Sunday, August 28, 2005

Machu Picchu

I always have a fear with iconic tourist destinations that they are never going to live up to my expectations. It happens a lot all over the tourist world, as I used to witness almost daily on my walk to work at the Opera House in Sydney. I would often hear tourists say things like "oooh it's not 'alf as big as I thought it would be" (from the poms) and "Ewwww it's not even like, totally white" (from the Americans) . I have to admit that as I dragged my bum out of my grotty overpriced hotel at 6am after 4 hours sleep in order to see Machu Picchu at dawn I wasn't the least bit excited about going to seeing the place - but I am thrilled to report it not only woke me from my cynical tourist mode but totally awed me on every level. Blessed with the most spectacular location, eerie mountains that look like faces and animals, and a climate that took us over our ten hour visit from mysterious mists to broad sunlight to rain storms, rainbows and thunder the place is mesmerising. We can only be thankful that the Spanish never stumbled upon this incredible site otherwise they would have hauled the stones off the make Churches and houses and smashed the rest to pieces like they did to all the other sites. There are several theories about why the place wasnt "discovered" until the early 1900's. Some theorists believe that disease wiped out the inhabitants and the city was deserted and left to grow over, others believe that the place was deliberately deserted not long after the Conquistadors arrived in order to keep it from the Spanish as the news spread they were destroying all the other sacred sites - I like the second theory. But either way it means that the site is 8o percent intact and doesnt require too much imagination to fill in the gaps - truly a wonder.

One of my favourite things about the site was the small flock of Llamas who are lucky enough to live at Machu Picchu. Unlike most of their contemporaries in Peru who are simply hairy beasts of burden these rather pampered creatures wander the site looking photogenic for the tourists. Completely unfazed by the crowds and large enough to intimidate anyone that might try and hassle them they clip clop though the ruins, down the steep stairs on dainty feet pushing the hordes of tourists out of the way.

Another amusing part of the day were the classic tourist watching possibilites. The difference in the various nationalities that the site brought out was amazing. In the morning the English tourists who did the 4 day hike that is the Inca trail in order to see the sunrise are unfazed to find it completely obscurred by mist.They laugh about it just being like England, while chainsmoking and saying that they got into training for the hike by giving up the beer for a week. Meanwhile the Germans are not pleased and quiz their tour guide relentlessly "Vill za fog clear?" "ahh yes" says the guide. "Ven, Ven?" says the German pulling out a pen and paper, "Vat time please? Vat time vill za fog be gone? Nine? Nine thirty?" - the guide starts to look scared. Meanwhile a group of young ridiculously enthusiastic American girls are talking about the Inca trail "it was like soooooo hard, I almost turned back but y'know what? I DID it! Woo Woo!" followed by lots of fist pumping. In the background the stoicly sporty Canadians clutch backpacks with Maple leaves sewn on them hoping no-one will mistake them for Americans. The other Europeans, mostly French and Italians get about the site nonchalantly sucking on Malboros and wearing outrageous padded pastel coloured outfits that look like ski gear. Then across the mist a broad flat accent cuts the hubub like a rusty knife - "Geeez it's bloody big isnt it?" - yep, it's an Aussie, followed by another who says "hey, do ya reckon theres a bano (toilet) somewhere around here? I'm busting for a wee."

After lunchtime the tourist hoards were disperesed by a sudden and torrential thunderstorm. With little cover it was tempting to vamos with then but Eduardo and I braved it out. The reward, an almost deserted Machu Picchu and a rainbow. It was so pretty it was almost cheesy - here is Eduardo looking like someone from a Christian Ad.

A rare treat, the most visited tourist destination in Sth America empty except for me and my Llama friends.


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