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    South by South America Tour – Peru Part 10

    Monday, October 21, 2019
    Machu Picchu to Cuzco, Peru

    This is Hilberto, our guide to Machu Picchu.
    This is Hilberto, our guide to Machu Picchu.

    A llama frolicks for photo ops in front of Machu Picchu, Peru.
    A llama frolicks for photo ops in front of Machu Picchu, Peru.

    At the crack of dawn, I was waiting in the lobby of the Eco Machu Picchu Hostel for my tour guide, who was supposed to show up at 6:30 am. Finally, at 6:40, she arrived and explained how she had been looking for me at another hostel nearby with a similar name. It seems that in developing countries, the word “eco” is used a lot to market hostels and tours. As it turned out, the lady, who was super polite and friendly, was not actually my guide; she was just in charge of rounding up tourists and putting them on the bus.

    The Incas carved these stones to fit together precisely at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    The Incas carved these stones to fit together precisely at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    An overview of Machu Picchu, Peru.
    An overview of Machu Picchu, Peru.

    On a sidewalk next to the street on the main drag in town, we waited in a long line to board one of the many buses to Machu Picchu that pulled up every few minutes. As we settled into our seats, we got whisked up a series of hairpin curves and switchbacks into the super-steep mountains. Arriving at the top, we got dumped out near the ticket booth, where maybe eight or nine of us got our tickets scanned and met up with our guide, Hilberto. Right away, Hilberto supplied us with an audio earpiece so we could always hear what he was saying as he launched into detailed descriptions of the Incas, their way of life at Machu Picchu and how, when and why they built the place.

    More amazing stonework by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    More amazing stonework by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    Agricultural terraces built by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    Agricultural terraces built by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    As we stepped into the ruins, spectacular views came into focus from all around. It also quickly became apparent that a crazy amount of tourists were already present—even at the early hour of 7:30 am. (Although I had read that only 2,500 people are admitted into Machu Picchu every day, and that most of them show up between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, it seemed like most of them were already there.) As Hilberto chattered away, we trudged up and down steep flights of stone steps to various levels and sections of the town, which is over a half millennium old.

    A stone wall built by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    A stone wall built by the Incas at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    Agricultural terraces and steep valley walls at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    Agricultural terraces and steep valley walls at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    “Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel, located in the Eastern Cordillera mountain range of southern Peru, on a 7,970 foot high mountain ridge. It is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machupicchu District, above the Sacred Valley, which is 80 miles northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows, cutting through the Cordillera and creating a canyon with a tropical mountain climate.

    The upper part of this staircase was carved out of one big block of stone at Machu Picchu, Peru.
    The upper part of this staircase was carved out of one big block of stone at Machu Picchu, Peru.

    A backhoe goes to town moving rocks in the river at Aguas Calientes, Peru.
    A backhoe goes to town moving rocks in the river at Aguas Calientes, Peru.

    “Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often mistakenly referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

    “Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared. By 1976, 30% of Machu Picchu had been restored and restoration continues. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.”

    Contemporary stone carvings on the banks of the river at Aguas Calientes, Peru.
    Contemporary stone carvings on the banks of the river at Aguas Calientes, Peru.

    A Peru Rail locomotive crosses the street in Aguas Calientes, Peru.
    A Peru Rail locomotive crosses the street in Aguas Calientes, Peru.

    “Since Machu Picchu’s discovery in 1911, growing numbers of tourists have visited the site each year, including 1,411,279 in 2017. As Peru’s most visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator, it is continually exposed to economic and commercial forces. In the late 1990s, the Peruvian government granted concessions to allow the construction of a cable car and a luxury hotel, including a tourist complex with boutiques and restaurants and a bridge to the site. Many people protested the plans, including Peruvians and foreign scientists, saying that more visitors would pose a physical burden on the ruins. In 2018, plans were restarted to again construct a cable car to encourage Peruvians to visit Machu Picchu and boost domestic tourism. A no-fly zone exists above the area. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its List of World Heritage in Danger.”—Wikipedia

    Welcome to Machu Picchu, Peru.
    Welcome to Machu Picchu, Peru.

    A Peru Rail train near Aguas Calientes, Peru.
    A Peru Rail train near Aguas Calientes, Peru.

    Every step of the way, Hilberto was an awesome guide, continuing with the detailed descriptions of Machu Picchu and dutifully shooting photos of everyone in our group with their cameras and phones. Although it was amazing to finally see this place in person, overcast skies did cast somewhat of a pall on the day. At least at one point, the sun peeked through the clouds for a few minutes. I felt lucky, as someone mentioned that recently a whole day’s worth of Machu Picchu visitors got to see almost nothing thanks to a thick blanket of fog. So, I reckon we were lucky to see anything at all. Also underwhelming was the overwhelming hordes of tourists who get in each others’ way every other second.

    Pole position with railroad ties near Aguas Calientes, Peru.
    Pole position with railroad ties near Aguas Calientes, Peru.

    A Peru Rail train crosses a bridge between Aguas Calientes and Hidroelectrica, Peru.
    A Peru Rail train crosses a bridge between Aguas Calientes and Hidroelectrica, Peru.

    After saying goodbye to Hilberto, we jumped back on the bus for the 30-minute ride back down to Aguas Caliente. Since it was near noon, I grabbed a few snacks to go and headed out of town for the 2.5 hour walk back to Hidroelectrica. Seeing as how I had to arrive there well before 3:00 pm to catch the only Intur van back to Cuzco, I hauled some serious ass. The only people who passed me were two young Euro guys and a really tall, skinny guy with long legs who walked faster than a cheetah runs.

    Looking back at an overhang between Aguas Calientes and Hidroelectrica, Peru.
    Looking back at an overhang between Aguas Calientes and Hidroelectrica, Peru.

    An Intur tour van parked in front of the lone restaurant at Hidroelectrica, Peru.
    An Intur tour van parked in front of the lone restaurant at Hidroelectrica, Peru.

    As 3:00 pm came and went, I got up from my chair at the restaurant in Hidroelectrica and waited by the door of the Intur van to make sure I got the front, right, single row seat, which I did. For the first two hours of the ride, I enjoyed the same scenery I saw on the way here, only in reverse. I felt like time was flowing backward. Then, as we stopped for a food break, darkness fell for the rest of the long seven-hour jaunt back to Cuzco.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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