Information / Sources, Machu Picchu
This place is amazing, it's wonderful and so powerful!
Although I thought the path to Machu Picchu would actually be a real path, no just a giant stairway, I think if you take the bus you won't miss anything really ;)
I got that virtual guide while i was there, very helpful, it's an app for iPad called "Virtual Series - Machu Picchu", and it has the entire site modeled in 3d with all the hotspots interactive so you get all the information you need, it proposes various interactive routes to go through the lost city, and all the history of the place,
I found it really helpful as I was not depending on any tour guide and could take my time,
Favorite thing: If you forgot to buy your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu prior to boarding the Consettur bus, there is an INC office at the gate entrance. Other places you can buy them are at Calle Bernardo in Cusco, at the main plaza in Aguas Calientes or from authorized travel agents.
If you intend to carry a backpack into MP (which is almost required since they do not have any place that sell water/food once you're inside), be sure your backpack isn't too "big". There will be an employee that checks that your backpack isn't larger than a day-pak, which it's very subjective by who examines it. If it's found too big, you'll have to turn back, lose your line to check baggage.
So be conservative, and bring a smaller day pak if you have one. If not, i've seen ticked off hikers got turned away by the staff, when they were trying to be the first 400 to hike Huayna.
Favorite thing: Currently, the full price for MP is S124, and a discounted price of S62. In order to get the discounted student price, you have to show a valid student ID with a current year somewhere on your card! Most of the US univ. student cards I know of don't do that, so you won't be able to get a discount. Watch out, as they are very strict about this rule. I've heard you may be able to get a letter from your college to show that you're student in the year you're traveling to MP. It's still easier to get the int'l student discount card.
Favorite thing: THe one I paid at the ruins is not informative nor interesting. His English is OK but very mechanical. I did manage to learn that the animals sacred to the Incas are manifested in the ruins: the Urubamba "snakes" arounf the city, the temple of the condor is self-explanatory, Huayna Picchu actually looks like a puma viewing from near the entrance.
Should you choose to reach the lost Inca city by doing the 4 day hike, you will have to hike around 45 km. It is important to pay attention when choosing a company to how many kilometers you will be hiking each day. I did my hike with the Big Foot tour company (www.bigfootcusco.com). Our group hiked a little further on the first day then most of the other groups. This was a positive for a couple reasons.
First you are not around many other tour groups when you are camping and have better selection of camp sites. Also hiking more on the first day made the 2nd day a lot easier. The first part of the 2nd day requires you to "conquer" Dead Womens Pass at an altitude of 4200m. It is a lot easier if you get a partial start of this climb the day before
Favorite thing: We met an Israeli and his daughter on the train back from Machu Picchu. We talked about books we'd read - I said with some pride that I'd slogged through "Lost City of the Incas" by Hiram Bingham. The man suggested I read "The Celestial Prophecies" - which specifically talks about Machu Picchu. I haven't found it at the local library - might have to get hubby to get it from the NYC system.
Playing out more like an Indiana Jones adventure than an archaeologist's account of the Western Hemisphere's biggest discovery, Hiram Bingham's book "The Lost City of the Incas" is a great read for the person who is planning a trip to this fabulous, enigmatic place. It's not so much a valuable planning resource as it is informative and interesting. It provides some historical background of the Incas, describes their technology and contributions, and shares exciting details of the actual discovery of Machu Picchu. Ironically, one cannot read this book without sensing a kind of contemporary exploitation that mirrors the European one from centuries ago. By this, I mean that Bingham was responsible for introducing the modern world to Machu Picchu - but in the process he displayed a kind of ethnocentric condescension toward the Peruvian natives who helped him get there, that goes back to the very Spaniards and Incas, centuries ago.
a.k.a. "Aguas Profundas" by Peru's own Jose Maria Arguedas. I don't know how well this book translates into English, or any other language for that matter. If at all possible it should be read in Spanish since the author writes using Quechua syntax with Spanish grammar...it's an unusual combination. Arguedas is considered to be one of the most respected and important authors in Latin America. His story "Deep Rivers" is ultimately tragic, and really parallels Arguedas' own life. "Deep Rivers" is so named, because it's a story about a boy growing up in Peru, who never really fits into society due to his strange (albeit happy) upbringing by Quechua servants and the Indian culture that he loves so much. Arguedas himself never fully integrated into the Spanish speaking mainstream, continously haunted by his own rather isolated childhood and the Quechua language which he embraced and loved so much thanks to the Indian servants who watched over him as he grew up. Anyone who is interested in Latin America - espcially Peru -and the indigenous Andean cultures that are simultaneously disdained and exploited by what we consider to be our more "evolved" society, should read this book.
I'm still haunted by it.
Arguedas committed suicide in 1969.
Favorite thing: Generally if you are doing the 4 day hike the company will provide the tents and food for the trip. This equipment is usually carried by the porters (although you may want to check with the company to make sure) All your personal gear is your responsibility to bring and carry on the hike. So it is important to pack lightly. This will make the 45+ km a lot easier on your back. Any gear that you do not bring with you to South America can either be rented or purchased in Cusco or by the company you are hiking with.
Favorite thing: I have many more gorgeous pictures of Machu Picchu and also of Cuzco. I keep them in a service so they don't take up room on my hard drive. If you want see all my pictures of Machu Picchu, send me your e-mail address and I'lll add it to my access list on my service which is called Snapfish. Then you can view my entire album
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas during the 15th century but was mysteriously abandoned sometime before the time of the Spanish Conquest. There have been several theories suggested for why it was abandoned. These include being devastated by a plague, being overrun by a hostile jungle tribe (=Antis) and being punished by the Inca for being a rebel province. However the latest theory, based on new evidence, suggests that Machu Picchu was the location of the royal household of Inka Pachacutec (the 9th Inca , who ruled from 1438-1471) which was abandoned a couple of generations after his death. Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built, occupied and abandoned all within the space of about 100 years and it didn’t take very long for the jungle vegetation to completely reclaim the mountain and hide the existence of the city for hundreds of years.
Machu Picchu, a mystery, but what is known? It was a small religious and political capital and it served as a dwelling for the Inka or any high ranked nobles from the Capital, as well as for a selected nobility that had the privilege of having an "Aqllawasi" that was something like a monastery for "Chosen Women" or "Virgins of the Sun". These chosen women are devoted to cult and for service of its privileged population.
Fondest memory: According to the buildings that are found in the Inkan City, they estimate that the population has to be around the 1000 people. According to the mummies found by the Bingham expedition about 80% of the Machu Picchu population were women; that is a strong support to assume that there was an important "Aqllawasi" (House of Chosen Women) here. They were probably chosen among the prettiest and most virtuous, they were considered as the Sun's wives.
Many modern scholars suggest that a large part of them were the Inka's wives too, considering that he was the son of the Sun; therefore, a living god. Thus the Inka lived in his property, along with his wives. It was normal for the Inka to have hundreds of concubines, and for example, our history states that Wayna Qhapaq who was father of Waskar and Atawallpa had more than 400 children. Nevertheless, his main wife must have been a sister of his; only that way they could keep the "solar blood" that they supposedly had. The throne heir had to be a son of the Inka and his sister.
The mysteries unfold: behind the doors, aqueducts and Inca flat
The doors as you will notice none of the Inca buildings had a door. Why is that? Well, when you examin those doorways closely you will see two openings in the sidewalls. In these openings the Inca puts a stick and over that stick he hangs a blanket. This is for them the door and a door is used to keep the animals out.
When the blanket is hanging in the door, it also means that they can’t accept visitors and that they want their privacy. The Inca’s don’t know the ”lock” because they didn’t knew crime until the Spaniards came to invade their country. Even today in some remote area’s people still use this principle for the door and they don’t know the word “lock” in their language.
The aqueducts are used for household use and for worshipping the water. They are not used to take a shower or a bath. They are also used to irrigate their lands so that they get a very good crops each year. If they want to take a bath, they simply go to the river and take a bath there. For the Inca’s the agriculture is the most important item in their life and not the gold or silver that fills their temples.
The gold and silver that fills their temples and that made the Spaniards thirst to more richness are for the Inca’s just symbols. The Gold has the same colour as the sun, their God Inti and the Silver has the colour of the moon. It was that simple for them, it had no value.
Inca Flat: that is a very interesting one. At the end of the second day Erich told us that the next bit was easy and flat. Yeah, yeah it’s Inca flat and that means a hilly road with a height difference around 300 metres constant up and down. It’s indeed flatter then the day before, but not what we call flat. So we called it for the rest of our trip Inca flat.
The Inca Trail is approximately 32 km long and the most people start at Km 88, off the railway line. The trail passes several archaeological ruins along the route. But what most people don’t know is that you cross 9 different ecological areas which are located between 2000 and 6000 metres. The trail is also occupied by more than 400 species of orchids, begonias, trees and much more. So walking the Inca trail is not only an adventures walk into history, it’s also or a hike into the mountains and nature.
At the present time the Inca trail uses three routes; and they all start in the following order:
The first starts at km 82nd in Chilca, this is the furthest you can go by bus. It goes for 4 days and three nights. This is the longest and the best.
The second starts at km 88th, where you usually get by train and it joins the one before after a couple of kilometres. The most people will start from this end.
The third starts on km 104th, you must take the train to get to this one, it is a small walk that goes for two days usually or can be done in even one day depending on the pace of the walkers.
It’s not possible anymore to do the Inca trail on your own. The government wants to control the number of people who walk the Inca trail to protect the envirement and the campsites. Therefore you shall have to book your Inca trail with a registrated company. We went with United Mice and we had a great time and very good explanation from the two guides.
Fondest memory: Hiking the Inca trail used to be a pretty chaotic activity with everyone being allowed to organize a trekking, both agencies and private persons. Fortunately this has changed and since 2001 there are new regulations:
* Price is now 50$ (25 $ for students)
* A maximum of 500 people each day are allowed on the trail (about 250 tourists + 250 guides and porters). It can happen that you can’t leave on the day you wish, especially in high season (July-august). Book a few days before you want to depart or even earlier, because a license needs to be ordered at the authorities. Also, one particular company is only allowed a certain number of tourists each day, if they want more, they need to make a deal with another company. Groups can have a maximum of 16 tourists.
* Only licensed companies can do the trip: Amazonas Explorer, Andean Life, Andean Adventures, Andes Adventure Tours, Apumayo Expeditions, Base Camp, Big Foot, Camping Tours, Continental Tours, Condor Travel, Culturas Peru, Ecoinka, Eric Adventure, Explorandes, Inca Explorers, Inkaways, Inti Kuntur, Inka Wasi, Instinct, Kantu, Loreto Tours, Mayuc, Manu Expeditions, Peruvian Odyssey, Purisunchis, Peruvian Andean Treks, Peru Field Guides, Qente, SAS Travel, Sky Viajes, Tambo Treks, Trekperu, United Mice, Vida Tours, Wayra (2002).
In practice, only a few of these companies can guarantee daily departures: Andean Life, Inca Explorers, SAS Travel, Q’ente & United Mice. Secondly, refuse any offer from non-licensed guides or organisations, f.i. from people in train stations or airports.
Favorite thing: The term "Peruvian flat" is used to describe the landscape in Peru. Flat land in Peru usually means climbing up for an hour and then climbing back down. This is the difficult thing on the Inca trail, after climbing up some peaks you then decend only to do it all over again. Once Dead Womans Pass is conquered you then decend around 1000 meters before begining the next pass. This pic shows exactly how far down you really go. (you can make out the path if you look close)