Thursday, November 8, 2012

Machu Picchu, Part 2

Climbing down the ruins was just as much as an adventure as climbing up the ruins.  My legs were beginning to tell me off for torturing them on all these stone stairs at an altitude of 10,000 feet.  Plus it started to rain.  I got lucky.  I ended up falling in with a small group who were perfectly willing to help me down all those wet, slick stone stairs.  When we finally got down to the tourist center I promised them a beer.  At the base of Machu Picchu I took the opportunity to have my passport stamped for the site and then climbed on a bus for a ride down the rest of the mountains.

I was wet, tired, in pain, and happy, happy, happy that I had accomplished something I had wanted to do most of my adult life.

My new found friends who made getting down the mountain possible.
My plans for the rest of the time I had in Machu Picchu included exploring the community at the base of the mountain.  By the time I got back to my hotel evening was almost there and all I wanted was dinner, some aspirin, and a soak in a hot bath.  Exploring could wait until morning.

The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel and then went in search of an adventure.  Number 1 on the list was to find a decent cup of coffee.  I am not a tea drinker, no matter how many flavors are being offered.  Luckily there was a tiny shop just down the sidewalk from the hotel offering a coffee deprived American a wonderful cappuccino.

Coffee!  A great cappuccino is a great way to start my morning. 

Beautiful buildings and courtyards.
Coffee and breakfast taken care of, it was time to explore the area.  Across the railroad tracks from my hotel are beautiful old buildings and courtyards with lovely flowers and blooming trees. 

The railroad is the only way in and out of Machu Picchu.

The railroad through the middle of the village.

The village is very small and completely dependent on tourist traffic.  It's safe and clean to walk with lots of wide walkways interspaced with small shops.  If you're interested in shopping, it's an easy thing to do.

Of course when a train cuts through the middle of a village there is no way to escape the noise of the approaching train.  Everyone takes the train in stride, crossing the tracks at various marked locations and waving at it as it approaches with tourists, supplies and mail.

Machu Picchu uses water for power and a large river roars down the mountain along the road.  It looks very intimidating but I kept looking for suicidal kayakers trying their luck.

We use the term 'making mountains out of mole hills'.  Peru doesn't use machinery to accomplish a lot of jobs... like making gravel.  As I walked the road to the local museum and botanical gardens I came across a group of workers, making gravel.  Using sledges, large hammers, picks and shovels, these young men broke large granite boulders into smaller and smaller rocks, until the finished product was gravel.

I think a lot of young people would be shocked at what is considered a good job in Peru. The unemployment rate is almost zero, because of jobs like this, making little rocks out of big ones.

The road ends at a local museum and botanical gardens.  It's a nice destination for a morning walk and not so far that my sore legs decided they weren't going to work any more.  The museum had just opened and I was the only guest, in front of all the tour buses.  The museum officials didn't speak any English but it really wasn't necessary.  All of the displays contained panels in several languages explaining the ancient history.
 The museum contains a detailed history of how the ruins on the mountains were built hundreds of years ago, along with painted murals of the Inca building the temples, tools and implements recovered from archaeological  explorations with explanations on how they were used.  I'm sorry, using stone tools to polish huge blocks and copper implements to split the stones doesn't work for me.

The outer grounds around the museum contained a wonderful botanical garden.  I wandered down the path of the garden by myself, smelling flowers and reading signs in Latin and Spanish.  I crossed paths with the gardener and he motioned for me to follow him.  I spent the next couple hours sampling fruits and nuts from the local plants that the gardener handed me.  We couldn't understand each other at all in words, but he kept pulling off a piece of fruit, peeling it and handing it to me while he did the same, or shelling a couple nuts to try.  He pulled down large leaves to show orchids growing in a a crevice in a tree, or a bird's nest in a branch.  

 When we finished the path and came back into the parking lot the first tour bus was pulling up and my private tour was over.  I shook the gardener's hand told him 'thank you' several different times.

I left a large donation for the garden at the museum.
My return trip to the village took me down a gravel path and under a sign that said Butterfly House.  I found a small fenced enclosure and a young native man trying to safeguard and grow a population of endangered butterflies. He had a group of panels hung around the enclosure, in English and Spanish telling about this particular butterfly and how it was almost gone.

Do you see the butterfly?  Look for the eye.

He didn't speak any English but he took me around the enclosure, pointing out eggs under a leaf, cocoons under another.  He showed me the flowers that this species of butterfly used as a food source.  These plants were also endangered.  I don't speak Spanish but we communicated very well.  He told me he had 45 butterflies in this tiny enclosure and with great pride pointed out the one that was perched on a tree right beside of me.  I would have never seen it. When I left the enclosure I left what cash I had left.  He was a one man environmental movement, making a difference one butterfly at a time.  I felt so much pride at seeing his efforts.

My walk back to the village was a lot slower than the walk to the museum.  Lunch found me at a street cafe with a hamburger. I had been trying to eat local dishes the whole time I was in Peru but I finally gave in to the need for a huge hunk of meat.  All I can say is that they make a burger!  Big enough for three people.

While I was enjoying my burger and a glass of wine a local group sat up and played music for everyone sitting around the street cafe.

The group played all sorts of local melody with pipes and drums.  Needless to say I bought their CD and I still enjoy it.

Because the railroad cuts through the middle of the town, freight and supplies are moved from the railroad station without any mechanical assistance.

While I enjoyed my burger, glass of wine and music, a group of young men, the majority wearing blue vests or other uniform shirts pushed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of supplies up the hill to the stores and hotels.

Anybody need a job?  I guess I'm still amazed that manual labor is the preferred method for getting a job done.

After lunch it was time to retrieve my luggage from my hotel and head for the train station and my ride home to the hotel in Cuzco.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Climbing Machu Picchu

 My last big adventure in Peru was a couple days in Machu Picchu.  It was one of those things I'd wanted to do forever and it was rapidly getting out of my reach.  The history here is so complex and in some ways still a complete mystery.

Hiram Bingman is the official discoverer of the ruins.

 Even though the natives knew the ruins were there, officially the first white man who saw them couldn't believe what he'd found.  The ruins were covered in vines and trees.  It took years to clear the stones and start trying to understand what was found.

 The Inca built this incredible complex high up in the Andes mountains to worship the sun.  They did it without the wheel, without any advanced tools.

 Now thousands of tourists climb these incredible stone stairs to marvel what was built hundreds of years ago.

Because the terrain is so steep, soil was hauled in and placed between rows of stones to create terraced gardens.  These gardens fed a population that numbered in the thousands.  All of the stones and dirt was hauled in by hand.

During the peak of the Inca civilization thousands lived in this complex at the top of the mountains.  The complex included homes, temples, storehouses and layer after layer of gardens.  The stones that are the most dressed were used in the temple and the residence of the king.

The complex contained a spring with irrigation channels providing water to the king's residence and other prominent buildings.

The king's residence contained a bathroom with running water.

The temple of the sun was the most detailed and beautiful in the complex.

The ruins are so impressive and awesome that it's hard to comprehend how much knowledge was used to build it.

An amphitheater was built with stone that had properties that amplified a voice.  Someone speaking in the center of the arena could be heard by everyone. 

Standing in the complex, the taller peak behind me.

The homes spread out all over the mountain were often two stories.  The stones weren't dressed as perfectly as the king's residence and the temple.

The Inca thought that the condor was a magnificent bird.  One of the stone arrangements resemble the condor.

Lamas still roam the ruins, not afraid of the humans at all.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peru, heading for Machu Pichu

From Cuzco to Machu Pichu you pass through miles of farm land and rural scenery.  I keep forgetting that you are thousands of feet into the Andres mountains.  The farm land is lush and green and very productive.

What I find so amazing about the farmland is that there are no mechanical harvesters to be seen.  No trucks, plows, tractors, nothing.  It's all done by hand labor.  There aren't even any horses, just oxen.  I brought it up to my tour guides and they pointed out a couple things.  1) Food is cheap here because farmers don't have to pay for equipment, gas, etc.  2) Unemployment is very low, extremely low because if you don't have a job you can always work in the fields.  As a rule Americans can't make a living working in the fields as a manual laborer because the cost of living in the U.S. is so high.  But it doesn't seem to be an issue here.

The land is very fertile here.  They grow 3 THOUSAND types of potatoes! I could see how with some mechanical help the area could turn into a bread basket for that part of the world.  While I discussed it with my tour guides I kept seeing it from an American point of view and how you could increase production.

A large farming organization on these fields would produce so much more produce.  But people that harvest it now would not be needed in the numbers that work the fields now.  So what is the right answer?  For this area of the world, people working the crops for a wage is important than volume.

My tour guides were very patient with me and my questions on the farm productive subjects.  They have different interpretations of what is important I think.  Homes are mostly small.  There aren't a lot of vehicles except right in the city.  And traffic is awful in the cities because they haven't figured out traffic rules yet.

Away from the cities the country side is beautiful and rugged.  Mountains rim every valley and water falls and rivers are everywhere. A lot of the power is hydro.

From Cuzco I took a bus, then a train to Machu Pichu.  Train trips are always interesting  The train ride to Machu Pichu has all sorts of adventures, from tracks being washed out due to rain to making conversations in a dozen different languages that I don't speak.

We got served a snack on the train and lots of coffee. Later I learned there was also a full dining car, complete with tablecloths and silver for all of us willing to fork out a few more dollars.  While I love this sort of thing, I prefer to keep some trips reasonably inexpensive.

 The train tracks run through a major river valley.  Every fall during the rainy season the track foundation can be cutaway and suddenly the trains have to stop.  In some places the old tracks actually hang over the water where new tracks have been laid.

 Along the train tracks you find the station that will take you to the Inca Trail.  This trail crosses over the mountain and leads you to Machu Pichu.  If you decide to hike the trail it's about 6-10 days by foot.  There are porters and guides on the trail to carry  your supplies and prepare meals.  But you pack in everything you need, food, water, clothes, etc.

The history of this trail is incredible and I wish my legs would have let me do it.

The train takes you pass lots of terraced gardens.  Some are still in use, some abandoned since the time of the Incas.

Views from the train and through the glass roof.
 Views from the train.

The train provides whistle stop service to tiny hamlets along the tracks, stopping for people, unloading supplies.  In an area with no roads, the tracks are extremely important.