condor wings in the photo below. As I mentioned in a previous post, the condor was a sacred animal for the Incas and the city of Machu Picchu is laid out in the shape of a condor.

The large mountain behind the city in the picture to the right is called Wanu Picchu. After our tour, we climbed the mountain and got some spectacular views of the site.

Then, we climbed down the other side of the mountain to see the Temple of the Moon.

We decided to cap off our day by hiking back down to Aguas Calientes rather than taking the bus. By that time we were so exhausted that it took us longer to get down than it had to get up. Overall, it was one of the toughest days of hiking I've ever had.

But, of course it was all worth it. These pictures can give you a glimpse of what it's like to be there, but can't really do justice to how amazing the whole scene is. The idea that the Incas managed to build this whole city high up in the mountains 500 years ago; and the fact that it is so intact is mind boggling.


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