We left the hotel before 6 am for the bus to Machu Picchu. The ride was 20 minutes up a one lane dirt road of switchbacks. Jose our guide grew up here and started working for the park service as a porter on the Inca Trail when he was a boy. He still does some 4 day hikes, but for the past six years has done private tours.
We hiked to the guard towers at the top of the ruins to witness the sunrise over the three sacred mountains with a few other hardy early risers. The Andes were still covered in snow. At the tops of the terraces, once farmers tended crops of avocado, passion fruit and seed potatoes, for this is a jungle area, very lush compared to Cusco or Arequipa.
Although I’ve been to Machu Picchu before, I never noticed it was a walled city, much like you would see in Europe. Outside are the guard houses and between them and the city is the farming community, with the rows and rows of terraces that stretch to the river so far below, many of them now hidden by overgrowth.
There is only one entrance into the city proper which at one time housed 600 people. The noble class and a few temples like that of the sun were built above a central set of squares used for festivals, meetings and markets. Below lived artisans, with work spaces outside.
Below common residences were the store houses for crops built right into the city walls. On the far side of the city were the larger temples, gateways to trails up the sacred mountains where the Incas trekked twice a year to sacrifice. People unable to go could worship at three rocks carved in the shape of the mountains.
Many of the ancient dwellings had kitchens as well as central toilets in the courtyards. Within the city walls were 16 fountains that anyone could use. Many of the houses on the far side of the mountain and near the newer temples remained unfinished, for the Incas were only at Machu Picchu 90 years before the Spaniards came. Three grave yards have been discovered, one near the guardhouse, where the graves are marked by various stones and others in the cliffs beyond.
It was starting to get hot by the time we left and busloads of tourists began to pour in for the day. We went back into town and got some huevos rancheros on the balcony of a second story restaurant above the bus station, before catching the train back to Oliayantantambo and then a taxi to Cusco.