Machupicchu*1 from coca to chinchillas…

We’re now in Peru, birthplace of Paddington Bear, after having flown from Bogota to Lima and then straight to Cuzco last Friday. We’re staying in a nice hacienda-style place called Quorichaska. When we arrived, the lady at reception made us coca tea to alleviate altitude sickness and neither of us has suffered with it at all.


On Saturday we took a couple of minibuses to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and then a train called the Vistadome to Aguas Calientes, which is the closest town to Machupicchu. The train was a great experience and far nicer than I can imagine the alternative (a 5-day trek) could ever be – as I said to Ise when he was weighing up the relative merits of hiking the Inca trail; “Sense of achievement? *INSERT YOUR OWN EXPLETIVE* that, I’m getting the train”! The Vistadome took us in relative luxury (big squishy seats, large windows all around, even a snack-box and drink were included) for 2 and a half hours along the valley floor, beside a river with dangerous-looking rocks and rapids, between snow-capped mountains and through lush vegetation. Ise took a video of some of the journey, so you can get an idea of it…

We stayed overnight in Aguas Calientes (literally meaning hot waters, named after the sulphur-fragranced warm springs that are nearby) and got up at 4.30am to catch one of the first buses up the mountain to Machupicchu, our second new wonder of the world on this trip. We had read that in order to be among the first 400 to the site (which is necessary if you want to climb Wayna Picchu*2 in order to see the sunrise), you have to be at the bus ticket office for 5am. Unfortunately, it seems that everyone else in town had read the same websites as us and the queue was already huge by the time we joined it.


We had been in line for about 25 mins, when the first buses started to arrive and the queue started to move forward. Ise asked the guy in front of us “This is the queue for bus tickets, right?”
“Nope” he said, “this is the queue to get on the bus. The ticket queue is over there” (pointing to another queue of about 10 people opposite us). I stayed in line, desperately hoping that Ise would be able to buy our tickets and get back to me, before I reached the front of the queue. Luckily, he was!

The 20 minute bus ride up the mountain was pretty special; a zig-zagging road through cloud forest, overlooking the valley. Once at the top, we joined another queue and were lucky/early enough to get a ticket allowing us to climb Wayna Picchu. Only 400 tourists a day are allowed to do this and it meant we could watch sunrise over the lost city at over 2600m above sea- level, after a 50 minute climb up steep stone steps, which was really spectacular and meant that we really got to see the scale of the city and the mountains and valley surrounding it. Machu Picchu means “many pictures” *3 and as you can see here, from the edited highlights, we certainly took a lot of photos – it’s impossible not to, when it looks so incredible…

Apparently the record for the fastest climb up Wayna Picchu is just 14 minutes and is held by a local guide who was responding to an emergency call following an accident. There is at least one death every year resulting from tourists falling on Wayna Picchu. We were very lucky to be visiting on a good warm, clear, dry day, so we had good visibility and the rocks, ropes and cables to hang onto were dry. I can imagine it would be very treacherous with mist or wet, slippery rocks and probably the reason why the limit is 400 visitors a day is safety, because it was difficult to pass people coming the other way, or to over-take without putting ourselves or others in danger.

After returning from Wayna Picchu, we went back to the entrance and hired a guide for a tour around the site. He was incredibly knowledgeable, very interesting and answered all our questions about the “lost city”. The Incas gave great importance to condors, snakes and pumas (representing, respectively; the over world of the gods, the underworld of the ancestors and the human world). Historians and scholars believe that the city of Machupicchu was a sanctuary for important people, of high status, like priests and that it was a place of refuge, study and political administration. Our guide showed us that the buildings are made differently, depending on their use. Storerooms and houses for common people, like farmers, were made of stone that was glued together with a kind of mortar. The houses of high-status people, temples etc, were made with stones that were carefully carved to fit together exactly.


Our guide showed us that some of the stones, including a large ceremonial one, had been carved into the exact shape of the mountains on the Eastern side of the city. There is also a construction of stones representing a condor, with outstretched wings, and a cave beneath it, where bones have been discovered. Our guide told us that they may have put their dead into the cave for a short period before disposing of the bodies, as the condor signifies flight and their spiritual journey to the gods.

There is another carefully carved rock, which is a kind of sun-dial for the whole year, rather than just a day. Instead of telling the time, it shows when the seasons, harvests, solstices and equinoxes will occur and it is totally accurate. Some other visitors were touching the rock, as they believed it would share its “energy” with them.


So, why was Machupicchu abandoned? Our guide offered 3 theories. The last one is his favourite:

1. The Spanish brought diseases with them, which caused an epidemic and the Incas fled to escape it.
2. The Temple of the Sun was struck by lightning, which cracked it (there is scientific evidence of this), and this was taken as a warning from the gods that something bad was going to happen to the city, so the Incas fled.
3. The Incas had heard about the cruelty and greed of the Spanish conquistadors and went to join the Inca rebellion at Cusco before their city could be discovered (which it never was).

Finally, we went on a short hike to see the Inca bridge, which has been restored by historians and crosses a perilous chasm along the edge of another mountain (to the northeast of the city). The bridge formed part of the Inca trail leading to Vilcabamba, their last refuge and all the Inca trails are over the mountains, rather than in the valleys, because this way they would be closer to their gods. We weren’t allowed to walk on the bridge (which is probably for the best, as it looked rather rickety), but we could get very close by walking along a mountain-ledge trail with no guard-rail, barrier, ropes or other health and safety measures. Fantastic.


We’ve seen lots of llamas and alpacas here in Peru. There are 22 llamas resident at Machupicchu, who were brought here in the 60s and whose job it is to entertain the tourists and “mow” the lawn. I met a lovely friendly alpaca in Cuzco (he was SO soft) and Ise ate some alpaca too – I tried it, it was delicious – like a really flavoursome, tender beef steak.


We also saw chinchillas (who live in the cracks of the ruins) at Machupiccu, which are ever so cute and look, I think, like a cross between a rabbit and a very large squirrel (a “squibbit”?)! I got within arms-length of one before he freaked out and hopped back into his hidey-hole.


More soon, love Gude x

*1 There seems to be some inconsistency with name format – some people write Machu Picchu, some Machu-Picchu (I think it’s 2 words when referring to the mountain, but the official map and sign at the site entrance names the city as Machupicchu, so I’m going to use that for this blog…

*2 Meaning young mountain, the peak to the south of the ancient city.

*3 Er, I may have made this up. It actually means “Old mountain”

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11 Comments so far

  1. NickNick on September 24th, 2009

    Yet another awesome blog guys (er, Gude!).   Great to speak to you the other night too!!  Unfortunately there’s nothing of any great interest to report from back home, other than the fact that I saw an Osteopath last night who told me there’s nothing wrong with me, so hurrah for that.  I’ll try to engineer something more interesting to tell you about at the weekend if you’re about…..

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing the next update as always!  Speak soon, Nick.

  2. Mum and Dad C on September 24th, 2009

    Loved the train journey video. You were very wise not to trek the whole way!
    My class love the chinchilla picture.
    I don’t like the look of the dodgy path!
    Love Mum xx

  3. Karen & Jessica on September 24th, 2009

    Great to see the videos.  Me and mummy both didn’t think we would like to walk along that path,  it looks really scarey.  That cute animal could also be called a rabbel
    Lots of love
    Jessica and mummy

  4. Guest on September 24th, 2009

    Always wanted to do that trip and Peru sounds wonderful. I love the wealth and strength of that culture. Maybe I’ll follow in your footsteps if I don’t run out of years. Really enjoyed this account.
    love  N ‘n N

  5. Gude on September 26th, 2009

    Hey NickNick!
    No wi’fi here in Copacabana, so we´ve had to come to an internet caff.  No Skype, blog or SCD for me until next week (La Paz) probably  🙁

    V glad to hear your back isn´t permanently damaged by a football injury!
    Speak soon, love to you both x

  6. Gude on September 26th, 2009

    Definitely better on the train, though we couldn´t afford the Hiram Bingham at $600 each!  It´s run by the Orient Express and looks AMAZING (we peeked into their carriages)…

    The chinchillas were so cute and we wouldn´t have got that close if we hadn´t gone on the dodgy path.  One lady went with her friends, but she was terrified of heights and spent the whole time with her back glued to the cliff wall.  She didn´t like us standing on the big rock overhang to get our photp taken!

  7. Gude on September 26th, 2009

    Yes, maybe a group of chinchillas is called a rabbel?!  😉

  8. Gude on September 26th, 2009

    You guys would love Peru – great food and lovely people.  We´re now in Bolivia and the women wear bowler hats – pretty cool!  I want to take their picture, but don´t want to offend them… x

  9. Dad & Mum H-G on October 2nd, 2009

    Hello to you both.  Moved on to Jackson (in a fever!?) since last posting from Portland.  Just found this computer free in the hotel.  We’ve had three days here and the foliage is unbelievable – wait ’til you see the photos! Our blog would just show leaves and more leaves!  We’re both agreed we’re just about all ‘treed out’.  We’re moving on to Vermont tomorrow.  Your blog is fabulous, but Mum wouldn’t look at the photos of the scary path – they frightened her too much.  Hopefully we will get another opportunity to catch up with your blog again before we return home.  Just think we’re on the same continent.  Love to you both  M & D xx

  10. Isaac on October 3rd, 2009

    If you think that path was scary wait until you see the pics of the ROad of Death trip I’ve just done in Bolivia.  Ridiculously dangerous!

    Don’t recall seeing a previous post from you that you posted while you were away, where on the blog did you put it?

    GLad you’re having a great time, we look forward to seeing the pics and hearing all about it.


  11. Isaac on October 3rd, 2009

    If you think that path was scary wait until you see the pics of the ROad of Death trip I’ve just done in Bolivia.  Ridiculously dangerous! 
    Don’t recall seeing a previous post from you that you posted while you were away, where on the blog did you put it? 
    GLad you’re having a great time, we look forward to seeing the pics and hearing all about it.