Once I reached the age of sixty I compiled a Bucket List. I’ve not written it down, but I have it in my head and it is always changing, depending on environmental and political circumstances way beyond my control. It’s a matter now of seizing the day and Peru was high on my list because of its history and its where my favourite bear, Paddington, grew up.
I went on a Grand Tour of South America organised by Mercury Holidays and there were eleven of us on the tour, one of the first stops was Machu Picchu and, as usual I’d done very little research only finding out at the last minute that the airport into which I was flying, Cusco, is 11,000ft above sea level, the Incan site being around 8,000ft, therefore there was a risk of altitude sickness. I do take a medical pack with me thanks to a local chemist, but other than drinking pints of water before I went and abstaining from alcohol (to a degree) to ensure I was fully hydrated, I thought I’d rely on a couple of headache tablets or succumb to chewing the local remedy, coca leaves, should I fall foul of what the locals term “soroche”.
To my surprise I suffered no ill effects at all, other than my feet and knees protested at the end of the visit, but I didn’t listen to them as visiting one the New Wonders of the World was truly worth the physical effort and it is magnificent.
There are only two ways to get to the site, by train (then a bus) or walk. Anyone who is fit enough to do the Inca trail to the site from Cusco – do it! You will see far more than I did although I was fortunate enough to have my own private guide for much of my visit and I learned a great deal. Thank you Hans – you are a treasure!
The train began its winding journey in Ollantaytambo and follows the Urubamba River to the town of Machu Picchu which is filled with cafés, restaurants and hotels for tourists. The local school is named after St John the Baptist and, as one wag commented, it probably doesn’t have a head! (Apologies, but I thought it funny!)
The train wasn’t particularly modern, one I imagined archaeologists from the 1920s took and the tale of Ollanta and Cusi Coyllur (a story akin to Romeo and Juliet) was enacted in each carriage to amuse the 2500 tourists who visit each day.
I was pleased to learn that there are strict rules in place about visitor numbers. A time slot is allocated and a one way system is adhered to so as to prevent damage via erosion and general wear and tear. The weather does its fair share and the day I visited was what I’d describe as balmy, a slight breeze but 18 degrees centigrade. Some visitors claimed it rained, but living in Ireland, I didn’t even bother putting on a rain mac and could count the number of rain drops that fell whilst I was there! (If you want to experience rain, come to the Emerald Isle!)
The site is perched on a mountain and a bus takes visitors up and up and up a very winding, rather bumpy, road. One mistake by the driver and down the mountainside it would go, passengers and all! The view however is breath-taking.
Once visitors arrive at the site the climb continues on foot, through leafy vegetation, up steps that are far from regular, some only a few inches, others over a foot. I was glad I’d taken my hiking poles and I advise anyone to invest in them. They are a godsend. I took my sweet time, pausing every so often to take a deep breath, but the climb is worth it as the first view over the Incan city is mind blowing, opening up a world of questions.
I learned that Machu Picchu is divided into two: to the right is the area in which the general populace lived, farmers, who toiled on the terraces, growing crops and living in small thatched huts made of adobe mud which are long gone.
To the left is a more recognisable townlike structure with roadways and stone buildings of various sizes. This is where the nobility resided. Further to the left are the remains of where the workers for the nobility laboured: blacksmiths, weavers and wheelwrights for example.
The Incans were a clever people, capable of telling the time, navigating, building and were experts in the craftsmanship of gold, jewels, wool as well as being competent agriculturists. I was informed that most of our knowledge about the people who lived on the site in the early 1400s has been gleaned from artefacts, oral tradition and accounts recorded by the Conquistadors.
The only animals who live on the site today are alpacas and llamas who roam freely and one seemed to love having their picture taken, (reminding me of two wolves in Donegal who took turns posing on a rock like supermodels).
Machu Picchu is believed by some to be a centre of positive energy and I met a Bolivian gentleman who was headed to the site for a ten day retreat. I also witnessed a group of people meditating on the lush green terraces and I must admit there is a calmness here, a sereneness, possibly because one is literally in the clouds.
It took four hours for me to walk the entire site and, believe me, I took my time and savoured every minute. I hadn’t spent almost twenty hours on a plane to rush around this New Wonder of the World where people had lived for almost one hundred years and where the views of the verdant mountains surrounding the site were spectacular.
I’d go back to Machu Picchu in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ve every intention of going back to Peru as there is so much more to see and I have to mention that Paddington’s next movie is entitled Padding Goes to Peru and I lay odds on that he heads for this Incan site, why wouldn’t he?
I mention in this blog bears and wolves that can be seen in Donegal at the Wild Ireland Wildlife Park which is well worth a visit. Please click on the link to learn more and enjoy the pictures of animals who loved to have their photograph taken!
And finally a big thank you to my fellow travellers who freely contributed their own photographs to add to my collection. You are a terrific bunch of people and I enjoyed our time together.