Machu Picchu

South America 2005

On Friday we had a leisurely morning, having what constitutes a lie-in for us these days and getting out of the hostel before nine. We dumped our bags our new hostel (we’d decided to change because the first wasn’t that great) and then headed to a bus stop. On the way there we walked through a protest — something to do with more money needed for the rural villages, which of course we wholly supported, at least until we had made our way through the human morass.

We jumped on a bus to Urubamba. I should say a few words about buses in Peru: they stop anywhere someone flags them down, and drop people off anywhere they want. They stop for petrol when they need it, they are half as tall again with all the luggage (often farm produce people are taking to sell at market) they carry on the roof. They fit as many people as they can into the bus, and the prices vary on whether you’re Peruvian or foreign, and at what time in the journey you pay. They’re great fun!

At Urubamba we jumped on another bus (jumped is the right word: the buses are often moving as you hop on) to Ollantaytambo, a small village with a large Inca fortress on the hills around it. We spent the afternoon trotting around the fortress, wandering around the street market, and relaxing in a restaurant before catching the eight o’clock train up to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu with its own hot springs (hence the name, literally Hot Waters).

I felt pretty ill so I slept through the journey up, despite the hideous lurching every time the train started off from a station. At Aguas Calientes we were mobbed by touts telling us how good their hostel was, but fortunately we were looking for a particular hostel recommended to us by someone. We found that tout and let them lead us to our hostel. Still being built, most of its walls seemed to be made out of chipboard, but it was super cheap, so we crashed out for the evening.

The next morning we woke at quarter to five. Autumn and I got ready and started out on our trek up to Machu Picchu, while Suzie headed for the bus. The weather was pretty bad (well, we were hiking up cloud mountains after all) so Autumn and I got really wet. Plus there were a million steps to climb, so by the time we got to the gates of Machu Picchu we were knackered. In stark contrast to us bedraggled hikers, Suzie was looking pristine next to her new friend, Carmen, a woman from Buenos Aires. The four of us paid the seventy-seven soles to get in (although Autumn later realised she’d not got change from a hundred soles note; the porter must have pocketed it) and wondered up the hill to look out over the great Inca city of Machu Picchu from the famous view point.

Except we didn’t. The clouds had rolled in and surrounded us with a fog and so we could hardly see further than our noses. We couldn’t believe it. We’d hiked for an hour up a steep mountain to look at some fog. It was not even seven in the morning, what on earth were we going to do for seven hours in a fog?

Fortunately (and saving us from madness) the fog miraculously disappeared in no time (I have two identical photos on my camera, taken within a minute of each other, one with fog, one without), and the weather got progressively better through the day until by eleven it was glorious sunshine and blue skies.

We spent hours and hours (about seven in all) walking around the city. It’s much more beautiful than any pictures I’ve seen show, and there’s much more to it too. There are temples, houses, warehouses, agricultural terraces, a plaza, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Because we were there so early there were very few people, so it was quite awe-inspiring to wander around with no-one in sight (except a few llamas). We saw an incredible number of wild orchids (I noticed three species) everywhere, hanging on to the mountain edges. The surroundings were absolutely incredible, with tall mountains shrouded in clouds and rivers all around. I climbed half-way up Waynapicchu, the huge mountain that towers over Machu Picchu for some fantastic views of the city itself. I think I could have sat that content for hours and hours.

Once we’d seen everything at least once and the tour buses were bringing in the spoon-fed tourists after their lie-ins we decided we’d had our fill of Machu Picchu, at least for now, so we left. While Suzie and Carmen walked back down the steps to the bottom of the mountain, Autumn and I, in a fit of athletic mentalness, decided to jog the two miles of switch-back roads down the bottom (with our backpacks). It turned out to be pretty good, and we made it down in about half-an-hour.

The rest of the day we spent variously passed out, eating, relaxing in the town’s thermal springs, and sleeping. The next morning we had to up to catch the 5:45AM train back to Ollantaytambo. Then we caught yet another bus to Pisac, famed for its Sunday market. There I bought an interesting little board game involving shepherding llamas. But there I’ll have end it because I have no more time.

PS: Replying to emails might take a little time because internet use is taken up with uploading photos (including these from Peru) and writing this travelogue. But I’m enjoying everything you’re all sending me!