• Monday , 26 June 2017
Machu Picchu: Inca heaven in spite of tourist hell

Machu Picchu: Inca heaven in spite of tourist hell

Ask me five years ago to name a historical treasure in South America and off the top of my head Machu Picchu would have probably been the first answer out of my mouth. This place is the stuff of boyhood daydreams. An exotic Andes mountaintop city shrouded in mist and mystery made coming here by motorcycle feel like something that Indiana Jones would be doing with us.

But with every ying there is the yang and Machu Picchu conjures up images of tourist hell at the same time as wonder and awe. Going to Peru brings the question with many overland travelers “should I go Machu Picchu?” Word on the street is it is expensive to make this sojourn, and while not free, it did not break the bank for us. See our penny pinchers guide for getting to Machu Picchu. Was the effort worth it? Most definitely.

Waiting for the sun to rise. At this point we had already been awake for 3 hours. No rest for the wicked.

Waiting for the sun to rise. At this point we had already been awake for 3 hours. No rest for the wicked.

Machu Picchu in the pre-dawn light. Probably the most photographed scene in South America but still worth the effort to get the shot on our own camera.

Machu Picchu in the pre-dawn light. Probably the most photographed scene in South America but still worth the effort to get the shot on our own camera.

Sunrise and Machu Picchu. Good time to be here because the the train load of other tourists coming from Cusco for the day are not here yet.

Sunrise and Machu Picchu. Good time to be here because the the train load of other tourists coming from Cusco for the day are not here yet.

Yes, by late morning the site was crawling with hoards of selfie-stick toting rabble doing stupid shit and acting like self indulged children. For example, we were quietly taking a picture of a single llama grazing peacefully when a US pre-teen boy ran at the animal shouting “check this out MOM”. The little monster ran into our little slice of photographic heaven and attempted to hug or maybe hump said llama right in front of us. Floppy hatted parents just smiled vacantly as they dabbed sunscreen on each-other.

But, Machu Picchu is huge and it was more than easy to peel away and get the run of the place mostly to yourself. Our visit was worth every glorious second and the magic of Machu Picchu enveloped us in spite of children leg-humping the llamas.

The Inca bridge is the wooden planks you see in the lower left of the photo. Being afraid of heights, Shannon can't imagine having to walk these tiny, narrow walkways with the 2,000 thousand foot drop kissing our ankles. Like a drawbridge of sorts, the Incas could pull the planks and seal off the trail from outsiders.

The Inca bridge is the wooden planks you see in the lower left of the photo. Being afraid of heights, Shannon can’t imagine having to walk these tiny, narrow walkways with the 2,000 foot drop kissing our ankles. Like a drawbridge of sorts, the Incas could pull the planks and seal off the trail from outsiders.

Inca bridge. This trail is no longer open to tourists after someone fell to their death.

Inca bridge. This trail is no longer open to tourists after someone fell to their death.

Our friend Simon inserted for scale. Like Shannon, he's afraid of heights like so this was was no easy feat.

Our friend Simon inserted for scale. Like Shannon, he’s afraid of heights so this was was no easy feat.

A long range view of Machu Picchu from our walk back from the Inca drawbridge.

A long range view of Machu Picchu from our walk back from the Inca drawbridge.

Machu Picchu is an Incan city set in the Andes Mountains high above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it is renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls (that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar), artistic building construction, and mind-blowing panoramic views. Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish so the site is pretty much “as is” in all its glory. The site is valuable and the Peruvian Government knows this so it is kept clean, well-maintained, and true to its origins (no snack bars or modern construction to be found).

It was with awe that we watched the sunrise on the ruins and then spent the day exploring and hiking to the Inca Bridge and Sun Gate (the original “official” entrance to Machu Picchu). Our photographs barely do it justice. Yes, you should go to Machu Picchu.

The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu are as spectacular as the site itself.

The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu are as spectacular as the site itself.

This colorful flower added some relief from the sea of green.

This colorful flower added some relief from the sea of green.

Simon shared a house with us in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1994. We have been friends ever since.

We shared a house with Simon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1994. We have been friends ever since.

It is important to get llama photos while at Machu Picchu. We got the money shot with this one!

It is important to get llama photos while at Machu Picchu. We got the money shot with this one!

The sun poked out from behind the clouds and lit up a stage set by the Incas.

The sun poked out from behind the clouds and lit up a stage set by the Incas.

The stonework is impeccable. Seeing craftsmanship like this puts to rest any notion that the Incas were less advanced than Europeans of the same era.

The stonework is impeccable. Seeing craftsmanship like this puts to rest any notion that the Incas were less advanced than Europeans of the same era.

With staggered joints the stone blocks lock together without pins or mortar.

With staggered joints the stone blocks lock together without pins or mortar.

Perfect fit and form.

Perfect fit and form.

Rain is on its way. We got soaked soon after this picture was taken.

Rain is on its way. We got soaked soon after this picture was taken.

No idea but too cool for school.

No idea but too cool for school.

Hello Darlings! Do you want a closeup? Check out my eye lashes!

Hello Darlings! Do you want a closeup? Check out my eye lashes!

Mike was a bit worried with the llama behind him..he heard they will spit if they get mad. What makes a llama mad?

Mike was a bit worried with the llama behind him..he heard they will spit if they get mad. What makes a llama mad?

Mike, Shannon, Simon, and Clinton just hanging out at Machu Picchu. It was a long ride from Seattle but worth every mile.

Mike, Shannon, Simon, and Clinton just hanging out at Machu Picchu. It was a long ride from Seattle but worth every mile.

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