The inocentes, Machu Picchu-ing

21 May

Our first night in Cusco found us in bed by 830PM, exhausted from traveling on little sleep and navigating a new city. We woke up to a cat staring down at us from our skylight of our room, and rose to get ourselves together.

Early-on in the day we set off by bus to Ollantaytambo (a town whose name I can only pronounce after I’ve mispronounced it several times in a row) where we caught the train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. There are no cars in Aguas, and the only way to get there is either to hike in or take the train.

The hour and a half long train ride through the valley was lovely, the skylights of our car offering up striking views of the surrounding mountains and wildlife, hugging the side of a river the entire time. We passed a number of stonework ruins, which brought to mind the Irish countryside; both places are verdant and green with incredible stone ruins peppering the landscape.

Aguas Calientes, also sometimes called Machu Picchu, is an odd little town. The pueblo is centered on the train tracks that are busy carrying passengers back and forth all day. There are countless souvenir shops, restaurants and ho(s)tels lining the town, but not much else. The transient tourists far outnumber the locals. It was a funny thing to reflect that a town like Macchu Picchi–a transport hub that nearly everyone must pass through to get to the site–was so bland and boring. Ollantaytambo, by comparison, seemed less visited by tourists (though it, too, is a major transportation hub) but somehow more modern amidst its narrow cobbled streets.

The only real automobiles in the town of Aguas are the fleet of buses that bring tourists to and from Machu Picchu throughout the day. They shuttle up and down the mountain between 530AM to around 530PM. All day long the buses go back and forth, leaving as soon as they fill up. Though the site isn’t that far from Aguas (~8km), the climb is a steep one. A solid number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu climb the stone steps up from Aguas, but the majority of tourists take the bus up switchback roads, condensing an hour-long climb to a 20 minute jaunt.

We stayed the night in Aguas Calientes with one goal in mind: to be among the first tourists at Machu Picchu at sunrise. We [very briefly] entertained the idea of hiking up starting at around 4AM, but opted to bus up to the site, instead. When we arrived at Machu Picchu our decision to bus up was reinforced by the thirty or so panting and sweating hikers who were now shivering in the early morning air.

We rose at 4AM to get our things together for Machu Picchu and at 430AM took our place in line at the bus station. We were sixth or seventh by that time, but soon thereafter more tourists began to line up behind us, up the street and around the corner, ready to get started. The buses were lined up and waiting, too, though no one boarded until about 530AM.

The buses filled up very quickly, and within minutes we were ascending, able to now make out the mountains against a dark blue backdrop. By the time we reached the entrance, the sky had lightened considerably, and we were happy to note the absence of rain clouds in the distance; it would be a very bright and very beautiful sunrise.

I suppose, though, that describing the site is unnecessary; you’ve seen pictures (and you’re about to see more!). Maybe the one thing that pictures don’t capture is how lovely the site is, nestled between the mountains and valleys on all sides. Those Incas: they loved a good view. We meandered around taking pictures of the ruins and the rocks, trying to capture Machu Picchu in the changing light. After about 2 hours of this, we decided to head back, content with our experience (and our pictures).

Instead of bussing down, we opted to walk the switchbacks and stone steps. The sun, by this time, was very bright, and we were glad to reach the bottom of the valley and enjoy the shade of the trees along the river banks.

The rest of the day was spent in a stupor as we wandered around Aguas and eventually settled into a bar to watch the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern. My emotions were a mix of very exhausted and very exited, and I tried to explain to Greg, as calmly as possible, the dynamics of the bizarre year Chelsea have been through, how Robben spends his time being 25% crazy amazing (craymazing) and 75% wasting everyone’s time (and Chelsea are good to be rid of him) and the spending implications that winning the League brings to Chels this coming year. I am still sort of in disbelief that they won, especially as it came down to penalties; I have never, to this day, seen them win a game in penalties.

In the evening we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Most of the restaurants in Aguas were unimpressive and bland, with menus that included Mexican food, burgers, pizza and typical Peruvian fare. All of the restaurants are also very expensive by Peruvians standards, especially for food that seems to have very little taste. We found a restaurant with a huge wood-fire grill as its centerpiece and proceeded to have an outstanding meal for not much more than the junky restaurants around town. We’re still talking about how delicious it was the next day (but, granted, we talk about food a lot).

The next morning we caught our train out of Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, where we would then get a bus back to Cusco to prepare for our early morning flight on Monday to Lima. Right before bedtime, a 3 second temblor jolted our hotel room, but never actually turned into something bigger. It was enough, though, to keep me up half of the night wondering if every truck that passed down our narrow street and shook our hotel was going to be another little earthquake; paranoia at its finest!

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One Response to “The inocentes, Machu Picchu-ing”

  1. Lea Anthony May 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    You are lucky to have seen the Munich/chelsea game What a crazy ride, and Drogba was absolutely brilliant. That team certainly had an amazing journey this season, and even tho the champions league was disappointing, Chelsea showed their determination to win big.

    I am so in aware of that club!

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