Our Family Blog

We couldn’t think of a better way to wind down our trip, our 5th Wonder of the World and 36th UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

The Incas started building Machu Picchu around AD 1430 but was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian.

Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and a New Seven Wonder of the World in 2007. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

Our disappointment of not being able to trek the Inca Trail, due to illness, was short lived once we entered the gates of this architectural wonder.  We will never forget our first glimpse, gradually dark shapes became visible out of the swirling mist, and all of a sudden we realised that we were looking at stone walls and terraces.  I headed straight for the ‘Watchman’s House’, to take the classic photo (with no tourists) while Sam’s joined the queue for Huayna Picchu, the large mountain in the background.  Only 400 are allowed to climb the mountain each day, 200 at 7am and 200 at 10am – after missing out on the trail, we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity.

The trail was quite steep but only took us around 45mins.  From the top, you get a birds eye view of the whole of Machu Picchu (and unfortunately also the modern monstrosity, the Sanctuary hotel) spread out more than a thousand feet below. It was hellishly scary at times and so damn steep – not good for those suffering with vertigo.  For us, it was certainly worth the climb.

Once we got down we had a quick bite to eat and then it was time to meet our guide, Tacco.  A good guide definitely adds to the experience and ours has written five books on the subject.  According to Tacco, Hiram Bingham who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu would never have found it if he hadn’t been helped by villagers living nearby. Apparently he had surveyed the area right where we were standing without realising that there was actually a ‘lost city’ right under his feet! All the clues were there, it’s just that our friend Hiram was not expecting Machu Picchu to be where it is. Until today, there remains speculation that there is a much grander ‘lost city of the Incas’ as yet undiscovered. One can certainly believe this looking out at the terrain.

Our guide also didn’t have very good things to say about Mr. Bingham after he had been helped to locate Machu Picchu. According to him, lots of artifacts were carted off to America and have never been returned.  Actually, this is not true, in September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of many artifacts.  The majority are still unaccounted for and are most probably lying in museums or attics somewhere.

Our guide explained what each building was used for (some are clearly known, some are just speculation) and why the Inca went to all the trouble of building their cities so far away from the resources needed for such an endeavour. The precision with which they laid the stone blocks to create each structure is unmatched by modern day craftsmen. When you look at the shoddy way in which many buildings are put up nowadays, you’d wonder whether we have really progressed over the last thousand years! The construction was so precise that the stone blocks fit together without any form of binding whatsoever, and yet you would not be able to find a gap big enough to fit a razor blade through.

Interestingly, the authorities are currently in the process of approving planning permission to re-thatch all of the buildings, restoring them back to their former glory and to protect the stonework from further rain damage.  We seen a drawing and were really impressed with the new look.

The second walk that we did in the afternoon was to the Inca Drawbridge. This was along part of another Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu from the southwest.  This path was described to us as being very narrow, clinging to the sheer mountain side in places and needing a good head for heights as there were often sheer drops on the other side of the path.  They weren’t wrong, it is by far the scariest walk I have ever done, ten times scarier than Huayna Picchu and never again. While we were there, National Geographic were filming a documentary called Machu Picchu Uncovered. They were filming the clearing of the old path around the side of the mountain. Supposedly, this path (or trail) and the drawbridge was at one time the only connection to the outside world.  The Incas deliberately left a strategic gap in this buttress bridged by some logs. These could be taken up to prevent intruders getting across.

And so after 11 hours we left Machu Picchu, happy to have fulfilled a lifelong dream and still in awe of the place. We hope to be back someday to hike the Inca trail.

Machu Picchu 001

Machu Picchu 025

Machu Picchu 029

Machu Picchu 072

Machu Picchu 094

Machu Picchu 098

Machu Picchu 108

Machu Picchu 113

Machu Picchu 165

Machu Picchu 167

Machu Picchu 171

Machu Picchu 205

Machu Picchu 206

Machu Picchu 210

Machu Picchu 283

Machu Picchu 287

Machu Picchu 293

Machu Picchu 302

Machu Picchu 314

Machu Picchu 316

Machu Picchu 321

Machu Picchu 322

Machu Picchu 328

Machu Picchu 333

Machu Picchu 340

Machu Picchu 345

Machu Picchu 365

Machu Picchu 372

Machu Picchu 398

Machu Picchu 410

Machu Picchu 413

Machu Picchu 443

Machu Picchu 459

Machu Picchu 449

Machu Picchu 498

One of the main reasons we visited Brazil and an absolute must see while in South America was the stature of Christ the Redeemer.  A symbol of Christianity, the statue has become an icon of Rio and Brazil. 

Standing at over 30 metres (98ft) tall and overlooking the city of Rio it is one of the tallest statues in the world.  It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone – our friend Tim, an engineer and a concrete junky, would melt peering up at it .  Designed by the engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, it was conceived in 1921, construction started in mid-1926 and was completed in 1931.  The statue sits on top of Corcovado Mountain located in Tijuca National Park.

From the statue we had superb views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, downtown Rio and Rio’s beaches.  It was, as expected, a truly magical experience and one we are unlikely to forget.  Beneath the stature there’s a beautiful little church and one couldn’t visit without saying a few prayers.

Not only is Christ the Redeemer a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was on 7th July 2007 named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. 

UNESCO World Heritage Site  #33.

New Seven Wonders of the World #4.

Rio De Janerio 001

Rio de Janeiro 179

Rio de Janeiro 195

Rio de Janeiro 243

Rio de Janeiro 243

Rio de Janeiro 251

Rio de Janeiro 261

Rio de Janeiro 246

Rio de Janeiro 270

Rio de Janeiro 271

Rio de Janeiro 298

Rio de Janeiro 317

The highlight of our trip to China, a miraculous feat of engineering and labour and a mandatory must see!  A very close contender, alongside machhapuchhre in the Himalaya, for the best sight on our trip so far.

Started by China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, and later added to by the Qing and Ming Dynasties, the Great Wall is the world’s longest human-made structure, stretching over approximately 6,400 km (4,000 miles) from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, but stretches to over 6,700 km (4,160 miles) in total.  It is also the largest human-made structure ever built in terms of surface area and mass. At its peak the wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the region of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.

We trekked the less touristed and restored section from Jinshanling to Simatai (10k), a truly authentic wall experience.  We awoke at 5am and following a 3–hour drive were ready to start our hike at 9.  It was a tough 4–hours (30 towers) but it was spectacular with incredible surroundings.  When you look back at the long section completed, it’s just jaw-dropping.  We were very snap happy, with around 350 photographs.  Amazingly, we only met two other trekkers en route, so we had the wall pretty much to ourselves. 

The same hair raising feeling that you get at the Taj and the Pyramids, and one you don’t get at the other UNESCO sites, a unique cultural heritage site and a natural selection as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Interesting fact: the myth that the Great Wall is visible with the naked eye from the moon was finally buried in 2003, when China’s first astronaut failed to spot the barrier from space.  The wall can be seen from a low earth orbit, but so can many other objects of human construction, such as motorways and railways.  Looked at from above, the relative width and uniform colour of large roads renders them more distinct than the Great Wall, a structure even less visible from the moon.  The myth has been edited from Chinese textbooks, where is has cast its spell over generations of Chinese.

Video also included!  More photos here.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #13


The Great Wall 007

The Great Wall 016

The Great Wall 096

The Great Wall 117

The Great Wall 138

The Great Wall 160

The Great Wall 166

The Great Wall 177

The Great Wall 187

The Great Wall 213

The Great Wall 232

The Great Wall 292

A six hour drive from Jairpur to Agra to see this magnificent marble structure, the mighty Taj Mahal.  .  In order to preserve this wonder, visitors are only allowed to take in money and water, for fear that tags would be etched and smoke would stain the marble.

Having seen the Taj all these years in movies and magazines, it’s surreal being able to see it up close and actually touch it.  It too has seen the effects of global warming, which is a real concern for the Indian Tourism Board. The structure was engineered in such a way that it requires the force from the river behind to keep it upright. Because the river has started to dry up in recent years, two of its piers are leaning by 7%, and if the trend continues, they will only last another 25.

You get free bottles of water when entering – and although it was a normal hot day – the reflection off the  marble intensified the heat and we lost at least 2ltrs of sweat – even the Indians were drenched.

Great to see it and worth the entrance fee.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3

Jaipur 184

Jaipur 186

Jaipur 189

Jaipur 244

We waited until the midday sun had passed before we headed to the Sahara to view the pyramids of Giza once more, up close and personal.

Rather than take the usual taxi organised by the hotel, we decided on the underground and public buses – just to get a sense of the real way of life here.  We arrived quicker than we had the previous night and at a cost of only 20p each. Our ‘tourist’ taxi the previous night cost us £5 each.

We heard so many stories of people getting ripped off for the camels, it was a mission to get one at a reasonable price. After 20 mins of haggling, and having produced my out-of-date student card, we got our tickets and camel for E£200 (£20), the entrance fee to the pyramids alone costs E£100. Some guys in our hotel paid E£500 for just the camels the previous day – bafoons.  All saddled up we headed up the desert which took about a half hour to get to the pyramids. The camel was reasonably comfortable.

It was amazing to see them up close and to get a sense of the size and number of carved rocks it took to build these great monuments.  You will see on the third picture the indent in the side of the great pyramid Khafre where Napoleon blasted it trying to knock it down and and on the fourth, the granite frontage that had covered it at onetime – it must have been so beautiful. I took a close up of tip of the pyramid which shows the number and formation of the stones and how smooth it looks. When this face would have covered the whole pyramid, you can imagine how difficult it would have been to locate the actual and spoof entrances – an amazing feet of engineering.

CLASSIC FACT: Napoleon’s troops have long been blamed with blowing off the nose of the Sphinx in the 18th century, because it was an African nose and went against their belief that man descended from the fricans.

The local town and surrounding areas were steeped in poverty, it would bring a lump to your throat.  The whole place is filthy with graffiti markings on the base of the pyramids.  The locals, government officials, police, traders etc. are all milking the cash cow, but have no respect for the pyramids or the surrounding area, it’s a crying shame.  These monuments are truly inspirational and so beautiful you feel you want to kick somebody in the ass to get it sorted.  After all the years of construction, I can’t imagine what the Pharaohs would say now if they were to visit.  

This place is so worth a visit, it is indescribable unless you can see it with your own eyes.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #1

Cairo 371

Cairo 378

Cairo 397

Cairo 391

Cairo 410

Cairo 425

Cairo 431

Cairo 435

Cairo 368

Cairo 424

Cairo 441

Cairo 455