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.