the 'lost city' of machu picchu
we woke up at 4am to get an early start on the the final day's trek. the goal was to reach the sun gate, a.k.a. intipunku, before dawn, so that we could watch the morning light unveil machu picchu. once a year, on the december solstice, the light of the rising sun beams directly through the gate and into one of only two windows in machu picchu's temple of the sun, illuminating an altar inside. (the other window is for the june solstice. pretty cool, huh?) although we had a few crises along the way, we all managed to make it to the sun gate in time to watch the natural light show.
sunrise over machu picchu
it was a good thing we chose to hike to machu picchu rather than grab a bus like most tourists do. we arrived nice and early, and were rewarded for our extra effort with the opportunity to explore the ruins while they were still tranquil and relatively empty. machu picchu was a lot bigger and more elaborate than i expected. rather than just a few walls nestled into a mountain peak, it turned out to be a massive, intricate, and developed city, consisting of residential, industrial, and academic districts, buildings for crop storage and the fabrication of goods, a sophisticated aqueduct system, terraced gardens, and broad stretches of land for the celebration of religious festivals. as before, the incans' capacity for urban planning never fails to amaze me.
views from within the ruins. one has to wonder what machu picchu looked like in its prime, when all the buildings had roofs and the terraces abounded with crops, in addition to countless species of orchids, which the incans cultivated for decoration. the colors, activity, and life there must have been incredible.
all in all, we had enough time to leisurely explore the city before the tourist buses began to arrive en masse, around noon. the place soon filled up with crowds, transforming the atmosphere from one of serenity, beauty, and awe to something more along the lines of an amusement park. the experience was nevertheless fascinating, and totally worth it.
the only thing we didn't get a chance to do was scale huayna pichu, the mountain next to the ruins. its summit holds the temple of the moon, which also served as an incan observatory. but after our climb earlier that morning, and given that we arrived later than we had planned, we instead opted for relaxing at various points within in the city itself until it was time to head out.
in closing, a full vista of machu picchu...this time unspoiled by a bunch of dirty backpackers in the foreground.
one final amusing fact about the ruins...there is clearly a lot of grass there, but no way in hell is anyone going to run a lawnmower through machu picchu. to maintain the landscape, llamas are simply allowed to wander freely throughout the ruins, where they continually munch away at the greens, thereby keeping everything nice and trimmed!