In this final installment of “nothing in Peru is close to anything else in Peru”, we went to Machu Picchu!
India and Davina, being much more inclined than any of the rest of us, packed up at 6:00am on November 7th and headed out to do the Salkantay Trek. According to them, it was very cold but not as difficult as they imagined it would be. Davina’s favorite part of the trek was seeing Lake Humantay on the first day, while India’s favorite part was leading the group up the massive incline on day two. They also got to see an avalanche (from a distance) and danced around with the accompanying cook.
While the two fitness women were out hiking the Peruvian wilderness, the rest of us stayed in Cusco for an extra few days. Emma and I bought every piece of alpaca we could get our hands on while Abi was much more restrained and remembered she has to budget for another trip after this one.
We ate Peruvian-Japanese food (surprisingly good; they do 12-piece rolls shaped like dragons) and packed everything into storage for our departure to Machu Picchu. We left November 9th on a bus for our six-hour drive to a point called Hidroelectrica. From that point, you have two options for getting to the town of Aguas Calientes that sits at the base of Machu Picchu. The first is to take a train ride for 45 minutes across the dense jungle landscape and arrive right in the middle of the town ready to explore Aguas Calientes. The second option is to walk for 3.5 hours alongside the train tracks and arrive at Aguas Calientes as far from your hostel as it is possible to get in a town that’s only a mile long (have you guessed which one we picked yet?).
So the three of us arrive in Aguas Calientes literally (and I mean LITERALLY) dripping with sweat, and we have six minutes to drop our stuff at the hostel before going to meet the rest of our tour group for Machu. Needless to say, we looked the sorry side of grim when we showed up at that dinner table.
The Salkantay group (who had arrived a couple hours before us and availed themselves fully of the showers) were polite enough not to mention the smell. Being young and full of energy, we decided that we wanted to be on the earliest bus possible up to Machu on the morning of the 10th. We woke up at 3:45am and were out the door by 4:15, and ended up in the queue for the bus by 4:30. The really nutty people had been in line since 3:00, so we ended up being on the fifth bus up to Machu.
There’s a lodge up at the top of the mountain, so the people who stayed there were the first ones lined up at the gates (which open at 6:00am). We waited for a few minutes, and then the gates opened. Our guide swept us straight up to the Guardhouse at the top of the site to see the classic view (read: Wikipedia picture) of the historic Inca city.
We got to the top and looked out over the city...and couldn’t see a thing because (plot twist) Machu Picchu sits in the middle of the cloud forest. But the bug view aside, I really enjoyed being at Machu in the fog. The ruins would just emerge out of the mists and then fade away again, so it gave the ruins a mythic and ethereal feel that you don’t get when the sun comes out and burns the mists away.
We got a 2.5 hour tour of Machu and learned a bit about Hiram Bingham (the guy who “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1912 and then stole all the artifacts and sent them back to Yale University - the Peruvians aren’t fans) and what the different buildings were used for, and the marvel that was Incan plumbing (there are 16 water fountains and the rich families had bathrooms at Machu Picchu).
Then we were allowed to wander around by ourselves until it was time to head back to Aguas Calientes. This is where the trip got interesting. India wandered off with an Australian couple, so the three of us kept doing the circuit of Machu to see if we could get back up to the top and see the Big View now that the sun had come out. Here’s an interesting tidbit about Machu Picchu: once you’re on the exit track, you’re on the exit track. The guards do not let you backtrack and refuse to let you re-enter the site once you’ve left. So if you missed the view because of clouds, basically you’re outta luck.
Unless, of course, you’re a bunch of 18-year-old tourists. India and her Australians were the first to get back to the top because the Australians bribed one of the gatekeepers and India pressured the guy into letting them through in Spanish. Encouraged, Davina plied her feminine wiles and burst into tears, handed the guard ten soles, and wept her way back to the top. Abi just walked in behind her. Big View pictures acquired, it was time to begin the journey back to Cusco.
India and Davina had a train to Ollantaytambo and then a bus to Cusco. Abi, Emma, and I got the train back to Hidroelectrica and then had to fight everybody in order to get on a bus back to Cusco. First, the bus we had come on was twenty minutes late arriving to the pickup location. Then, when we went to board, our names weren’t on his list. So we had to call the travel agency and ask what the heck was going on. Turns out they had moved us to a different bus without telling us, and the bus had to drive an extra ten minutes to come pick us up. So we get on the new bus and realize that none of the windows open and it’s 22 degrees outside (about 85 Fahrenheit). And then the smell hits.
Abi explained that it was the smell of oil dripping and burning inside the engine block. And remember, none of the windows open, so we’re breathing this acrid smell for a solid six hours. About two hours outside of Cusco, we get a text from India and Davina, who have gotten back already. There’s no reservation for us at the hostel. So India gets to whip out her Spanish again and talks reception into giving us two rooms.
We finally get to Cusco, and decide that the only thing left to do is go out and dance. Davina and I ended up excusing ourselves from the evening in exchange for a solid night’s sleep, but India, Emma, and Abi ended up having a marvelous time at a club in Cusco’s main square. They danced so hard that it ended up shifting some tectonic plates, and we got to experience a 4.3 magnitude earthquake at around 5:00 in the morning!
It seemed fitting somehow: we felt one at the beginning of the trip in Arequipa, and closed out Peru with another one in Cusco. How wild!
So today, the 11th, is the last full day in Peru. It’s been ten weeks since we started this journey. We’ve done so much in the past seventy days that without our journals and blogs it would be impossible to remember it all.
We’ve been healthy and sick, high and low, happy and sad, excited and frustrated, and more than anything we’ve been travelers to the absolute maximum. If there was an experience to be had, we grabbed it. If there was a limit to be reached, we pushed past it.
Peru has been challenging in mental, physical, and emotional ways, and we’ve done it. And for my ladies: I’m proud of us. I’m proud of us for having had the courage and gumption to undertake such an impressive trip. I’m proud of us for putting in so much time, energy, and dedication to our host communities. I’m proud of us for struggling with the language barrier and working every day to improve our Spanish. I’m proud of us for everything we’ve accomplished over the past ten weeks. I’m proud of who you’ll continue to become over the next round of trips and jobs and wherever the world happens to take you. I’m proud of you