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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Macchu Picchu: Expedition Phase

Last weekend our group was lucky enough to explore one of the wonders of the world, Macchu Picchu.  For three years I have been dreaming of discovering one of coolest places on Earth, and what an experience it was.

Planning started the week before where we divided into three groups: transport, accomodation and food.  I was in transport and Jackson, Ella and I arranged for a bus to drive us to Hydroelectrica, where we would then walk for three hours following the train tracks to our campsite.

The drive was insane.  The driver had been driving the road to Hydroelectrica every day for two years, and certainly drove like it.  We whipped around corners as the road climbed to the top of the pass at 14 000 feet.  Once over the pass the fog rolled in to add some excitement to the driver’s visibility, but luckily we were in such an experienced driver’s hands. From there we raced down 10 000 feet through the the different biomes of Peru until we reached the jungle-esque valley floor. The road turned to dirt and hugged the mountains cliff side, and the views of the river below were gorgeous. At 2pm, we arrived at Hydroelectrica, ready to start our walk.  After 3 hours of walking,   what a wonderful surprise it was to see Liza back from New York!

The market had good food for dinner and night fell as we tucked into our tent.  It was definitely comfy; squeezing four people into a three man tent was a squeeze (and a sweat lodge).  By 1am Ned, Zoe, Jackson and I had gotten no sleep as the rain pelted our tent.   Though when we woke up at 4:45 to start the hike up I was surprised to find the clouds lifting and the sun starting to peek over the mountains.  Quickly we scarfed down granola and yogurt (forgot my tupper so ate from a plastic bag) and by 6am we were crossing the bridge to start the Inca stairs (1300 feet in 2km).  After the hype about how bad they were – Louis made it seem like the stairs were belly button high – they only took me 26 minutes.  At 7:30am the mountain group (Jackson, Louis, Zoe, Franca, Molly, Brian and I) went into MP and headed for Macchu Picchu Mountain, another 2200 feet of elevation gain.  The trail winded its way up the mountain through series of mossy, misty jungle and huge rock slabs.  The summit was incredible; there was a bird’s eye view of MP and the rows of jagged peaks surrounding it.  Salkantay even briefly showed itself, a 20000 foot behemoth.

At 11am we met up with the other group to have a 2 hour guided tour.

Macchu Picchu was built around the 14 century and was used for less than 100 years before being abandoned.  The Spanish cut off all the Inca trails to MP, and there was no way to get supplies or have access to the outside world.  There it was forgotten for 350 years, until villagers brought it to the attention of American explorer, Iram Bingham, in 1911.

Tourism at first was slow; most of their tourism came from hippies in the 70s looking for a spiritual place to connect with nature. Around 2007 is when tourism was sparked after it being named as one of the new 7 wonders of the world.

First our guide took us to the king’s palace.  It had the only dry toilet at MP, and could not be entered by ordinary people.  In that time the Inca King controlled everything, and made people’s labour as tax for living in his kingdom.  His wife was also important however had no real governing power.

From there we visited a tomb, where they used to mummify important people in the Incan kingdom. They were buried with riches and dogs were sacrificed to help lead them into the afterlife. When they abandoned MP, they took all the mummies with them.  Then we went to one of the most important places in religion for the Inca: the sun temple.  There they have a huge wall with three windows, representing the snake, the puma and the condor.   At the top of the temple  there is the sun dial which tells the time and the time of year.  They have windows in the sun temple which light shines through on the summer and winter solstices.  On the winter solstices people were afraid the sun was leaving them and sacrificed black llamas to try and bring the sun back.  When the sun came back the next day it was one of the happiest days of the year.

At the bottom of MP city is where the normal people lived.  They had thatched roofs and a beautiful view of the mountains.  Houses had two stories –  one for storage and one for living – but no stairs.  They had their own priests and places to pray.

That is when the tour ended and Jackson and I decided to carry on and visit the places we hadn’t seen: the sun gate and the Inca bridge.

It was a struggle getting back through security, however Monica, a random security guard, smuggled us through against the rules.  The Inca bridge was a path cut into a sheer cliff.  Who knows how they did that.  The sun gate was the entrance to MP from the Inca trail.  We saw some people in their 60s get their first view of MP after five days trekking.  What a special moment.  Last of all we saw a crazy rainbow after a short rain over the ruins, a very spiritual moment.  The flag of the Inca is like a rainbow which seemed to hold some significance.

The rest of the day involved a lot of sleep and a lot of food.  The journey back was much like the journey to the campsite, however on the way back over the mountain pass we were greeted by Mount Veronica.  At 17000 feet it dominates the skyline and we got to pass right under her dominating figure.

We got back to Urubamba at 7pm and I was greeted by the hot food, welcoming smiles, and comfortable bed of my homestay.

Not a bad weekend.