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Although we have well and truly left Cusco, Peru and South America, we felt it was an injustice to write only one quick post on the city, so here goes another.

We stayed in Cusco for just over a week and a half, and although ill for part of it, we enjoyed it immensely, the place has a unique buzz and is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is fair to say that it has knocked Buenos Aires into second place on our favourite retreat in South America.

While there we were lucky enough to experience the Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun. Before the colonial Spaniards banned the ceremonial events occurring each Winter Solstice in Cusco, the native residents gathered to honour the Sun God, sacrifice an animal to ensure good crops and to pay homage to the Inca, as the first born Son of the Sun.  Today, it's the second largest festival in South America. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cusco from other parts of the nation, South America and the world for a week long celebration marking the beginning of a new year.

What an amazing festival, it puts our 1.5hr Easter parade to shame – these people certainly know how to celebrate in style.  We really enjoyed our time here and so help us God we will return again one day.

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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.

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Cusco City

June 21st, 2009 | Posted by Davey in 18-Peru | UNESCO World Heritage Sites - (0 Comments)

A city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley) of the Andes mountain range.  Cusco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 . It is a major tourist destination and receives almost a million visitors a year. It has been designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the Constitution of Peru.

We have been here for just over a week and have seen very little.  We have been laid up in bed for most of it with an illness which can only be described as something in between a cold and flu, hence the lack of updates.  A definite result of travelling for long hours on overcrowded buses and staying in 10 bed doorms.  At this altitude it takes forever to get rid of any aliment, you’re out of breath just walking up the stairs.

We did have a four day hike to Machu Picchu booked but having postponed three times we ended up cancelling.  We have not fully recovered and don’t really have the energy required for the gruelling hike so instead we are taking the train.  To say we are gutted is an understatement but we’d rather make it to the top than not and see the great wonder, one we have both been looking forward to for months.

More to follow in the next day or so.  Today we had off to Aguas Calientes where we stay for one night and visit MP early the following morning.

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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
After a fabulous time in Buenos Aires, sadly, it was time to move on.  A 3–hour ferry ride and we were in the small town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Colonia was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese and served as a port for smuggling contraband into Argentina.  Portuguese style of houses and cobblestoned streets flanked by whitewashed buildings – need we say anymore – seemed like a trip back in time and just our cup of tea.  Its historic quarter, Barrío Historico, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We stayed for a couple of nights and managed to see plenty; numerous art galleries, restuarants, museums, a lighthouse, a convent, the old port and picked up a few stray dogs in the process.  You know you’re in a special place when it’s thronged full artists or painters, or whatever they call themselves these days… A wonderful set of pictures, the place is a photographer’s dream. There’s a great one at the end of go-carts which you can rent by the hour to tour the town – we much preferred to walk. UNESCO World Heritage Site  #32 (we think). Buenos Aires 193 Buenos Aires 175 Colonia 070 Colonia 073 Buenos Aires 180 Buenos Aires 176 Buenos Aires 188 Buenos Aires 190 Buenos Aires 198 Buenos Aires 212 Buenos Aires 217 Buenos Aires 221 Buenos Aires 234 Buenos Aires 237 Buenos Aires 238 Buenos Aires 247 Buenos Aires 257 Colonia 003 Colonia 007 Colonia 008 Colonia 013 Colonia 017 Colonia 019 Colonia 026 Colonia 028 Colonia 056 Colonia 053 Colonia 060 Colonia 062 Colonia 065 Colonia 067 Colonia 066 Colonia 079 Buenos Aires 163 Buenos Aires 170 Colonia 090 Buenos Aires 164 Buenos Aires 262