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6. All One Expects. And Much More

View Mucho Machu on paulej4's travel map.

Aguas Calientes, Sacred Valley, Peru
Sunday, December 18, 2016

I am awakened earlier than I had hoped, at 5:10am, by the honking of a three-wheeled motor taxi speeding down the street adjacent to my window at Tunupa Lodge carrying what I suspect is a passenger late for the early train to Machu Picchu. No matter. I have had my sleep and am more than ready for today's adventure.

When the day comes during which you will achieve a goal made too long ago to remember when it was set, no alarm is needed, no encouragement is required and no hesitation is even thinkable. The moment has come and all you need to is let it envelope you.

I am an organized traveler so I need no time this morning to pack; I’ve done that the night before. And, presuming a lack of hot water during the busy early morning hours, I have showered the night before. As is often the case on solo treks such as this, I do not shave.

My train Peru Rail #601, does not leave Ollantaytambo Station until 8:00 and the Tunupa Lodge "Restaurant" does not open until 6:00 so I have time to kill; I do that by walking back into Ollantaytambo Town to watch the sun rise and give first light to the ruins.

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I am seated in Seat A2 which puts me at the very front of the first car with the best view one could demand. I sit next to a German woman who came this morning all the way from Cusco. Her husband had been in my seat until Ollantaytambo but he graciously gave way when yours truly arrived.

My seat faces a tray table with a Peruvian placemat and silver service. Looking over it through my picture window I enjoy scenery interrupted by the occasional cow, dog or pedestrian, some children, walking on the tracks giving way to our train only at the last moment. Peruvian pan flute music scerenades we travelers as we sit back with our coffees to pass the ninety minutes it takes to get from here to there.

We pass the Mountain Veronica at 5,700 meters above sea level. It is a perfect pyramidal mountain which calls out to climbers much younger and more fit than I. Clouds like cotton balls scattered in the sky give depth to the vista before me even as they partially obscure the mountain’s peak. These tracks, like railroad tracks everywhere, hug the river bank presenting rapids to our left and shear walls to our right. The sun defies the weather forecast of clouds and rain and the day suffers only from the absence of B4. Hers is a higher calling today but she is, as she knows even without reading this, missed.

At one point (it came too suddenly to pick up the camera) we pass a boulder the size of a small house midstream in the river below with a twisted rail pinned beneath it. The traveler with a vivid imagination can envision the rainy season day when gravity won and a landslide sent this otherwise immovable object from above to below taking with it the predecessor to the track which is today our guide. We pass through scores of tunnels where the mountain and the engineers had to compromise on what our path could be.

Peru Rail could and should charge extra for seat A2. The vistas presented exclusively to the occupant of that seat are a valued added feature that was, to me, offered unexpectedly and free of additional charge. My experience was different from all other rows as I shared the conductor’s sights from a seat so far forward in the coach that, when we rounded sharp curves, the seat I occupied was far out over the edge of the tracks. All that Peru had to offer from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu was mine to take in and take it in I happily did. Even though I am more than anxious to get to my destination, I wish this ride could have been twice as long as it was.

Juan awaits me at Aguas Calientes station. There to is the bellman from the Waman Hotel, my home for this evening. His presence relieves Juan and me of trekking first to the hotel to drop my suitcase. He takes it for us and we can now take the easy walk through Aguas Calientes to the shuttle bus terminal. This is the small tourist town at the edge of the Rio Urubamba and it is full of restaurants and pubs and shops and hostels and hotels and whatever else you want.

There is a limit as to how many people are allowed to take the busses up to the Machu Picchu ruin itself. Juan says it is 2500 per day and that limit is always reached during high season. This is low season but I cannot explain why. The weather is beautiful with sunny skies tattooed with cotton ball clouds save for the mountain peaks of which many are shrouded in low clouds that resemble fog.

The bus ride takes us first to a vehicle bridge being reconstructed where we disembark to walk across a suspension bridge over the Rio Urubamba so that we can board another shuttle bus on the other side. Our serpentine route takes us up the mountain in a twenty minute commute.

Machu Picchu itself (7972 feet altitude) reminds me of my own preference for order; not a single stone is out of place. Juan says it is 60% original and 40% reconstructed but, be sure, it is for me perfect in every way. There is a place here for everything and everything is in its place. There are aqueducts, terraces, garden plots, stairs, pathways and temples; all laid out under a masterful master plan aligned with the rising sun. For me, this is the reason to come to Peru. Known locally, in our arrogance we maintain that it was “discovered” in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham—the inspiration for the character Indiana Jones. He came to Peru to find Vilcabamba, the legendary lost city of gold of the Inca. This site was then overgrown but he was led to it by locals when he asked them if they knew of any ruins along his way. Once “discovered,” Bingham returned in 1912 through 1915 to excavate, finding 190 human skeletons and the structures I now behold. He thought it to be that “Lost City of Gold” but experts today say he was mistaken.

For me it is the lost city of my golden age’s bucket list being checked off in my sixty-ninth year. Frankly this is a journey for those whose bodies are younger. Every other step you take is either up or down. For up your heart pounds and for down it skips a beat thinking of what could happen should you stumble. There are no “U.S. OSHA” type railings or fences. Should you step too far to the left or right or stumble over an uneven paving stone or, while holding your stupid selfie stick take one too many paces rearward to get the perfect shot, you will fall off a ledge of anywhere from six to sixty feet or more. The young and foolish tempt the edges with close approaches coupled with yoga poses in a stiff breeze which sometimes gusts. If you think that texting while driving is dangerous you should watch the three teenage girls who search for the perfect pose at doom’s edge. Not since I swam in Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls have I seen anyone do something more stupid; this time it is not I.

I am reminded of how my body feels after my cardiologist demands that I complete a stress echocardiogram; I am breathless and unable to make bottom to top climbs without stopping. But, reassuringly, I see others stopping to catch their breath, most much younger than I.

This place reminds people like me of how technically inept I am. Built by engineers, scientists, astronomers and master architects it makes sense in its organization and has lasted for 566 years or so without sinking, settling or crumbling. It is clearly unfinished.

They began work here, I am told, around 1450. The Spanish arrived a century later. The Inca rebellion against them saw leader Manco Inca withdraw his troops to Ollantaytambo before defeating the Spanish army. Inca archers reined arrows while other Inca soldiers rolled boulders and flung slingshot ammunition down on Spanish commander Hernando Pizarro’s 70 cavalrymen and 30 ground troops who turned in retreat only to be bogged down in the mud when Manco Inca pulled the plug on a Rio Urubamba canal to flood their path to safety. Thousands of Inca chased the Spaniards to Cusco.

The Inca upper hand folded later as the Spanish gained control by use of force and, unintentionally, by diseases they brought for which the Inca had no natural resistance. The gradual genocidal effectiveness of smallpox began before Pizarro’s arrival and, across the Americas, killed up to 95% of the indigenous population, the Inca included. Europeans had slowly built up a resistance because, with each outbreak, some people survived with antibodies and immunities which they passed along to the next generation. Since inhabitants of North, Central and South America had no antibodies they were easy prey to the epidemics of the smallpox virus.

Today, one wonders if any of the Spanish realized that they were, for gold, committing genocide against a people far more talented than they at the building trades. The Spaniards further advancement in the skills for exploration and modern warfare doomed the Inca who had, it seems, spent more time on building. For certain the Inca were warlike and expansionist but they had not thought of horseback combat, body armor, gunpowder and cannon. Slingshots and arrows ultimately were bested and the Inca’s prowess at construction was lost. They work halted, their civilization fell. Unlike the Aztecs, the Inca dwelled less on human sacrifice. I am sure they were riddled with vices of their own but after having been here I hold them in a naïve admiration.

I’ve been to ruins in Egypt and Cambodia and Mexico and Greece and Rome and many more. These structures are remarkable as are those at other places but these; these exist in seemingly inaccessible places atop or astride mountains. The Inca found ways to feed the tens of thousands of workers needed, to move massive granite boulders without having figured out the wheel, to carve stone with tools that we cannot to this day determine and to create things that, in geologically shaky environments, stand proud five and a half centuries later. The windows in my condo are nearing the end of their useful life after thirty years.

Juan and I head back to shuttle busses and down the mountain and across the bridge and back from Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) to Aguas Calientes (“Hot Water”). He makes sure that I am safe back at my hotel and then bids be goodbye to return to the train station so that he can make his complicated return to his Cusco home. He is off tomorrow but will spend time studying the Italian language to make himself more marketable as a guide.

I make my way to my room, again spartan but this time with a television set, where I quickly reorganize and, collecting my computer, decide to make my way to a restaurant with WiFi to pen this blog entry. I find a spot with a second floor balcony overlooking a street and settle in to write. The rains that had been forecast arrive as I sip a Cusquena beer and munch on a “Sandwich Mixto” (toasted ham and cheese sandwich). The awning keeps me dry.

I reach B4 via WhatsApp and we chat about Edward (he is recovering well), jewelry store sales volumes (strong, then less so, then strong again), Kansas City weather (frigid) and our feeling of separation (intense).

Oh, yes; by way of response to those who don’t know or have forgotten, B4 stands for Big Business Beryl Beth, an apt moniker for the woman I love.

It is nearing 4:00pm as I finish my lunch and this entry. It will, in this narrow notch settled between soaring mountain peaks, be very dark as the time of sunset is irrelevant because mountains subdue light much earlier than is the case of flatland.

I suspect that not much excitement will happen later this evening but only time will tell.

Posted by paulej4 17:09 Archived in Peru

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