Hanging out with the Llamas
On route to the main attraction – the ruins of Machu Picchu – we decided to make a brief stop on the terraces to refuel and rest our weary feet. Along with a few wandering llamas and a handful of hostel-hopping backpackers, we scouted a particularly inviting patch of grass and plopped ourselves down for a much needed respite from our hours of walking.
The first thing to hit the ground was Mom’s backpack.
“Next time I’m definitely not lugging around the water, no matter what you guys say!” she complained.
I nodded sympathetically and agreed that three full 2-liter bladders was likely overkill given the restroom situation at Machu Picchu. To help lighten her load, we fished out a bag of snacks – cookies, seaweed, cheese, chocolate and crackers (an admittedly odd combination) – and proceeded to devour them in record time. Apparently we were hungrier than we thought after our morning hike!
Fifteen minutes later, we were refueled, replenished and ready to tour the grounds of Machu Picchu.
Exploring the Ruins
The decision to go hiking first and visit the ruins in the afternoon was a good one. By the time we made our way past the stone buttresses leading to the main grounds, the flocks of tourists who had accompanied us on the bus ride up were long gone and we had free run of the expansive ruins of Machu Picchu.
With Kindle guide book in hand, Mr. Travelbypoints led the way and within minutes was already several hundred yards ahead of us. In the distance we could see that small groups were congregating at certain key spots, attentive audiences following their English-speaking guides. The three of us had considered hiring a private guide but read that most of the local ones contracted at Machu Picchu tended to spin the same tired tales found in most online descriptions of the site. Instead, we opted to read up on the history of the site ahead of our trip and follow the travel book’s self-guided tour.
At least that was the plan.
Once we arrived at the ruins, Mom and I were so taken by the amazing photo ops at every turn that our original intention to follow a methodical exploration path was quickly cast aside. Mr. Travelbypoints, however, was not so easily distracted and we could feel his glare of disapproval on the backs of our heads as we stopped every few minutes to strike yet another happy, smiling pose for the camera. Snap, snap!
Coca Leaves and Tea Balls
By the time Mom and I made our way to what is considered the sacred center of Machu Picchu, the Intihuatana, we had lost visual sight of Mr. Travelbypoints. Behind the Intihuatana stone were stationed two stern looking security guards. Reaching into my backpack, I fished out my bag of dried coca leaves and black tea balls and handed a pinch of leaves to my mom. Taking turns, we approached the sacred stone altar and deftly ducked around the rope partition to leave our offering and a prayer of thanks. As mom finished placing her offering and turned to say her prayer, I caught sight of one of the guards eyeing her with an amused smile. My guess is that they don’t often see Asian-looking tourists leaving offerings at the Intihuatana unless they are part of a shaman-led tour of the ruins!
Having left our offerings, we didn’t quite want to leave the Intihuatana just yet and decided to sit back and enjoy a few moments of solitude in the presence of the great stone. The silence was soon broken, however, by the appearance of a small tour group led by a local guide. Upon entering the space, the guide quickly spotted our offerings on the stone slab and turned to face his group. Pointing to the spattering of tea leaves, he intoned, “Many native people visit this sacred stone and leave offerings to the great spirits protecting Machu Picchu. See those leaves? Those are dried coca leaves that a local has just left to ask for blessings and protection from the gods.”
Amused, my mom and I turned to each other with goofy smiles on our faces. Less than a week in Peru and we were already native!
Sunset in Machu Picchu
We finally caught up with Mr. Travelbypoints mid-way through our exploration of the ruins. Together, the three of us combed the rest of the expansive grounds at a leisurely pace until the setting sun and an even greater dearth of tourists made it apparent that closing time was near.
Words and pictures cannot begin to adequately express the joy and magic we felt in Machu Picchu. Instead, I leave you with one strong imperative – from someone who didn’t think it could live up to all the hype.
Don’t want to miss new TravelWhimsy posts? Sign up for our email updates – your email is never shared and updates are sent no more than once per day.