Sunday, May 29, 2011

Machu Picchu

The first thing that comes to anyone´s mind when someone mentions "Peru" is of course the most famous of all Inca ruins, the beautiful Machu Picchu. The site is located 2,340m above sea level (in fact lower than Cusco, and too low to likely cause altitude sickness), and is about 80km from Cusco. Nobody really knows the origins of Machu Picchu, or exactly what the site was used for, but the popular theory is that it was created for the Inca emperor Pachacuti sometime between 1438 to 1472. The Incas abandoned Machu Picchu about 100 years after settling there, during the time of the Spanish conquests. The site was "discovered" again in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham, and by discovered, I of course mean that he was the first white person who came to the site who, instead of looting the place as his predecessors did, he actually decided to document it in history books. Bingham did still take a number of artifacts from the site and brought them to Yale for studying (with the intention of bringing them back to Peru after a couple of years), but those items are still at Yale today, and the Peruvians are more than a little peeved about this. Enough of the history lesson, Machu Picchu is also a badass travel destination that will always have a special place in mine and Lydia´s hearts, but more to come of that later.

So off we were on the Hiram Bingham train to the gateway town of Aguas Calientes. We decided not to do the Inca trail, as I had already managed to destroy Lydia with the Lost City hike, so we had no need to go through that again. The train ended up being an enjoyable hour and a half ride that weaves through gorgeous mountains, following the Inca trail and some raging rapids.

The town of Aguas Calientes has a bad rap of being a tourist trap, necessary for those heading to Machu Picchu. We found, to the contrary, that the town was actually quite the beautiful place, full of friendly people and cute dogs practicing their MMA skills (see below video)!

Picture from the Aguas Calientes hot springs.

The downside to Aguas Calientes, however, is its namesake, the hot springs. Although situated in a beautiful setting (see above), we found the Aguas Calientes hot springs to be far from desirable. People go to hot springs to relax and soak up the medicinal minerals of the thermal pools. The hot springs in Aguas Calientes, however, are so full of people (quite literally shoulder to shoulder in every pool) that it is impossible to relax. As far as the medicinal minerals in the hot springs, the only thing that Lydia and I could detect was the pungent aroma of urine wafting up through the masses. I´m no doctor, but I´m pretty sure that aside from killing foot fungus, bathing in other people´s urine can´t be too healthy :(

The goal of this trip was not to go to Aguas Calientes, however, it was to reach Machu Picchu, and so on our second day there, we woke up freakishly early (around 3am) and started trudging through the rainstorm to make it to the bus to take us to the entrance of the ruins.

*Travel tip - if you are planning to go to Machu Picchu, you will have the option of either walking to the ruin´s entrance or to take the over priced bus to the entrance. TAKE THE BUS! Everyone we know that walked to the entrance said that it was nothing special, and that they were totally exhausted by the time they got to the ruins. Believe me that you will have more than enough walking to do once you get there, so spring for the extra $15 and take the bus!

When we first arrived at Machu Picchu, it was cloudy and pouring down with rain. This gave the ruins a rather mystical look, as the fog rolled over the ancient temples. Luckily, the rain stopped after about an hour of walking around the ruins, which made for some better hiking weather.

10 points if you can spot the llama in the above photo.

Most people who go to Machu Picchu know about Wanu Picchu, the high peak beside the ruins in all the photos of Machu Picchu. It is a steep 45+ minute hike straight up that only the first 400 people get to do. The hike is done in two shifts of 200 hikers, so it can get pretty busy from what we have heard. An often neglected peak, that not too many people know about, however, is the peak of Machu Picchu itself, which actually towers over Wanu Picchu (it's about twice as high). Lydia and I got to Machu Picchu early enough to get tickets to Wanu, however, we decided to take the road less travelled, and go to the top of the top by doing Machu Picchu..... also, I thought it would be good to get some privacy for the coming couple of hours...

It takes a bit of work to get to the top of Machu Picchu (about 1 and a half hours straight up), but the amazing views, beautiful smells, and stunning flowers (see above and below) help to keep the spirits high during the slog:

This one looks like a crying lizard!

After a hard 1.5 hours of steep hiking, we finally made it to the very top of Machu Picchu (the top of the top is pictured above). Much to our surprise and to my benefit, we quickly found that we were the only people there. We timed it so perfectly that we remained the only ones there for the next two hours! This gave me ample time to take care of some much overdue business.

Looking down on Machu Picchu and sitting on top of the world was how I had envisioned proposing to Lydia for the past 2 years. Ever since we planned this trip, I knew that this would be the place, so by the time we finally reached the top, the ring was burning a hole through my pocket!

The view from the top (pictured above) is really quite intimidating. Looking over the edge, one realizes that in this spot, they are floating above the clouds. This was a bit much for Lydia, when we first arrived, so as she sat down to get used to the height, I told her that I was going to go look around. I had previously purchased a stone case that resembled an Incan relic to house the ring, so once Lydia was ready, I called her over to the edge, exclaiming "I think I've found something!" (having previously planted the seed that Machu Picchu is so big that people are still finding relics all over the place). When she came over to me, the ring case was by my knee, and the proposal was made.

She said yes!

and she seemed somewhat excited at the time, so as far as I could tell, everything went well;)

The first picture of Tyrone and Lydia (soon to both be) Austen!

I had a bit of a concern bringing a proper engagement ring with me on our year-long travels through South America.... call me crazy! Back in August, I had purchased Lydia's engagement ring, but I just couldn't risk taking it, so I had to store it at my parents house (unbeknownst to them) and come up with a way to improvise a bit on the ring. What you see above is a hand carved (by me of course;), Ecuadorian chocolate farm, palm nut engagement ring (how many good Canadian girls can show one of those bad boys off to their friends)! I carved it back in Puerto Quito as a makeshift engagement ring with the help of our host family. It ended up fitting perfectly if I do say so myself!

After the proposal was through, we were able take in the sights from the top of the world (with shaky legs mind you, both from the height and from the excitement of the proposal).

An angel posing in heaven.... cue the "aweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees"!

Shown here is the peak of Wanu Picchu towering above the ruins of Machu Picchu, taken from the top of Machu Picchu.

We picnicked and took in the sights of the top of Machu Picchu for about 2 hours, and after, with a bit of extra skip in our step, we came back down the mountain to check out the ruins.

Not surprisingly, the ruins themselves are also breathtaking.

You have to pay close attention to the details and layout of the buildings, as often times they are aligned to represent greater objects like the man's head above. There's also crocodiles, condors, and other building/rock designs within the designs.

This ruined building looks just like me!

By the time we were finished walking up Machu Picchu and up and around the ruins (which is a feat within itself due to the steepness of the sight), both Lydia and I were completely drained. The previous night, we had stayed in an OK hostel, but what Lydia didn't know, was that while we were gone, I had hired someone to move our belongings over to a nice resort suite where we would be spending the next couple of days! This remained a surprise to Lydia right up to the point where I walked her through the door of our new hotel, as I continually kept saying to her to keep going a little further to get to our hostel, telling her that she was lost and didn't know where she was going!

Our upgraded room!

Also included in this surprise was an AMAZING room service dinner (pictured above), and a couple of fine ladies to massage us to sleep in our beds that night. It was a really rough day after all!

For so many reasons, our Machu Picchu experiece will forever be a lifetime hightlight! Not only was it a beautiful location drenched in history with magestic scenery, but it will forever be the place where I got to tie down my love FOREVER! That's right hun, NO ESCAPE! In all seriousness though, I couldn't be luckier, happier, or any more in love!

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