Today we visited Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site, which classifies it as one of the most important historical sites on earth. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Wow, that’s amazing, I’ve always wanted to go!”
The reality for me is the personal significance of Machu Picchu didn’t hit me straight away. With the sun at full intensity, close to 100% humidity, and the multitudes of tourists milling around, it was hard to see past the ruins to the qualities they represent. While we were trudging up the Wayna Picchu Mountain in the extreme heat, you were probably at home with air conditioning, sipping a cool beverage (oh wait, it’s winter at home). In time, though, I found myself filled with gratitude for how my community has worked to provide a comfortable world for me. It was the idea of gratitude that unlocked the deeper meaning of Machu Picchu.
500 years ago, Machu Picchu was a hive of activity. The tourists were replaced with thousands of workers, carrying out all sorts of tasks to build a community in order to further support their ideals. This community was built in the mountains not because it was the most convenient place at the time, but because they wanted to live as close to the spiritual world as possible. The Incans believed in three parallel worlds: the underworld, our world, and the spiritual world above. The mountains were known as Apus, deities that were the link between the spiritual world and the world the people lived in.
The Incans made living on a mountain possible by implementing a complicated terrace system. In order for water to drain properly, and to prevent erosion, they built these terraces in layers. First was a layer of gravel, second, a layer of sand and finally, a layer of soil. The sand for the second layer had to be hauled from the bed of the Urubamba River, 3,000ft below. Think about it: the workers had to carry enough sand for maybe 100 terraces, around 10,000 cubic feet. If one backpack holds 3 cubic feet of sand, that equals 330,000 trips to there and back to the river. The Incans did this solely to support their beliefs and ideals.
The Incans had an intimacy with nature, and they didn’t try to change the nature of the mountain they were building upon. To me, nature is the manifestation of the flow of the universe, and resisting the flow causes unhappiness. The Incans worked in context of the beautiful world that nature had provided, and I believe this was possible because they went with the flow. This is exemplified in the Incan’s willingness to change; going with the flow allows one to be open to change and not resist it.
To me, the ruins of Machu Picchu aren’t what are amazing. What’s amazing is the Incan people’s tenacity and commitment when it comes to their ideals that Machu Picchu represents.