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South America – Machu Picchu

Three weeks in South America was not nearly enough time to do and see what I wanted but I certainly gave it a good try. Over the next few weeks I will add various pics and thoughts about my travels in Peru and Chile. What I do know for sure is that I will be heading back there over the ensuing years and try and visit many of the countries that make up this amazing continent.

Like many people, Machu Picchu was on my list of places to visit. A childhood love of archeology makes all ruins a must for me and I love nothing more than wandering through such places, taking in the history, noting all the detail that has gone into the architecture and trying to imagine the times when people lived their lives there. Due to a strike, we ended up being stuck in Agua Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu). This was an unfortunate happening but the positive was that due to this, not many people were at Macchu Picchu. So in Machu Picchu tourist terms, we almost had the place to ourselves and managed to take numerous photos of the ruins without people in them. And wandered a good 9 hours up and down and around the site in peace.

Cam and I wanted to climb Waynu Picchu, which is the high peak you can see at the back of Machu Picchu in most of the classic photos of the place. They only let 400 people head up there each day and it requires you to queue first thing at 6 am to get the pass. We decided to climb in the 7.00 am session while it was still a little cool – and glad thing we did. While the track up there is completely stepped, it is certainly steep and all walkers, regardless of age, size and fitness, were red, huffing and stopping for regular quick breathers along the way. It helped having been in the Sacred Valley for a number of days, acclimatizing to the high altitude before heading to Machu Picchu. Waynu Picchu has more ruins atop and around the peak which appear to be a mixture of both military and spiritual buildings. Besides getting to the top allowing your calves to stop screaming, it is such a lovely place to sit down and take in the peace of the area and of course the view is something else. It also gives you a great perspective of the structure of the main complex of MP down below.

After relaxing and exploring for awhile atop of Waynu Picchu we headed back down and spent the rest of the days wandering, and wondering. Much of Machu Picchu has been rebuilt to give visitors, an idea of the structure of the citadel but there is still plenty of orginal stonework to view, especially in the ashlar technique. This is the stonework most people readily identify with the Incans. Large stone blocks of regular shape that are shaped and carved to fit together without mortar. Beautiful and amazing! I have a SD card fully of Incan blocks – I must threaten to have a slide night of all of my stone block photos! Huge blocks that are carved for purposes that no-one is completely sure of lay in various temple structures and on open areas. Many appear to be for the use of understanding time and seasons such as the Intihuatana and with the history of the Incans, no doubt there were some that were used for sacrificial purposes – and I’m not necessarily meaning human. Chicha, a corn liquor/alchohol was often used for such occasions.

One cannot deny that Macchu Picchu is now heavily targetted toward the tourists – with its rebuilding and exorbitant rates of food and water in the small complex before the entrance as well as a very zooshy and expensive hotel. Hopefully this is as big as it will get – from reports I have read, Machu Picchu is now on a list of sites to watch and monitor for serious impact.The reason it is so heavily visited is clearly visible though – it truly is an amazing monument to a culture now gone. It is important, I feel, for people to be able to visit, and then hopefully understand a little more about the world around them – both past and present. So should tighter restrictions need to be put in place somewhere down the line to protect the area it will be totally understandable.

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Beechworth Historic Park

Karen and I were up at Beechworth Historic Park in North East Victoria last Sunday to complete the research on the last walk to be included in our forthcoming Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and in the end we decided to drop the walk from the book. Before I launch into my reasoning behind our decision I want to point out that I am well aware of the poor funding Parks Victoria receives and that most Parks Victoria staff are doing their best with limited resources. However, it wasn’t until we had walked 4km along the trail that we arrived at a permanent looking sign informing us that the next section of trail had been closed to walkers as the bridge over Spring Creek had been removed (see the image). I later talked to Parks Victoria and was told that the trail closure is a ‘fairly’ permanent situation unless they get funding to replace the bridge. What really annoyed me was that at the main carpark (at the Powder Magazine) there were no signs informing walkers that the trail had been closed. Basically you had to walk 4km to find out that the trail had been closed. Neither were such changes indicated on the Beechworth Historic Park page of the Parks Victoria website. Not good. What is even more annoying is that having decided to disregard the sign we discovered that the creek was nothing more than an easy step across. It was no more difficult an obstacle than possibly hundreds of other creek crossings on hundreds of other bushwalks encountered in Victoria (many of them managed by Parks Victoria). Sure, the creek may on rare occasions flood but surely this is where a walker uses his or her experience to make a decision as to whether or not it is safe to proceed. The implication I gathered from Parks Victoria is that walkers visiting Beechworth Historic Park cannot make such decisions for themselves because of the ‘type of walker’ who visits the area. I’m still not quite sure what that means. As it was we decided that we wouldn’t include the walk in our next book as many casual walkers would feel uncomfortable in negotiating an officially closed trail (even though Parks Victoria cannot actually stop anyone from using this route).

Beechworth Historic Park has some wonderful walking terrain. I’m also certain that many visitors to Beechworth have no idea how breathtaking the surrounding bushland really is. What is badly needed is a walking trail circuit incorporating both the Cascades and Woolshed Falls and which doesn’t follow any 4WD tracks just because it is cheaper and easier to align them that way. The trails are currently a dogs breakfast and it appears that no real planning has ever taken place. And it is worse now that the trail linking the Precipice to the Cascades has been closed. It’s true that there has been an effort to put in good signage but that is doesn’t hide the fact that Beechworth Historic Park is mainly a series of compromised patched together trails linked by old and current 4WD tracks that seem to go nowhere. Such a shame.

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Major Mitchell Plateau

I finally ticked the Major Mitchell Plateau walk this weekend. I’ve been meaning to do the trail for some time but we have had a pretty wet and cold winter here in Victoria, which kept me away from the Grampians. Karen was still suffering from a virus she caught earlier in the week and decided she would act as my pickup from Jimmy Creek Campground. This well-known walk traverses the wild sub-alpine plateau linking the two highest summits in the Grampians National Park. Both Mt William and Durd-Durd share the same elevation of 1167m and are subject to the harshest weather and highest rainfalls in Western Victoria. Much of the trail is above 1000m and region bares a striking similarity to the landscapes of central and southwest Tasmania. I didn’t start the walk until midday which, as it was the first day of daylight saving, wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It was still too late for a demanding 19.2km walk however, and I really had to move quickly if I wasn’t to resort to using my headtorch. Continue reading Major Mitchell Plateau