Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mist-ical Machu Picchu

Due to limited time and Yumi's constantly cramping stomach, we opted for the 2 day tour of Machu Picchu rather than the 4 day trek.  Along with our new Swiss German friends Adriana and David and a German lady Ute, we travelled by private car to the concentric terraces of Moray and the never ending salt pools of Maras.  

For those who want to know: Moray is an archaeological site located on a high plateau at about 3500 m and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m deep. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.  

Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water (provided by a nearby subterranean stream) in the sun, leaving the salt behind. 
The highly salty water has been flowing from this nearby stream for hundreds of years. A main channel flows across the mountain and trickles down to all the pools below. As the salt water becomes supersaturated, salt crystals begin precipitating out of the water. 

The farmers then scrape the salt to the side and collect it once a sizable amount has been gathered. Some salt is sold at a nearby gift store.

There are about 4500 pools. The salt is exported all over the world and apparently this is a salt is not special in any ways, it's just salt.

From Olantaytambo, we caught a surprisingly nice train to the town of Aguas Calientes.  After a quick briefing from the guide, we hit the sack as we needed to be up in 5 hours.
We were greeted at 4am by pouring rain.  Thank goodness we found an overhang to stand under as we queued for the bus.  Why so early?  Only the first 400 visitors can get tickets to climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain you see in the background of most postcards of Machu Picchu.   
The buses started making the journey down the narrow road at 5:30am.  Success!  We got tickets to climb Waynu Picchu at 10am.  We hoped the weather would clear up by then.  (NB you have to show your passport to get on the train and to enter Machu Picchu).

Machu Picchu is truly a mystical place, especially in the mist.  Every once in awhile, the clouds would part and we could see that we were surrounded by mountains.  It is amazing that this place was ever built and later re-discovered.  75% of the city is in its original condition and only 25% has been restored.  The craftsmanship of the Incas is remarkable.

The guided tour was very informative, but unfortunately we were a group of 20 taking the same route as all the other tour groups.  It was difficult to get a photo without other tourists in the background.  
The cimb up Huayna Picchu is not easy, but we found it to be a breeze compared to the climbs we had done at much higher altitudes.  We weren't out of breath after just a couple of steps.  The stone steps became slippery as the rain started pouring down.  Unfortunately, when we reached the top the view of Machu Picchu was obscured by the clouds.  

After 35 minutes of sitting in the rain, we decided to descend.

About 40 minutes later as we were making our way to the exit, we turned back to see that Huayna Picchu was clearly visible.  Doh!  Oh well, the climb was still worth it.

We debated whether to walk in the rain to see the Sun Gate and the Inca bridge, but we were cold and wet and couldn't be bothered anymore. (Hint: it's worth buying a plastic poncho for £1.  Waterproofs can only handle rain for so long).  Back in Aguas Calientes, happy hour started at 4pm!  Pina coladas for £1.  We were definitely happy.

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