Aka all that can happen if you have high expectations on an experience
My honeymoon is the result of a dream of a child (my husband) who, at the age of six, saw the pictures of the trip to Peru shooted by his globetrotter uncle who like an old-style traveler explored the world without internet and with tuna cans in his backpack. That child grown up and, when deciding with his future wife (me) where to go for their honeymoon, he answered without hesitation: “Let’s go to Peru! I want to see Machu Picchu! “
Our trip was not a “traditional” honeymoon. We spent most of the three weeks backpacking at high altitudes: few hours of sleep, some trips in the sleeper buses with our eyes full of the magnificent landscapes extending between the south of Peru and Bolivia. It’s almost at the end of our journey that we plan to visit one of the seven wonders of the world.
How to reach Machu Picchu
Our “Machu Picchu experience” can be summarized as follows. Imagine you have a date. Good. The guy has some chance to be the man of your dreams. Great. Well, you than realize that the new foundation you just bought causes you an eyes allergy, an herpes appeares on your lips and while you are getting out of the car you sink – even if with style – with half calf in a puddle.
Like as per all great events, we have big expectations on the experience.
Machu Picchu can be reached in two ways. One is the Inca Trail, a trekking that takes four days hike; it is not particularly long (about 40 km), but it is physically challenging. This path traced by the Inca is characterized by ups, downs and winding paths, but the great effort is payed off arriving to Machu Picchu at dawn. The second alternative, and the most common as well, is to arrive with buses driving daily from Aguas Calientes, a town of about one thousand inhabitants that can only be reached by train. Being the gateway to Machu Picchu it has been transformed (and concreted over) during time into a village at exclusive service of tourism.
It will be an adventure…
To reach Aguas Caliente we leave in the afternoon from the station of the wonderful archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. The train arrives not one, not two, but seven hours late. As time passes, the station becomes similar to a stadium before a concert whit no information on the delay. Matteo, with the traditional optimism that pervades him in this kind of situations, shakes his head: “I broke my childhood dream”.
Some kinds of bivoucs are created. It is when I begin to wonder why we have not chosen an exotic island full of palms and white beaches as our honeymoon destination that we know Viviana and Camila. Blondes. Blue eyes. Brazilians with a Venetian surname (these kind of things always happen to other girls). They do not speak Italian but they proudly tell us that their grandfather, who immigrated from Friuli to Brazil many years ago, is the promoter of the “Festa da Polenta” in Espírito Santo.
At an unspecified hour at night and after having eated more peanuts that a monkey in a zoo in the 80s, the train finally leaves for Aguas Calientes. We arrive late at night and wander for a while looking for our accommodation. I enter in a splendid hotel and with an expression like “have mercy on me” I ask the receptionist to tell me where our two-star hotel can be.
Rise and shine!
Three hours later the alarm rings. The weather is gray-sick. Our guide must pick us up at dawn, but do not see her. Matteo gets in queue for the buses. I run back and forth to the hotel, where the owner is trying to contact the guide. She overslept. She says to leave and she will reach us. I have worked too many years as a waitress to be really angry. I have forgiven everything to people who work with the public, even twelve flûtes spilled on my back at a New Year’s dinner, but … we are exhausted!
We start the visit and I am in a bad mood. The whole scenario is covered by a thick fog that not nor in the world day London in November… The guide, who in the meantime has reached us, is giving all to apologize for the delay (I must admit, she is very prepared). Little by little the veil covering all this beauty slowly begins to rise.
The lost city of Inca
The feeling we get when we are in front of Machu Picchu is comparable to a high cinematographic moment. This citadel is located at more then 2400 m above sea level and physically faces the threshold of the Amazon forest. It seems that it is because to its inaccessible location that this place has escaped Spanish domination. It was only in 1911 that an American historian from Yale University, brought here by some locals, guesses its historical and archaeological importance.
The fog that rises relentlessly, moves and embraces the outlines of the citadel and the mountains, contributes inevitably to increasing its aura of charm.
What was Machu Picchu used for?
Machu Picchu was probably the emperor’s summer residence. The citadel is divided into two sectors: the agricultural one, characterized by terraces, and the urban one, deputed to civil and religious functions (Machu Picchu is actually the name of the mountain south of the archaeological site).
The Inca people
Worshipers of the Sun God (Inti), the most important role in society was the emperor (called Inca), who represented his earthly personification. The cult for the Pachamama – the mother earth – covered (and still does it) an enormous importance and Inca daily dedicated rituals to ensure a good harvest.
- Farmers: their terracing system can be considered a true masterpiece of agronomy.
- Builders: the shapes of the stones are of an impressive precision and most of the most important buildings of the Inca empire have been erected without using mortar.
- Astronomers: they studied the stars to determine the best moments for sowing and harvesting. In Machu Picchu, for example, there are two open-air bodies of water that seem to have been used to study the rotation of the sun by day and stars at night, and to predict whether there would be a good harvest.
The immensity of nature, history and human beings
We wander along the paths, overwhelmed by all this beauty. We can hardly realize that we really managed to get here as my attention is drawn by three people. They are far from us, but not enough not to realize what is happening. One boy is holding a girl, another is carrying her wheelchair. At one point she nods to be put down. The passage is too narrow. She starts going up the path relying only on the strength of her arms. For a moment, and perhaps for the first time in my life, I bow in front of the immensity of history, nature and the human being at the same time.
- July and August are mostly crowded. Whenever you go book tickets in advance. If you intend to get to Machu Picchu by the Inca Trail, keep in mind that the trek has to be booked a year in advance.
- The site opens at 6 am. Get ready to line up very early: when it is still dark if you want to be the first to enter to take solitary pictures; before sunrise if you want to avoid the confusion of the central hours of the morning. Do not be worried about fog: it will be there, it will go away and it will come back.
- After Machu Picchu has been decleared one of the seven wonders of the world Peru’s poverty has reduced by at least 30%. Try to eat and spend the night in places managed by the locals, in order to give them even more credit.
- Since several parts of the Citadel were “sinking” under the weight of tourists, there are now some mandatory routes that has to be followed. Contact a local guide to discover all the secrets that such a magical place has to reveal.
- Instead of taking the bus to go back to Aguas Calientes you can go down the path just outside Machu Picchu. It is all downhill and not a difficult walk (just be careful not to slip). This will give you the chance to enjoy a little taste of the Amazon forest.