Grand is in the Details

This magnificent mountain in the Peruvian Andes is Huanya Picchu.

 To me it looks like a great green ghost, its strong stone arms wrapped protectively around the ancient Incan city of  Machu Picchu .

Machu Picchu, meaning “Ancient Mountain,” was built in the 15th century, at the peak of Incan culture.  One of the greatest artistic, architectural, and land use achievements of the world, it was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

No one can say for certain, as the Incas had no written language, but it is thought to have been a royal estate, perhaps a summer retreat, or maybe a religious center.

It was so remote that the Spanish conquerors never found it, but it was by no means isolated.

It was connected to the vast Incan Empire by a royal highway called The Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu to 25, 000 miles of roadway, the Incan version of the Internet.  Special runners called “Chasquis” traveled as far as 240K in a day to keep the king connected, or to deliver delicacies to his dinner table.  Runners could rest at stations along the way, or relay messages by tag-team.

Much of The Inca Trail survives to this day. This section leads to the Sun Gate. 

Another steep trail leading in the other direction hugged the cliffside.  This Incan drawbridge made it impossible for outsiders to invade the city…

…unless you count tourists.

The grand view was worth the walk.

Machu Picchu is surrounded on the other three sides by steep cliffs and a raging river, making it practically impregnable.

Magnificent.  Dramatic.  Ingenious. Grand.

Machu Picchu’s grandeur can be found in the details. Like the integration of natural elements into its design, shaping the city to fit into its surroundings.  Terraces not only took on the curve of the mountain, but prevented landslides and provided a hanging garden for growing crops.

Its location was a matter of sacred geography.  It was situated among mountains with religious significance to the Incas…

…and is perfectly aligned for key astronomical events.

This instrument cut into the bedrock was used for astronomical observations.

The Incans worshipped the mountains as gods, and this was reflected in their building.

Everywhere we turned, we saw natural features incorporated into the design.

Architecture mirrored nature’s design.

Walls were built around huge boulders, which remained cradled in the earth where they had slept since the mountains were born.

This did not prevent Incan engineers from using natural features to provide creature comforts, such as running water.


On our second visit, the clouds lifted.  We arrived in time to see the morning sun turn gray stones gold.

We tried to imagine what it might have been like to have lived there half a millennium ago…

The dry stone walls were constructed without mortar, with some stones fitted so tight a blade of grass couldn’t squeeze between them.  Even so, the ancients must’ve worked hard to keep the jungle at bay…

 …just as they do today.  There were redshirts perched on ladders, whose full time job was to keep the weeds from taking over.  

The backstairs whispered ancient secrets, but we couldn’t quite make them out.

We could only wonder at the world around us.

The flora…

And fauna.

Each one…

…a tiny miracle.

Great civilizations come and go….

…and life goes on.

As hard as we try to unlock them…

…Machu Picchu’s walls hold onto their secrets.

In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if we don’t know all the answers?

It is a privilege to be there…

…following in the footsteps….

…of the ancient ones.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Cities.
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

While we are on the subject of GRAND, I’d like to introduce you to a not-so-ancient wonder of the world.  My cousin Haskell is a little like Forest Gump, in that, after serving in World War II, followed by a lifetime of service in the Merchant Marines, I’m not kidding–he has been there and done that, and can tell you all about it in grand style.  Except for one thing.  Somehow, through all his amazing adventures, he never got around to learning to play the autoharp.  Until last June.

I love you, Haskell, and I’m so lucky to have you in my family!   Here’s to Rum and Coke, and jamming next year in Seattle, and feeling better soon!



  1. I wonder how long Machu Picchu is going to be on my bucket list before I finally go. Stunning!

    1. This is definitely worth seeing! I hope you get there soon. Thanks for the visit, and for your generous response.

  2. cyclingrandma says:

    Fantastic! I hope to get there one day!
    and Bravo to your cousin!

    1. I hope so too, Lisa. And thank you for your good thoughts about my cousin. I am looking forward to our next visit.

  3. scillagrace says:

    Macchu Picchu is on my Grand Bucket list for sure, and my daughter Emily’s. I gotta know how you afford to travel to all these wondrous places! I WILL make it work somehow!

    1. Hi Scilla,

      I hope you get there before too long, and I love what you say, “I WILL make it work somehow!” Because when you say that, I know that you will, and that’s what it takes.

      We live a modest lifestyle–rarely eating out, driving our cars into the ground, living in the same house for twenty-some years. We don’t dress in designer jeans, we aren’t connoisseurs of fine wine, and we sometimes shop at thrift stores. But family travel has been our joy and our priority. Plenty of time later to remodel the kitchen, and while I’d love an ocean view, that can wait until we can longer travel.

      We have always included the kids, because we have so much fun altogether, and soon enough their lives could be too busy or structured for them to be able to join us. Gotta make hay while the knees hold out!

      We are fortunate that my work schedule is flexible, and Thom has summers off. We travel carry on, no matter how long the trip, stay in hostels when the dollar is weak and, except for the occasional accidental oriental rug purchase, our souvenirs are the pictures we take and the journals we keep. For cheap entertainment in between trips, we brainstorm places we want to go, and research and share the history of potential travel destinations.

      When an opportunity presents itself, I grab it, and trust that another opportunity will come along. For example, Bea will probably be studying in Vilnius, Lithuania, so will try to plan a family trip around that experience. It’s a part of the world none of us have ever been to, so that’s exciting.

      We are saving our pennies, comparing up our wish lists, watching for bargain airfares, and trying to juggle work and school commitments to see what dates we can come up with that work for everyone.

      Start out with the research, Scilla, and decide what you want to do and when you might want or be able to go. Then set aside a little bit each paycheck and put the occasional windfall into a separate travel account, and don’t touch it for anything else.

      Even just planning a trip you don’t end up taking is a joy, but chances are much greater that you will go on that trip if the plans have been made. I won’t ask where you want to go. Dear Scilla, I will ask, “Where are you going to go?”

      1. scillagrace says:

        Thank you so much for your detailed reply, Naomi. I feel like such a “newbie” at making plans and having the confidence that they will be reality. My husband was the one with the paycheck and the plans, and I went happily along for the ride. Now that I’m in the driver’s seat, I’m not quite sure what to do with all the controls. One thing I know is that I am frugal and very able to save for what I really value — been through 4 seasons at the Lyric Opera that way! I did check out the Hostels International site yesterday. Relieved to find that my impression of those being strictly for “youth” is mistaken!

      2. Dear Scilla,
        Hostels are for everyone! We have stayed at them–they sometimes have family rooms you can reserve as an alternative to dorm situations. I’m so glad you are researching the hostels. You are getting your bearings, and considering the possibilities, which is the first step. I hope the New Year holds much sweetness and adventure for you!

  4. Outstanding photos, Naomi! Some take my breath away while others make me smile. I love how you share your journey. ♥ paula

    1. Dear Paula,
      Thank you, thank you! I hope you had a very merry Christmas, and I am sending you and your family warm wishes for a happy New Year.

  5. Mary Brugh says:

    Wow! Some of your photos took my breath away – big fear of heights and edges. Thanks for sharing your journey, again.

    1. Dear Mary,
      Thanks for the visit, and for sharing the journey. It is always good to hear form you. I get that thing about edges and heights. Machu Picchu was okay, but someday I might blog about doing the zip-line in the Amazon. I left my fingerprints in the legs of our guide as I clung to his knees and resisted jumping off the platform a hundred feet above the jungle floor. So many people do it, and all kinds of safety measures are in place, but still I was terrified.
      I hope you had a merry Christmas, and wish you a very happy New Year.

  6. Alison says:

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder! I hiked the Inca trail to Macchu Picchu in 1978, before there were guides or porters and all we had was a hand-drawn map. It was an amazing experience, but I was too young to appreciate Macchu Picchu itself. I’m so excited to be going back later in life when I finally have the smarts to really take it in – sometime in January Don and I will be there, though we won’t be hiking the trail this time.
    Thanks for the foretaste. Getting excited!

    1. Dear Alison,
      I am excited for you both. It isn’t long before you have your adventure. It sounds like a very different experience in 1978. I wish you high adventure and a safe return (as well as a very happy New Year). I look forward to reading all about it on your blog.

  7. AareneX says:

    Fabulous, as always. Thank you for bringing sunlight and enlightenment to my house today!

    1. Dear Aarene,
      You are so kind! I hope you had a merry Christmas, and we all send you warm wishes for a happy New Year!

  8. I`ve always felt there`s something mythical about the Myans. They are a mystery, yet clever beyond our comprehension now.

    Thank you, Naomi. I can save $$ on this trip because of your yet again amazing journal tour. Thank you. Now I DO want to go there. 😀

    1. Dear Tess,
      It was fascinating to learn about the history of the land. Thank you for popping in for a gander, and sharing your very kind response. I hope your Christmas was a merry one, and that your New Year is a happy one.

      1. Same back to you, Naomi. I love this season of getting together with friends and family but it does wear me out.

  9. Carol says:

    You enchant me, Naomi, with your tales and your photos, interwoven so beautifully together. Machu Picchu is another of those places that leave me in awe of what man could do way back in the day before the aid of big machinery. I love that you’ve gone to these places, and that you share your adventures with those of us who may never get there.

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Dear Carol,
      You are so kind! Thank you for your very generous response to this post. I too could only gape and wonder at the beauty and majesty of Machu Picchu, a castle in the clouds, all built without the aid of even the wheel. The Incas made children’s toys with wheels, but had not found out a way to use the wheel in construction or transportation.
      Thinking of you, sending love and hugs.

  10. Elyse says:

    This was one of your best adventures. Thanks for sharing it. And your cousin is seriously cool!

    1. Dear Elyse,
      Thank you so much for the visit, and for your very generous response. Something tells me that you and Cousin Haskell would really hit it off. Best wishes for a very Happy New Year!

  11. pattisj says:

    This is a grand place, it is hard to imagine what life would have been like when it was built–and how long it took to build it.

    1. Dear Patti,
      Thank you for visiting! You would be a great person to travel with–you ask all the same questions and wonder about the same things that I do. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

  12. kathy says:

    Amazing, Naomi! I’m so pleased you’re able to go to these places and bring these stories & photos back for all us landlocked people. You have an artist’s eye and a poet’s soul. Thank you for sharing both.

    1. Dear Kathy,
      Thank you so much vof the visit. It’s always great to hear from you. I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year.

  13. randee says:

    Very interesting! I want to go there.

    1. I want you to go there too, and then tell us all about it! Thanks so much for stopping by, and sharing your response.

  14. Looks like the grandest of adventures, Naomi – even for a family who always seem to make every moment special. Stupendous mountain, mysterious city … a grand post 🙂

    1. Dear Meredith,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for taking the time to share your very kind response. I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and that your New Year is a happy one.
      Best wishes,

  15. Gaurab says:

    Amazing pictures all of them. Really beautiful and grand 🙂

  16. Lignum Draco says:

    This is an absolutely grand post! Thanks for sharing these photos of this trip. It certainly is a spectacular place.

  17. niasunset says:

    This is one of the places I dream to visit dear Naomi. I can see and understand once again, how amazing place. Your photographs made me excited and dream… I felt myself like walking there with you. Thank you, you did a great post again. Love, nia

  18. Grand indeed! I do wonder what made Haskel decide on the autoharp? As for Machu Picchu, I am planning to go one day.

  19. I didn’t like history back in high school, but i didn’t know what I was missing.
    Thank you for taking me on a dream trip back in history.
    Oh, and yes Seattle is beautiful in spring..
    May you dance enough to make your feet happy with your cousins
    musical talent.

  20. Amy says:

    That is grand! Thank you so much for the details of rocks, roads, flowers, birds… Such a grand post, Naomi!

  21. Beautiful photo’s and very interesting about ancient cultures. I have this grand place on my bucket list.

  22. Roy McCarthy says:

    This is up there with your very best posts Naomi. I’m in awe at your consistent excellence and eye for a picture. Thank you for bringing this adventure to us all so skilfully.

    1. Dear Roy,

      You are too kind! Thank you, as always, for your very generous encouragement. This post felt close to my heart. As I eagerly look forward to both kids coming home for winter break, I was able to spend a little time with them in my thoughts by posting some sweet shared memories from last summer.

  23. All that magic topped by your authoharp-learning cousin. The world is large, mysterious, and unutterably precious.

    1. Thank you, Cathryn. You said it so well! I appreciate your visit.

  24. Maureen Kay says:

    So many of your photos look like they could win awards. I love them all, but especially the little boy stepping on the stone to look through the wall. I will tweet this link.

    1. Thank you, Maureen! So good of you to visit, and I appreciate your generous response!

  25. ShimonZ says:

    Often, the walk itself is worth the ‘grand view’. But as always, your explanations put the scenes you admire in an historical context, and that is one of the things I love most about your posts.

    1. Dear Shimon,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful observation. I too am very process oriented. In life, as with travel, I believe the journey is as important as the destination.
      I love hearing “fun facts” that put places into the context of a story. For me, that makes the photos more interesting and the places more memorable. It is good to know you feel the same way.

      Warm wishes for the coming year, dear friend.

  26. nutsfortreasure says:

    I love when you take me along through word and photos to the place you go GREAT TRIP

    1. Dear Eunice,
      Thank you so much. It is always so good to hear from you. I wish you all the very best for the coming year.

      1. nutsfortreasure says:

        Sending lots of love your way Naomi stay safe and have a blast this coming year 🙂

  27. restlessjo says:

    Absolutely fabulous photography and storytelling, Naomi. It must be the most unbelievable place ever to visit! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jo! It was a one-of-a-kind destination, and at the top of the list of the most wonderful places I have visited. Thank YOU for visiting and for your very kind response to my post. Best wishes for the New Year.

  28. This post is beyond grand. Just blew my mind away. Ancient priceless wonder, with nature so spectacular and breathe taking. Bits of thrilling danger and trail that make one gasp. Haskell is a wonderful man. A smile that melts your heart. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

    1. Dear Island Traveler,
      Thank you so much for your heartwarming response to this post, and especially to my cousin. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and I am sending my best wishes to you and your family for a Happy New Year!

    1. Dear Sarah,
      Congratulations on a well deserved honor, and thank you so much for nominating me. I feel truly honored. My response will be the next blogpost!

      1. Thank you, Naomi 🙂 I look forward to your award post.

  29. That would be one place I would put on my bucket list (if I ever get around to it). Beautiful photos and narrative. And here’s to your cousin and rum and coke!

    1. Thank you, Victoria! I hope you get there soon. And thanks for the toast to my cousin Haskell. He is an inspiration to me, and so much fun at the same time.

  30. Madhu says:

    I agree, Machu Picchu is the grandest of them all! Stunning, stunning shots, and a narrative as engaging as ever! Great job Naomi 🙂

    1. Hi Madhu,
      Thank you for stopping by, and for your very kind response. Thanks you, too, for the information and advice you sent about visiting Peru and Machu Picchu. I expected it to be impressive, but it was perfectly breathtaking.

  31. herongrace says:

    Thank-you Naomi for such stunning photos!

    1. Thank you so much! It is always good to hear from you.

    1. Thanks so much for the pingback!

  32. Matilda says:

    Wow there are truly wonderful photos; I wouldn’t know which to choose. Congrats y un gran abrazo!!

    1. Hi Matilda,
      Thank you so much for the visit, and your kind response.

  33. luggagelady says:

    So glad you made it there. Brilliantly captured! Thank you for this magnificent share — made me want to go again… ♥🌎

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