Machu Picchu is truly a place to wander and wonder

What drove religious and political leaders of Cuzco, Peru to leave the relative comforts of that city and move their followers to an isolated inland fortress centuries ago? Fear of Spanish invaders? Fear of other aspects of the world?  Those were my questions when I boarded the train at Cuzco for a day trip to an important religious and political site in the varied history of Peru.

Machu Picchu is truly a place to wander and wonder. The massive rock that looms there was constructed to fight Spanish forces approaching from the west.  Perhaps obvious conflicts between Incan religious and political powers also spurred exploration and led to the challenging building in a “forbidden,” but honored, place.

The early settlers are easy to identify: religious Incan leaders fearing the Spanish habit of forcing their beliefs on people Spain conquered. Those leaders uprooted themselves and their followers to head for safety into an unknown and unsettled territory.  Exciting lore surrounds the journey: why this particular site and about the builders themselves?

Today, a very challenging walking trail leads to Machu Picchu; a comfortable train conveys tourists there; a modest number of hotels and restaurants meets most needs.  A day trip means one can return to Cuzco to known comforts. (But stay overnight; at sunrise the rock seems to glitter.)

The story of this site is a tale of intrigue, fear, betrayal, and ultimate success that defines the value of visiting the towering rock.  It honors bravery and imagination. The little restroom is now improved.  Walking around the area, peeking into the tiny window-less huts, and gazing with amazement at the nearby mountain that towers so protectively over the site, are some of the rewards for making the trip. (Little llamas cavorting beside one is also a special treat.)

Chloe Ryan Winston’s latest novel, Peru Paradox, has just been published; available at Barnes and Noble.

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Machu Picchu

If a traveler goes to Peru without taking a trip to one of the world’s wonders, Machu Picchu, he or she hasn’t seen a hidden city with a mysterious past. Historians fight verbal battles over why this amazing site, built in such an unfriendly terrain, was constructed, existed, and remains for us to explore still today.Machu Picchu in public domain

From the towering rock monolith at one end to the little homes still remaining, to the
majestic mountains surrounding the site, and the clever little Alpacas who dance among the pane-less homes….it’s a mystery that still hasn’t completely been solved or resolved.

After hearing stories from early explorers, who were frustrated about not finding a place rumored to have been a religious site or a political stronghold, it was an

Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham

American, Hiram Bingham, who found it. He’d been ridiculed for what had become an obsession of his, but Yale professors are hardy, so in 1911, he began his trek to investigate the truth about the lost Incan city.

That trek involved getting through a thick jungle, across a bridge made of logs lashed together by vines over raging waters, avoiding poisonous snakes.  Even before he’d started, he’d been the butt of jokes, both at Yale and in Peru, but he was determined.  Determined to find the famous “lost city” of Peru lore…..but he found something more amazing.

And here is what he saw.

First, the towering rock at one end of the citadel, where all the structures were made of rock, by hand, so well that “knives could not separate them.”  But the stories of why and how and who continue to this day to be asked by historians and explorers.  Was it built to protect their leaders from the Spanish invasions of Peru? Probably not.  Was it built to be a priestly retreat from the temptations of the world? Maybe. Stories about who could live there might contradict that idea.

Bingham found about a hundred skeletons; he thought 75% were of women. (Later studies said the bones were about half of men and half of women.)  Was this a hideaway of some sort for the military leaders? Or did political leaders in Lima want to have a private place to escape their responsibilities? If you visit Peru, the answers to those and other questions continue to circulate between and among Peruvians and visitors to Peru.

As a visitor to the site, after getting used to the altitude, the “interesting” train ride from Lima to the small station at the foot of the mountain, and then to walk through the slightly-kept areas to peek in the pane-less windows cut in the sides of the homes, was a moment to think about the past here. It was fun to be close to an Alpaca, who chose to ignore strangers.  The small structure at the top, which wouldn’t house many visitors, was rumored to be scheduled to be replaced by a hotel.  This visitor objected mightily: it would ruin the entire atmosphere.  But at last report, there is a hotel closer to the site.

A century after Bingham, it’s a wonderful experience.  A trip to Peru must include a trek up to the new “lost city” which has been found.