Machu Picchu Earns Its Distinction as “One of the World’s Most Interesting”
As you may know I love to write. I often apply that passion on Yelp!, the foodie web-community. It’s a give and take situation where I frequently search reviews taking recommendations for cuisine, rating and value. The advice on the site is very insightful, and I’ve found many hidden gems with the “locals knowledge” provided. I enjoy “giving”, too, with over 300 reviews submitted.
Similarly, as a business aviator I find Rick Steve’s travel shows and other travel logs quite interesting. In a recent consulting engagement I met a great guy and fellow pilot, Lee Hale, who shared with me a story of his recent visit to Peru, Cuzco and the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It was quite an interesting story – one that he has shared in his local newspaper, The Coloradoan. I urged him to share this with us, and he graciously obliged. I hope you enjoy Captain Hale’s travel blog on Machu Picchu!
By Lee Hale
The first view is every bit as spectacular as I had hoped. The green mountain pillars surround the ancient ruins, with wispy clouds moving up and down the valley opening and closing views of one of the world’s greatest sites: the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
I travel a lot, often too much. After all, I am a professional pilot and have been “raising money” for my family driving airplanes for more than forty-five years. This means that most trips are ho-hum affairs that simply represent another week or two away from home. My recent eleven day trip to South America did not fit this mold. It was interesting and exciting every step of the way.
One of our stops was Cuzco, Peru, which happens to be the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is a city of about 380,000 inhabitants that has a small town feel. There are no skyscrapers or towering office buildings. As you walk around town you see Incan walls and cobblestone walks everywhere. The Marriott Hotel where we stayed is built on the site of a destroyed Incan church, so many artifacts can be observed in the lower floors of the building. You can even stay in rooms with authentic Incan walls on one or two sides. In the lobby sections of the original floor of the church have been preserved.
But enough about Cuzco and the hotel. The mind blowing part of this trip was our visit to Machu Picchu. Cuzco sits at almost 11,000 feet elevation, so we were pleased to learn that Machu Picchu is down in the “low lands” at 8,000 feet. The thin air in both places makes walking up and down streets and trails a major chore, but worth the effort.
From Cuzco the trip to Machu Picchu is lengthy and involved. We started by riding in a van for an hour and a half through rolling hills full of lush green farm fields. Then we boarded a modern, clean, comfortable train for a ride in a river canyon that lasted another hour and a half. During the train ride the mountain peaks on both sides of the track appear to rise almost vertically from the canyon floor. It was hard to imagine people living in that kind of terrain, but they did. The last half of the train ride takes you through dense jungle that makes the ride at Disneyland look fake, which it is.
The train took us to the town of Pueblo de Machu Picchu, gateway to the actual ruins that sit a thousand feet above. There are many restaurants and even more souvenir shops which is no surprise. Here we boarded a bus for the final segment of the journey. The bus took us a thousand feet up a cone shaped mountain on a very rough switch-back road. I am convinced that if we could have seen the mountain we were about to climb from the bus station, we probably would not go!
We survived the bus ride and entered the national park, with the jaw-dropping views that waited us! Accompanied by a professional guide we were surprised to learn that construction of this mountain-top village began around the year 1600 and lasted for roughly seventy years. I was of the assumption that the ruins were hundreds of years older than that.
We toured, shot photos and asked questions for nearly two hours. In the process we learned that the Incans were master engineers, irrigation experts, and had an uncanny knowledge of the solar system. The paths they carved out of the side of these monster peaks were all lined with rocks and steps where necessary. These people could walk over the mountains from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in about three days.
All the buildings were made of stone and have weathered the test of time and many earthquakes. The difference between the common structures and their religious temples was dramatic. The sacred buildings had smooth cut rocks that fit together so tightly you could not force a business card in the joints. The terrain surrounding the village is so steep that many retaining walls were built to create enough level ground to raise crops and prevent erosion. The Incan rock cutters and chippers must have had excellent job security.
Our guide was quick to emphasize that the Incan people did not have “slaves.” Instead they had their “farmers” do all the grunt labor. Once the village was completed, it was occupied by only the elite, so the farmers who built it were not allowed to enter through the very walls they had just constructed. It has always been amazing to me that man’s need to feel superior to some other person or group has plagued our progress for centuries.
In one of the temples a demonstration of amazing acoustics was performed. The walls of this building had several alcoves built into each wall. A person inserts his head into one alcove while another listens in any other alcove on any other wall. The sound of the person speaking comes thundering into your ears as you listen in your selected alcove. It is amazing and almost scary to realize that the builders had such incredible technology.
The day after the Machu Picchu visit we went to some smaller Incan ruins just outside the city of Cuzco. There we saw an irrigation system where the water had been running continuously for 500 years, and there was not a single pump in site. It seems that electricity was scarce in the year 1600.
What happened to this civilization? At some point they simply vanished, and nobody knows what really happened. The most popular theory says that they probably self-destructed through civil wars.
The government of Peru has plans to excavate more ruins directly below the main village, so if you go some time in the next few years you may see more than I did. Regardless of the status of the excavation, you won’t be disappointed. My only disappointment was that the Incan people never got a chance to tell us the end of their incredible story.
Lee Hale is a pilot who flies a Falcons and other business jets based in Denver. He currently lives in Windsor. CO, and he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.