Friday 28 May 2010

City in the clouds

Some places are, quite simply, very, very special. Trying to define them with words, even pictures, feels futile and disrespectful. All you can do is wait until you see them for yourself, sit quietly somewhere, and appreciate them just as they are. Machu Picchu is without question such a place.

Via a bus to Ollantaytambo, another bus, and the train that weaves up the Sacred Valley towards Aguas Calientes, I made my way. My stomach almost completely recovered and buoyed by the excitement of what lay ahead, I ate a splendid meal in town before getting an early night in anticipation of a very early morning. The river roared outside my window and sent me into a blissful sleep.

It also disguised the sound of the rain. The torrential rain. It did such a good job, that I wasn't even aware of it at all until I stepped outside at 6.30 am, hopelessly unprepared. Luckily it abated a little as we made our snake like ascent to the summit and the famous 'Lost City' of the Incas. I'm not quite sure who was meant to have 'Lost' it, but they definitely found it again, that's for sure.

Even at this time there are plenty of people knocking about, though it's hard to see them through the clouds. I resist the temptation to look too much and wind my way up the slippery steps to the Hut of the Caretaker for the classic view of the ruins. It is completely obscured by cloud, but I don't really mind.

In some ways more incredible than the city itself is its location. As the clouds gradually dissipate, stunning ragged mountains appear from the mist. The Incas built the city here to be closer to the Gods. They succeeded. The sense of being somewhere both intensely spiritual and physically improbable see to that.

History is not within the grasp of mortal men. Quite the opposite. We lie within its reach. Every now and then its icy fingers tingle down the spine and we may be lucky enough to feel it. Reaching out to us, breathing life into us through the actions and beliefs of people who have long since shuffled off. In a quiet spot in Machu Picchu, or Pisac, or any of the other ruins in the Sacred Valley, you can almost hear it, whistling between the great stone walls.

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