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Mysterious Machu Picchu (PHOTOS)

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Mysterious Machu Picchu... A place I have wanted to visit ever since my Dad brought home a View Master with pictures of the site -- and here I was these many years later!

When we visited, there was still flood damage and much of the train tracks were washed away. We had a circuitous train and bus ride to the town of Machu Picchu. From town we boarded a bus to the 15th century pre-Columbian Inca site. It is amazingly well-preserved

There are as many reasons for the existence of Machu Picchu as there are tourists or guides. Marco's version is that it was once a university nestled in the center of huge mountains. It was completely overgrown when Hiram Bingham rediscovered it 1911, and when he came back the following year, he brought a team of men to clear the land and National Geographic Magazine to film the event.

Machu Picchu was engulfed in early morning fog when we arrived. It was mystical and magical. I stood quietly at the site and tried to get a sense of the entire area. It was peaceful and serene.

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The city sits in a saddle between 2 mountains, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, with a spectacular view down two valleys. It has a water supply from springs and enough land to grow food for more people than ever lived there. The natives terraced the land to grow crops and to steepen the slopes to protect against invaders. It is a spectacularly beautiful location and almost impossible to locate unless you are taken to the site.

When the sun came out there was a dramatic change. We were able to see the entire site with its storage areas, guard houses, baths and various other rooms and outbuildings. How the Incas transported the rocks to the site and shaped them is still a mystery. And what happened and why it became abandoned is another mystery. It truly was "The Lost City of the Incas."

One theory is that the men left to fight and only women and a few children were left in the town. Eunuchs were left to protect the women and children and farm the land, but eventually everyone died out.

We began to hike up and then down the uneven large steps. These steps were certainly not built for my five-foot frame and short legs. Every turn presented yet another spectacular view. Suddenly the rest of the tourists appeared and the site was packed. Most visitors are day trippers, arriving at 9 a.m. and leaving by 1:30 p.m.

After a picnic lunch with a fabulous view of llamas marching across the ruins, some of us opted to do another hike to the Inca bridge. As we approached the bridge, we were able to get a sense of the inhospitable terrain and how really well protected this area is. There were more fabulous views.

We walked slowly down to the park entrance. Our guide had a mock Machu Picchu stamp and stamped our passports. We chuckled when others, not part of our group, thought this was an "official stamp" and lined up to have their passports stamped as well.

Wake up call was at 5 a.m. for our second day, and after a hot breakfast, we were on the bus and at the site by 7:15 a.m. on this bright sunny morning. We hiked 1.2 miles at an altitude of 9,000 feet to the Sun Gate. There were not as many steps as to the Inca bridge, but this was all uphill and a tougher climb, mainly because of the altitude. We stopped frequently to catch our breath. Again the steps were huge and uneven.

Fortunately, two guides were with us to give us encouragement and a push when needed. It took us about two hours to hike the 1.2 miles to the top. The views were spectacular as we hiked, with wild irises and wild begonias dotting the paths.

Machu Picchu was only a small part of this wonderful trip (although for me, it was the highlight). We also spent time seeing Lima, Cuzco and the Sacred Valley and visiting other ancient sites. Rafting down the bright blue Urubamba river viewing the snow capped mountains in the distance, was a treat.

For more information, please click www.oattravel.com/rap or call 1-800-873-5628.

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