Number six in the series of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World” are the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, which is fitting as this year marks the 100th anniversary of their alleged discovery. The temples of Machu Picchu are located deep within the Andes Mountains in Peru and getting there is an adventure on its own.
Flying to Lima takes about seven hours, unless you have layovers. From there it is a one-hour flight to Cusco, high in the Andes. Cusco is in fact 1000 metres higher than Machu Picchu and it is important to allow enough time to acclimatize yourself to the altitude. It did not take long for my head to begin pounding from the lack of oxygen at 3500 metres above sea level.
I checked into my hotel, the Libertadore, a fantastic guesthouse and within walking distance of the town square. One of the walls in the restaurant of the hotel was built during the days of Pizarro when he led his conquest into South America. The hotel immediately gave me cocoa leaves to chew on to ease the discomfort from altitude sickness. I fortunately had the foresight to bring a bottle of liquid oxygen, which I added to my drinking water in an effort to help my body recuperate. I’m not sure which of the two cures worked but after three or four hours my headache began to subside and was nothing more than a dull ache in the back of my head. I made my way to the town square and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting quietly watching with fascination the descendants of the Inca People.
The next morning I arose at four and went to the train station to catch the only train to Machu Picchu. after spending several hours winding through the mountains we arrived at the town of Machu Picchu, located at the base of two mountains named Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (old mountain and young mountain). For the adventurous, trekking is the way to go and after four days of climbing through dense jungles, along narrow paths and swatting off insects nothing beats the sight of the sun rising over the temples at the Lost City of the Incas. The spectacle makes you forget the cold, damp nights spent in a small tent as well as the hastily prepared meals over campfires. Alternatively, for the less daring travellers, a 30 minute bus ride takes you from the town up to the ruins.
There are several hotels and rooms to rent in the village of Machu Picchu as well as the Sanctuary Lodge adjacent to the site. The new lodge although quite luxurious, is yet another example of tourism infiltrating history.
My guide, Darwin, is a professor of archaeology at the University of Cusco and was amazingly thorough in his explanations of everything that pertains to the archaeological site. He explained in great detail about the Incas in their ability to cultivate the land into prosperous farms. He went on to praise their engineering ability in the construction of this vast city so high in the mountains. The minute you lay eyes on the archaeological complex you realize the harmony it has with the natural beauty of the surrounding environment.
The Lost City of the Incas was built in the mid-1400s over period of 50 years. It was only inhabited for 100 years and it is believed that its residents died from smallpox as a result of the Spanish invasion. There is no record of the Spanish having visited the site so the manner in which the natives disappeared is mere speculation.
It did not take long for the jungles to reclaim their land and the city lay dormant until 1911 when Hiram Bingham, from Yale University, announced to the world that he had discovered the ruins of Machu Picchu. Many questions arose over the discovery, especially since the local inhabitants showed Bingham the way. Little care was taken in excavation and the world began to lose interest when it was announced that there was no riches to be found anywhere near the site.
The Peruvian government challenged the statements and spent many decades arguing that Bingham's expedition did in fact discover gold artefacts, which had been moved out of the country. Finally, in the 1970s Yale University admitted to having hundreds of relics from Machu Picchu locked safely in its storage cellars. To date the Peruvian government is still negotiating for their return.
Machu Picchu was a religious site and in its center stands a sacrificial altar. The site was designed so that the sun, twice a year during the equinox, rose over the mountains, shone through three windows and perfectly illuminated the altar. I asked Darwin why a corner of the altar was missing his face went red with anger. He explained how several years ago the government granted a permit to a Japanese advertising firm to film a commercial at the site. A large flood lamp fell from a boom directly onto the altar and smashed a corner. Clearly Darwin was upset by the event and he shook his head in disgust.
Machu Picchu is an amazing architectural feat. Before any building could commence the Incas had to have cleared the dense vegetation. Next they would have had to make precise mathematical measurements taking into consideration geology, erosion and rainfall in order to supply the city with drinkable water. The city was built by thousands of people who along with the many buildings constructed roads to bring supplies up the mountain, barns to store food and rest stations along the way.
I found the Spanish people of Peru to be among the friendliest in the world. The ruins of Machu Picchu are a must for anyone who seeks adventure and knowledge among their travels. A visit to Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I had planned to visit the seventh wonder of the world, Petra in Jordan, around the time when this issue is printed, but recent events in the Middle East made it impossible for me to fulfill my plans. It is my intention to go next year, if for no other reason than to finish the series on the new ‘Seven Wonders of the World’.