Journey to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the seven modern wonders of the world and it is truly breathtaking.

Fog hovered over the emerald green peaks of the mountains and llamas ran freely around the site mingling with tourists.

I was there Friday with a group of students from Columbia College Chicago for a travel writing course I'm teaching with my colleague Elio Leturia.

The official story is that archaeologist Hiram Bingham "discovered" Machu Picchu in 1911.

But two indigenous farmers and brothers, Angel Mariano and Agustin Lizarraga, actually found it 10 years earlier, according to the grandson and great nephew of  these farmers, Romulo Lizarraga Valencia.

He explained that they were burning wood and it led to a fire and that burnt off the greenery that was covering the ruins.

"Machu Picchu was opened thanks to the fire," said Lizarraga, who was our tour guide.

Ten years later, Bingham was in Peru in search of another lost city Vilcabamba. He stopped to rest at Lizarraga's great uncle's farm. His great uncle actually showed Bingham where the ruins could be found, Lizarraga said.

"Thanks to my relative Mr. Bingham saw Machu Picchu for the first time," he said.

Lizarraga also is the co-author of the book "Journey to Machu Picchu" that he wrote with Carol Cumes.

He was born in the shadow of Machu Picchu, which actually means ancient mountain.

"I am very deeply connected to Machu Picchu," he said.

Thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu are currently at the Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Conn. Bingham took them out of Peru at a time supposedly "on loan"  Peru didn't have any laws to protect its archaeological treasures until 1982.

In recent years, the government of Peru has been in negotiations with Yale to get the artifacts back and there were even threats of a lawsuit.

Lizarraga said that he hopes that by next year, which marks 100 years after Bingham "discovered" Machu Picchu, the artifacts will be returned to Peru.

They have already built a museum in Cusco, Peru, to house the treasures.

"It's ready. We're just waiting for them to be returned," he said.

I hope that these artifacts will be returned to their cultural origin. More people from around the world would see them here in Cusco than if they remained at Yale.

Hopefully, Peru what get back what it rightfully deserves.

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