Finally the day that we had been waiting for dawned – well not really. We were up and ready way before sunrise. The plan was to see the sunrise from Machu Picchu remember? We had both my Blackberry and Sangita’s Motorola Razr set up with alarms to wake us up at 4.00 AM. The water was steaming hot and we packed up, putting 6 water bottles and some snacks and bars into the backpack we would take up to the top. We were wearing multiple layers of clothing and knew we would be peeling these off and carrying these later in the day.
We had hot breakfast at the hotel and left our bags in storage and walked down a short cut along the train tracks to the bus station. It was cold and dark; would recommend walking in groups if possible this early.
There was already a line forming with over a hundred people standing next to several buses waiting for 5.00 AM. We bought return tickets using US dollars cash and got in line. Some of the medical students were well ahead of us but we did not want to jump the line as folks who are going up to Huyana Picchu think we might be denying them a chance and can get pretty vocal. Since we had no plans to do that hike, it was really a non issue.
The buses started off as soon as they were full and we were able to get on the 4th bus barely 10 minutes after the first bus. On the way we encountered several folks hiking up to the top. A lot of them were sitting, resting on the sides of the road. I was glad I was not one of them. I wanted to save my energy for hiking around at the top. Remember that the air here is very thin and oxygen is scarce. If you have not hiked at 8000 feet before, you can expect it to be a lot more demanding than what it is at sea level. The average weekend warrior who knocks of a couple miles on a treadmill may not be in shape to enjoy this.
We were lucky to see the sun breaking out above the peaks as soon as we reached the top. There were a lot of clouds and fog which made for a truly mystical sight. We went through the turnstiles and picked up an English speaking guide along the way. Guides tend to charge by the time and number of people in the group. The regular charge for a group of about 4-5 people for a full tour (3-4 hours) is about 70 US dollars. If you are lucky, you can get a guide who already has a scheduled group tour and has a couple of hours to spare prior to that. We were able to get a 2.5 hour tour at a terrific discount.
There is a place to store bags at the top, so in case you don’t want to carry around all your layers of clothing, you can come back to store them here once it gets warm. Remember this is easier said then done.
There is a lot of climbing to be done at Machu Picchu, so you may want to plan to drop these off before you start climbing up to towards the top of the ruins. Ask you guide to advice you. The tickets allow you to go in an out of the gates through out the day. The bathrooms (Banjos) are also outside the gate.
I am not going to write much about Machu Picchu. It is probably one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. The Amazon forest theoretically starts here. The vegetation, the topography and the incredible Inca architecture that blends the ruins into the mountains is astounding. The clouds and fog make the place look mystical.
When you sit at the top near the guardhouse and look at the view, you feel it pulling at your heart strings, you just want to sit and watch. When we finally left we had tears in our eyes, not knowing when we will ever see this view again. We finally walked off quickly never looking back just in case it drew us back with its magical magnetism.
We did not do the Huyana Picchu trail – it sounded too dangerous to us. At this point we just wanted to return home safe and sound. We did meet up with 3 of our students who made it to the top and how one of them literally crawled up and down the last part as it was too steep and narrow and she was too scared to stand up especially with her backpack. Our guide on the other hand just smiled and said he can do it in 12 minutes!
We did take a trail to see the Inca bridge. This is relatively an easy trail – not too much climbing up or down but is quite narrow in places. The bridge itself is a rickety piece of wood/stone over a gap in the trail and you are not allowed to reach it. The trail makes for some great photo ops. If you are scared of heights, avoid it.
It took us a very long time to get back to the gates. There were hordes of people coming in and some of the narrow stairs require you to stand to the side to let them pass. On the way out, we remembered to get our passports stamped with Machu Picchu! You can get this done right inside the gates.
We took the bus down to Aquas Callientes, exhausted, hot but satisfied. A great capstone for an amazing trip. We dropped off our back pack at the hotel, fired off some e-mails and then explored the village. We had lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the village square. Finding a restaurant was interesting, we were looking at the menu at one place when another restaurant manger came out and telling us he could give us the same stuff, cheaper. A bit of auctioning occurred between the two while we stood there bemused. Eventually we went to the “lowest bidder” who threw in free drinks (including Picso sour) and appetizers!
The bonus was really a huge flat screen TV that was playing a Portugal – West Germany World Cup qualifier! While waiting for the meal, we saw some of the medical students in the square below and they joined us for lunch. After a great lunch we got to say goodbyes again to the medical students who had by now become great friends.
Sangita of course needed to do some last minute shopping before we left for Cusco. Aquas Callientes has a nice mercado and we picked up quite a bit of stuff since we had space in our bags. Sadly, soon it was time to leave. We picked up our bags at the hotel and walked down to the train station. Our Australian friends were in the adjoining seats again and we carried on the conversation from where we had left off.
After the first 30 minutes, it got dark and we tried to nap. But the train crew started up some very loud music, did a fashion show displaying Alpaca garments and we were unable to sleep. Finally we reached Poroy the station that serves Cusco. The cab driver who had left us at Ollantaytambo was here to pick us up (we had arrange for him to do this the day before) and we were glad we did not have to wait for transport. Poroy did not seem to have a lot of cabs waiting at that time of the evening and we mentally thanked Edwin our hotel owner at Urubamba for suggesting this arrangement.
We stayed at the Eco Inn Hotel at Cusco which is an excellent facility. Our luggage that we had sent ahead from Urubamba was waiting for us and delivered to our room without us even asking for it! We showered and redistributed and repacked our bags for the flight the next day. We were going to take a 10.40 flight to Lima and thus would be able to sleep in for the first time on this trip!
That night we dreamed of Machu Picchu, and I woke up several times at first with images of standing on a cliff edge. But we were all too tired and soon fell into a beautiful, restful sleep.