Peru travel experts share Machu Picchu memories


Machu Picchu with strings – Peter Frost

I choose not to recall the time I passed a kidney stone there, or another occasion when a Japanese woman wearing high-heeled shoes, just ahead of me, fell to her death off Huayna Picchu. Notwithstanding these dramas, Machu Picchu has been very kind to me, and I’ll honor her (she is female, of course) with one of my fondest memories.

Back in the nineteen-eighties I was dragging my hot, sweaty boots down the last leg of the Inca Trail past Intipunku, facing that amazing view, when I noticed that something unusual was afoot down on the esplanade.

A crowd, tiny at this distance, swarmed around the eastern terraces, and as I watched, formed up and seemed to settle into place. Then I heard strange noises, formless and eerie, which resolved themselves into the sound of an orchestra tuning its instruments.

The volume swelled as I neared the Watchman’s Hut and coalesced into the opening bars of a classical piece. After a brief hassle with the authorities — who inevitably thought everyone should pay extra for this unannounced privilege but weren’t sure how much they should charge, or whether they should really charge at all, or whether actually a small tip would do the trick — I found myself seated with a group of my trekking clients and other visitors on the terraces below the Temple of Three Windows.

Gathered across the esplanade from us, solemnly attired in black and white on that warm, sunny day, sat the very same Lima Symphony Orchestra that will be playing there — probably on that very same spot — before the incoming and outgoing politicos and assorted dignitaries this week.

Why that spot? Because orchestras know a thing or two about acoustics, and so, evidently, did the Incas. The orchestra and choir had taken their stand within a large recess at the foot of what Hiram Bingham charmlessly named the Industrial Sector. The sound, often wispy and fugitive in open-air settings, leapt at us off the terraces, full-throated in the mountain air.

Inspired by the Incas’ acoustical magic, the musicians surpassed themselves. They were peforming Mozart’s Requiem, a piece that would wring blood from a stone.

Memory is hazy here, but I seem to remember that the performance was followed by a rapt, lengthy silence. Then the audience recovered its senses and remembered to clap.

Peter Frost is author of "Exploring Cusco." He leads a 100 year Machu Picchu anniversary tour in August.

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Marisol Mosquera.

Trimming the Inca Citadel — Marisol Mosquera

Of the many times that I have been to Machu Picchu, one memory cannot help but stand out.
Around ten years ago, my group and I eagerly awoke to see Machu Picchu at sunrise, one of the privileges of staying right next to the ruins at the Sanctuary Lodge.

In ardent anticipation of the moment, we trooped excitedly past the gates at 6 am sharp; we clamoured to witness the rising mist reveal the most splendid of Inca sites amidst the stillness and quiet of dawn.

Quite contrary to our best wishes, we were greeted not by the tranquil scene for which we had so fervently sought, but by an employee of the INC armed with a very noisy weed whacker; he was trimming meticulously around the edges of the terracing and curbsides to make sure that no blade of grass had been left longer than official requirements.

The noise of his machine droned into the crisp morning air, ensuring that any attempt to meditate and reflect upon this marvellous site was complemented by the cacophonic melody that denotes somebody cutting grass.

We pleaded with the man: “please can you stop?” He was unfortunately not able to comply as this was a very conscientious and responsible employee who was resolute in completion of his job, maintaining the pride and joy of Peru in a tidy and presentable manner (an indulgence which Hiram Bingham in 1911 could surely never have imagined).

In the end, we could not help but defer that this man’s work was of utmost importance; we glumly resorted to soaking up the majesty of Machu Picchu to the grisly soundtrack of a weed whacker.

Marisol Mosquera runs the luxury travel agency Aracari.

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Rafo León, journalist and Peru’s most celebrated traveler, pictured here in Easter Island.

High on Machu Picchu — Rafo León

In 1970 I had hair down to my shoulders, I wore a shirt that opened ripped at the chest after trying to go under barbed wire fence in some part of Peru, I only bathed if a girl imposed it asa condition for making love and not war, and I was sure that Janis Joplin was my sister.

My first trip to Machu Picchu was in those conditions. You could sleep on the grounds of the citadel, the night showed a full moon, we shared a room (the temple of Three Windows) with several Uruguayans and a gay French couple that loved each other.

The LSD did the job on its end: That night I realized that even as time and its cruelty would end up imposing, I never had to give up the feeling that a yellow submarine could navigate through Machu Picchu, with only I — and the rest of the world — noticing it.

Rafo León’s Planeta travel guides have been translated into English . 

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Katy Shorthouse wrote for the Lonely Planet guidebooks.

Breathtaking mountains — Katy Shorthouse

I finally climbed Putucusi — the toothlike mini-mountain that rises straight out of Aguas Calientes, directly opposite Machu Picchu — after visiting Machu Picchu something like 20 times as tourist and guide. The climb takes around three hours up and back, and surprisingly few people do it. From the top you look straight across the Urubamba River gorge, right into Machu Picchu a very short distance away and at almost the same elevation as you.

My favorite thing about Machu Picchu is the scenery around it – range after range of incredibly steep mountains, the furthest snowcapped and blurry, the closest sheer stone walls, hundreds of meters high. From Putucusi, you can take it all in at once: the sinuous river gorge, the jungle foliage, the incredible audacity of Machu Picchu perched on the ridge opposite, and the 360 degrees of breathtaking, untouched mountains surrounding it all.

I climbed up in time for sunrise, in the course of research for my first Lonely Planet authoring gig. I felt special and lucky (and puffed and sweaty) as I sat and watched Machu Picchu appear out of the rising mist. I can’t recommend this walk enough, especially for people who think that they’ve seen it all when it comes to Machu Picchu. Seeing it from a new angle, alone and in silence, will make even the most jaded appreciate the Incas and the incredible lengths they went to for a good view.

Katy Shorthouse runs Aspiring Adventures out of Cusco