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Inca Trail Day 4

By marksams, 12/29/2010 - 22:39

We were woken at 3.30am, and it was still raining. The porters needed to pack up and get their 5.15am local train back to Ollantaytambo, and apparently, if they missed this train, then the next one was not until 8pm.

We had breakfast at 4am. It was still raining. After breakfast we went up to the lodge for shelter, which was even more packed than the previous evening. We left at approx. 5.10am to walk to the checkpoint for a final check of our Machu Picchu tickets. This was handled by the guides so we didn't need to worry - we just had to queue in the rain until 5.30am when the warden arrived.
Now we were on the final section of the trail and due to arrive at Machu Picchu approx. 7.30am. We stopped at the 'Sun Gate' for a quick rest on the way, but pressed on to our final destination. Apart from the bushes near the Sun Gate, there were no toilet stops on this section. I had to miss the group photo upon arrival at Machu Picchu because I had to dash down to the facilities near the entrance. It would have been a less stressful affair if I'd had my passport to get back in through the entrance and some cash to get in the bloody toilet! We were now firmly back in the land of the tourists. At least it had stopped raining.

We regrouped and after a short break for food and drinks in the café near the entrance, Guido gave us a 2 hour tour of Machu Picchu starting at 8.30am. Everyone was very tired, and some eyes were shutting during his talks.

Machu Picchu was a major Inca centre, inhabited by the Incan elite, priests and astronomers, and used as the 2nd capital (after Lima) when Cusco was sacked by the Spaniards. It seems the Incas has been successful in blocking all the trails to prevent the Spaniards reaching this site. The site could be dated to a particular point in time due to a change in the Incan architecture from using bricks and mortar to just bricks with concave and convex shapes to make them interlock. The 'Temple of the Sun' had been rebuilt with this new architecture method. Most buildings had recesses in the walls (with a shorter top edge) used for placing ornaments, but this also made them earthquake proof - probably by design.

Machu Picchu was an astronomical centre with a type of sun dial at the top of the site in addition to the 'Temple of the Sun'. The temple had windows aligned to measure the solstices, at exact degrees measured according to the earth's tropics. Only on the solstices would sunlight completely fill the windows and cast the appropriate shadows inside. The sun dial at the top (called Intihuatana) had a 16 degree angle (according to Cusco's position on earth) and was used to measure the changing seasons as well as the exact time for Cusco.

Later, we visited the Temple of the Condor, where mummies of the Incan elite were kept ready for the next procession, usually a celebration of the solstices. Sacrifices were carried out here, and blood was poured into the stone condor's neck. The containing stones represented the white collar of the condor.

We also learnt about the Incan cross (called a Chakana) that was designed to represent the Incan belief system. The different parts of the cross all held different meanings (in addition to North, South, East & West - with Cusco at the centre), such as the 'High World' represented by the Condor, the 'Middle World', represented by the Puma, and the 'Low World' represented by the Snake. On the lower parts of the cross, the hierarchical society of the 'Middle World' was represented in 3 tiers as Government, Community and Family or Kings, Incas, and Quechuas (the native/common people) . The last corner of the cross represented the fundamental principles of Knowledge, Work, and Love.

Our guide also gave us the impression of the Incas as the ruling elite over the Quechuas, and how they deformed their skulls to appear more godly or intelligent. The architecture at Machu Picchu (much like parts of the trail) contained many large steps. In the royal quarters the doorways were very high, but did this not fit with archaeological evidence of small bones. We theorised the royals were carried through the doorways.

The Incas initially arrived from the Lake Titicaca area and dominated and improved all existing technologies including science, religion, writing and farming. They spoke a different style of language from the Quechuas and lived as near to the high world as possible - on top of the mountains in the middle world.

We were told of Hiram Bingham's expeditions along the Inca trails and how he discovered a bigger and better preserved Inca site than Machu Picchu, but decided to put the focus here. There are some questions over his original intentions and what proportion of his time was spent considering opening up this lost civilisation to the world vs. looking for personal treasures. There were no treasures at Machu Picchu when Hiram arrived. These had already been taken by locals/hill farmers when the site was overgrown for centuries, and there were actually a couple of families living among the buildings when Hiram arrived to show him around. Unfortunately some of Hiram's theories about doorways (impenetrable wooden structures instead of curtains) and the temple of the condor (prison instead of mummy house) have proved incorrect.

Still fighting the fatigue, we continued walking around the site. We all got a shock when the resident Llamas got a bit excited and stampeded around us, scaring the tourists! We were pinned up against a wall before making a quick escape. Fully alert again now…

The tour concluded and we caught the local bus (pre-paid as part of our tour) from the Machu Picchu site down into Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu town. We lunched with the rest of the group at an overpriced tourist restaurant, followed by a short wander around the town.

The journey back was fairly long. We caught the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, taking 1.5-2 hours. We passed KM82 and the start point of the Inca Trail on the way which was nice. We then transferred from Ollantaytambo to Cusco by bus, taking another 1.5-2 hours, arriving back at our Cusco hotel (San Isidro Labrador) about 7.30pm. Absolutely knackered, we still managed to venture out and return our hire gear (ponchos, walking sticks and sleeping bags) and grab a quick bite to eat. We slept like logs that night, and recounted our adventures for many days to come.