Month: February 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward

This is the longest trestle on the Bearskin bike trail in northern Wisconsin. I like the curve shown in this photo, as the bridge disappears into the trees. A lone biker (my husband) travels its path, forward into the beauty of the Northwoods with its tall trees, lakes, streams, and swamps.

Peru 2008: Cusco Day 1: City sights, Sacsayhuaman

June 29, 2008

After our morning visit to Machu Picchu, the group met up again and took our bus to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas. En route, I snapped these photos of the countryside with snow-capped mountains in the distance: ??????????????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????????????????????

I did not write in my journal on June 30, so have had to reconstruct that day based on my photos, my (faulty) memory, and information downloaded from the Internet.

June 30, 2008

Visiting a market

In the morning, we started out visiting a market. I took a few pictures there, but I am including some of my husband’s pictures, too, which are more interesting than mine in this case. I have seen many Latin American markets so I don’t “see” the strange and unusual, and I tend to stop and shop, while my husband roams around the whole place. Here are some of the pictures, which say far more than words (some have captions).

flatbread vendors
flatbread vendors

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If you are grossed out by pictures of skinned animals, scroll down to get past the following pictures.

Raw00578 Raw00598 Raw00599Next we walked to see a couple of churches (where we couldn’t take pictures) and San Francisco Square.

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Sacsayhuaman

Before long, we were on a bus to the fortress of Sacsayhuaman (sometimes referred to by Americans as “Sexy woman” because the word sounds sort of like this, but actually means Satisfied Falcon), on a hill above Cusco. This Inca fortress represented the head of a puma, with the rest of Cusco being the body. What exists of this fortress today is only 1/5 of the original fortress. The most impressive features are the massive limestone walls, zigzag shaped to resemble the teeth of the puma, and in which you can see markings on the rocks, as well as shapes of animals and people made out of the rocks themselves.

According to information I found on the Internet (and perhaps we were also told this on our tour, I don’t remember) about 5,000 Quechua warriors garrisoned the fortress, but their clubs and other weapons were no match for the well-armed, mounted conquistadores.

Upon our arrival, one of the first things we encountered were…port-a-potties! These had been set up for the festival of Inti Raymi, which had taken place only a few days before. (In Cusco we also saw some remnants from this festival, which means festival of the Sun God. It takes place over a period of days, and hundreds of actors represent historical figures.) I have included below a picture of these picturesque port-a-potties (painted to “blend in” with their surroundings).

According to the web site (and again this was probably something we were told on our tour also)

http://gosouthamerica.about.com/od/perucuzco/ig/Sacsayhuaman-/ ,

Sacsayhuaman was the site of a battle between the invading Spanish forces and the Incas. Manco Inca (the last Inca ruler) fought the invaders, but lost. After his defeat, in which most of his forces were killed, he retreated to Vilcabamba, (sometimes referred to as the “lost city of the Incas” that Hiram Bingham was seeking in 1911 when he found Machu Picchu).

Legend has it that flocks of condors descended on the dead left on the grounds of the fortress. The Inca loss is commemorated by eight condors on Cusco’s coat of arms.

As you approach the main site, you see this roped off rock used in an Inca bridge over the Saphy River.
As you approach the main site, you see this roped off rock used in an Inca bridge over the Saphy River.

This overview shows the zigzag formation of the walls, which originally were in 3 tiers.
This overview shows the zigzag formation of the walls, which originally were in 3 tiers.

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Note the size of some of these boulders. Some have carvings imprinted on them.
Note the size of some of these boulders. Some have carvings imprinted on them.
This is my son standing next to one of the larger boulders. He's about 5'8" which gives an idea of how massive they are.
This is my son standing next to one of the larger boulders. He’s about 5’8″ which gives an idea of how massive they are.
Note pirka stonework behind the fitted boulders in this section of wall.
Note pirka stonework behind the fitted boulders in this section of wall.
Group members lie on the ground to rest - OAT tours pack a very full schedule every day!
Group members lie on the ground to rest – OAT tours pack a very full schedule every day!

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These rocks are thought to represent a head with a headress.
These rocks are thought to represent a head with a headdress.

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This is a woman carrying something (head is trapezoid shaped rock at top, skirt at bottom, arm extends forward (triangle shaped stone mid-way down)
This is a woman carrying something (head is trapezoid shaped rock at top, skirt at bottom, arm extends forward (triangle shaped stone mid-way down)

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I think this is another bird, - the two rectagular shaped stones next to each other may be the tail feathers.
I think this is another bird, – the two rectagular shaped stones next to each other may be the tail feathers.

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Example of how the Incas used natural stone formations for their purposes: a stairway can be seen at right, and terraced area on the far left.
Example of how the Incas used natural stone formations for their purposes: a stairway can be seen at right, and terraced area on the far left.

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This is a duck or water animal - beak at middle left, tail on right
This is a duck or water animal – beak at middle left, tail on right
Was this an auditorium of some kind?
Was this an auditorium of some kind?

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Next: A visit to a shaman, jewelry factory, art museum

Names in Brazil

finallygettingdowntobrasstacks

When I moved to Brazil from the USA, one of the first things I noticed was that Brazilians had some pretty strange and difficult names, at least for a foreigner like me. Of course I’ve long since gotten used to them, but at first I had a hard time wrapping my tongue around names like Iguarací, Ubirajara, and Adalgamir.

I also noticed that Brazilian names tend to be rather long, and that people almost always address each other by their first name, or by a nickname. Our ex-president, for example, Luiz Inácio da Silva, is always referred to as “Lula” (which means “squid” in English!), even in the press.

One of the first friends I made here was Maria da Conceição Ferreira de Almeida. When I first met her I found her long name quite daunting, so I asked her what I should call her. She said, “My friends call…

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Daily Post: Que será, será

The prompt for Feb. 9 was: Sure, you turned out pretty good, but is there anything you wish had been different about your childhood? If you have kids, is there anything you wish were different for them?

I wish I hadn’t had ADHD, or at least had grown up in an era where we knew what it was. It has affected just about everything I have done or decided to do in my life. I had a great family, yet I never felt that my opinion was respected (I was the youngest) and I had low self-esteem. Why didn’t I have more friends, or more popular ones? What was it about me that other kids didn’t like?

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends – I did, but for the most part they were kids who lived in my neighborhood, or were other “outcasts”. My mother wanted me to be friends with her friends’ children but somehow that didn’t happen. We just traveled in different circles, and besides, they were part of a popular crowd. Although I talk a lot (too much), I have always considered myself somewhat shy around new people. I didn’t know how to start a conversation or was afraid to because I might sound stupid. Once I took a summer school class in typing and was given a ride every day by the son of friends of my parents, who was also taking a class at the same school. I would ride the five miles to and from the class every day sitting next to him in the car, and except for “hi” and “bye” I don’t think I ever said a word to him!

Looking back on it, I now understand that the symptoms of ADHD made social relationships difficult. I was lucky that I did relatively well in school in spite of it, but my parents – or at least my mother – weren’t satisfied, because they felt my intelligence far exceeded my academic performance, which is probably true. All of my report cards came home with one or two As, mostly Bs and usually at least on C, and a comment stating that I “needed to remember to raise [my] hand” or that I became “distracted and distracts others” because I was frequently “talking out of turn.” My mother thought I had a reading disorder because I was a slow reader (ADHD again: hard to concentrate, get distracted), so she signed me up for speed reading classes which did absolutely no good whatsoever – and in fact, I think that type of course was soon discredited anyway.

My parents sent me to a boarding school for high school, where I thought I could “start over” and do everything right this time. But of course, I was still the same person so I had similar difficulties. The good thing was that it was a very small school, so everybody at least knew everybody, not that we were all friends. Still, I made some good, long lasting friendships there. I was more mature and I had also by then better incorporated coping strategies to deal with my disability.

I did well in school, in the end – graduated magna cum laude from college, and got straight As in my master’s degree program. And I have always liked school.

My son was 6 when I divorced his father. Already in preschool and kindergarten, my son started having problems. He had only one or two friends and was a target for bullying. He has inherited both my ADHD and my ex-husband’s cluster of mental illnesses: anxiety/depression/OCD. Growing up in my family, an underlying assumption was that he would go to college. He was certainly intelligent enough, so he made this one of his goals. He tried: he went to college for ½ a semester when he was 19, then tried again in his 20s, and got through 2 years of college credits over a three year period. He has talent as an actor and a poet, but these talents require much more than just ability in order to be developed and to make into a career. He doesn’t have the perseverance or the social and decision-making skills required to support and promote his talents. He also struggles with social relationships: he has few good friends, a immature girlfriend, and mostly gets along very well with older adults, who think he is talented, intelligent and kind (which he is).

I feel that I have failed in some aspects of being a parent. How could I keep him organized if I couldn’t organize myself? I forgot to remind him of things; I wasn’t decisive, consistent, and firm enough with him, so the structured routine he needed wasn’t always in place. Many times I was busy pursuing my own needs and a second career rather than helping him fulfill his potential. If it weren’t for my second husband – a wonderful, loving man who doesn’t have the mental challenges we do – I don’t know where I’d be or what support I would have been able to give my son.

I realize that a parent cannot do everything to make a child successful – at some point, the child grows up and has to learn to make decisions for himself. My son has always had difficulty with that, and in some ways, I have held him back.

He will be 28 later this month. He has a steady full-time job at a gas station. This is his second successful job – he worked in another customer service job for five years before being fired for being late one time too many. I have to remind myself of his challenges instead of comparing him with his successful young adult former classmates and acquaintances, some of whom have married, are starting successful careers, buying homes – all the things you want for your kids. I try to stay hopeful that he, too, will accomplish these things some day. He’s on his own timetable; I have to remember that.

Machu Picchu, Day 1 (Part 2) and Day 2

June 28, 2008 (continued)

The Intihuatana, or “hitching post of the sun”, stands at the uppermost point of Machu Picchu. It is a rather simple but elegant structure, a smooth rectangular protrusion from a larger more angular base, itself rising from a rock fitted and shaped so neatly on the ground as to seem to be rising directly out of it. Perhaps a natural rock formation was used and carved directly on this spot, but it had to be very specifically placed. From this spot the Intihuatana marked the spring and autumn equinoxes (not the solstices as many people think) by “hitching” the sun’s shadow in perfect alignment with other nearby Intihuatana sites, including Llactapata, about 4 miles away. There are four such sites, marking the four regions of the Inca Empire with the alignment of the sun every March and September.

Dale takes a rest near the Intihuatana
Dale takes a rest near the Intihuatana
View from the top of the sacred hill of the main plaza
View from the top of the sacred hill of the main plaza

Because tourists used to have their pictures taken sitting on this sacred rock, chipped pieces out of it to forever hold its energy or write graffiti on it, it has now been roped off to protect it from further abuse. It, however, is said to be another vortex from which one can derive special energy. Again, people put their hands near it to feel its power, careful not to trespass its sacred space.

Although there are a few more sights to see by continuing on the path along the western side of the Main Plaza to the point where both sides meet at the base of Huayna Picchu, we doubled back at this point, to visit a few more of the most important highlights of this lost city which now admits 2,500 tourists each day.

Temple of the Sun as seen from below
Temple of the Sun as seen from below

As we descended a stairway dividing the dwellings of the common people on our right from those of the royalty, we could see below us one of the few curved structures at Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun. Boris indicated its unique structural features of being constructed using rectangular stones lined up carefully with a certain degree of concavity and convexity that follows mathematical rules of pi and higher geometry that I do not understand. These walls, because of their slight slope, are actually able to withstand the forces of nature and earthly tremors better than others. Another example of this that we were to see later was the Qoricancha in Cusco. The circular structure of this temple also served for precise astronomical measurements, including the solstices of December 22 and June 22 during which the sun’s rays would enter exactly through windows along the walls, which were placed perfectly for this purpose, forming a 90 degree angle within. The floor of this temple is not flat, but instead covered with a natural rock smoothed and shaped into a mound with lines and grooves for steps. To me it looked something like a puma although no one confirmed this.

Someone was saying something behind me, pointing downward. I looked at where they were pointing and saw three llamas at the base of the steps, obviously wanting to climb them. They patiently waited while a group of tourists passed them on the way down, even allowing their picture to be taken by several. When the way was clear, they placidly ascended, not posing for us, but not opposing us either. We stood out of their way, content with pointing our cameras at them, delighted with having “wild” llamas come so near us!

In fact, there are many llamas here, grazing on the terraces and on the plazas. They live in harmony with this place as they have for centuries, and now live in peace with the tourists, each staying out of the other’s way.

After coming down the stairway and passing through trapezoidal doorways we came to a small cave known as the Royal Tomb, allegedly the burial place of a princess. However, no bones were found here. This site looks like a modern art sculpture or painting, and I began to wonder if indeed the Incas inspired some of today’s artists. Richard Danbury in his book The Inca Trail: Cusco and Machu Picchu describes it as the rocks being carved in “three dimensional asymmetry so that they look as if they’re made of putty.” Whether it was a tomb or not, it has been shaped impressively so it was obviously an important place for the Incas. The smoothness of the shaped steps and the asymmetry in form actually gave me a sense of awe and peace. This and the Temple of the Condor were my favorite places at Machu Picchu in that they inspired in me a feeling of harmony with nature in the juxtaposition of the natural and manmade.

From here there is also a nice panoramic view of the east side of the ruins and the mountain range beyond. Also from this spot we got a good view of the Temple of the Sun from the outside, its perfectly aligned, slightly inwardly slanted stone walls rising up above an outcrop of rock, as if the rock itself had lifted the temple upward from the ground as an offering to the sun god.

As the sun began to sink behind the western mountains and the low clouds settled behind Huayna Picchu, we took our last photos and paused once again to marvel at the beauty of this once hidden place. Tomorrow morning we would be back early to explore again on our own.

On our return to the village, we went to dinner at a local restaurant where we were serenaded by a band playing native instruments. They were selling their CD, which I purchased. The restaurant had an interesting décor and I wished I had my camera. On one of the walls were a series of carvings of all the Inca kings, an artist’s caricatured but interesting interpretation of each. Most had some exaggerated features and unusual but probably realistic hairstyles and adornments.

June 29, 2008

The majority of our group woke up very early to return to Machu Picchu as close to dawn as possible. The plan was to take the Inca Trail up from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku), from which you get wonderful views of the plateau of the citadel. Boris did not go with us; instead we would be guided by Ronaldo, the assistant guide we had met yesterday.

Dale did not go with us, preferring to get up a little later and go back to Machu Picchu and explore on his own; one couple preferred to stay in the village and shop or look around, and another woman decided to stay behind and attend mass at the little church on the square of Aguascalientes.

We were served an early breakfast (the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast at 5:30) and then, equipped with our walking sticks, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and hiking boots, we walked to the bus stop and took one of the early buses up to the ruins. We were not the first, however, and I was somewhat disappointed to find that by the time we arrived, close to 7 am, there were already quite a few tourists meandering in the ruins, the majority of them young hikers.

The trail rose up at about a 45 degree angle to the south, away from the ruins. The path was made of gravel and large uneven stones, which made for somewhat difficult climbing. It wasn’t much of a problem for most of the group, but Christe and I lagged behind and discussed turning back if we felt we could go no farther. We decided not to try to push ourselves to go all the way up if we got too tired and to just enjoy ourselves. Of course, we stopped often along the way – everyone did. We kept looking back at Machu Picchu, growing smaller behind us and enjoying the breathtaking views of its situation among the towering peaks surrounding and protecting it.

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When we started along the trail, it was light, but the sun had not quite made its appearance over the top of the mountains. It was not long after we began our climb, however, that shafts of sunlight bathed the trail and the top of Huayna Picchu in a golden glow, no longer contained behind the craggy peaks. Soon the sun itself made its appearance, blocking out the top of the mountains with its brilliance. It is no wonder that the Incas named the dip in the pinnacle of the Inca Trail “Inti Punku” or Sun Gate.

Note the Inca Trail(at right)  winding up the side of the mountain
Note the Inca Trail(at right) winding up the side of the mountain

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Along the trail, too, were ruins of buildings and possibly temples, and large rocks seemingly placed there deliberately for some purpose. For the most part, these ruins have not been restored. On some of the walls were neat piles of stones (called apachetas*), placed there by hikers, Ronaldo said, to mark their arrival at this point. Most hikers on the Inca Trail approach Machu Picchu via the Inti Punku, after a long trek of 20-40 miles or more, and their first views of the “lost city” are from that point.
*I read in Mark Adams’ book Turn Right at Machu Picchu that people who come through a mountain pass create a new apacheta or add to an old one, for good luck or to ask a favor from the apus (gods).

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Each time we stopped to rest and drink water, we’d look back at Machu Picchu below us, and each time, the sun’s progress upward illuminated more of the city. Christe and I were stopping more and more frequently. The rocky trail was really getting to me, as my feet slipped on some of the rocks. I had to look down constantly to see where I was placing my foot and was worried that I would fall or twist my ankle. Also, while an incline of 40-45 degrees doesn’t usually bother me for a short distance, I was becoming more and more breathless with the continuous upward climb. (I wish I had some coca leaves!)

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A little more than halfway up, Christe and I decided to turn back and spend the rest of our time leisurely exploring and enjoying Machu Picchu itself. We would meet the others later, if not back at the ruins then at the bus, since we had to be back in the village for lunch at noon.

I didn't make it to the top (Inti Punku) but one of those who did took this picture of Jayme contemplating the view from there.
I didn’t make it to the top (Inti Punku) but one of those who did took this picture of Jayme contemplating the view from there.
"We made it!" - Guide Ronaldo gives a thumbs up at Inti Punku.
“We made it!” – Guide Ronaldo gives a thumbs up at Inti Punku.

We descended the trail together and returned to Machu Picchu via the Main Gate. This was the original gate through which everyone in the ancient city was admitted. This entrance was guarded for security. On the inside of the doorway, above the massive lintel over the entrance, is a ring carved in stone, and on either side of the doorway are two niches with vertical bars inside forming a kind of locking system. This entrance is surrounded by a wall, enclosing the urban area that was not protected either by a moat (now dry) or steep terraced slopes.

Return to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail
Return to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail
Llamas dot the Main Plaza
Llamas dot the Main Plaza
Looking back up at the Inca Trail
Looking back up at the Inca Trail
Approach to Main Gate
Approach to Main Gate
Northwest view of terraces from Main Gate - that's a steep drop!
Northwest view of terraces from Main Gate – that’s a steep drop!
The Main Gate
The Main Gate

We wandered through this part of the ruins, through narrow passageways separating small residences of commoners, passing through open areas and sitting down next to the garden to relax, converse and enjoy the view. Christe and I exchanged stories about our families.  Even though Carol had given us her book about exploring Machu Picchu, complete with maps and explanations, we didn’t look at it much. We desired no specific agenda and knew of no “magical” spot that would be a culminating experience.

Residences were made of "pirka" stonework, in contrast to the elegant stonework of temple walls
Residences were made of “pirka” stonework, in contrast to the elegant stonework of temple walls

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We sat for awhile adjacent to the main plaza and watched the llamas grazing there. There were young, frisky ones who scampered about, and we got close to a couple of adults, one of which eyed us as he chewed grass, seemingly annoyed by our close presence. Fortunately he didn’t spit at us!???????????????????????????????? ????????????????????????????????

We kept scanning the tourists to see if we could spot any members of our group, or even Dale who was there by himself somewhere. An interesting group of hikers came by, dressed in white t-shirts with pink lacy bras imprinted on them. Most of them were women, but I saw even a couple of men dressed in these shirts! I stopped one of the hikers, a hefty woman with very pink, sunburned skin, to ask about the shirts and where they were from. In her British-sounding accent, she told me they were hiking to raise money for breast cancer research. Most of them were from Australia, but there were a few English and Canadians among them.

Many other hikers were young Americans, wearing colorful woven alpaca hats with ear flaps. These hats didn’t seem practical to me – they protect the head from the sun, but not the neck, and I thought these hats would be hot and scratchy, but many Peruvians also wear them constantly. Mornings are cool at this time of year, so perhaps they are not impractical. The hats just seemed incongruous with the rest of these hikers’ attire – sleeveless T-shirts and shorts or Capri pants.

I had really wanted to be able to find a place to spend some quiet, meditative moments, but it was unfortunately difficult to do with so many people around to interrupt my reverie and impede my appreciation of the beauty around me. However, I did make an effort to spend less time taking pictures and more time just enjoying this amazing ancient creation and the harmonious relationship between the natural landscape and the shaping of it for human purpose. Machu Picchu makes clear the reverence that the Incas had for the land and its natural forms.

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At about 11 am, we headed back toward the tourist entrance, where we waited in the shade while some of us (by this time the Inti Punku trekkers had rejoined us) went to the bathroom or bought more bottled water. I felt a mixture of anxiety and sadness about leaving this place. It’s doubtful I will ever be back and I thought there was still so much to see and explore. I wish I had a couple more days to spend here, to come back at a leisurely pace. Still, we’d had two visits here, one in the afternoon and the other in the morning so we had been able to appreciate the majesty of this place in different interplays of light and shadow. And there was so much more of Peru to look forward to.

Sharon in a meditative spot
Sharon in a meditative spot
Sharon took this picture of the view through a doorway, and later used it in an art piece!
Sharon took this picture of the view through a doorway, and later used it in an art piece!

Back in Aguascalientes, we met up with our whole group at the restaurant Indio Feliz. Everyone agreed that this was an excellent restaurant, both the food and the ambiance.

el-indio-feliz-restaurant

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

In spite of the “No Trespassing” sign in the door, I chose this photo for the theme “Home”. It was home for eight years for my great-great-grandfather and his parents, sisters and brothers. This cabin, roomy for the 1820s nearly on  the frontier (southwestern Ohio) has been restored, but still stands on the small hill near Shandon where my ancestors worked and played. It was not merely their home; it was also a school, the Thomas Select School, now on the National Register of Historic Places. The web site of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office of the Ohio Historical Society, says the building, also known as the Log Manse, “is significant as an early, although altered, Ohio log structure. …  By 1820, it housed a private boarding school where students were taught grammar, math and science. Local girls also went to the school to be taught plain and ornamental sewing. The school was operated by the Whitewater Congregational Church, later known as the Paddy’s Run Congregational Church.”  The Rev. Thomas Thomas (My great-great-great grandfather) and his family settled here, having emigrated from England two years earlier. He had been appointed co-pastor of the church so the family moved here from Cincinnati.  Until 1823 church services were also sometimes held here, until a new meeting house for the church was built.

Last summer my husband and I took an ancestral tour through southwestern Ohio and southeastern Indiana, seeing a number of churches, landmarks, and cemeteries associated with my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. I am working on a genealogical history to be published for my family. Of all the sites we visited, this cabin was most meaningful, as I contemplated standing on ground where my ancestors also stood, gazing at the cabin that was a familiar sight to their eyes – their home.

 

Peru 2008: Machu Picchu, Day 1 (Part 1)

June 28, 2008 (Continuation of journal, with additions from Internet later)

The great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, described Machu Picchu this way:

“Machu Picchu es un viaje a la serenidad del alma, a la eterna fusión con el cosmos, allí sentimos nuestra fragilidad. Es una de las maravillas más grandes de Sudamérica. Un reposar de mariposas en el epicentro del gran círculo de la vida. Otro milagro más.”

 (“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to eternal fusion with the cosmos, there we feel our own fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies at the epicenter of the great circle of life. Another miracle.”)

The town of Aguas Calientes, sometimes referred to as the town of Machu Picchu because its existence is totally dependent on and justified by tourism to this “Lost City”, is the end of the line for the train ride.  From there, we were to take a bus up to the ruins. But first we walked to our three-star hotel, Hanaqpacha Machu Picchu Hotel, where we were to check in and leave our overnight bags in our rooms before being served lunch in the hotel dining room.

Picture of our hotel downloaded from Google
Picture of our hotel downloaded from Google

I was feeling weak as we got off the train, so either Dale or Jayme carried my bag for me. I don’t know which one it was but was only grateful for having what seemed like a heavy burden taken from me. I trudged along behind the others as we descended the main street and crossed a bridge over a wide aqueduct. Boris had said the hotel was about a ½ mile walk, but I don’t think it was that long – perhaps ½ a kilometer.

I had already decided that, in order to fortify myself for the trip to the ruins, which I was determined not to miss, I would skip lunch and take a nap. After all, the snack on the train had been substantial enough that I was really not hungry now. Sleep was more important. My cold was now developing into its next phase – sinus congestion. I dug in my toiletries case to search for Advil Cold and Sinus, and took one before lying down for a 45-minute nap in our quiet room, which really helped.

When Dale came up to get me, I got up quickly and readied myself for the bus ride up to the ruins. I had my bag, my walking stick, hat and two water bottles. Finally, I was to see the place I had dreamed of visiting since I first saw pictures of it decades ago!!

We walked to the bus station, where there were lots of buses waiting for tourists to fill them, and of course lots of Peruvians trying to sell us things: “Lady” or “My friend” they would begin, holding out the trinket they were selling, murmuring something of the merits of their wares in broken English and ending with, “only two (or ten or whatever) soles, my friend.”

If I’d harbored any illusions of an exclusive bus for us to take up to the ruins and the possibility of sitting near the front, it soon vanished when we boarded the ¾ full Number 21 bus. Instead of debating which side would be best to sit on to get the best view, I took an empty seat about halfway back next to a young Asian-American tourist who spent the majority of her time snapping pictures out the window with her small digital camera. I resolved not to be disappointed that I couldn’t take pictures on the way up – pictures from moving buses rarely came out well anyway – and was content with just enjoying the view.

I had to admire these bus drivers, deftly negotiating a narrow road that climbed by means of switchbacks up the side of a mountain through a jungle landscape – Machu Picchu is situated in a cloud forest – and knowing when to pull over for passing buses or to be the one passing. I imagined doing this job all day every day. I wondered how many times they actually made the round trip each day. This bus was Number 21, but there were many more than that – passing ours I saw numbers from eleven to thirty-four.

Out the window, the scenery was often a tangle of vines and trees typical of the cloud forest, but there were frequent glimpses both of the Urubamba River and valley below as well as high mountains above. I kept searching for a glimpse of Machu Picchu high above us, and was incredulous of how remote this place actually was – hidden away so completely in these mountains, no wonder it wasn’t “found” for 400 years! Although I knew that there were some local people who did know of its existence during that time, it was abandoned and uninhabited surely due to its isolation. That, it seemed, was the intention when the site was first selected by the Inca ruler, Pachacutec, who allegedly was responsible for orchestrating the building of this place.

Finally I spied the shapes of stone buildings above on a high plateau – my first glimpse of Machu Picchu! I glanced at my watch: it was 1:15 pm on June 28, 2008.

By the time we actually arrived at the Control gate, showed our entrance passes and stamped our passports with the official Machu Picchu stamp (for tourists, they have a stamp you have the option of using in your passport as a memory of your visit), it was close to two o’clock.

This is my first picture from Machu Picchu, taken near the entrance.
This is my first picture from Machu Picchu, taken near the entrance.

This afternoon, we were to have a tour given by Boris to orient us and show us the highlights of this spectacular place, the crown jewel of Inca ruins. Tomorrow morning we would have the opportunity to return to explore on our own with a local guide, Ronaldo, who was introduced to us now. He was to accompany us on our tour today as well, as Boris’s assistant. He was friendly, but mostly stayed in the background during the tour, listening to Boris’s account and chatting casually with members of our group.

Just inside the entrance, as we walked along the path leading to the main ruins, I was awed by breathtaking views all around me. Mountains surrounded us on all sides, their tips covered by a blanket of low clouds. To the east, I could see below us the winding river, its course shaped by and itself shaping the forest-covered peak whose name I don’t know. This mountain hugged by the Urubamba River, and the layers of towering peaks around and beyond it, became to me the most memorable and beautiful landscape at Machu Picchu. To get here, ancient people had to cross these mountains and ford the river, before making the steep climb up to this plateau. Looking at this scene in front of me made me realize the importance and the sanctity of this place to the people who built it. How they must have searched to find just this spot and yet it was intricately connected astronomically to other sites built by the Incas, including Cusco.

The first part of the ancient city reached via the path trod by most tourists who enter through the Control area above the bus stop is the Agricultural Sector. Machu Picchu is divided into two basic sectors, based on their functionality. The Agricultural Sector primarily consists of terraces linked by a stone stairway which runs along a series of storage buildings or granaries. Here the Incas would store their surpluses of crops to distribute among the people living here in time of need. The Inca king would also reserve a portion of it for himself, the common method of tribute among the people conquered by the Incas. These granaries have thatched roofs, a reconstruction done to show what they would have looked like during Machu Picchu’s heyday. Of course, the thatch did not survive the centuries, and the rest of the ruins are not covered. It should be noted, however, that some buildings probably did not have roofs and that the Incas, like their descendents today, spent most of their time outdoors. Thus everyday buildings such as houses and storage buildings tend to be quite small – one small room usually – except for the residences of the royal families.

We descended a portion of the stairway and passed through the storage area to walk along a path which crosses the terraces to the Urban Sector. Boris pointed to a lone building high above us, the Watchman’s hut or guard house, from which you get beautiful, panoramic views of the entire site, and the mountains and valleys surrounding it – if you are willing to climb the steep path to reach it from where we were standing.

I was quite content to take in the view that unfolded in front of me: to the north, the precise stonework of dwellings and temples flanked two plazas, a small one and a much larger one, the Main Plaza.

The most sacred sites were built on hills above the rest, and the imposing and famous mountain, Huayna Picchu (meaning “new peak” in Quechua), marked the far northern end of the site. Machu Picchu (“old peak”) was built on a high plateau, with steep slopes delineating its borders on east and west, on which were constructed more terraces for growing crops. There was so much to explore that to see everything could take a week. I was glad for the slower pace today, as the combination of altitude and my cold would have made it impossible for a vigorous and ambitious exploration of the entire Urban Sector.

Looking west toward sacred hill and the Intihuatana
Looking west toward sacred hill and the Intihuatana

A dry moat separates the Agricultural and Urban sectors. We followed a path leading to the southeast corner, a zone containing the houses of the nobility in which the Incas’ masterful stone masonry can be seen. Entrances are marked by trapezoidal doorways constructed with beveled rectangular stones and single stone lintels above them. There were short sections of wall with openings between them. These sections were topped by the three-tiered construction reminiscent of the Andean cross, representing the lower, middle, and upper worlds. Other walls contained trapezoidal windows or niches, which Boris said were used for placing idols and other items.

3-tiered walls with trapezoidal doorways
3-tiered walls with trapezoidal doorways

The first temple we visited was the Temple of the Condor. This was truly spectacular. Two enormous pieces of natural rock, streaked with shades of black, gray and brown, were carved just enough to be set to resemble open bird wings. Each rose up diagonally above a smaller center section which perhaps was to represent the bird’s tail. On the ground in front of us were laid three pieces of rock, one carved to resemble the condor’s body with its head and beak, and the other two the ruff on its neck. Boris pointed out that the shape of rock forming the condor’s body also resembled the continent of South America.

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“But how would they know this?” I asked. Could the Incas have been aware that their empire occupied only a small portion of a much larger landmass whose contours had not, as far as I knew, ever been completely delineated? Boris thought that they did – the Incas had trading partners all over the continent and probably had received word about other lands and cultures that they never could have had time to discover. Some of the peoples they had subjugated lived along the west coast of South America, while others knew about the east coast.

It’s an interesting theory and the Incas’ knowledge quite astonishing if true, but I remain skeptical. Even if they were aware of these other areas, how could they have figured out how to put it all together? I liked to think, as I looked at the stone, that they really did know the shape of this continent long before white people ever arrived, but it was probably a coincidence.

What really impressed me about the Temple of the Condor was that, looking up at the right wing, there were other structures built right on top of the slant of the wing. It looked like a small chamber of some kind, built with round edged rectangular stones, not the perfectly fitted and beveled stones of sacred sites, purposefully balanced upon the sloped rock.

Later, doing research on Machu Picchu (but I also could have missed or forgotten Boris’s explanation), I found out that this chamber above the condor was a prison or jail, where people may have been tortured or sacrificed. On the web site “Rediscover Machu Picchu” it says the following:

The Temple of the Condor, according to some specialists might actually be a torture chamber. Tourists are told by guides that it’s a “temple”.

Between the “wings of the condor”, there is a chamber with grooves, that’s the place where prisoners were tortured (or could have been tortured), there’s also a pit that was created to drain the blood of the victim.

To the Incas, the condor was a symbol of cruel justice.

It was a bit horrifying to read this, as I thought the Temple of the Condor was one of the most beautiful and spiritual places at Machu Picchu, but I do know that the Incas practiced ritual sacrifice. This, however, does not fit the idea given to us of ritual sacrifice in which it was considered an honor to be sacrificed. Prison and torture are hardly the same thing, and certainly not honorable. I didn’t know, for instance, that prisoners were even a part of Machu Picchu life. I suppose some “whitewashing” of the true nature of some Inca practices is to be expected when you’re given the tourists’ version of all of this, but it has only piqued my curiosity to find out more about what life under Inca rule was really like.

Temple of the Condor seen from above & behind
Temple of the Condor seen from above & behind

However, I still cannot help but admire the artistry and beauty of the Incas’ architecture, and how they fused the natural with man made creation in all constructions, demonstrating their honor and awe for the natural formations of the earth and placing themselves respectfully within that natural world.

Our next stop was a structure within which there are two mortars with water in them, which had a dual purpose. Placed as they were on the ground, they were used as mirrors, but also this site is allegedly a sacred vortex, or a spot in which the forces of natural energy unite. By placing one’s hand above one of the mirrors, a sensitive person can feel the energy emanating from it, which enters and courses through the body. Of course we all tried it, and although I didn’t feel anything unusual, some members of our group claimed they did feel a surge of energy when they did this.

View through a window
View through a window

There was lots more to explore on the eastern side of the citadel, but to hit all the highlights, we followed a path between the small plaza and the main plaza over to the western side, to the zone where many of the temples are located. We passed the quarry, full of rocks with sharp points jutting out of the ground. Some were embedded there in their natural state, where others had obviously already been worked on and were left for later transport to their proper position in a wall, window or doorway. Having this quarry on site must have been a great convenience for the construction of a citadel with the grandeur and magnitude of Machu Picchu, but it seemed impossible that all of the stones used in the surrounding buildings could have come from here.

 

In the temple zone you can see some of the finest examples of Inca stonework. For the temples, they reserved the most skillful of their techniques, showing their reverence for the gods they worshipped. The Main Temple was where they worshipped their main god, Viracocha, the creator of all things. The walls of this temple are a reddish color, which Boris said was the residue of the original bright red paint the Incas had used. The walls are constructed using beveled rectangular stones which fit together perfectly without mortar. You cannot even insert a fine knife blade between these stones. Boris told us that this type of construction has withstood not only erosion but also earthquakes – when the buildings of the Spanish crumbled during an earthquake, the Inca walls stood strong. We would see more examples of this in Cusco.

However, there was a section of wall of the Main Temple that looked as if it was falling: the stones had separated and were tilted downward on one side. Boris said that this was not due to earthquakes or natural forces. He told us that Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911, employed a lot of native people to accompany him in his exploration and excavation of Machu Picchu. These people were mostly poor farmers who were ambitious and had good knowledge of the area. Bingham was anxious to find as many artifacts as possible, whether for study to understand more about this place or for less altruistic purposes, such as greed and fame, I don’t know – probably both – but anyway, he offered his workers one sol (a substantial sum in 1911) for each artifact they found. The workers scrambled to find bits of gold (they hoped) or shards of pottery to claim their reward, and one of the places they dug was the foundation of the Main Temple, surely a place of many riches. By digging there, they weakened the foundation of the construction, which was what ultimately caused the wall to slip. However, it is now secure and no longer falling, and has been left in its current state.  

 Hiram Bingham, by the way, took all the artifacts he collected back to the United States and gave them to Yale University, where they are now displayed. This has been a bone of contention for Peru, who would like to have these artifacts returned, and I believe justifiably so.

Hiram Bingham in 1911
Hiram Bingham in 1911
Machu Picchu in 1911
Machu Picchu in 1911

 The Temple of the Three Windows is next to the Main Temple. This temple has only three walls and seems to be of less importance than the Main Temple. The construction of these windows using polygonal stonework is quite impressive. Each has a long rectangular shaped lintel on top, while at the base of the middle window there is a stone with ten VISIBLE sides (I’m wracking my brain to figure out the total number of sides or angles of this stone, but have never been particularly mathematically inclined)! Boris pointed out certain features, such as a tall rectangular rock in front, perhaps representing male fertility, and a stone carved with the three tiers representing the lower, middle and upper worlds, a very common theme in Andean art and religion. Off to the side there is a large flat rock, already carved, but which apparently never reached its intended destination.
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It was in transit to the highest and most sacred point of the ruins where the Intihuatana is located that we stopped to admire the western view with its steep slopes and terraces, and someone pointed out some birds soaring, circling over the valley far below. First believing they were falcons, we realized, after watching them for a few moments, that they were condors! This was a special and rare occurrence – most people never have the chance to see a condor here, Boris said with amazement. Those with better telephoto lenses than mine took pictures, including Dale.  We all stood there, awed, watching these majestic birds swoop and soar silently over the western terraces of Machu Picchu. Knowing their importance in Andean religion and worldview made this rare sighting all the more spiritually wondrous.

Dale captured at least one of the condors in flight.
Dale captured at least one of the condors in flight.

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When the condors disappeared behind from sight as they honed in on their prey far below, we continued on our way up to the Intihuatana, stopping first to examine a carved rock that Boris was showing us, carved in the shape of the site of Machu Picchu itself – a sort of diorama in rock. It seemed too coincidental to have been an accident: perhaps an Inca stonemason saw this rock and fancied it looked a bit like the place on which he was standing, so he shaped it just enough to show the prominence of Huayna Picchu and the river carving the gorge below with its meandering through the surrounding peaks.

Diorama of Machu Picchu in stone
Diorama of Machu Picchu in stone
View of valley below from the sacred hill
View of valley below from the sacred hill

 Next: The Intihuatana, Temple of the Sun, and sunrise over Machu Picchu