I just wanted to share a few more of my most favourite pictures from Machu Picchu…

Check out the amazing stonework of the temple pictured below – the artisan masons have actually perfectly fitted stones into the crack of the cliff…its almost Tim Burton-esque in its shape and form.  This is considered one of the most precious places in the whole complex, and lots of time was dedicated by the people in constructing it and making offerings to the gods.

This final picture will give you a pretty good idea about the state of the site.  Archaeologists are constantly working to stabilize and reconstruct many of the sections that have crumbled over the years.  Its a difficult task that will surely take decades more.

Machu Picchu was unquestionably one of the trip highlights for our entire group, and I know it will be tough to beat for any future trip.  It’s sheer size, history, setting and breathtaking beauty really have earned it a place on top 10 lists everywhere.  For me, its probably closer to #1.

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Our wonderful and fabulous GAP guide Edwin (who somehow managed to get me through the Inca Trail in one piece) was a wealth of knowledge on Inca culture and history, as well as on the site of Machu Picchu itself.  While he knew many facts and details on its construction, what was most impressive was his incredible passion in retelling us this history.  You could tell he genuinely loved sharing his culture with us.  He told me that no matter how many times he had visited Machu Picchu, he was constantly impressed, and each time noticed new things.  He was phenomenal, and his eagerness translated to each of us.

In this picture you can also see a row of houses in the background.  What you’ll notice is how they are very stone-y.  This is because these buildings were for average people doing average things – living, eating, sleeping, storing food etc.  The Incas saved the majority of their time, energy, and construction might to be used on their temples, which incorporate classic Inca construction – seamless joints, large stones, and stunningly complicated angles.  The image below is from a street in the city, with the left side being a rough-hewn building, and the right side the back of a temple – it really shows how construction methods varied depending on the purpose.  Can you even believe those seamless walls!  Seamless!  No mortar!  You couldn’t even fit a sheet of paper in between those joints!  And of course, they are angled in the typical style to withstand earthquakes.  So, so, impressive.

And how do they keep the grounds so neat and tidy?  Why, llamas, of course!

The first 3 days in Cambodia we spent in Siem Reap, the second largest city. This area is home to the hundreds of temples built between the 9th and 14th centuries. Wehired a guide for the day, as we did not do our research and thought we would get more out of it with some local help. For 50 USD, we hired tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Son, and a guide, Johnny to show us the sites. Johnny learned English while living in a UN camp as a child (as it turns out, most Cambodians have experienced living in a refugee camp – the lucky ones lived in ones run by the UN) Johnny was a great guide. He was very informative without being boring. He was our age, which meant we could also connect on a personal level. He told us stories about meeting his wife, his frustration at the corruption in government, as well as sharing information on the latest styles of shoes (he preferred Adidas). But I digress – We started off watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This involved getting up at 5:00 am (and for anyone that knows me, they also know how much of a hardship this was! And I didn’t even put on any makeup!) Angkor was a sight to behold. And it is impressive. I have only seen it in books, and in person, it blew my mind.

We also saw a number of additional temples, all unique in their own right. The Khmers were true craftsmen…the carvings were so intricate and detailed, featuring Buddah, mythological stories, folk tales, and the beautiful Apsara dancers (boobie ladies). Many of the temples were completely abandoned and only “rediscovered” in the 1800s. Some have been overtaken by large trees. I think we both enjoyed the temples further away from the tourist trap…where you could really see the them without obnoxious tourists getting in the way (of which there were many, sadly).

Some additional tidbits:
– Angkor Wat remains the largest religious structure in the world
– the temples were designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992
– the temples are still used by the monks for prayer and ceremonies
– Entrance fee for 1 day = $20 US, 3 days $40
– this money does NOT go to preservation, but to a private company
– restoration is funded by UNESCO and 12 foreign countries, not the Cambodian government
– theft and looting of statues (or just their heads) is commonplace…items are most often purchased by Westerners through routes in Thailand
So anyway, we spent 2 days exploring these structures and it was fantastic.
And after a hard day’s work we settled down for some local brew…