Nothing Can Machu, Picchu

Yep, it’s a stinker of a pun. But if Tinie Tempah can get away with ‘Tell JK I’m still Rowling’, I can damn well get away with this. We’re now only two weeks from the end of our trip and my literary reserves might be running dry, but fortunately this Wonder of the World speaks pretty much for itself. Even the train ride was ace. Olluntaytambo to Machu Picchu was our first train since Japan’s shinkansens back in November. We were in Peru Rail’s ‘Vistadome Express’, which weaves along the churning, roiling Urubamba River and comes complete with a Pisco Sour waitress, EXACTLY what the shaman ordered at 10am on a Tuesday.

We transferred to the bus and climbed up and up and up… and then the spine-tingling moment where you round a bend and you spot the first stone terraces of Machu Picchu itself.

The boys immediately set about digging gravel (because of course they did) from between the plastic mesh put down to protect the terraces. And there’s plenty to protect. There are kilometres of stone walling, elaborately carved stone temples, an aqueduct that (still) brings water from a spring over the other side of the mountain. Even after they’d busted a gut to build it, the Incans had to walk back down to the river to fish and carry the catch back up for supper. And apparently Pachacuti and his family (and his family’s best buds) moved in for only 50 years before clearing off when the Spanish got within 6 hours walk of the place. History = SO MUCH EFFORT.  I couldn’t help thinking it might have been better to build it somewhere a bit less fricking inaccessible. Nice views though.

Speaking of effort, Adam and I opted to come back the next day to climb Wayna Picchu, the pointy mountain that towers over the site. Only 400 people climb it per day, in two sessions, because the path is so narrow and steep (and those of us with fat arses were spaced even further apart for safety). Totally worth it though for the view from the top.

We took the road even less travelled back down, going straight over the top of Wayna Picchu and down the other side to visit the Sacred Cave which was only discovered in 1995 when fire destroyed the vegetation that was covering it. It was basically Indiana Jones in Anoraks. Alas, the cave itself contained only a few ancient corn-milling rocks rather than a hidden chamber containing the LOST GOLD OF THE INCAS – and believe me, I pushed a fair few stones looking for it.

Back at the citadel itself and it’s clear that not only was this place a total ball-ache to build, but it’s still a ball-ache to maintain. Lord knows how many man-hours it takes to mow all those lawns. And the maintenance team are on a hiding to nothing scraping moss out the grouting. It’s a DIY job to make Sisyphus himself look lazy.

We walked back down to our hotel in the pissing-down rain, for a taste of that authentic Ancient Incan lifestyle.  This is the part of Peru known as the ‘Cloud Forest’ and is technically the start of the Amazon rainforest, which stretches out on the other side of the Andes. The next morning it cleared up enough to see some wildlife before we left. Even in the grounds of the hotel, you’re in the jungle. We saw loads of hummingbirds and met the resident spectacled bears, including this dude Pepé, rescued from a circus, who the boys now think is Uncle Pastuzo in retirement:

The train back to Cusco was… trippy. After we’d been served our coca teas and sandwiches, the train crew disappeared behind a curtain, before one of them re-emerged dressed as some sort of sparkly demonic Morris dancer and jigged down the aisle, to John’s utter horror. Then the other two crew members came out in a selection of Alpaca knitwear and did a fashion show. The East Coast mainline is really missing a trick.

One of the greatest benefits of a long trip like ours is building up a comparative picture of the world and the chronology of great events and civilisations. Amazingly, these industrious pre-Peruvians raised this city amongst the clouds in 1450, almost at the same time as mine and Adam’s alma mater – St John’s College – was being built in Cambridge. Which is ironic, because that’s another place where I spent a lot of time marvelling at how much hard work everyone else was doing. Phew. Time for another sit down methinks.

John’s Seen Better Ancient Incan Citadels


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