24 July 2008
This place is sometimes referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas" except that it wasn't "lost". The people who lived near it always knew that it was there. They just didn't bother to mention it to anyone because no one asked.
In 1911 Hiram Bingham decided to organize an expedition to Peru, where he decided to seek the last two capitals of the Inca, Vilcabamba and Vitcos. Leaving Lima in July, Bingham returned to Cusco from where he journeyed on foot and by mule through the Urubamba Valley, past Ollantaytambo, and on into the Urubamba gorge.
On July 23, Bingham and his party camped by the river at a place called Mandor Pampa, where they met Melchor Arteaga, a local farmer who leased the land there. Bingham learned from Arteaga that there were extensive ruins on top of the ridge opposite the camp, which Arteaga, in his native Quechua, called Machu Picchu, or "old mountain", a place not mentioned in the records Bingham had studied.
When asked just where the ruins were, Arteaga pointed straight up to the top of the mountain. Bingham was the only one in the party particularly interested, so accompanied only by Seargeant Carrasco and Arteaga, Bingham left the camp around 10 am. After a short while the party crossed a bridge so unsteady that the explorer was reduced to crawling across it on his hands and knees. From the river they climbed a precipitous slope until they reached the ridge at around midday.
Natives in the area told him that they had been living there for about four years and explained that they had found an extensive system of terraces where they grew their crops. Bingham was then told that the ruins he sought were close by and he was given a guide, the 11-year old Pablito Alvarez, to lead him there.
On July 24, 1911, Hiram Bingham became the first non native person to lay eyes on Machu Pichu and what is now called the Royal Tomb, the Main Temple, and the Temple of the Three Windows. Here they had been hidden for centuries away from the prying eyes of the outside world.
The laborious climb taken by Bingham to reach Machu Picchu is now a pleasant train and bus trip through Peru.