Continued from my previous post: Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu.
We met at 4:30am to begin the hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (old peak) and climbed the seemingly endless stone stairs to the ruins, arriving just as the first buses pulled up. We hustled on by them up the hill, before the bus riders had a chance to purchase or show their entry tickets. Climbing up to the top, below us the shadowed view of the city under Wayna Picchu (young peak), we gathered at the edge facing the dark silhouette of mountain peaks against the lightening sky.
Elvis, steeped in ceremony, handed us each a small cup and filled it with red wine. We flicked wine towards the mountains in a tribute to Taytayinti, God of the Sun, spilled a little wine to the ground for Pachamama, Mother Earth, and toasted salud to each other. At that moment, as if choreographed, the sun appeared between two peaks, rays spreading out as if in celebration and welcome, and slowly flooded the stone walls with streaks of light and wonder.
There are so many descriptions of Machu Picchu, I could not do it justice. I prefer to let a few photos speak for themselves, some of the sights that touched me most. It was humbling to tread along the walkways and into the buildings of an ancient city, and imagine the depth and complexity of life that once filled it—laughter of children, sweat of labor, artisans and rulers, joy of love, tears of grief.
My son would have liked to continue climbing, taking the trail up Wayna Picchu, but we wouldn’t have had time to catch our return trip. I was happily spent, at peace with having made it to our destination, my mind full of the history of this Incan metropolis, my muscles trim and fit after the strenuous five-day journey, my spirit calm and satisfied. Our train left in early afternoon for Cusco so we hustled back to Aguas Calientes by bus just in time to board. I survived the trek in good form; my most serious injury was the loss of four toenails, which would grow back. In the future, I would wear hiking boots and other shoes a half size larger, giving my toes room to breathe.
Back in Cusco, we met the German couple from our trek for dinner. Henrik had left us a note to meet in the Plaza de Armas under the Peruvian flag. When we arrived, we wondered which of the many Peruvian flags fluttering around the square he could have meant until Adam noticed the empty flagpole near the fountain. In daylight the next morning, we admired the huge flag that flew there. They told us at dinner about growing up in East Berlin; the wall had come down when they were in their teens. Before then, travel had been restricted to Soviet Union and certain eastern European countries. They switched plates mid-meal as was their custom.
Adam and Elvis had made fast friends on the trail. They met the following day to go bungee jumping. I spent the day wandering around the San Blas area of Cusco filled with artisan shops and visited Museo Inka, a museum of Inca and Spanish treasures, paintings, pottery, textiles. We took Elvis to dinner; he timidly ordered soup, the cheapest item on the menu. Adam wanted to try cuy (guinea pig), a Peruvian delicacy. He shared a piece each with Elvis and me. Not one of my favorites, Elvis was delighted—it was a specialty in his home served only for holidays. The small white bones on his plate gleamed as if polished; he had finished every morsel. We gave him the leftovers. That night, the boys and Johanna went to a Cusqueño discotheque till the wee hours.
On day trips, we explored additional ruins in the Cusco area. The most notable were the jagged walls of Sacsayhuaman—temple and fortress, considered the head of the puma (Cusco is built in the shape of a puma) —and cities at Pisaq and Ollantaytambo. Each had its own unique fascination, and helped provide informational pieces to fill in the historic puzzle.
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