Peru, Part 4: Machu Picchu! or Baby Llama Drama

This is the fourth part of my multi-part post about Peru. To see Part 1, click here; for Part 2, click here; and for Part 3, click here. Enjoy! – Sarah

Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge

Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge

Machu Picchu means “old peak” in Quechua (kay-CHWAH). It’s pronounced “MAH-choo PEEK-choo” but most people miss the k-sound in the second word.

 

I never connected the Andes mints with the Andes mountains until this trip...

I never connected the Andes mints with the Andes mountains until this trip…

Machu Picchu* sits at roughly 8,000 feet in elevation in a valley surrounded by four peaks in a mountain ridge near the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It was built in the 15th Century and remained standing after the Incas fled and the Spanish conquistadors arrived, which is remarkable because the Spanish destroyed or damaged most of the Inca sites throughout Peru. They didn’t know about Machu Picchu, though, and neither did much of the world for most of the next four centuries.

 

First View: Machu Picchu

First View: Machu Picchu

No one fully knows how the Incas carved the stones they used to make all of the buildings on Machu Picchu. There is a quarry on the site where most of the rocks came from, but rocks are also believed to have been brought from a distance away and carved to match on site. They are friction fit (no mortar or grout) so when an earthquake hits, the stones are able to move. They don’t just move, though: they bounce around. They dance.

 

There is a chinchilla in the middle inset. Just chin-chillin'...

There is a chinchilla in the middle inset. Just chin-chillin’…

No one fully knows who lived on Machu Picchu (royalty, religious figures, regular folks); initial excavations and assessments of the skeletons incorrectly determined that most of the remains found were female, which led people to the believe that these were sacred virgins** or nuns cloistered away, serving an Inca king. Later tests of the skeletons revealed an almost 50-50 split (male-female) of the remains. It turns out the early assessments were made by looking at the size of the frame (height, width of hips/shoulders, etc.) and taking samples from the skull; the later tests were done on the pelvis, which gives more accurate results. Peruvians tend to have smaller (shorter) frames, so judging based on height was a bad idea. At 6’1″ and 5’9″ respectively, Sara and I towered over most of the locals (male and female).

Sara and I at Machu Picchu

Sara and I at Machu Picchu. I’m wearing about ten layers because we didn’t know how to gauge the weather.

When you first get to Machu Picchu, after taking a bus to a train to another bus, traveling on narrow winding switchbacks that only allow one bus to traverse (in either direction) at a time, the mountains seem to appear out of the clouds, as if out of a dream. We arrived at around 10 AM; by noon the morning fog had burned off and the sun made the site quite warm. I got sunburned on both shoulders, despite applying sunscreen three times throughout the day. It’s closer to the equator and at a higher elevation than I’m used to.

The train, man, the train!

The train, man, the train!

Despite how blurry the background is, we were not traveling that fast.

Despite how blurry the background is, we were not traveling that fast.

Our guide referred to these as the snow-cap-ped mountains. They were beautiful.

Our guide referred to these as the snow-cap-ped mountains. They were beautiful.

Hiram Bingham was credited as "discovering" Machu Picchu in 1911, but the locals had known about it for centuries, and it is included on a map in the 1870s.

Hiram Bingham was credited as “discovering” Machu Picchu in 1911, but the locals had known about it for centuries, and it is included on a map from the 1870s.

Llamas aren’t usually found at that elevation; they live higher up in the mountains but were brought down to Machu Picchu for the tourists’ sake. They have since adapted and seem to be quite content, roaming all over the ruins. They were usually in areas where tourists couldn’t go, but sometimes they would come up to the fence that separated them from us.

I didn't see any llamas wearing pajamas...

I didn’t see any llamas wearing pajamas…

Llamas on Machu Picchu

Llamas on Machu Picchu

Our guide gave us a tour of the site, pointing out the Temple of the Sun****, a rock that served as a compass (each point faced a different cardinal direction), a sacred rock carved in the exact outline of the mountain range behind it, and a rock***** that is said to have a magnetic energy to it. We weren’t allowed to touch the rock, but we could hold our hands up close to it in order to feel the vibrations. It felt warm (probably because of the sun) but I didn’t feel any kind of magnetism.******

These are aquaducts. Water still flows on Machu Picchu.

These are aquaducts. Water still flows on Machu Picchu.

A Tree Grows on Machu Picchu

A Tree Grows on Machu Picchu

The Temple of the Sun on Machu Picchu.

The Temple of the Sun on Machu Picchu.

Dogs aren't the only ones who love doorways...

Dogs aren’t the only ones who love doorways…

I have about 100 photos from that day.

I have about 100 photos from that day.

Each view was so beautiful.

Each view was so beautiful.

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu from Above

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu from Above

Compass Rock, Machu Picchu. Our guide is demonstrating (with his iPhone) that it is accurate.

Compass rock, Machu Picchu. Our guide is demonstrating (with his iPhone) that it is accurate.

Magnetic Rock, Machu Picchu. Doesn't it look like a bench?

Magnetic rock, Machu Picchu. Doesn’t it look like a bench?

Wayna (or Huayna) Picchu, which means "New Peak." It's the peak in the background of most of the postcard shots of Machu Picchu and a steep climb away. Only 400 people are allowed on Wayna Picchu each day. You have to sign up in advance and then wait in line. We didn't, and although it would have been an amazing view, with its narrow trail and steep climb (people have fallen off) I'm glad we didn't.

Wayna (or Huayna) Picchu, which means “New Peak.” It’s the peak in the background of most of the postcard shots of Machu Picchu and a steep climb away. Only 400 people are allowed on Wayna Picchu each day. You have to sign up in advance and then wait in line. We didn’t, and although it would have been an amazing view, with its narrow trail and steep climb (people have fallen off), I’m kind of glad we didn’t.

If the clouds weren't in the background, you'd see that this rock was carved to match the mountains behind it exactly.

If the clouds weren’t in the background, you’d see that this rock was carved to match the mountains behind it exactly.

After the tour, Sara and I and two other women from our trip (the recent legal bar exam-passers) decided to take one of the two hikes off of Machu Picchu toward the Gate of the Sun, the point on the Inca Trail when you first glimpse Machu Picchu on the hike. It’s a higher elevation than Machu Picchu and kind of a rigorous hike, but we had plenty of time for the two hours we were supposed to allot to make it there and back. After a quick stop at the house on the ridge (which gives you the postcard view of Machu Picchu and which is where I took most of these pictures) we made our way (wheezing and winded) up toward the Sun Gate. We got to a check-in point at the end of a long staircase, at which point the guard told us we could not continue.

“Check-in closes at 12:30,” he said, pointing to the sign. It was 12:35.

Lunch on Machu Picchu. Sara and the two law students (Patty and Padmini)

Lunch on Machu Picchu. Sara and the two law students (Patty and Padmini)

Postcard View, Machu Picchu

Postcard View, Machu Picchu

Contemplating Machu Picchu.

Contemplating Machu Picchu.

Needless to say, we were very disappointed–I mean, we would have cut the guided tour short by 5 minutes or not stopped to catch our breath afterward if we had known–but we went on a different hike to an Inca bridge instead (the bridge itself wasn’t that spectacular to look at, but the hike was nice). The Urubamba River snaked through the valley down below. We still had 45 minutes when we returned from our hike, so Sara and I decided to explore some ruins on a part of the site that hadn’t been rebuilt. But first we wanted to see a llama up close, and there was one that had moved into an area where we could actually go, so we tried to find it. We went from room to room, looking for the animal, but he had moved out of sight. So we plunked down on the far side of the quarry and enjoyed the peace of being away from the crowds (3,000 people visit Machu Picchu each day).

 

Machu Feet-chu

Machu Feet-chu

We usually take a picture of our feet wherever we are on vacation (dorky, I know), but as we were doing so, I looked to our right and saw this guy:

 

Hey guys.

Hey guys.

He was looking at us like “Hey, what’re you doing on my lunch spot?”

 

What're you doing in my lunch spot?

What’re you doing in my lunch spot?

Grass tastes delicious, especially at 8,000 feet.

Grass tastes delicious, especially at 8,000 feet.

I looked to our left a few minutes later and saw these two:

Oh, hey!

Oh, hey!

 

All was fine and good until the mama llama decided to charge, probably to protect her baby:

This is mid-charge. Can you see the woman bolting behind this llama?

This is mid-charge. Can you see the woman bolting behind this llama?

 

I stumbled back and almost fell off the mountain. That would have been a story, right? I can see the headlines now: “Woman Plummets to Death After Being Charged by Llama on Machu Picchu,” “Llama Mama Charges Woman Off Sacred Site,” and (from the NY Post, of course) just “Baby Llama Mama Drama!”

 

Despite charging me, she allowed us to get pretty close. That is Sara's hand.

Despite charging me, she allowed us to get pretty close. That is Sara’s hand.

The baby llama was curious but shy.

The baby llama was curious but shy.

No butts about it, Machu Picchu is amazing.

No butts about it, Machu Picchu is amazing.

When we got back to Cuzco, we spent the next day exploring the square. It was the saint’s day for the patron saint of the local cathedral, so there were dancers and bands, a parade, and a statue of the saint carried around on a platform. It was very colorful and festive. While we were standing, watching the parade, a woman walked over to us carrying what I thought was a stuffed animal in a sling. As she got closer, however, the stuffed animal moved–it was a baby llama! Even away from Machu Picchu I couldn’t escape them. After that they were everywhere–women with baby llamas they would shove in tourists faces to get them to pay un nuevo sol to have their picture taken with. All I could think was, Where is your mother?

Cuzco Saint's Day

Cuzco Saint’s Day

Cuzco Saint's Day

Cuzco Saint’s Day

Cuzco Saint's Day

Cuzco Saint’s Day

Baby llama drama.

Baby llama drama.

Aside from that baby llama drama, Cuzco was beautiful and a much nicer city to tour than Lima. It was also at a much higher altitude (12,000 feet vs. sea level) so walking/hiking around was more difficult, but the locals gave us tips on dealing with the altitude, including drinking plenty of water, taking it slow, and drinking coca tea, a local remedy. I didn’t notice any effects from the coca tea, but then again, I didn’t notice any effects from the altitude, either. Well, mostly…

Stop back next week to find out what my altitude issues were!

 

*You can’t bring yourself to pronounce it “peek-choo” can you?

**Why is it always assumed if it’s a group of women that they’re virgins?*** If it were a group of men, would it be renamed “Macho Picchu”?

***How can you even tell if a skeleton is from a virgin or not? This sounds like the beginning of a joke with something about “boning” in the punchline but I can’t think of what it would be.

****There’s one at every ruin!

*****So many rocks. Peru–especially Machu Picchu–is a geologist’s dream.

******But my hands aren’t made out of metal, so…

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About Sarah in Small Doses

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