Expect: Tourists, fog and possibly one of the most exceptional views you will ever see. Pack: Camera (wrapped in a plastic bag), rain coat and student card if you have one.
Expect: Tourists, fog and possibly one of the most exceptional views you will ever see.
Pack: Camera (wrapped in a plastic bag), rain coat and student card if you have one.
As the bus carves the hellish corners that lead into the clouds, the tourists sit in a rare silence; one of nervous anticipation. Machu Picchu is one of those sights that no matter the hype, everyone always retells their visit with a smile on their face. “People build it up so much, and yet somehow it still managed to surpass all my expectations”, one tourist told me bright-eyed back at the hostel. My travels have to say the least, made me a tad cynical about major tourist attractions; so unsurprisingly I prepared for the most touristic of them all with a large shot of pisco. With over half a million tourists annually, a direct train and even helicopter access, this “lost city” in the sky is today very much found. “Hell it’s like Disney Land up there”, a Venezuelan friend told me before I jumped on the train, “but you’ll love, you’ll see”.
And he was right. There is something phenomenally powerful about Machu Picchu that pierced even my thick coat of cynicism. It is no surprise, I thought, that Pablo Neruda was inspired to write his greatest work Canto General as he stood, where I then stood; staring out over this ancient city, balanced on the roof of the world.
“In this cliff-hung region, stone and forest,
dust of green stars, jungle clarity,
Mantur breaks out like a living lake
or a new ledge of silence.
Come to my very being, to my own dawn,
up to the crowning solitude.
(The Heights of Macchu Picchu/Canto General, P. Neruda)
Machu Picchu was first uncovered by Hiram Bingham, an American historian, in 1911 as he was investigating other Inca ruins in the area; now known to be the “sacred valley”. It is thought to have been of central importance in the Inca Empire. Built around 1430 it served as a key religious and astronomical centre, its remote location chosen for its spiritual resonance. It was perceived to be the birthplace of the Incan “Virgins of the Suns”. As one takes in this remarkable place, there can be no denying its natural beauty and silent transcendence. Mist rises like smoke from the damp, green valley, surrendering the sun into dusty rays of light which, still after 500 years, glint off the polished Inca stone.
Most people arrive either by train or on foot as part of the renowned “Inca Trail”. Tips are hard to come by (there is no back way in – I tried). If you’ve got a student card remember to bring it, you get half-price entrance. Also don’t get too worked up about doing the “sunrise tour”. It’s often cloudy at dawn, and although you might get the “fiery, cloudy pillar” of the rising sun, you are more likely to see nothing and get rained on in the cold - yet I still know you’re all gonna do it. Well I can’t wait to say, “I told you so”.