Oh what a great experience that was!
After a couple of long days on the bus and a few scary hours in La Paz I made it to Cusco. I was happy to see Lake Titicaca on the way there despite the tight schedule. The trip of course didn’t go without any drama.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the bus only got me to Puno, which is on the Peruvian side of the lake. We were told that we couldn’t get to Cusco because the road was blocked partially. Still there was a way. Just before we got off the bus, an older man came on offering accommodation and when he found that there were people willing to travel to Cusco he soon switched to his travel agent mode. He said one could travel to Cusco although there were some minor inconveniences. What were those you wonder? I will tell you. We had to get off the bus at 1.45am and walk for 50min to the other side of the blockage, in complete darkness before we reached the other bus.
We bought the ticket, and boarded the bus withing a few minutes of our arrival. I had a small cheese sandwich for dinner, and tried to fall asleep as soon as possible, expecting the later walk. We were told so many version of the truth. Some people said we couldn’t go through at all, others said we would have to walk 10min, 20mins, 30mins, even two hours! while other said, we might actually be able to get through without the walk. We had no idea what to believe but anything was better than the 6h deviation to Arequipa.
The driver woke us up in the middle of the night, we got our stuff and hit the road, not knowing how long we would have to walk. Eventually we got to the actual blockage which was a bit scary, because there were quite a few drunk men gathered around a fire, shouting and throwing bottles. My travel buddy, a Belgian girl, stopped for a moment trying to read the writings on the road, trying to figure out what was the reason for the strike but I urged her to get moving so we could walk with the big group.
We finally made it to the bus and enjoyed a smooth ride to Cusco. Upon arrival I was told that the quickest way of going to MP was to go to this other town and take a train from there. Without wasting any time, I took a cab, and five minutes later I was in a minivan on my way to Ollantaytambo. The van dropped me off at the train station and after some deliberation I figured the best and the cheapest way of getting to Machu Picchu. I was travelling ‘Vista Dome’. Oh yeah!
the train wasn’t leaving for 4-5h so I had plenty of time to explore the pretty town and its ruins. I was in Valle Sagrado, a place packed with Inca ruins. And Ollantaytambo happened to be one of the most important sights in the area. I went to the main ruins, but gave up on them as soo n as I found out they charged an entrance fee higher than that for Machu Picchu. I decided to go to the free ruins instead. They were spread all over th opposite hill. On the way there I had the pleasure of wandering through the cobbled streets of the town and marvel at the architecture. It turned out that it was build on the remnants of the ancient Inca city. They took the original stone base and build upon it with adobe bricks. The results were stunning. The streets were kept original and so was the water system, running through town. Rather impressive.
Soon it was time to catch the train. The views were spectacular and two hours later I arrived in Aguascalientes, base camp for the ruins. After days of traveling all I wanted was a decent place to stay, a hot shower and a bed. Luckily, a lady picked me up from the station so I didn’t have to walk around looking for one. It turned out real nice. But I was still not able to rest. I had to buy the bus and entry tickets to/for the ruins and I had to do it quick. I dropped off the bags and headed out again. Once that was done, I took a shower, had a quick meal and crashed. I needed my rest since I was getting up at 3.45am in order to be in the first 400 visitors who get to climb Wayana Picchu (big mountain behind the ruins).
No sooner I lay my head down and closed my eyes, the alarm went off. 20mins later I was standing in line to board the first bus up. It wasn’t until 5.30am but the line already numbered more than a 100 people. A second after I got there a lot more people came. It was on, it was happening. By 6am we were at the main entrance to the ruins, yet in another line, waiting for our Wayana Picchu stamps, indicating that we were in those lucky first 400. Once we got that, we moved quickly.
We went in, walked up a narrow path, and finally saw it. In between the morning clouds, Machu Picchu stood in all its glory. I ran onto the terrace shouting ‘Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu!’ while making my way through he hordes of people that got there before us. I forgot to mention that I met Dennis, a fellow American traveler at the bus line, and we spent the rest of the day hanging out together. I managed to take an undisturbed photo, the classic shot, before more people swarmed in.
We then headed to the Sun Gate (the famous Inca trail enters the ruins from there) but we didn’t quite realise it was a bit of a hike away. On the way there we wondered whether it was really worth it wasting our time with it. From experience we know that those Sun Gates are nothing but a pile of rocks. ertainly not as imposing as the name suggests. We stuck with it though and it paid off. The sun gate itself wasn’t all that impressive as we expected but the views of Machu Picchu from the top were stunning. We had breakfast there before the clouds crawled up onto the mountain and completely covered the ruins.
We went back down and explored the city before our turn to climb Wayana Picchu at 10am. The sun was scorching, and we were hot. We kept looking for shady spots to hide.Finally it was 10am, and we began our ascend up the mountain. it was tough, but shady and airy, which eased the pain a bit. The views from the top were worth it. Once we were there we found lot more ruins and stunning views. Machu Picchu look very differently from up there. A lot, if not most, of its beauty comes from the imposing mountains at the background. Without them, without its location, Machu Picchu would not be as impressive.
We had lunch at the top of the mountain, explored the ruins, and slowly made our way down using the suicidal, narrow staircases the Incas designed thousands of years ago. It was fun, although there were people who clearly didn’t think that. A man was crawling down, backwards, on all fours. It was intense! 🙂
Half way down, my tummy started hurting, and I lost my desire to explore. It was so hot, and all I wanted was to sit down. Still we visited the royal quarters, the fountains, and a few temples on the way out. I found a shady place to sit down, and Dennis stayed behind to make a drawing.
We then took the bus back down, picked up our bags and boarded another train back to Ollantaytambo. Once there we took a minivan to Cusco. Back in the city, we went our separate ways. Luckily the hostel I was looking for turned out to be situated a few hundred meters away which made me incredibly happy since I was super tired and had no desire to look for anything.
I checked in, showered, and thought I’d lie down for a bit and then go have dinner. I woke up the following morning. I had breakfast and went out for a walk. I wanted to buy some more presents, so I spent most of the day at the market. I also managed to have a bit of a walk around town, only to realise how pretty it was and how much there was to see. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time. I was leaving at 5pm. It was time to board the first bus towards Ecuador. The first 20 or so hours of the 40+ that awaited.
But hey! I saw Machu Picchu!