We awoke early on the morning of May 10, 2006 to catch our 6:15 a.m. “backpacker” train to Machu Picchu Pueblo. Our intention was to walk to the station because it was only a couple of kms. However, by the time we had walked about 500m and arrived in the Plaza de Armas, a taxi driver offered to take us to the train and we relented. After all, It only costs $1-2USD. We arrived at the train station a bit earlier than was necessary and sat around until time to board.
Once on the train, we were disappointed to find there was very little legroom and, in fact, the seats were arranged such that each pair of seats faced another. Ugh! This meant we would be riding for four hours with our legs tangled in those of the passengers seated across from us. We can´t imagine why they arrange the seats this way since it was clear it does not save any space.
Around 10:30a.m. we arrived in Machu Picchu pueblo and just outside the station a smiling youthful local girl was waiting for us with a sign for Quilla Hostal in her hand. She led us across the bridge over the Urubamba river, through the handicrafts market and up the narrow central pedestrian street, Pachacutec. Once at the hostal, our hostess gave us the choice of either one room overlooking the street or one facing the mountainside behind the hostal. We chose the latter, relaxed a couple of moments and then headed back out to find our bus tickets, the tickets to the Machu Picchu ruins and some lunch.
We had no problem purchasing our tickets and settled on a restaurant just off the Plaza de Armas where they were offering four drinks for the price of one. This kind of offer is actually quite common in this town. However at this particular restaurant we recieved four extremely watered down (not surprising really) Pisco Sours for what could probably have normally bought two regular potency drinks. oh well! The lunch menus we ordered were mediocre but filling. One thing we´ve learned on the trip is that if a restaurant has a great location (overlooking a central square for example) the food is generally not that good — it doesn´t have to be — the appeal is the location.
After lunch, we headed to the handicrafts market to find bargins on some of the neat items that caught our eyes as we walked through on the way from the train station. We spent the next few hours trying to come up with excuses as to why it would be okay to really splurge on fingerpuppets, lapel pins, chess sets (Incas vs. Spaniards), pot holders and other novelty items.
We never know where our time goes and the next thing we knew, we were eating a pizza in the restaurant at our hostal and going to bed early for our 4:00 a.m. wake up the next morning. Unfortunately, about the time we were going to bed it started to rain. Several times throughout the night, i awoke to the sounds of rain falling on the roof of the building. I was really hoping it wouldn´t be raining for our day at Machu Picchu…
Well, when we woke up, it was still raining but not too bad. Nevertheless, i began the day with dampened spirits. The first bus up the the ruins of Machu Picchu (it is also possible to walk but the rumor is it is inadvisable in the early morning hours and the “trail” is almost the same as walking up the road anyway) leaves at 5:30 a.m. The reality is there are multiple buses that leave at this time so, if a person wants to go up at 5:30 there´s really no danger of not getting a seat. The bus ride was about 25 minutes and we arrived just about the time the “park” was opening (6 a.m.) As may be apparent, our plan was to arrive before sunrise and stake out a spot for photographing the sun rising over the ruins. Sadly, this was not to happen.
For our first three hours, we couldn´t see more than 5-6m in front of us and that made it very difficult to get a good grasp of the site. We were pretty disappointed. In fact, i was downright depressed. How were we going to get any worthwhile photos? I couldn´t believe this was our one chance to see one of the world´s greatest spectacles and it was so foggy. Around 9 a.m., Michele noticed a small hole in the clouds through which it was actually possible to see blue sky. Maybe our luck would change!
Indeed. By 9:30 we were able to get some nearly clear photos of the ruins and by 10-10:30, everything was crystal clear. Here is a slightly less than perfectly clear photo of Michele and i…
There´s really quite a bit to see and do at Machu Picchu and one possibility is climbing a series of steep switchbacks up a shark peak to Wayna Picchu to get a different perspective of the ruins below. Actually, there are some Inca ruins at the top of the peak also. I looked up at the peak and wondered if i would be able to make it all the way to the top with my intermittent fear of heights. Here is a clearer photo over Machu Picchu (taken from nearby the Hut of the Caretaker) allowing one to see the peak (yes, the one in the background) upon which Wayna Picchu was built. Scary huh?
Well, i did make it the whole way to the top but it was honestly the most terrifying experience i have ever had in my life. It reqiured an extrordinary amount of focus to ignore everything outside of a half-meter radius around my feet. Phobias such as my fear of heights are such an interesting phenomenon. The reality is, the trail we took to the stop wasn´t really that dangerous. There was little chance i was going to fall off the mountain. But, that´s just it, these fears aren´t rational. I also am not able to say what circumstances are frightening to me and what aren´t. The paragliding in Iquique, Chile wasn´t the least bit frightening and the same was true for the abseiling in Waitomo, NZ. I think it all has something to do with whether i am harnessed in some way. You see, that way, i can´t unintentionally jump to my death. Strange psychology. It turns out, that night, i qot a bit ill. I had body aches and chills and everything. I think it was just from the stress i experienced climbing that peak because i felt fine the next morning.
After getting some awesome photos over Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu, we hiked back down the switchbacks (for whatever reason this was much easier for me than the ascent) and back into the main site. Michele wanted to get some pictures of some lamas grazing in the main plaza and i waited for her near some of the ceremonial baths. One of the great highlights of my day was spotting a medium sized lizard (12-15 inches) on top of one of the ruin walls about 3 meters above a cobblestone walking path. I took several pictues of him/her and imagined him/her thinking he/she was going totally unnoticed by the masses of tourists. And he/she totally did… almost! No lizard can escape my bionic lizard-spotting eyes!
and here´s one of Michele´s lama photos…
After all of the reptilian excitement, we hurried back down to the park gate to catch the 1:30 bus back to town.
Once back in town, we found a lunch menu for something like 15 soles and then headed back over to the handicrafts marketplace to find a few more items we were looking for. Finally, we caught the 3:55 p.m. train back to Cusco. For whatever reason, our seats on the way back had a lot more leg room. This was great. Of course. The last train stop before Cusco, everyone but us got off the train. We were the only people left! A train employee got on board and told us that we could either get off and take a 15 minute bus for the rest of the way at the cost of just 5 soles ($1.5) or ride on the train for another hour. well, that didn’t require much thought. we got off the train and onto a bus.
Michele has been working on the stories of the rest of our stay in Cusco…
Tags: Category #28: Peru