Jan 19th 2011
Why do you travel with hairspray??
Well at the appointed hour of 3am my roommated woke up and began preening. I have never understood girlie girls on the best of days, but why on earth would you find the need to use hairspray at 3am in the morning in a closed room as you prepare to walk an hour uphill in the rain? I had to ask them to open the door so that I could breathe.
Bus ride and rain
Luckily I was able to get a couple of hours sleep before my alarm went off at 6.30am. It turned out that Cathleen had woken up at 4am, saw the rain and went back to sleep. Breakfast consisted of tea/coffee and a bread roll. We caught the 7am bus and headed off on a 25min bus ride that made you value your life. It was no wonder the drivers all had religious paraphernalia hanging from the rear view mirror. The road is a series of S-Bends with the road only wide enough for a single bus. Considering buses leave every 10min and go up and down at the same time, when faced with another bus heading in the opposite direction one of the buses backs up into a “shoulder” to allow the other bus past. I think I rediscovered religion on more than one occasion during those 25min.
Arriving at our final destination, the front gate, Cathleen decided to head in and we planned to hopefully meet up at some point during the day. I waited, in the rain, for my tour guide and finally entered. You have to hike up a fairly steep set of steps, which results in much huffing and puffing (as the 90yr old Peruvian guy jogs past you) before you get to the first of many view points.
Due to the constant drizzle and cloud cover my first impression of this ancient town was not awe and amazement. It looked like a bunch of old buildings on a field. Then the clouds shifted and my breath was taken away as you realise the sheer insanity of its location on the top of a steep mountain. the surrounding vegetation is lush and green and the constant shifting cloud cover added the ambience and powerful feel of the place.
General Info: Machu Picchu, “Old Peaks”, is a pre-columbian 15-century Inca site located 2430m (7970ft) above sea level. Most believe Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472). Often referred to as “the lost city of the Incas”, it was discovered by an American Historian, Hiram Bingham, in 1911. He was guided to the location by a local boy who was paid 1soles (today about 30c US). Bingham removed many cultural items and promised to return them within 2yrs. 100yrs later they still remain in the American Museums.
Our tour guide told us many things about Machu Picchu, including something about an Inca warrior or politician who was nicknamed the “Inca Rabbit” due to having fathered 365 children. Well it was interesting to stand in the rain and listen to the guide tell us stories and give information, I was constantly wandering away and after bumping into Cathleen I decided to just walk around with her for a bit. As she had already explored the lower section and I had the upper section (or part there of) and so we decided to split up and meet later.
I loved wandering around alone. Before when I first caught site of the ruins I had not been very impressed, but as you wander around and between the structures and see the views and feel the mist, it takes on a whole new meaning and you can feel the history and power of the place.
Llamas or Alpacas, flowers and birds
At one point I came upon a herd of llamas, or maybe alpacas, they seemed very domesticated and people were able to get quite close without the apparent spitting threat, even with the two crias (what you call a baby llama or alpaca). At one point I had a great shot lined up and promptly had this tall guy, with long flowing curly black hair, a white shirt unbuttoned half way, gold chains and dark glasses, walk right in front of me to try a self portrait. I wish I had taken a picture of him.
Something I was thoroughly enjoying was looking at all the flowers, there was a beautiful variety and I had a great time trying to get some good shots. I also chased a butterfly and just managed to get a pic and also the variety of small birds in the area. Loved every minute of it.
After about 3 hrs I decided to find a secluded corner and have lunch. I discovered a ledge and climbed up on to it, after I was settled I realised it was really close to another section of ruin that was easily accessible. The question I have is why is it that the minute you discover a nice quiet spot to have snacks it seems that everyone else in the area thinks thats a spectacular spot too. All too soon I had numerous people around me and so I decided to wander my way back to the entrance and head down. Rain was threatening again and this time it was promising to be a bit more enthusiastic than drizzle.
Trying to find your way out of the maze of buildings is near impossible, they have signs showing you the way but you are more likely to end up back where you started than actually find the way out. Eventually I picked up the trail and after another short time out to soak up the view I headed out. It appeared it was also time for the local landscapers to do repairs, cut the grass and generally keep the place free from the jungle that was ever waiting to reclaim the ruins.
I made it onto the bus and down the scary road just as the first heavy drops fell and I hoped that Cathleen would make it down safely as she had planned to walk and get some pics of the view on the way down. When I got back to the hostel I collapsed in a pile on the couch to wait out my 4hrs till it was time for my train. I now understood why there were people scattered on any available surface the day before when we arrived. It was quite exhausting spending the day up on the mountain and with rainy weather outside, being a pile of goo on a couch is a very welcome proposition.
As I sat and watched the nature channel a group of 3 guys came in and I was bemused when the one removed close to 10 empty bottles of water, 1 at a time. The next then removed empty snack papers one at a time. I couldn’t help but giggle at the site of it and soon we were all attempting conversation. They were from Brazil and had completed the Inca trail. When they heard I was from South Africa they excitedly yelled “waka waka go world cup”. I guess they like soccer. When they headed out they said they had to get a pic with me, I was so surprised I didn’t think of getting one of them. As they left the hostel manager mumbled “Brazilians”.
Cathleen walked in shortly after and said she had explored all over the place at the top and discovered a few cool areas that I had missed. She had decided on the bus back down as the weather had turned crap and was now grabbing her stuff and heading to the train station. Her train left at 4pm while man left at 6pm. She planned to go to my hostel and see if there was room, so we hoped to meet up tonight when I made it home.
Finally it was my turn, I was in the middle class train going home, the Vista class. Turns out we not only got a free snack but instead of pretzels in a cardboard box, we got a basket with some macaroni type dish and a brownie in ceramic bowls, all very fancy. Then we had a show introducing us to Diablo (devil), a mythical figure. The best part of the train ride came with the fashion show featuring out car attendants wearing “an exclusive line of alpaca items”. The whole car got into it and the old ladies loved the handsome male model as he paraded up and down.
My seat mate turned out to be a Japanese Braizilian who worked in the police force and we had some good conversation. Upon reaching Ollantaytambo I realised my ride was not there but was able to reach the company and he showed up shortly after. Turned out we had to wait for the next bus, so my cop friend and I went to grab a beer and then he hitched a ride back to Cusco with me. I only arrived “home” at 11.30pm but was thrilled to see that the amazing staff had reserved “my” bed in the dorm, and soon I was passed out and dreaming of hot springs and Inca Ruins.
Unfortunately there was no space at the inn for Cathleen and she left me a note saying she would pop round the next day to hang out.
The adventure continues with museums and exploring Cusco.