As soon as you arrive in Cusco you have jumped on to the Machu Picchu conveyor belt everyone is there for the same purpose and it is a lot of people. We arrived in the early morning so it was quite quiet and after a little search we found a really nice room. It was massive, had four other beds in it and a bathroom, it wasn't exactly cheap but still within budget and there were nice views.
We relaxed for a little while and used the free wifi to try and decide how we were going to get to Aguas Calientes the town closest to Machu Picchu. The main and most popular option is to take the train operated by Peru Rail which takes anywhere between 2 and 3 hours. There are three different types; the luxurious Hiram Bingham - $588 return, then there is the very comfortable Vistadome - $142 return and finally the no frills Backpacker - $96 return. Even the cheapest option seemed expensive to us and when you add in the £26 entry fee to Machu and the hyped up room prices in Aguas Calientes it becomes a costly little outing. As we scoured the internet we came across blogs and articles written by people who had done things differently to save a few dollars here and there but generally they involved getting on buses late at night, off them in the small hours, waiting a couple of hours for pick ups and then walking a few miles. Maybe at the start of our trip but by now we were lacking the enthusiasm. The other option was a combination of bus to Ollaytaytambo where you can catch the train the rest of the way for about $30. Undecided we headed in to town for some lunch.
By now the tourists were out in force, filing down the narrow roads which in most places are only wide enough for one car. As it was once the ancient Inca capital, said to have been founded in around AD 1100 the city is full of ruins many of which are wonderful examples of how talented the Incas were when it came to building. There is one wall in particular that has become famous because the stones fit together so perfectly, the carving is mind boggling. One of them has twelve sides and you can pose next to it with a man dressed in “traditional” Inca garb if you so wish.
We took a picture without the man and continued on to the plaza where there were even more tourists, tour agencies and souvenir shops.
By walking a little further on we found a quieter area where we had another almuerzo. Then we did a little bit of shopping and bought our magnets before back to the hostel. A little more um-ing and ah-ing and we booked our train ticket online for the following morning to Aguas Calientes. We would spend one night there and then head back the next afternoon after visiting Machu Picchu in the morning. Unfortunately all the tickets back to Cuzco were gone so we booked to go as far as Ollaytaytambo where we probably spend the night.
In the morning we had to take a taxi to Poroy about 20 minutes from Cuzco. We thought the train left from the city, this is what the guide book claimed but apparently this is not the case, at least not at the moment. The train station was small but quite modern and it slowly filled up with the complete spectrum of tourist, although not the really rich, the cushy trains left later. After a quick check of the passport and tickets we boarded the train which was pretty basic with fairly cramped seats. The service was good though, with smiley hosts/hostesses offering us snacks which we couldn't justify buying. The scenery was lovely with steep, lush hills on either side which got more tropical as we got closer to Aguas Calientes and the clear water brooks were replaced by a heavy, toffee coloured, jungle rivers.
At one point we saw some people setting off on the Inca Trail a 3 or 4 day trek you can do to Machu Picchu, it is part of the walk the Incas would have to do to get from Cusco to Machu We had considered it a while back but it is expensive, very popular and in the end it just didn't appeal.
Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes we set about finding a room. It is a purpose built town, there for simply one reason and can only be reached by train. For this reason the whole place is purely hotels, restaurants and markets selling souvenirs. We climbed to the top of the town near the thermal baths and after checking a few rooms, all of which were expensive settled on one which had a nice view out over the river. It was quite noisy when we were there, a continuous torrent but having seen it on the tv in recent days it is hard to believe. The whole scene is unrecognisable. The rest of the day was fairly laid back, we bought our entry tickets which you have to do in the town then had lunch. In the evening we went out for a quick dinner and then went to bed as we had a very early start.
There are two ways that you can reach Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, the first is to catch one of the buses which are continually running up and down the hill, it takes about 20 minutes and cost $7 each way. The site opens at 6am and the first bus leaves Aguas Calientes at 5:30am but once you arrive you will probably be behind a whole host of people who took the second option which is to climb the Inca steps. They begin just out of town, over the river and take you up 400m to the entrance to Machu Picchu. As the idea is to be one of the first into the site so you can hopefully snap that much coveted classic picture without a whole host of visitors milling about, you have to start early. We were up at 3:30am, stowed our packed bags under the stairs in the hostel and headed out into the dark morning. There were a few other people heading in the same direction, and a slight sense of tension, I don't think many of us were looking forward to what we were about to do. The fact that it was starting to rain made it worse. We had head torches and there were definitely needed as we began the climb on the now slippery, worn down steps. It was immensely tough, the only relief came when one set came to an end and we got to walk on the flat road for a minute before the next set began. I had to stop numerous times because my lungs felt like they were going to explode, Adam found it hard work too but he enjoys pushing himself whereas I, generally, don't. Still we got there in the end, only taking just over the hour it is meant to take and there was definitely a sense of achievement. The downside was we were completely drenched, our rain coats had done little to prevent that and it was still raining. At this point we were pretty unsure about what exactly we were going to be able to see when we got in as the cloud coverage was so dense.
As we slowly began to file in we were asked if we would like to climb Wayna Picchu the mountain which stands behind Machu Picchu. Only 400 people are allowed to climb it a day, in two lots of 200 and although at that moment I couldn't think of anything I would like to do less we said yes and our tickets were stamped for a 7am start. We were then into the site and although most of our surroundings were hidden the main ruins were visible. We climbed up to the top of the site, near the Watchman's Tower and surveyed our surroundings, which were undeniably impressive but it was more the sense of being there that I found hard to get my mind round.
Machu Picchu is one of those places, a “new wonder of the world” and somewhere in all honesty I never thought I'd visit but here we were.
Although it was hard to get the full impact due to the cloud, the positioning of the city is breathtaking, hidden on the edge of a precipice.
For this reason its mere construction is unbelievable and there are many unanswered questions surrounding why such an immense feat was undertaken in the first place. Some believe it was to the hide from the Spanish conquerors and others believe it was a kind of convent where chosen women were trained to serve the Inca leader as most of the remains found were female. Whatever the reason, it is a pleasure to take a glimpse into a distant past as you walk amongst the ruins.
This is what we did for the first hour, looking at the different stone work and architectural ingenuity when it came to things such as water provision.
It was still raining, we were both beginning to feel the cold, and as we walked towards where the trek up Wayna Picchu would begin I was unsure about what to do. On the one hand I wasn't sure it was a good idea knee wise but on the other I wanted to do it and I would freeze waiting for Adam to go up and down. In the end I decided to go for it and so we began yet another climb.
It was slower than the steps as there were more people going at different speeds. Which in turn meant there was less pressure and this made things easier. It was still hard work and the muddy, wet conditions didn't help but at points I think I almost enjoyed myself. It also stopped raining, the sun came out, the clouds cleared and there were visual distractions from the pain.
When we reached the top there were more ruins, and we sat amongst them for quite some time gazing down at Machu Picchu below waiting for the best time to take the perfect picture. There was even a rainbow. Despite all the people around us it was peaceful being perched up there.
The walk back down was quite treacherous in places and I was thankful for the hand ropes they had installed.
Once we reached the bottom there was another little high from the sense of achievement and by now we were dry and we began looking around the rest of the site.
Within another hour or so we had covered all areas and headed for the exit.
We could have taken the bus down but not wanting to waste $14 we walked down the steps, it was odd seeing them in daylight. By the time we were back in town I was absolutely, physically exhausted. Conscious that we had a train to catch, we had lunch, then a quick shower at the hostel before making our way to the station.
The trip to Ollaytaytambo took about and hour and a half, longer than either of us had remembered. As we got off the train and trudged up to the main plaza I was about ready to keel over. It took us a little while but in the end we found a reasonably priced room and after a chicken dinner it was a very, very welcome nights sleep. In the morning we realised that getting back to Cusco might be a bit tricky as there were no direct buses. We therefore had two options; one, get a pick up but we would have to wait for enough people to fill the vehicle, and at that point there was only us. Our second was to take a taxi which in the end is what we decided to do. Once back in Cusco we wanted to take a bus as quickly as possible to Pisco and we knew one left in the early afternoon. For the two hour journey is cost us £10 so it wasn't too bad.
We were dropped off at the bus station which was packed full of people and it quickly became apparent that there were hardly any sits left on buses going to Pisco as it continued on to Lima which is obviously a popular destination. Due to an error on our part we ended up missing out on the last couple of seats on the 2pm bus and had to book on to one leaving at 8:30pm. For this reason we now had over 6 hours to kill in Cuzco. As usual when we had time to waste we went with the cinema option but unfortunately there didn't appear to be one so we ended up wandering around for hours. We had some lunch, spoke to a local guy in the square who wanted to practice his English, then headed to the market and did a spot of shopping. Finally with relief we made our way back to the terminal and as we settled on to the bus it was just nice to be somewhere warm and comfortable.
Laura & Adam