I'm trying to think of the word. It's the feeling that comes over you when you see something or even someone in real life that you've seen countless times in books and on television-the feeling that you're in the presence of something great. It's a mixture of excitement and being overwhelmed that the only words you can utter are "Wow".
Yup I'm starstruck.
That's me as I'm standing with a bird's eye view of Machu Picchu. It's hard to believe that thousands of years ago it was the site of an Incan civilisation.
To get to Machu Picchu requires a bit of time. It can start with a 2 hour vista dome train from the Sacred Valley and then a 25 minute bus ride up the mountain. There's lots of tickets involved and enormous queues. With thousands that visit a day the spectacle comes with a crowd and the delays associated with crowds. To stem the flow of visitors, from July 2017 onwards all visitors must come with a guide and each ticket buys you a half day visit.
Machu Picchu was rediscovered by Hawaiian historian and professor Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911. He came looking for Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Inca people. People directed him towards the then overgrown city. A significant amount of restoration took place from 1912-1916.
The Incans were some of the most skilled engineers and farmers, yet they didn't have their own written language. They invented terrace farming, freeze dried food and aquaducts.
It is estimated that the current Machu Picchu is comprised of around 40% restored and original stones. The climate at Machu Picchu is a challenge. It is almost tropical so visitors need to wear light coloured clothing that is breathable with long sleeves. Bring a hat, sunscreen and bug spray as well as your tickets and passport.
So why did the ancient Incans choose this place? The commonly held theory was so they could be close to the gods. But scholars believe that there are four reasons why they created a city here:
- access to water, the symbol of life
- pure granite stone as they found a natural quarry
- safety and security-being so high up they had a good vantage of below
- orientation to see sunrise and sunset
Our fabulous guide shows me the highlights-I'm not a great hiker and while the Sun Gate trail looks magnificent, I'm afraid it's beyond my capability. He shows me the architectural highlights and the places for the best views.
The Inca trails led to trading routes and other communities where they could trade items grown at different elevations. They theorise that only a few hundred worked on sections of Machu Picchu at any time to construct this city and there were approximately 700-1,000 residents in total.
The best examples of Incan work are the large rocks at the bottom of the walls-these were split open at existing cracks in the rock and opened with hematite. They used these enormous trapezoidal shaped rocks in the temple portions but the smaller rocks were used in the residences.
Walking around Machu Picchu rouses an appetite. And we have a real treat in store. Chullpi restaurant in Machu Picchu town has created a menu for our Experiential Traveller tour guests with a special 6 course menu of sublime food. Normally guests choose from a regular 3 course menu but the gastronomic menu is designed to take us across Peru.
Lunch starts with a maracuya sour or a passionfruit sour. If you love Pisco sour made with lime then you might just fall in love with a maracuya sour which is perfectly tart, sweet and sour.
I don't want to give away all the surprises but it opens with a bang. The Moray terraces that we saw yesterday are the inspiration for the Moray course presented in a wooden stand echoing the Moray's green terraces. In it is contained a square of crispy fried cheese.
This moves onto house baked breads on smoked coca leaves with herbed butter and trout. It's a beautiful version of ceviche with leche de tigre poured at the table.
Next is one of my favourite courses of grilled mango, prawns, cau cau caviar with a quenelle of goats cheese. The prawns are so tender and the mango is gently sweet while the goats cheese gives it a savoury rich element.
There is also a sublime wild boar course next which has been cooked for 8 hours so that it melts in the mouth. It is served with a dried potato sauce and the two components go well together.
And then this is followed by their signature dessert - "The Gold of the Incas" liquid truffles filled with salt of Maras, corn and Huacatay (Andean black mint) ice cream and tree tumbo. The Huacatay lends the dish a lovely complex flavour quite different from other mints. It's the sort of meal that is designed to make you think of your journey so far, of Machu Picchu above and of everything to come.
Our home while in Machu Picchu is the Sumaq Machu Picchu, a 5 star hotel that celebrates Aguas Caliente's Inca history. Along with modern rooms the halls and public areas are home to 300 pieces of traditional art-each handpainted vase takes 3 months to create. On our September tour we are all staying in riverside rooms with a gorgeous view of the rushing river below.
At tea time when guests come back to their hotel exhausted from their Machu Picchu hike they have "tea time" for hotel guests where they can help themselves to tea, coffee, cakes and sandwiches.
There is also a private dining room where we will have a cocktail making class as well as the traditional Peruvian three course dinner. Just what you need after a life affirming trip to Machu Picchu.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever seen Machu Picchu up close? Do you get emotional when you see something in real life that you've seen so much in books and on TV?
Alas, our Experiential Traveller Peru tour is sold out but we are excited to share our latest tour to Tasmania. Also sign up for the newsletter to hear about the latest tour news and destinations. We promise not to spam you or send you anything irrelevant!