Sunday, December 11
A visit to Machu Picchu
In 1984, Newsweek had me rush up to Cusco because a news wire story had reported that a sister city to Machu Picchu had been found nearby. I went up with a freelance photographer, Greg Smith (no relation). Well, it turned out that the site was not a "twin city" but part of the scores of ruins that lie on the slopes along the Inca Trail leading up to Machu Picchu. The Peruvian archaeologist and curator of the Machu Picchu (third from the right in the photo above) confirmed that previously the extend of the "new" site's ruins had not been know and took us there. It was about two hours outside of the main ruins. It was a bunch of terracing and storage structures, some with ceremonial functions.
In the picture above, I'm posing (on the far right) with the "expedition crew" after we performed a ritual of offering pisco and coca leaves to the spirits of the ruins. The crew worked up a good sweat cutting through the overgrowth to get us to some of the most visible terracing.
I eventually published a short piece, playing down the twin city part but tried to emphasize the archaeological importance of the site. I've since lost that article, so you'll have to take my word for it.
For that matter, every couple of years, a news story will come out of Cusco about more "discoveries" of "new ruins" or another "Lost City of the Inca." These stories usually appear when a TV crew has been up in the area filming a feature for PBS or the History Channel or something like that. Local residents always know about the existence of pre-Columbian sites, but not all of them have been surveyed, must less excavated. Most sites have already been looted too.
My reporting visit was a great chance to spend the night at the Machu Picchu holel on Newsweek's tab, and we got to see the sun set and rise at the top of the ruins. Most of my visits were day trips: I had gone there in 1971 during my first visit to Peru, a third time with the Katharin Graham visit to Peru in 1985, a fourth time in 1986 when I was helping ABC film the Shirley McLaine bio-pic, "Out on a Limb," and a fifth time for an Australian television feature team in 1987.
I came across this photo, taken by Greg Smith, while cleaning out a filing cabinet with old material. It brought back a lot of memories.