We arrived at Machu Picchu via Inca Trail, explored the ruins on foot, then returned for a second day to climb Huayna Picchu and examine the site from an alternate perspective. Like many humbling places on the planet, the entire setting cannot be justly captured on film or photo; the three dimensional relationships are too difficult to represent in 2D. After visiting the ancient site in person, I’m still truly in awe. The following are images and thoughts from day two…(and then I’ll get off my Machu Picchu kick, I promise!)
Yes, we watched documentaries, read books, flipped through photographers’ collections, and fantasized about wandering the ancient terraces in person, but nothing truly prepared us to see Machu Picchu in the flesh (or in the stone and land, as it were).
After trekking for days and viewing other once-alive-and-now-as-shadow shelters and outposts along the way, I wondered: What makes this ancient site beat with energy all these centuries later?
As a landscape architect, I am called to consider relationships between natural systems, material elements, and humans who dwell in artfully crafted spaces.
While the layout and planning and masonry walls and terraces are masterfully executed, the deeply responsive situation within the natural setting elevates the ruins from impressive to profound.
Imagine: without Huayna Picchu looming in the background, would the world so quickly recognize the iconic image of the ancient city?
The harmony of mankind’s work formed in response to and enveloped by natural elements speaks a language of uncommon grandeur, especially in days where our civilization all too often disregards the land in favor of cheap and easy development.
(As a side note: developers and engineers proposed dynamiting through the land standing in the way of a shiny new cable car that promised to make the visitor experience more swift and lucrative. Thankfully, impassioned caretakers of the site shot the idea down.)
The city is not simply perched on a convenient mountainside, it is structurally conformed to the natural surroundings in a way that simultaneously functions as a sophisticated outpost of civilization while bringing honor to geological and celestial beauty.
The three peaks of Machu Picchu (“The Ancient Mountain” to the south), Huayna Picchu (“The Young Mountain” to the north), and Putucusi (“Belly of the World” to the east) tower majestically above the terraced city, and the winding Urubamba River snakes its way between the deep mountain channels.
With astounding precision, the city’s high places are aligned according to the mountaintops and the rising sun: at solstice, the first ray of light peaks over the top of the saddle on Machu Picchu mountain and shines through the Sun Gate to the Temple of the Sun.
And such beauty in the land cannot be, either.
Ted remarked about the simplicity of materials on the site: stone, grass, trees, earth, and water.
In all of our whiz-bang efforts to impress, how often do we clutter up the canvas with too many extras?
The profound and the mysterious are often in the very simple.
Photos from our march (slash, clamber) to the top of Huayna Picchu…
As a seeker of wisdom, I am called to consider relationships between God, the world, and humanity that dwells on the earth.
Where and how are we living?
To what (to Whom) do we respond when we build our lives?
Is the order and structure of my life a reflection and a response to something beyond my own bounds?
I am called to live an examined life.
I am called to participate in an examined civilization.
Fighting against the land.
Fighting against a Context so much larger than ourselves.
This route will leave us with unremarkable ruins. Testimonies to once-lived-and-now-as-memory lives of short term thinking and self-service.
On the other hand:
Situating our constructs in harmony with surroundings (be they literal, physical places or spiritual), in harmony with other life (family, neighbors, friends…endangered species, water cycles, and soil microbes), and in harmony with something bigger than ourselves (a Creator and His masterful art of Love as gifted to the world), will bring a deep and rich existence and will someday leave memorial stones speaking to a story even grander than our own.
May the constructs of our lives be beautiful, and may the stories live long after we depart…