On the final morning of the trip we were up at 3:30, and at 4:30 were breakfasted and bidding a final farewell to the porters (who had camp almost fully broken down). Then, we were off… to wait in line in the dark a few yards down the hill until the checkpoint opened. An hour later, with the first light filling the sky, we raced down the trail at a good clip, one group after the other, hoping to reach the Sun Gate in good time and conditions for a glimpse of Machu Picchu below. I wish I’d taken a picture of the last part of that section of trail: the “monkey steps,” so named because many are only a few inches deep and you pretty much need to use your hands to scramble up.
As we sat and watched (and I got some help re-taping my floppy boot), the clouds dissipated and we could see Machu Picchu down below before we descended the last stretch of the trail.
After three days on the trail in relative solitude, and the frenetic morning’s hike to get there, arrival at the monument was an abrupt transition. As we walked on the modern steps and pathways of the entrance, we were surrounded by foreigners who had paid big bucks to stay in the luxury hotel and several groups of excited Peruvian youth on class trips. Big backpacks and walking sticks were checked or abandoned (I bid farewell to the sturdy orange and green one that had steadied my hike), and we entered the sanctuary for Will’s guided tour of some of the principal sights.
The architecture and engineering and the significance of the site were truly fascinating. I’ll do my best to share some of what most stood out to me, but for those who are interested in learning more, visit! Or check out a documentary from your local library.
The Incas were profoundly aware of their position in space and the movement of celestial bodies over time. Many of the structures at Machu Picchu are designed in precise alignment with the sun’s position at each equinox, and others reflect the position of the surrounding mountains.
The precision of the way the stones fit together even in irregular shapes is marvelous. The quarry leaves a record of how the granite was carefully split (with wooden wedges) before being smoothed to fit snugly in its designated space.
Anti-seismic foundations beneath the buildings have allowed most of the structures to remain in amazing condition, but there are a few problem areas where walls are coming apart.
The finest stonework was used in the most important buildings. In the wall below, notice the subtle difference in texture. The smoother section on the left is outside the Temple of the Sun, a space for the divine, while the rougher stone section on the right is outside the priest’s residence–still an important space, but a merely human abode.
Double doorways such as the one below identify the entryway to sacred spaces where commoners should not pass.
A small garden provides a sampling of significant local plant life, including these moonflowers which were used in the medicine applied to Incan trepanation patients.
Some of the houses have been modified to show the materials used to construct the floor of a second story or a thatched roof. We had descended from the side of Machu Picchu (Old Mountain). A few from our group hadn’t quite done enough hiking, and opted to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain) after our tour.
A few final photos of unsanctioned flora and fauna…
This was such an incredible trip, truly a privilege and a joy. If you get the chance, I would highly recommend planning a visit to the Inca Trail!
And now, back to your regularly (un)scheduled programming.