51. Macchu Picchu I

51. Macchu Picchu   17 Sept.+


We awaken in darkness and dress. It sounds almost like rain outside. When we get to the front door, it is raining. A steady rain that doesn’t keep us from crossing the Plaza and walking the short distance to where the buses leave from – only to find what could be a couple of hundred people already on line. We join the line, at probably about 5:15 or 5:20 a.m. There are no restaurants open, but several women ply the line with doughnuts and coffee and tea, and a store sells water-bottles and snacks. I drink a coffee.

Just as the first buses open their doors and the line starts to move, I realize we need another ticket – we have our entry tickets for Macchu Picchu, but those don’t include this bus – and rush across to buy three, then dash back.

The ride up is a lovely one. What early light there is shows us tall, steep peaks hugged by clouds, and we make our way up the side of one of them, on a dirt road with many switchbacks and dramatic views, though the light doesn’t invite photography.

Once there, with everyone else we rush through toward Huayna Picchu. I try to ask Ragna and Selma whether that is in fact what they want to do, but Ragna’s a bit annoyed with me, so I don’t try. We end up in a line to enter Huayna Picchu, which only 400 people may do at a time. When I’m finally able to explain that this line is just for that – for a climb Ragna isn’t likely to want to attempt anyway – we get out of line and wander back through the ruins.

Without a guide, we aren’t always certain exactly what we’re seeing, but we wander through the ruins anyway. Mist and frequent rain hamper our exploration and our photography, but even in the rain – perhaps somehow particularly in the rain – it’s an impressive place. Haunting. We are mostly alone, sometimes unable to see much of the view, wandering among structures built half a millennium ago with huge stones on a perch that would be dramatic even without the structures.  Mists cloak the sharp peaks, and linger in the valleys.



I am thinking again about the abilities of early cultures to find extraordinary spots and build there. Ganden comes to mind, in Tibet.

But we are also damp, and a bit cold.



sm-08-9989-llama sm-08-0293-macchu-picchu-clearingsm-08-0090-the-view-down

By afternoon, we make it to a wonderful spot. To reach it, one turns left [uphill] very soon after entering the ruins. Passing a hut on a prominent spot, continue upward and to the right of the hut, and out along the face of the hillside, overlooking the main part of the ruins. (It is the first part of the way to the Inka Bridge, the trail to which is closed for repairs during our visit. I can hear a couple of guys working in there somewhere, and occasionally confused hikers show up and ask me how to get to the Inka Bridge, and I have to explain that they can’t.)

We reach it only after wandering a while to the left of the hut and visiting with a bunch of llamas hanging out in the mist.









Once we are there, though, it is an exceptional place. The weather is drier now, but not sunny. We sit for a long time looking down at Macchu Picchu, then go for lunch, which is available just outside the entrance. After lunch Ragna and Selma go back to the village to rest, saying they’ll probably come back later, and I tell them I’ll likely be either down here getting coffee or up at the spot we’d sat in for awhile.


I return alone. At first no one else is sm-08-0457-atsuko1up there except one pretty young Japanese woman. I walk past her and out to the end, and find the same comfortable perch on a big rock, and settle in. I feel a strange lassitude: I am where I want to be, with a marvelous view in front of me. I do not feel like moving.

I watch the clouds drift in and out of the splendor of Macchu Picchu. I meditate a little. I write a little. I shoot an occasional photograph, without moving from my perch.

Others come and go. Three or four llamas have come out along the narrow terraces just below me, grazing quietly, oblivious to both the man-made and the natural beauty across the valley.


sm-08-0316-atsukosm-08-0426-atsukoThrough it all the Japanese girl in the green sweatshirt sits, watching.  I feel a certain kinship with her.   Though young, she simply sits, watching (as I do), and does not shoot photographs, or join friends in some other part of the ruins, or go for coffee, she just sits, watching. Perhaps she finds the place beautiful, perhaps she is thinking about a love affair gone wrong, but the stillness in her impresses me. It impresses me all sm-08-0530-japanese-girls-photographing-macchu-picchusm-08-0546-japanese-girls-photographing-themselvesthe more when, having moved from my perch to the grass to nap a bit, I am awakened by a Japanese tour group with a Japanese-speaking guide, and watch with amusement as a couple of young girls in the group photograph each other, sm-08-0538-japanese-girls-jumping-macchu-picchujump high in the air while someone else photographs them, and otherwise bounce around.  The quiet one –Atsuko — still does not move.  





I photograph her. I photograph a French youth visiting with the llamas then sitting with a friend over near Atsuko. I gab briefly with a family from Holland we’d met here during the morning, who’ve now worked their way back up here. 

Mostly, though, I just sit watching. When Ragna and Selma return, they are laughing because they’d been so sure they’d find me still here.  I’m amazed that I haven’t moved for so many hours.











They sit awhile with me, then want to explore, and I do too, so we wander around for what’s left of the day. sm-08-0702-selma-and-ragna-in-mpsm-08-0794-below-macchu-picchusm-08-0727-macchu-picchu







































 This time we have supper in a smaller place on the same side of the Plaza. The maitre d’ is a Dutch kid who’s lived years in Peru, including months here, and talks a lot, including advising me that nearby St. Theresa is a risky but promising investment. He speaks a lot of languages and is charming, and is there mostly to attract people to the restaurant. It’s the kind of town where each restaurant has someone out shilling for customers, and a European-looking guy speaking German or Dutch or English snags a little more attention or inspires a little more confidence, I suppose. In fact, the food kind of sucks. (And the cook, when we see him, looks like the sort of fellow a cartoonist might draw as the cook in a questionable diner.  Maybe the counterman in the old Dagwood comic strip — if that guy had grown long hair and a bushy beard.  After finding a hair in the food, we crack up when we see this guy emerge from the kitchen for a smoke.)  After supper I retire early, leaving Ragna and Selma to enjoy another drink.

Travel Notes:


We stayed at the Hostal Bromeliad — see previous post for discussion.


Other Points:

1. Obviously for photography, or simply for enjoying or studying the place, the tours that get you to Macchu Picchu for a couple of hours in the middle of the day just don’t cut it. Flattest light, most people wandering around, fewest llamas, very little time, etc. Agua Caliente boasts a range of places to stay, though they’re over-priced by Peru standards generally.
2. If you want to go up Wayman Picchu, line up early – or perhaps try the afternoon, in the hopes that the ranks of climbers will have thinned out by then.
3. Although guidebooks and a sign at the entrance tell you that you can’t take your backpack in, or carry walking sticks in, I saw no semblance of an effort to enforce either rule, or the prohibition against food and drink.
4. Making a sharp left and climbing as soon as you enter the place [or following the signs for the Inca Bridge for awhile] will take you up to the observation point I describe in the text and much enjoyed. For photographers, going up there first might be rewarding. [Note that the trail to the Inca Bridge was closed when we were there, which meant you couldn’t go too far by following that trail.]

5. Consider taking: a good sun hat, as well as sunblock; insect repellent; and bottled water. Simple raingear may also be needed.


3 responses to “51. Macchu Picchu I

  1. This is one of the most well done blogs I have come across. Thanks for all your hard work. We are travelling to Peru in April and find your site very helpful and informative.

  2. O how I miss the times of non digital photograpy, where getting a good picture didn’t rely on taking hundreds and then selecting the best one. You had a limited amount of tries and had to put effort in that one shot. Just a tip, try shooting pictures like you’re not holding a digital camera, it teaches you to actually pay attention to the subject and saves you going through thousands of shots, deleting 90% off them …

    • Long before digital and computers I traveled for months in remote parts of China and Tibet, living out of a backpack. I had a finite number of rolls of Kodachrome, and hoarded them, because where I was you couldn’t even but 35 mm. negative film at the time. (Some of those pix are at http://www.cafepress/pgoodmanphoto if you’re interested.) I know what you mean; and maybe I should have been more selective in the ones I used in this blog, but as well as trying to create a photo show I was trying to provide a glimpse of what certain places were like, for travelers who might be going where I’d been in Peru and friends who probably wouldn’t be but would be interested. If the purpose of this blog were merely to create an on-line photo show, I’d have limited them.
      Still, I don’t entirely agree with you. Even with slide film, though it was pricey, I believed in shooting a lot, not because I wasn’t paying attention but because I was paying attention to the fact that even the slightest variation could make a great deal of difference in a photograph, and much of what I was shooting was constantly changing.

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