Oh ladies, it is really bad that it’s raining so much in Machu Picchu today! Normally, from here you have a fantastic view of the sacred peaks! Our guide seemed to be even sorrier than us that it was raining cats and dogs that day. But don’t worry, ladies, you have to trust me, he kept saying. You have to trust me, my ladies, and let me show you secret places in Machu Picchu!
Dressed as two little strawberries, we followed our guide… And behind us hundreds of tourists were following us. They all had their own guide. Probably each and every guide promised their customers the same kind of “secret spots” within the most famous icon of the Inca civilization.
As we all trekked from one viewpoint to another, walking slowly under the rain, I was wondering if the Incas had their slaves hike this very same path centuries before. I imagined hundreds and thousands of men carrying heavy blocks of stones up to the 2430 meter high mountain. Some were putting together the polished stones, so perfectly cut that they fit together tightly without mortar. While others were building the terraces…
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I looked down and saw two llamas grazing on one of the terraces. The downpour didn’t seem to disturb them. Nor did the dozens of tourists taking pictures of them.
Look at the two Hollywood stars down there! Kerstin turned around: did you say something? Wearing that red rain poncho, she also looked like a strawberry. I said look at the two llamas down there. How famous do you think they are now? I felt that Kerstin wanted to say something, but suddenly closed her mouth, smiled and moved on.
I turned around and came face to face with an angry woman. Can you keep walking Ma’m?! I didn’t like the way she shouted at me with her shrill voice. Sorry! I apologized, I’m just trying to enjoy the views and take in the history of this place… What I really meant to say was: Shut up you ***! Why do you even come here if you don’t appreciate the history or these breathtaking views?! But of course I stayed calm and polite.
This is NOT a viewpoint Ma’m! I couldn’t believe she kept yelling. For a second I pictured her falling off the edge and rolling down the terraces towards the two llamas… That’s when I suddenly heard an “Aahh!” behind me. I turned around, and everyone in front of me did too. Stop pushing me! Oh – now she was yelling at her boyfriend behind her. I’m not pushing you honey, he tried to explain, just holding you… Well, just don’t! she shouted again.
Down there, the two llamas seemed to look at us. Maybe trying to figure out who just stole their stardom for a minute.
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When we arrived at a huge stone, which looked like a ritual stone, our guide made us stop. Look my dear ladies, this is Intihuatana stone. A very interesting piece here in Machu Picchu. It was used by the great Inca people as a clock for astronomy, or also a calendar. Now my dear ladies, let me tell you about Intihuatana. Do you want to know about Intihuatana ? Do you want to know who Inti was, my ladies?
Next to me, Kerstin seemed to be a little bit irritated by our guide’s way of talking to us. So I heard myself say : Inti means sun in Quecha. So Inti was the Incan sun god. Aahh you know that, my lady! You’re veeery good my lady! Very good ! Now, he was seriously exagerating I thought. She’s an archaeologist, Kerstin said. Our guide looked lost. So I apologized to him and smiled.
To be honest, I don’t like to tell people that I’m an archaeologist when we travel. Especially when visiting an archaeological site. There are many, many things I do not know about, and I like to learn and keep learning, may it be about archaeology and history, or other things. But whenever a guide finds out that I’m an archaeologist, he’d suppose that I know more than he does. And tends to feel uncomfortable. Which of course makes me feel uncomfortable…
So you know everything about Machu Picchu, my lady? I threw Kerstin a mean look. You see? That is the problem. Now our guide thinks that I’m an Inca guru or something! No, no! I replied to our guide. I worked on Ancient Greek sculptures, which has nothing to do with Inca civilization. We just happened to know about Inti because Mrs Odilia Marin, our guide in Cusco and in the Sacred Valley explained that to us.
Ah, yes Mrs Odilia, he said. She’s old but very famous here. I looked at Kerstin: what does he mean by “old but famous”?! She isn’t that old, I argued. But yes, she’s quite famous apparently. She’s also an archaeologist and did several excavations in Machu Picchu, as well as in other archaeological sites…
Our guide simply nodded and moved forward, leading us to another “viewpoint” where we were allowed to halt without making any tourist angry. He kept adding “my ladies” in every sentence. And always tried to show us more “secret places” around every corner. The problem was that his supposedly hidden gems weren’t that secret, since once we left, the next guide lead his group to that exact same “secret” spot.
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Moreover, whenever we stopped, and after saying “you see, my ladies… this is another wonderful secret place I want to show you, my ladies”, he left us alone without much historical explanation. And went to “make a little call” on his cell phone. When he returned, he asked us if we enjoyed the view.
Here, my ladies, let me tell you this secret: why the doors and windows of the Inca people are all in the “special” form. See, like this… he drew with his index finger something like a square in the air. But we understood that he meant to draw a trapezoidal shape. Do you know why, my ladies? Do you want to know this big, big secret?
The trapezoidal shape of the doors and windows, narrowing from bottom to top, is actually a stabilizing feature in Incan architecture that avoids the whole structure to crumble so easily during a seism. This time it was Kerstin explaining. Our guide stood there agape. And I felt sorry for him.
About two hours after our arrival, he rushed us to the exit of Machu Picchu. Perhaps, we should have said that we didn’t know about the Incan trapezoidal wall apertures… The line for the bus to go back to Aguas Calientes is very long, he explained. So you better leave now, or you will miss your train back to the Sacred Valley. To avoid another long queue, he took our passports and asked his lady friend to quickly stamp them with the famous Machu Picchu image.
When we were waiting in the one-hour-long-line for the bus, our guide was already gone, leading another couple of travellers from one “secret” place to another. I really hoped for him that they didn’t have Mrs. Odilia as a guide in the Sacred Valley.
When we were finally sitting in the train to head back to Ollantaytambo, we both agreed that despite the heavy rain, the crowds and the weird travel guide we had, we were glad to have walked through the clouds in Machu Picchu.
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