Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 10 August 2012

Machu. Picchu.

why this long drawn-out silence? i’m finding it hard to write about this place, this experience, and feeling the weight of needing to do so. it’s just so much bigger than i. in the spirit of patient forgiveness, let’s consider this the first post of  several over time. i’m not totally sure where i’m going with this, so let’s assume this particular round will be more narrative than reflective.

29 may 2012.

first off, i was nervous about getting to the train on time because i had switched hostels the night prior. however, thanks to my over-priced travel agency and the magic of perú, everything was just fine. one of the things that i most loved about perú is that it asks you to let go of the orderly but sterile regularity of north american life in favor of something much more relaxed and unpredictable. everything gets done, just not in the way that i’m socialized to expect. por ejemplo: a nice, sharply dressed man arrived very early at my hostel with all my tickets in a neat little colorful pouch. we hopped in a van that then went on to pick up a few other folks from different hotels. between the second and third stops, the man rolled down his window and stuck his hand out. someone passing by on the street handed him a plastic bag, which was then passed back to me. “here’s your lunch,” the man told me. ! seriously, perú?! i am in love with you. forever. the rest of the trip down through the sacred valley and then on to machu picchu was relatively uneventful. i switched seats with an american guy so he could be next to his wife (it later turned out that we had adjacent seats on the train back, too. john & guilia graciously offered me a beer & we had fun getting acquianted on our delayed return trip) and chatted with my canadian seatmate. the views, especially of the mountains, are spectacular:

the train takes you into the town of aguas calientes (it has hot springs, but i didn’t go), and like so many touristy destinations in south america, you are immediately funneled into a giant land of trinket shopping. peruvian vendors are super aggressive. they will follow you down multiple streets. they do not want to take no for an answer. and every single person at a stall selling the same five llama sweaters wants you to come look at their five llama sweaters. it doesn’t matter if you firmly and politely say no in spanish or in english. since i don’t speak any quechua, i can’t attest to the efficacy or lack thereof of that language. as an introvert who doesn’t really want to buy a lot of recuerdos, this was the most difficult aspect of traveling in perú. don’t say i didn’t warn you. from aguas calientes, you can take a bus or walk up to the entrance for machu picchu. oh, the bus ride up? insanely spectacular cloud forest:

the andes contain a host of microclimates and the machu picchu environs are near-tropical. i wish i could say i saw a condor or a spectacled bear, but being part of a herd of tourists is not exactly the best recipe for wildlife encounters.  you descend about 4000 feet or so from cusco to get to machu picchu and my altitude sickness was near-gone; near because once i started climbing steep inca stairs my lungs reminded me that growing up below sea level did not teach them how to process oxygen way up here. as much as i wish i could have trekked the inca trail, there is no way i could have acclimatized in just two days to do it and this short hike was a painful reminder of my physical inadequacy. after many mini rest breaks, i got to see the typical postcard-perfect vista of the city itself:

it’s still unreal to me that i actually saw this. or hyper-real. we’ll continue in another post – for now i’ll close by saying that the architecture of the city perfectly suits its surroundings. perhaps it was different when machu picchu was inhabited, but i rather doubt it. the echoing remains converse directly with the nearest peaks, huayna picchu and machu picchu. the silence of the wind and the clouds and the stones is loud. i wish the agricultural terraces were in use; the slopes must have been beautiful with quinoa and corn. i’m not doing the city justice, but it is clear to me that the inca understood and admired the andes. machu picchu is a love letter to the mountains:


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