Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
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BT – Inca Trail Day 4 (Machu Picchu Pt 1)

[Machu Picchu is very photogenic, and so there are two blog posts for it, with most of the panoramic stuff in the next post.]

Despite being inundated with hundreds if not thousands of tourists (and I admit to being one of them) Machu Picchu is an amazing place … and I can now cross it off my bucket list (not that I really have a bucket list, and not that Machu Picchu would actually have been on it, though I have always thought it would be interesting to visit).

It is beautiful, dramatic, grand and spectacular, and it was worth the effort to get there … although for some time we were entitled to wonder if we were actually going to see it.

The day began at 3:30, and in the early morning befuddlement we packed up our gear for the last time, had a hot chocolate, donned a head torch, a raincoat and our packs, and headed off down the track … for about 5 minutes, where we joined a growing queue of people waiting for the trail walkers’ entrance gate to open, which it was due to do in about an hour’s time. We presume that it’s good to be near the head of the queue, but it was a bit tedious to be standing around waiting, especially as some people decided to play their music aloud.

By the time the gate opened our torches were no longer needed and the rain had eased, and so we set off on the final couple of kilometres or so of undulating track, finishing with an uphill to Intipunku or the Sun Gate (13°10.2′ S 72°32.05′ W). On good days you get to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Today was not that kind of a good day: we didn’t entirely realise it was going to be the rainy season when we booked our trip (not that we really could have come at any other time), but that’s certainly what it has been!

At Intipunku the crowd of walkers stood in the relatively small terraced ruins, while the mist below us completely shrouded Machu Picchu and the sun didn’t make much of an effort. I think people may have had some doubts about whether we’d get a view, but we were reassured that if we were patient the mist would lift.

 

With all the trekkers standing around waiting for the fog to fade I had the opportunity to climb up behind everyone and locate a cache, and then, as I returned to the terrace to join the others of our party, the mist started to clear as promised, and Machu Picchu was revealed in all its (still distant) glory.

As we headed downhill, meeting day visitors on their way up, Machu Picchu came and went as mist banks drifted across.

 

There was a special moment on the way down when we stood in amongst a small set of ruins, as Cocaman/Saul shared with us an Incan/Quechuan ritual acknowledging the power of the mountains. It involved waving and blowing on three coca leaves while chanting the names of the mountains, and then placing the leaves in a hiding place. I found it quite a moving experience, and gave us a moment removed from the crowds rushing downwards, to contemplate the location without feeling like we were quite such intruders.

The mists really added to the mysterious majesty of the whole thing.

Upon reaching the actual site of Machu Picchu (13°9.93′ S 72°32.66′ W) we had a group photo taken of the five of us, with the ruins stretching out behind us.

We then had the slightly weird experience of having to leave (having barely arrived) and then come in again, which I presume is part of the “keeping-track-of-visitors” process. One key point in favour of this exercise was the chance to use a more comfortable toilet after 3 days of squat toilets!

On re-entering the site, Cocaman/Saul took us on a tour of some of the key features, giving us interesting insights into Incan culture and the way the place was used.

Once again the contrasts between the regular stonework (still amazing in its quality) and the fine stonework of the key religious and high status buildings were evident. The semicircular building below is the Temple of the Sun.

 

This wall has deteriorated because of subsidence.

Considering that the ruins are 500 years old in an earthquake-prone region, their good condition today is testament to the quality of construction.

The next photo is from within the Temple of the Condor. The rock on the ground is supposedly the head of a condor, with a beak, and then there are two big stones that sweep upwards to the left (not so obvious) and right (slightly more obvious) which form the condor’s wings.

By the time we were done with the formal tour (and there will be more photos to come) it was about 11, although it felt much later because our day had already been long. It was now time to farewell each other. We thanked Cocaman for guiding us and sharing so much of his knowledge. Although his accent was a little difficult to understand at times (to be fair, English would have been his third language) he was an excellent guide and I’m really glad we had him. Should I ever smell coca leaves or coca tea again in the future, however, I am sure I will be reminded of him, since his nickname is well-earned as he always seemed to have a wad of leaves in his cheek.

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