City of the Incas

24 Jul

 

Macchu Picchu, Lost city of the Incas, rests on jagged peaks,jutting out of the green valley like a broken jaw. On the first morning We rose at 3.30am and joined the crowds picking our way uphill in darkness. Only the first 400 gain entry to ‘Waina picchu allegedly the best view of the ruins, and so we pushed on, lugging backpacks stuffed with filming equipment. People stopped to rest, some threw up, most sweated and fought for breath. Though Dan and I made it in time, earning the much sought after stamp. We entered the ruins before sunrise, with the mountains still shrouded in a thick grey mist. pointing the camera across the valley, we captured the white sun rising over distant mountain peaks. The Mist began to disperse, revealing vast tooth like mountains beyond; the scale was immense. As the sun reached higher the Inca ruins emerged from the mist revealing stone walls, trapezoidal windows and serrated rooftops. 

 

We filmed the ruins and captured people swallowed in the morning mist, ducking behind ancient walls. Small birds chirped and fluttered in the cold morning air, a family of house martins nested under an old eave. At 8 We followed a soft mannered guide, who began every sentence with a inflected ‘please’ knitting his dialogue like an old aunt.  

Macchu Picchu, as it turns out was not an enclave for nobility, nor an Inca stronghold. It was a small farming village which survived the wrath of the Spanish merely by it’s impossible location, unknown to the conquistadores. It housed between 200 and 500 people and once the Inca empire was destroyed it returned to the jungle, like an old ship sinking slowly to the sea bed.

In 1911, an American archaeologist Hiram Bingham, searching for Urubamba; an ancient Inca city, stumbled upon these ruins. Although it was known to local people and for many years was inhabited by two families He immediately declared the site to be the lost city and began a clearing and restoration project. Soon it became apparent that the ruins were not Urubamba but valuable nonetheless and thus became a place of national interest, it’s discovery offering many insights into the Inca way of life. The Incas, remember, did not write and so many details of their lives and beliefs must be guessed at..

At 10 am we climbed up Waina Picchu, which literally means ‘young peak’. Hiram Bingham named the area himself, using Quechua, the language of the Incas. It is like a huge sail rising 1,000 metres out of the valley. Ancient stone steps, worn smooth by a million feet, wind up to a narrow peak. We struggled, stopped frequently to catch our breath and gripped tightly to the rock face to haul ourselves and our backpacks up a few more feet.

To reach the top we crawled through a narrow tunnel, under low hanging rocks, emerging in stark sunlight. The gorge was a gaping green mouth yawning a kilometre below..

At the top We rested. Lunch was a can of tuna, an avocado and a croissant; one of the finest lunches I can recall. I sat in silence and looked across the gorge. Others arrived. There was a sense of weightlessness, people were floating..

Later that afternoon as we descended, I was giddy at the sheer edges falling away from us.. I was tired, awed and satisfied; Sleep beckoned.

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