10.3.17 – Friday – The plan for today is to go to Aguas Calientes which is the starting point for the Machu Picchu visit. We bought tickets to go there by the 1537 train so we had enough time to climb to another Inca site on a mountain we saw from the hotel’s roof. The climb and descent took 45 minutes each way and were quite challenging, good preparation for the Machu Picchu hike. The yellow line marks our route.
The next one shows the structures in the middle of the picture on top.
At three o’clock we took a moto-taxi and showed up at the train station. The train company tries to copy the airlines in their operation. They check your passport when you board, they serve soft and hot drinks and their prices are outrageous. The ride, however is fantastic; the train goes through a valley right by the raging river with the mountains towering steeply on both sides. They have sun roofs in the cars and when you look up you do not see the sky – you see mountains.
The trip to Aguas Calientes took an hour and twenty minutes. When you go out of the train you do not see an exit or signs directing you to one. The whole area is a maze of stalls making up a huge bazar of the local arts and crafts.
The town itself is a big tourist trap full of everything a tourist could wish for except tranquility. We arrived at our hotel, which in theory was a three star one but in reality fell short of that standard; we didn’t care, it was just a place to sleep before we go to Machu Picchu. We made a decision not to go early with the bus to see the sunrise but rather to take the hike to the site. We found excellent description of the hike in the following link: http://theonlyperuguide.com/peru-guide/machu-picchu/additional-hikes/hiking-from-aguas-calientes-to-machu-picchu/ The bus, by the way, is outrageously priced at 24$ U.S for a 20 minutes ride, we didn’t even ask whether it was one way or round trip. That’s another example of the way the tourist is viewed as a milking cow here.
11.3.17 – Saturday – We left the hotel at 0730 and walked downhill to the bridge after which the head of the hiking trail is located. That took about easy 35 minutes. At the bridge we needed to present our tickets and passports. We then crossed and found the trail.
The hike is supposed to take about an hour, but we took longer, close to 90 minutes, not trying to climb fast but to rest intermittently and let our pulse and breathing go down to a safe level. At about the middle of the way we met a local man selling water bottles at 2 Soles each (about 60 cents). I spoke to him and learned that he was walking daily from town, not taking the bus because it was expensive; he should be at top fitness.
The views on the way were spectacular and at that early hour clouds still enveloped the summits; we were in awe at one of the highest peaks only to see the cloud disperse and reveal a much higher mountain behind it. We reached the entrance, tired and happy and joined the lines to go in. Once in, we saw that we needed to climb some more and then the site revealed itself, taking our breath away.
A group of young Israeli kids asked us to take their pictures and did the same for us. This picture reminded us of one taken more than eight years ago at the top of a volcano in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, in this one too you can see the feeling of fulfillment and joy of reaching an extraordinary place. We walked around looking in amazement at the structures and the incredible stone masonry that was applied in them.
On the north side of Machu Picchu there are two rocky hills; the larger is called Waynapicchu, the other Hachuypicchu. We were surprised to see people on top of both and reaching a gate which led to them we saw a sign giving information about the climb. The taller one required an hour each way, the smaller 45 minutes round trip. Although it was tempting we gave up the idea, thinking about the descent back to Aguas Calientes that was still ahead, the age factor had an influence too.
Looking down at our starting point from up above we could appreciate the steepness of the trail. It was time to go down.
The way down took us an hour and was relatively easy; some other hikers were passing us at great speed but we descended gingerly, a fall could have had dire consequences. We came back to busy and noisy Aguas Calientes, had a late lunch and took the train back to Ollantaytambo.
How can I sum the Machu Picchu visit? It is most certainly one of the wonders of the world. The view is incredible, the ancient Inca structures are very impressive. Some people feel that the place has a special spiritual effect and I cannot negate that thought. The enormity of the place raises many questions: how did they do it? who planned it? how long did it take to complete? Only after our visit I learned that it was never found by the Spanish and rediscovered only in 1911 by an American from Yale university. That in itself is a fantastic story. Machu Picchu is really awesome and inspiring. We were both so happy to have this experience!
12.3.17 – Sunday – Yesterday was the peak of our trip but we still had two days in Peru and were determined to see a bit more of the Sacred Valley. We arranged for Luis to take us to the Inca ruins near Pisac. After Machu Picchu everything pales but it is still worth seeing. The site is very high in the mountains, as this sign shows.
We followed a recommendation we found on the web and hiked down to the village, passing a compound that regular bus tourists never see.
Going down was not so easy and we both felt our leg muscles complaining about the steep incline.
Finally, after about an hour and a half of hiking, the trail connected with a wide path that led to Pisac. An old lady waited there, offering freshly squeezed orange juice, one of the best I have ever had…
Luis drove us to Cuzco, offering to take us to some other interesting spots but we were happy to go straight to our hotel. We have a plan for tomorrow.
13.3.17 – Monday – With the understanding that nothing can surpass the beauty of Machu Picchu we decided to visit another Inca site which is on the rim of the mountains surrounding Cuzco. It is called Saqsaywaman, and foreigners, in their refined sense of humor, called it Sexy Woman. It is just a short ride from Cuzco and as we walked in the gate we were glad we decided to come. The site is marvelous, its main attraction are the huge stones used in the structures. There are two hills in that area, on one you can see the ruins and the other seems to be the quarry from which the building materials were taken. On top of the first hill we saw a circle of large stones, probably a place for religious rituals, to which the entrance was barred. I was able to raise my camera above my head and take its picture; we did not see anything like that in the previous sites we visited.
Gili and I formulated a minimal plan for anybody wishing to do a similar tour: Fly to Cuzco and spend at least two days for acclimatization, walking around the historic city center and a visit to Saqsaywaman. On day 3 Go to Ollantaytambo with a stop in Pisac for a visit to the ruins. Day 4 should be dedicated to Ollantaytambo. Day 5 – a tour of the Sacred Valley. Day 6 take the train, which is a special experience, to Aguas Calientes and spend a night there. Day 7 would be the peak of the trip with the Machu Picchu visit. I would suggest going back with the train on the same day all the way to Cuzco (unless you fell in love with Ollantaytambo, as many people do…)
I need to add a few words about the food we had in Cuzco; some restaurants here, in our humble opinion, are culinary gems. Gili thought Cicciolina to be the best, Chicha second and Pachapapa at third place. Tonight we are going to a restaurant called Limo, which may shift the order.
This is actually the end of our Peru Land Tour which was a great success. Tomorrow we’ll fly to Guayaquil via Lima and then to Miami, where our ways would part – Gili would go back home via New York and I’ll go to San Francisco for a week to visit my daughter’s family. Then it’ll be back to Ecuador and the boat for the Pacific voyage.