Inca Trail: The Recovery

After Freddy concluded our tour yesterday, we were given some free time to roam around the Incan city before having to meet the rest of the group for lunch in Aguas Calientes. There are only two “directional path” options to take, so we took the route that we had not already traversed, climbing upwards for a better vantage point of the complex.

 A few of our group members actually raced back to the sun gate (Intipunku) since the skies had cleared of the cloudiness from earlier. (Tom and I opted not to do this since a) I’m slow and b) We thought the view would be underwhelming.

 

Apparently we were right, though the others decided to go moreso for the sense of closure.)

At lunch we were very disappointed to discover that our train and subsequent bus back to Cusco would not have us arriving until 10 or 11 PM which was far later than the advertised typical time of 8 PM, especially considering the fact that we had woken up at 3:30 AM. We ended up having to burn about 4-hrs of time just drinking, chatting, and roaming aimlessly. By the time we got back to the city, after a 2-hr train ride followed by a 2-hr bus ride (requiring a baño ecologíco stop for everyone that had been drinking), we were completely drained.

About 10-mins later Tom and were very unhappy to find out that the Pariwana Cusco Hostel, whom we had made reservations with over the phone when we stayed at their sister hostel, Pariwana Lima, had absolutely no record of our reservation! Nor did they have any private, double rooms available! We were both beyond pissed as they only had dormitory beds available and did not offer any viable alternatives for us. The last thing we wanted to do after a 4-day hike was to share a room with strangers that would very likely compromise our sleep. 

Fortunately, Milhouse Hostel, who we had stayed with before we left for our hike did have the availability we were looking for, and was just around the corner. (Note to self: I still need to leave the negative review for Pariwana).

After a warm and toasty night’s sleep in our private room within the restored monastery, Tom and I ventured out in the late morning for a lazy, hazy day. We grabbed a quick bite and visited the Cusco Cathedral (no pictures allowed) in the afternoon, roamed the streets of San Blas in the early evening, and then headed back to relax for the rest of the night. 

Originally, we had both  been thinking of buying either a lute or flute from Sabino Huaman (one of only two luthiers in all of Peru, and whose small shop we accidentally stumbled across before we left for our hike), but we decided that while conceptually it would be a unique item to own, it was not a necessary souvenir….and our legs were so so tired.

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Machu Picchu: The Engineering of a Civilization

To this day it still amazes me how the empires of yonder past accomplished jaw-dropping feats that we can only hope to achieve with the help of modern technology. They moved mountains and erected monumental structures that have withstood the test of time, despite their civilizations having faded into obscurity. 

The Incan Empire is no different. There were signs and remains of their ingenuity dispersed all throughout Machu Picchu, and Freddy, our guide, took the time to point these subtle clues out to our group. 

Our first stop was at a water bath. Baths are something that were abundantly found along the Inca Trail as all visitors, including the emperor, were expected to arrive at the sanctuary pure of soul and mind. Ritual cleansing of the body was very common; the upper class would us the higher levels of the baths and, as ranking decreased, the lower class would use tiers of the baths that were at a lower level (basically they washed in the water run-off). 

The bath had a carved channel with grooves  to divert and control the flow of water to the lower baths. Additionally, the edges of the stone had a sloped incline that served as a weir to reduce the rate of flow to the lower levels, allowing each individual in a bath module to enjoy a sufficient amount of water depth before it moved on to the next person. 

We then sat inside one of the four temples on-site. The stonework was so incredibly intricate! In the beginning of our hike we were told that stones pieced together with mortar were always essential buildings such as houses or forts, whereas stones puzzle-constructed with no invisible joints were generally palaces or temples.

It was sad, however, to see that the temple was starting to crumble at its edges. The white lines you see were drawn by archaeologists in order to document the rate of decline of certain at-risk structures in the sanctuary. 

We were told that when UNESCO first certified the complex, they recommended limiting the number of visitors to no more than 1,000 at a time. However, the Peruvian president, in his greed, set the actual limit at 4,000, 4X the recommended limit! As a result, since Machu Picchu was never originally designed for this amount of human loading, parts of the citadel are starting to sink at a rate of about 2 cm per year. To combat this, timed-entry tickets were introduced this year in July, with only two visits allowed per ticket between the hours of 6-12 and 12-5:30. 

The Incans would cut each stone with precision. They would carve a nook into each large stone and hammer a piece of wood into the opening. Water would then be poured in to saturate the wood, which would expand upon freezing introducing stresses into the adjacent stone gradually forcing the segments apart. See the full split of the rock just right of the fern? We could see clear through it.

The stones were moved into place with a combination of rollers and handles chipped into the face of the rock. The handles would then be left in place, or sheared off after the piece reached its final position. 

You may recall the solar eclipse that crossed the entire continental US on August 21; solar eclipse sunglasses were flying off the shelves!

Since it was so important to their survival, and the agricultural season, the Incans very meticulously tracked the sun. Knowing that they could not look directly at it, they designed “reflecting bowls,” so that they could monitor the sun’s position in the sky without fear of harming their eyes. 

They also needed to be aware of geographical locations and the appearance / disappearance of certain constellations in the sky (in order to track the wet and dry seasons). 

To accomplish this, they carved a kite-shaped rock with the tip of it pointed toward true North. Many visitors, including our group, couldn’t help but use our smartphone compasses to test the accuracy of the stone.

 Compass North and Kite-North were 100% consistent!