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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Peru, the Sacred Valley

 After Pisac it's on to Olantaytambo.  As one of the Sacred Valley sites it is an Inca site with huge stone temples, terraced gardens and incredible views from the top of the temple.  The town that lives at the base of the mountain temple tells of how the Spanish invaded, the Inca fled over the Inca Trail and Olantaytambo was a strong hold for a very long time.  The history is incredible.

The valley at the base of the mountain is lush and green with lots of varied crops.  The community is surrounded by the ancient ruins high in the mountains.

The grain storage in the cliffs and the face that guards it.
 There are storage areas for grain built into the mountain.  Built of rock and ventilated, high above the dampness of the valley floor, the storage areas contained grain for the community and was still being used long after the Inca disappeared.
  The rock formation that looks like an angry face is a natural feature, not something carved hundreds of years ago.  A few years ago geologists studied it in great detail.

The community thrives as a railroad depot and a tourist destination.  The homes are built on the remains of the Inca foundations.

 The temple in the mountain is built from the huge stones that the Inca are renowned for.  Granite boulders are cut, smoothed and placed in the various buildings with no space between the stones.  These stones are taken from a quarry miles away.

While archaeologists have explained how it was done without the wheel and with tools made from copper, after seeing this I have more doubts.
Climbing the rock staircase to the mountain temple. 

 The walls of the stone temple are smooth with no space between the stones.  These stones have been here for several hundred years, dating back to the Inca Empire.

My tour guide for this trip.  He is a native son and knows the history and legends intimately.  One of the things he was demonstrating was how the Inca moved these huge blocks.  According to research vines were wrapped around protrusions on the rocks and the rock is dragged into place.  From there the protrusions are chipped off and smoothed with sand. 

The view from halfway up the mountain.  The terrace gardens are still being used today.
The temple of the Sun.

At the top of the mountain, about 9000 ft up the Andes the Temple of the Sun stands, impressive granite stone walls guarding the valley,

According to historians it was never  finished because of the Spanish invasion.
Looking down the mountain

From the temple there are paths that take you to other impressive ruins, from terraced gardens, watch towers, grain storage areas, to homes built into the cliffs, etc.

My tour guide was extremely helpful in helping me climb up and down these huge rock stairways.  Sometime using a cane is a good thing, other times it just makes it more difficult.