On our second day in Cusco, now in possession of all our luggage, getting acclimated to the altitude and with one 1/2 day tour under our belt, we were ready for our 2-day overnight excursion to the Sacred Valley and the iconic Machu Picchu.
We woke to sunshine! Our tour guide came to our hotel and walked us to the meeting place near the Plaza de Armas. We left by bus to wind through the country-side and visit several places in the Sacred Valley: the Pisaq and the Ollantaytambo archeological sites with stops in Pisaq to visit the large handicraft market and Urubamba for lunch. I had not been to the Sacred Valley before so I was really looking forward to it and I was not disappointed. Yup, amazing is a good word. Lots and lots of climbing, more revelations, and a growing respect for the Incan culture.
From there, we took a train to Aguas Calientes where we spent the night. We had a comical incident meeting our new guide at the train station because of a bad misspelling of my name. We strolled the charming town, checked out the hot springs and our meeting place for the next day, found a place to eat, met some other travelers. The river was running load and strong from all the precipitation. We got back to our hotel and tucked in just as it started to rain again.
Very early the following morning, our tour group gathered in the town center in light drizzle with an assortment of umbrellas, tarps, and rain gear.Our cheerful guide led us to the local bus and then to the iconic and famous Machu Picchu UNESCO World Heritage site. The rain made the rocks slippery as we cautiously moved from area to area, a bedraggled band of trekkers in tarps. One couple carried an infant in arms under an umbrella, making me feel more grateful.
From the various tours and literature, I realized that the stories you are told about the history and purpose of this site depend on the interest and bent of the guide: it was a palace, a sacred temple, a fortress and lookout, a laboratory for agricultural experiments…or all of these. Regardless, the ruins were glorious and mystical with the fog and clouds wafting in and out. The steep rock formations, the lush greenery, the open valleys — you can’t help feel the vibe, that something special was going on there.
Although we didn’t hike the whole trail or even just the part from Aguas Calientes to the ruins, I was moved by my experience both the last time and again on this trip. I felt in awe of the sophistication, ingenuity, and brilliance of these ancient people, and I wonder how their civilization would have developed had they not been conquered and destroyed.
Everywhere we went, in town and around the valleys, there were these massive stones precisely carved and placed in distinct formations scientifically based on astrology and mythology. They were closely fitted mostly without mortar and have withstood earthquakes, abandonment, and human aggression. The parts that remain still stand solid, a true wonder.
And everywhere we went there were droves of local people on foot in their indigenous clothing hawking their wares — dolls, jewelry, knitted hats, carved trinkets, food, drinks, bags of coca leaves — women and children, many with their baby llamas, asking if you wanted a photo. They’d approach you on the street or come to the bus window. I felt cruel saying “No, gracias” over and over again. So many of them and with very similar offerings; I can’t imagine how they make a living out of it.
Would I do it again? Maybe. But if I did, I would like to walk the trail with a shaman, thanking Pachamama all the way.