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Posts Tagged ‘Machu Picchu’

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(February 2009)

This region is the Inca heartland and has been on my travel list for twenty plus years! Cuzco, aka Gringo capital of Peru has a population of approximately 320,000, and you cannot walk or sit for more than a few minutes without someone trying to sell you something. Nonetheless, this remarkable city, the oldest continuously inhabited one in South America, makes a great base and I stayed in the area for about 10 days.

The city is a stunning blend of Spanish architecture, Inca stonework, grand and not so grand churches, museums and shops and, oh, so many steep streets. That first day curiosity pulled me into Qoricancha at Santo Domingo Cathedral. During the Inca reign the site housed the Gold Palace, Temple of the Sun, Solar Garden, and Temple of the Moon.

Over the next few days I checked out the Museo de Arte Precolombino and the Museo Inka and wandered around the city, sometimes purposely and other times aimlessly, before buying the 10-day tourist ticket. While walking around the city I came upon a few fiestas and observed the participants consume food and beer, dance to the accompanying bands and then, meal over, parade off to somewhere else. There seems to be some religious significance attached to the events.

One morning, a small girl decided to accompany me on my way to the Plaza de Armas. Once there, we sat down and she requested some change, which I gave her. The city really is dependent on tourism and, for better or worse, I guess this was her take on it.  When I met Gladys, a woman from Chinchero, it was raining. She was roaming around the tourist area with her two children trying to sell decorative carved gourds and woven belts. She was so persistent that I did buy a belt from her. Gladys spoke English quite well and in the following days we would chat each time we met.

Ready to visit the Sacred Valley, I headed off to Ollantaytambo after purchasing train tickets for Machu Picchu. The Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo were an astrologically-aligned strategic fortress and a temple. I hooked up with a few Spanish-speaking tourists and we purchased the services of a guide. 

I spent the rest of the day exploring the village. The old Inca streets are fascinating and the villagers are very friendly. I chatted with an American woman who was volunteering in a textile shop/education centre. In another establishment I read about health and social initiatives, one directed at the importance of learning Spanish as a way out of poverty for the Quechua-speaking children. I watched the locals socialize in the square and later party through the evening with the aid of the resourceful liquor seller and her trusty cart. It was a perfect excursion and my favourite day in Peru!

I woke very early the next morning and headed down the dark road to catch the 5:30 am train to Aguas Calientes. At first I was a little apprehensive about walking down a deserted road. Soon though, I was enjoying the walk and the moment and felt very content. About halfway to the station, I encountered other people and a couple bicycle taxis. As I neared the train station solitude and silence gave way to long ticket lines and vendors with hot coffee and food. Seems that I just made my way down the road a little later than others.

I arrived in Aguas Calientes, purchased a bus ticket and was on my way up to Machu Picchu. It was raining and the mountain was covered in a thick blanket of fog! However, the rain soon stopped and the fog slowly lifted enhancing the grandeur and mystery. Despite the tourism aspect of Machu Picchu, exploring the ruins of this precariously situated city is still humbling and inspiring.

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