Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Peru - Machu Picchu

After leaving Ecuador I entered a more touristy phase of the trip, in order to see the key natural/ancient wonders of Peru and Bolivia in a short span of only 2 weeks! Now that I´ve seen the principal tourist destinations - Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and the salt flats of Bolivia - Ill be free to come back in the future for a more "realistic" and laid back trip to these countries.

I spent a whirwind day in Piura on the north coast of Peru visiting the large market and ancient ruins of Catacaos. I hopped a night bus to Lima (15 hrs), and immediately got on a plane to Cuzco, Peru.

Cuzco was once the primary city of the Incan Empire, and legend says it was founded in the 12th century. In 1438, Incan ruler Pachacutec rallied the troups and over the next 25 years went on to conquer most of the central Andes. In 1533, in the wake of Incan civil war (and a more fractured Incan political situation), Pizarro marched into Cuzco and eventually captured the city for Spain. Today, massive inca-built walls still stand, and form the foundations of both colonial and modern buildings. I wandered this city for hours on narrow cobblestone streets, past monolithic catholic churches, through large local markets, and by plazas dominated by restaurants advertising "pizzas and pastas" for the distinctly tourist pallete.

After a couple days in Cuzco, I headed on a somewhat unknown path (to me) for Machu Picchu. As the trains to Machu Picchu are expensive (for foreigners) and the only available mode of transportation, I decided to take a round-a-bout way in getting there. First I took a night bus from Cuzco to a small town called Santa Maria. Arriving at 3 am in the middle of nowhere, after the most exhaust-filled and livestock-ridden bus ride of my life, I had no plan and no way of thinking clearly. I sat around in the dark for an hour until a small van pulled up and the driver said "Santa Teresa". That's where I wanted to go! It was a relief for weary Alice. After 5 more hours riding in a van in a confused, sleeping stupor, I arrived to Santa Teresa. There I met a few other young travelers attmepting the same hike along the train tracks. (Lucky for me, as doing it alone is not the safest bet for a young woman!) Peruvian Marco, Spanish Marisa, Italian Rocco, and I caught a ride to a hydroelectric station, and then walked a couple hours following the train tracks until we reached the closest town to Machu Picchu. Beautiful scenery, a nice walk, and one hitched ride from nice conductors - money well saved!

The next morning, we woke up at 3:30 AM, and hiked to Machu Picchu for sunrise. (And if it hadn't been for the coffee cart near the entrance, we would have made it too!)

Machu Picchu was a most amazing site. The "lost city" was not rediscovered until 1911. It is still unknown exactly what funciton the site served, but recent suggestions have been that it was a country palace which was abandoned when the Spaniards arrived and began destroying Incan cities, in an attmept to save it. It is a beautifully constructed city, with artisanship reflected in the cuts of every stone.

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