Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Machu Picchu

It was so sunny and beautiful yesterday when we arrived in Aguas Calientes. We went straight to our hotel and couldn't check in for an hour or so, so we sat at a little cafe and got the ever-present limonade (made of whole limons, whirred in a blender with water and sugar, skins and all. It's incredibly refreshing and delicious). We decided to head up to the mountain around 2pm, when it is supposed to clear out, as organized tours leave to catch the 3:30 train to their next stop.

It was very confusing. We had to buy bus tickets in one place, and a ticket onto the site at another place. We got conflicting information about when the bus left for Machu Picchu, and when the last bus left to come back to town. The ticket to Machu Picchu was almost twice the amount we thought, which meant $80. OK, you only do this once. You don't come here, you don't come this far, to let the ticket price stop you. It was just surprising.

Our weary nerves and all the confusion frayed us and we had to reorient ourselves to each other again. We'd had very little sleep the night before, and had gotten up at 4:45am, so I think we were just a little bit cranky.

We barely caught a bus; Marc whistled and shouted just as one was pulling away, and we got on. There were just two seats, and not together, but who cares for the 25-minute trip up the mountain. Then the man sitting next to me smiled and got up to sit in the other empty seat so Marc and I could sit together. This is characteristic of the people we've encountered -- they're friendly and engaging.

The ride up the mountain was by turns breathtaking and a little scary, as the road seemed wide enough for one bus quite easily, but not so much for two buses. And of course there were nonstop buses coming back down the mountain, so we were often squeezing past each other. This wasn't so scary when we were on the inside lane, but when we were outside and seemingly hanging on the edge of the road, on the edge of a mountain, it was a little pulse-increasing. When we got near enough to start seeing the site, and the other site much higher on a facing mountain, it felt like my mind just stopped in awe. We were at Machu Picchu.

First, the video:

When we walked into the site, we stopped on a terrace and sat in the shade of the terrace above, to just look. I think we both could've just done that for hours. The clouds on the facing mountain tops were constantly shifting, as was the light. The whole site was much greener than we expected. And the site itself was much more amazing than we expected. You know how you think about these iconic places for decades, building them up a little, and then they're not quite as awesome as all that? Machu Picchu is not like that at all. It exceeded my imagination, by far.

The stonework was really amazing -- sometimes square, sometimes here and there, sometimes straight courses, other times just cut to fit:

The Temple of the Condor was really interesting -- on the floor of that space was a sculpted representation of the condor's head, and the wall behind the head had two enormous rock faces going upward as wings.


As amazing as the buildings and rooms and temples and terraces are -- and they really are -- for me, anyway, it was the vista that made it so breathtaking. Marc and I picked our way through the site, stopping everywhere just to look at the views.

There's this amazing massive rock that was carved to echo the mountaintops it faced. It is a near-perfect imitation. Those Incas were truly brilliant; one thing I meant to post earlier, from our Colca Valley trip, was that when they built a site, they first carved a stone model -- an exact model -- of their building site, so they could see how the water would flow downward, etc. Really brilliant.

It was sunny and a little cool, with a breeze that just kept the temperature perfect. The air was sweet and clear, the skies were blue but the mountaintops were shrouded in clouds, and it simply could not have been better, in any way. We soaked ourselves in it and stayed until the last buses were leaving. As we sat on a terrace, taking our final looks at the view, an enormous flock of green parrots took off from our right, wheeling and squawking as they flew past us. They were brilliant in the sun, and it seemed like some kind of dream.

And one final thing that happened, that you wouldn't believe unless you know and trust me: while we sat watching the mountains and clouds, a heart-shaped hole opened up in the clouds directly in front of us. It wasn't almost heart-shaped, or kind of heart-shaped. It was an exact, perfect heart:

I just don't have the words to describe this experience. Awesome, magnificent, amazing, incredible, breathtaking, puny little pale words.

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