Saturday, May 9, 2015


Yes, we were able to make the visit to one of the 7 Wonders of the World.  We decided to make this trip on Monday, 4 May, with a group of 33 young missionaries.  The Mission allows each missionary (well, the younger ones anyway, we can go when we like), to make a Macchu Picchu trip once during their term of service.  There are trips organized once every 6 weeks, during the "change", when new missionaries arrive and ones finishing their service go home.  During the 2 years (or 18 months for Hermanas), they are usually in the Cusco area, and they choose that time to go.  If they aren't, then before they leave, it's a bus trip to Cusco the night before, and an overnight in the missonary apartments in Cusco.  The departure time was 2:30am!  The Elders in the apartment above us were happy to see their friends from the mission, and they stayed up all night (noisily), and we didn't get much sleep, despite a phone call to shut it down.  So everyone started out the trip pretty groggy.  First their was a bus ride to Ollantaytambo (in the dark), then we transferred to a train (also in the dark).  These Hermanas wisely got some sleep on the train, in preparation for the exciting day ahead.  They're not dressed for glamour, but quite appropriately for the occasion.

The Elders of course are always quite perky and eager to pose for a photo

Hermana J and her seatmate Hna. Jesperson had a lively conversation going on too for the whole train ride down the canyon.  The young Hermanas are always glad to be able to visit with Hna. J, and like girls everywhere, they always have lots to talk about. 

The train ride took us down alongside the Urubamba  river that was quite rough and fast.  We dropped in elevation from 11,000ft at Cusco to about 6,400ft at Aguas Calientes, where the train stopped.  Train and walking by footpath are the only ways to get into to the Macchu Picchu region, but there are buses that take us from here up to the actual site, at about 7,900ft elevation.  The mountains are so steep around Aguas Calientes that my GPS couldn't even see enough satellites to get a fix!
 There was a heavy mist over the whole mountain when we made it up to the top that covered the whole area, so we couldn't see much.  This was a little disorienting at first.  Macchu Picchu is a national Park in Peru, and after our bus ride to the top (think of a ride up Farmington Canyon on a bus), we made it through the park entrance, after a last "rest stop", and started up the trail. Our guide stopped us at a rock wall (this is half our group, a 2nd guide led the others) and gave us some interesting facts about the site and its history.  I won't go into much detail on it, as I'm not an expert.  For good details you can go to: for some pretty good details. 

 After our orientation - shrouded in mist with little visibility, the mist and fog started to lift, and the site became gradually visible.  This is typical for this season, but it was a very thrilling sight to see, as over the next 2 hours, all of the site gradually cleared and became visible.

 The site on top of a mountain (Macchu Picchu means "Old Mountain") was a self-contained city, with its own water source, terraces for farming and grazing, and paths leading in and out.  It's divided into distinct areas for religious, schools, permanent high-status residents, workers, and apartments for pilgrims or guests who came to visit.  The original roofs were thatch on wood poles, and are long since gone.  There has been some restoration, and some of the site has been left as it was discovered in 1911, after the growth and debris of 500 years had been cleared away.

This is the main doorway into the city.  On the other side there are bolsters in the stone for securing a gate to close it.  This was a religious, teaching, and spiritual center, not strategic, so there aren't many defenses as such.  The understanding is that as the Spaniards were looting Cusco a couple hundred KM away, that Macchu Picchu was abandoned, the trails and bridges leading to it were destroyed, and the people sworn to silence.  Anyway, the Spaniards never found it. 
 There are a couple main trails leading to MP, and you may have heard of the Inca Trail.  If you're really enthusiastic, you can actually walk it from Cusco in about 10 - 12 days.  There is also a 4-day segment, a 2-day route, or you can walk up from Aguas Calientes - or take a bus like we did.

 These are terraces for farming.  When Hiram Bingham discovered MP in 1911, there were a few families still farming and grazing their animals on the site.

 The fog is clearing, and we're able to see more of the site.

 Hermana Essig didn't really kiss the llama, but she got pretty close.  There were a few llamas wandering around the site, I think they keep them there just to entertain the tourists.

 More of the buildings and terraces.

The Inca craftsmanship is here in abundance, in varying degrees.  Pretty artistic, and it's lasted more than 500 years.

This is a sundial.  It's not so much for telling the time of day as it is for marking the seasons, solstices, and equinoxes.  There are gates and doorways that line up perfectly with the rising sun on the Spring Equinox.   We spent 5 - 6 hours on our tour of the site, and we also had some free time later to look at the things that were of special interest.

Back in Aguas Calientes, we wandered through town for a while - it really is a tourist town, as MP is THE tourist attraction of Peru.  We crossed a bridge over another tributary of the Urubamba River.  During the rainy season and during floods, this is a torrent right up to the sidewalks.  Lucky for us, this was a "perfect day" for touring MP.
 We had a nice lunch, and got to visit with the missionaries, trade stories and pictures and relax for a couple of hours before the arduous trip back.  After lunch, the square came alive with processions and dances.  Probably for the benefit of the tourists, but it had the desired effect.  Everything was pretty lively, loud, and colorful.

 OK, these pictures are out of order because the blogsite drops them in however it wants to, and sometimes I can shift them, other times not.  The tall peak is Wirra Picchu.  That's where the pilgrims climbed up to consult with the guru.  That may be how that legend started.  Think of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, the height and difficulty are similar.  Nowadays, it takes a special permit that you have to buy at least a month ahead of time to make the climb.  I'll want to do that the next time we visit, but I think Hna. J. will pass on that experience.  Below are some of the terraces, fields, and buildings of this vast site.
 As I said, the dancers were colorful.  Note this group, the guy on the right still has his mask on.  Doubt that the Incas wore tennis shoes, but other than that, they could be from the 16th century.

What's that, Hermana Essig?  Yes, it really is.
 Here's another group of dancers, with dead baby llamas tied on their backs.  Some of them were obviously fakes, but there were at least 2 that had the real thing, including the guy on the right holding a bag of flour.  Part of the fun is that the guy holding the flour bag throws it, usually at some dancer who isn't paying attention, and he's covered in flour dust, but sometimes the tourists got hit, and they took it all as fun.  Curiously, the llamas and alpacas have a high percentage of spontaneous abortions, where the fetuses are birthed prematurely as stillborn.  Evidently this is one of the known risks of raising llamas.  We have seen some in the markets, some with the skin on, and others not, don't ask my why, it's just part of the tradition and culture here.  So if you see a guy with one strapped to his back, watch out for the flour bag!
 A couple more views of this magnificent historical site.  It truly is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and we were so thrilled to be able to see it, and to spend another day with our favorite people: the missionaries who serve so faithfully in this remote country.

Well, back on the train, then the bus, and finally home at 7:00pm.  This made for a long 17-hour day, and as you may know, Hna. J isn't real comfortable with long trips on swaying buses and trains, but like everything here, she takes it in stride.  She did get a good rest that night, and took a well-deserved sleep in the next morning before getting back to work.  We have lots more pictures and stories of this magnificent place, which we'll be glad to share when we return.

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