Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

On Friday April 18, we woke up very early to take a van to the train station in Ollantaytambo. Fortunately, Beth and Alyssa were feeling better, and they were able to join us for the remainder of the trek.
The Inca Rail train station was very busy, as many tourists take this train to go from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Our group, however, got off the train at kilometer 104 to hike part of the Inca Trail which was also filled with many travelers from around the world. The Inca Trail itself is strictly regulated, and only a certain number of people can enter each day. Also, groups with more than eight people must have more than one guide, so we were joined by another guide from Cusco whose name is Lucy. There are also numerous officials at each ruin site who blow whistles at rule breakers and workers at various checkpoints to keep track of who is on the Inca Trail. At the beginning of the trail we visited a small Incan ruin near the first checkpoint and took a group picture.

         The Inca Trail is jungle-like and at a lower altitude than the hike from the previous two days. Throughout our hike, we had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Urubamba River, as you can see below.

We also stopped at a waterfall for a snack and another group picture. 

We ate a wonderful boxed lunch of rice, chicken, and potatoes at Wiñaywayna. These ruins had separate places for the farmers and the royal family to live. It had terraces that produced enough food for 1,000 people, and the Incas slowly acclimated their crops to the altitude by moving them up a terrace each year. Archeologists still need to uncover about 20% of Wiñaywayna because part of jungle still covers it. Wiñaywayna also has many stairs, and in my opinion, they were more of a "gringo killer" than the coined gringo killer that is near the Sun Gate, but with time and the encouragement from our fantastic guides Daniel and Lucy, everyone was able to make it to the top. 

We continued our trek to the Sun Gate and saw our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

Then we proceeded to the entrance of Machu Picchu to get on a bus to take us to Aguas Calientes. Once we arrived at our hotel, everyone was able to finally take a shower and rest after three days of sweaty hiking through the Andes. Then we went to a restaurant near the hotel for dinner. Everyone was in good spirits and enjoyed each others company. Before we went back to the hotel, we walked around Aguas Calienetes to find some medical supplies and water. To our surpirse, the train runs right through the town.

When we were back at the hotel, all of the students played the card game that Daniel taught us the previous night.

Saturday was the day that many were looking forward to because we went to Machu Picchu. We woke up early to take the 5:30 bus to Machu Picchu so that we could see the sunrise. While we were waiting for the sunrise, Daniel told us a lot of information about Machu Picchu.
-The Spainards sent many explorations to find the Inca capital, but they never discovered Machu Picchu.
-People were living and farming at Machu Picchu when Hiram Bingham found it.
-Legend is that a local boy led Hiram Bingham around the ruins of Machu Picchu.
-Machu Picchu means "big mountain" ("father mountain" for the locals).
-Wanynupicchu means "small mountain" ("son mountain" for the locals).
-Machu Picchu's location on top of a mountain with a river surrounding; it was a defensive strategy for any groups that tried to attack.
-The Sun Gate was the main entrance.
-The Incas made trails across the tops of mountains in case of an emergency.
-The Incas left Machu Picchu and went deep into the jungle, but no one ever found them.
-The Incas never finished building Machu Picchu.
-There are two areas (one for regular people and one for the kings and priests), and regular people were not allowed to the other side.
-Before making Machu Picchu, the Incas had to clean up the mountain and make a strong foundation
-It is estimated that 60% of Machu Picchu is underground.
-The Incas used knowledge from the pre-Incas to make their buildings.
-The Incas used cold water, fire, chisels, and hammers to make the stones for the walls.
-Archeologists have found that the bones of the workers are damaged because of the labor-intensive work they had to do.
-Many of the walls in Machu Picchu are cracking because of seismic activity.
-The windows in Machu Picchu point to the east so that they will cast shadows, allowing the Incas to tell time.

The unfinished sun temple:

After Daniel's tour, we had to say goodbye to him and Lucy. Our group will definitely miss them, especially Daniel. He was very knowledgeable about the Incas and natural remedies for our ailments that we contracted during the trek, and he always had a positive attitude. As soon as he left, we were saying Danielisms such as "Hola Hola Inca Kola" and "Vamos a la Playa." Then, after a short break, part of our group climbed Wanaypicchu. This was where the Inca King went so that he could watch and study the stars. For us, it was an arduous climb, but the view and the sense of accomplishment was definitely worth the pain. 
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes after our exploration of Machu Picchu, we ate lunch at the same restaurant as the previous night and then went to the hot springs. Since we hiked for four days, it was relaxing and fun to spend time with friends in the hot springs. We had to leave the hot springs after an hour, and then we took the Inca Rail to Ollayantambo, from where we rode in a van to Yure's house. Once we arrived there, we had to quickly say goodbye to the Amazon group. It will be different without them because we developed a good sense of camaraderie. From Yure's house, we went to our host family. We have not met eveyrone in the house yet, but it is very apparent that there are at least three generations living there. Our host mother is very kind and willing to help us.
Overall, our two days on the Inca Trail, at Machu Picchu, and in Aguas Calientes were very tiring, but everyone certainly made great memories to cherish and to share with others. 

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