Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Theatre of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

The Backdrop of Machu Picchu

Huayna Picchu

Inside a compound

Rio Urubamba

Aguas Calientes

On board entertainment on Vistadome

A German tourist sitting across from me on the train remarked in his best English, "Machu Pichu is small. I think of it as a theatre, the ruins as the stage, and the mountains around it is the audience." His remark summed up everything about Machu Picchu. Concise and poetic.

Last April before Easter, I caught a taxi to Wanchaq station at 6:45 am to be at the peak at a reasonable time and have enough hours in the day to admire and absorb the place. The trip went from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo by bus, then a transfer on Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes, and from there a 20 minute bus ride to the peak.

The trip in itself was well worth the 3 hours each way. The spectacular scenery in the valley of Urubamba, deep in the Andes contributed to a rather full memory card.

The UNESCO world heritage is just like the picture - very picturesque, impressive, preserved ruins with a spectacular backdrop of steep mountain sides. If it had been on a plain, the effect would not have been as dramatic.

In terms of age, Machu Pichu is fairly "modern" and short lived. The Inca Empire flourished only between 1450 to 1572, and Machu Picchu abandoned right after the Spanish conquest. The site was unknown to the Spaniards and the world, until Hiram Bingham brought international attention to the place in 1911.

On the return, a nurse from Winnipeg and I compared notes. Other than the usual, did you see this and that, we noticed the number of senior tourists that day. We wondered how some managed at 2,600 metres with no water, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses; no toilet nor store to buy water at the peak; and a few displaying physical limitations, even one suffering from vertigo.

All in all though, from the time I got to Wanchaq station to Aguas Calientes to the peak, it was pure excitement. Machu Picchu was indeed the stage, the Andes the audience.

On top of that Peru Rail rocked. At a chug chugging pace of 30 km per hour, the organization, the ticket agents, the service on Vistadome and the ever pleasant train attendants were simply superb.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Unique Blend: Qosqo

Qoricancha & St. Dominic's Convent

Archaelogical site near Qoricancha

Merchants' parade at Plaza Mayor

Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor)

History of the Incas mural by Juan Bravo

Plaza Sto. Domingo/Merchants Parade

Cuzco side street

Plaza San Francisco food stall

On Tuesday morning during Semana Santa, the week before Easter, Cuzco came alive with a parade of the merchants. Merchant associations from the altiplano to the pacific coast, from Peru to Argentina, brought their finest costumes, music and dance steps, trooped from Plaza Sto. Domingo to Plaza Mayor (de Armas) and onto Avenida El Sol.

For about 3 hours, onlookers were treated to a show by clam diggers to shoe makers, vegetable growers to fishermen, and so on. In the holiest of weeks, an Inca tradition prevailed.

The city of Cuzco (or Qosqo) is a UNESCO World Heritage. It is a blend of two equally dramatic cultures of empire builders, the Inca and the Spanish. Although the Inca Empire (1400 to early 1500) is fairly recent and short lived, it left an impression on Cuzco, literally. Many of the Spanish colonial structures are simply built on the foundations of Inca structures. One can't escape the other walking through the streets, the churches, numerous museums of the city.

The people, predominantly Quechuas or Ingas, and the city live up to the stature and billing as a heritage site. They contribute to the feeling that one has actually traveled far distance, in time and to a unique destination.

Please click the link for the Mural of Juan Bravo, Cuzco