*Credit for the title of this chapter goes to an offhand joke by the brilliant Presley Miller.
Cusco was initially a shock to my system. After a couple of months on the road I'd grown accustomed to the hero's welcome that a foreign motorcyclist encounters when he rolls through the small towns of South America. Now I could count as many pairs of blue eyes as brown as I walked down the street. In Cusco I was nothing more than just another crudo that the locals were trying to sell things to. Despite my own mindset, they had no way of knowing where I had been, how much time I had been in South America, or how well I spoke the language. It was a sharp reminder that, no matter how much time I spent in these countries or how familiar I became with the local customs, I would always be seen as an outsider.
Of course, the lesson would have come sooner or later. There is no way to visit Macchu Picchu "like the locals do", so everyone taking the bus, train, or hike to Macchu Picchu knows exactly why everyone else is there. Despite all of this, Macchu Picchu surpasses all expectations. It could have been twice as expensive and thrice as crowded and it wouldn't have fazed me one bit.
Machu Picchu reveals itself through the curtains of fog and gringos
Intihuatana was used by the Inca as a solar clock to determine the arrival of seasonal solstices and equinoxes (equinices?). Seasonal cycles were of chief importance to agriculture-intensive societies like the Inca, so it's no wonder that they incorporated it into their religion. Nowadays people like to get their picture taken with one hand on the rock to "feel its energy", which seems corny to me and only serves to damage an important artifact. I had to wait around for awhile to get a pic without someone putting their paw on it.
My favorite temple was the Templo del Condor. Although it is a natural rock formation, it doesn't take much imagination to see what the Inca saw: a condor's outstretched wings and his beaked head and white fluffy collar on the ground. The condor was one of the most sacred natural symbols to the Inca, as it represented the "Hanan Pacha", or the upper-level of the world in Inca cosmology. In the eyes of the Inca, the soaring condor ruled the sky and served as an envoy between the physical earth inhabited by man and the stars above where the Sun, Moon, and Viracocha, the creator of the universe, dwelt.
I had never been surrounded by such extensive and intense beauty in my life, yet it was somehow made all the more gorgeous due to the company that I enjoyed on top of that mountain.
Turns out my tour guide was Pakistani, not Peruvian, and therefore she didn't know much about the site. Still, she knew how to help me appreciate Machu Picchu anyway...