Pinch Me Places: Machu Pichu

This post debuts what I plan to be a regular feature on this blog, at least for a while: "Pinch Me Places." That is, the surprising (to me) number of places I can't believe I've actually been to, sights I've seen firsthand, travel experiences that make me say to myself, "pinch me."

The first "Pinch Me Place": Machu Pichu, Peru, which the lovely Robin and I visited together in 2009, following a wonderful mission trip to Arequipa, Peru, under the leadership of our friends Don and Christie Latta. Don blessed us so much by making the arrangements for our travel to Cusco, then to Machu Pichu. I don't know if we would have made it otherwise. Even then, it involved a nail-biting early morning cab ride, a train we caught just in time, a winding bus ride up the mountainside, and THEN a hundred-stair heavy-breathing climb from the parking lot to the site.

But once we got there, oh my. No matter how iconic it is, no matter how many photos I've seen before, it's nonetheless breathtaking to see it in person. Pinch me.

Machu Pichu (the phrase means, "Old Peak") is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inca Empire.The Incas started building it around AD 1430, but it was abandoned roughly a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Though the Spaniards never laid eyes on the site (apparently never even knew about it), the Incas abandoned it to move further away from the conquistadors. It was "discovered" in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian.

Our guide said no more than eight hundred people lived in Machu Pichu at its peak. Though other theories have been advanced, he said it was a sort of university for noble Incas...they were sent there to be educated in the traditions and teachings of the Incas. It seems so strange that it was so relatively small, and its lifetime as a city was so short. It's just too majestic and impressive to be such a modest flash-in-the-pan, as cities and civilizations go. But the accomplishment of those who built it is a monument. It is truly breathtaking. A "Pinch Me" place.

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