2 Months in Peru- May22 to May24, 2015; Days 54-56
22.05.2015 - 24.05.2015 80 °F
May 22- day 54 - Back in Cuzco
A catch up day - laundry, finding the bus station for buses to Ollantaytambo, visiting the SAE club. At the club we met a lovely couple from Nelson, BC, exchanged emails and hope to meet up again someday. Dinner at another gringo type pub, Norton's. Great burgers, beer still tasted weird. Sigh.
May 23- Day 55 - Off to Machu Picchu!
Well, we have been waiting for this trip a long time! Left our big packs at the hotel, and took our small packs to the collectivo station and caught one to Ollantaytambo at around 10am. Cost us a big S/.10 each and the trip was almost 2 hours. Pretty decent value.
Ollantaytambo is a pretty little town set on the hillsides in the mountains below the massive Inca ruins we visited before the jungle. It has numerous water canals running throughout the towns streets. This weekend they are celebrating the Fiesta del Señor de Choquekillka, a local saint. This involved the usual roving bands and groups of dancers in costumes similar to those we saw in the Paucartambo museum on our way to the jungle.
Seems many areas partake in the same customs which seem to be a blend of ancient and Spanish cultures. We had to hang out till 4pm when we could board the train to the small town of Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu Pueblo now) which is the closest town to the ruins. We had lunch on the plaza where we could view the bands and the ruins of Ollantaytambo above us.
Finally it came time to board the train, which is a narrow gauge railway. For the price we paid we thought we might get free alcoholic drinks - but no, a small packet of cookies and tea or juice was all. There was a very loud group of Mexican tourists in our car, so the trip was lively to say the least. The scenery was majestic - steep mountainsides and some snow capped peaks, with the Urubamba River far below. After 1 1/2 hours we arrived at the station and a girl from the hostel guided us to our home for the night. Aguas Calientes is lower than Cuzco at 7832 feet or so (compared to 11,200), so a little easier on our bodies. It is in cloud forest really, and the streets climb up the hillsides on both sides of the river, with several bridges crossing along the way up. The guidebook didn't have much good to say about the town, but we found it pretty and clean, albeit overrun with tourists! Just outside of town there are some hotsprings, but we just wanted an early dinner and sleep because tomorrow was a full day. First, we purchased our bus tickets for the ride up to the ruins tomorrow - walking up would have taken hours and involved a steep trail up at least 1000 meters. Next, we found excellent food and service at Totos, a two tiered restaurant by the river.
Our waiter even gave us tips for our excursion tomorrow - buy water and food in town because everything is expensive up at Machu Picchu. Then it was off to sleep.
May 24- Day 56 - Finally, Machu Picchu!
We were up at 04:10 as the hotel said to be early for breakfast which starts at 04:30 to accommodate all the tourists who want to catch the first buses up to the site. Unfortunately, the night clerk was still sleeping and we had to search for some buns in the communal kitchen and find some hot water for tea and the ever present instant coffee. We found some bananas and buns, gulped everything down along with a German tourist who had been touring South America for months. We headed out to join the long line of tourists waiting for the buses. - we mean long line- a football field or so. We chatted with tourists in line - a couple from Wisconsin no less - there were many gringos but a lot of Peruvians as well which was heartening to see. They get much reduced prices for entry and on the train. We left at 05:45 on the bus which was a short affair due to the steep, winding switchback road we had to climb. Encountering other buses coming back down we often had to back up on is perilously steep and narrow road. We made it safely at 06:10 - plenty of time to cross the ruins to arrive at the easternmost area and wait at the Ceremonial Rock for our chance to climb Waynu Picchu (Quechua for "Young Mountain") at 0700. We weren't sure we could make it but we would give it a try.
Machu Picchu was “discovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911. He was a lecturer in Latin American history at Yale University (having received his PhD at Harvard), but much preferred being a South American explorer. Hiram had made several previous excursions in South America, the first to following Simon Bolivar’s journey throughout the north, and the second to follow old trade routes throughout the continent. In 1911 he organized a small expedition to look for rumored “lost Inca cities,” (those that the Spanish conquerors had not found and destroyed) particularly Vitcos, in the Vilcabama region, the city in which the last Inca ruler ( Manco Cápac II) took refuge after their conquest by the Spanish conquistadors.
From Cusco, Bingham’s party set out for the Vilcabama region. Reaching a small settlement near Aguas Calientes, a local farmer (Melchor Arteaga) mentioned extensive ruins located on a nearby mountain top. Melchor recruited the son of a farmer working that land to lead them to the ruins the next morning. No one in the expedition was interested in the ruins, so Hiram, Melcor, Hiram’s interpreter and the boy climbed to the ruins the next day. The local Quechuan name for “Old Mountain” was Machu Picchu! Bingham incorrectly believed he had found the refuge of Manco Cápac II, and made several subsequent expeditions exploring and photographing the ruins. Of course other people claimed that they had seen or “discovered”the ruins before Hiram, but he was the person who recognized their significance and announced them to the world.
At 0700 the trail to Waynu Picchu was opened. Only 400 people are allowed on the trail daily, 200 at 0700, and another 200 at 1000. We had to sign in and out (I guess they wanted to know if we became condor food the cliffs below), we were numbers 25 and 26 on the trail that day. We certainly did not keep that position as we climbed the trail to the top! It was steep, though actually well built by the Incas! there were many steps, either carved out of the rock, or built with shaped stones.
There was a lot of exposure, looking over the trail edge, perhaps a thousand feet to the valley bottom below! Occasionally the plants and bushes growing at the edge of the trail gave a false sense of security.
It was a beautiful, clear morning and the views were spectacular, beyond description. The photos do not do justice to the scenery that surrounded us!
Up we climbed, pausing as necessary to rest and regroup. We passed some hikers, and many passed us on the way up. The hike was actually easier than we expected. We had been at 11,000 feet elevation for most of the last 20 days ( except for our time in the jungle) and Manchu Picchu was at a modest 8,000 feet! Along the trail we encountered steel cables at a few particularly steep, exposed areas, definitely a welcome addition. Near the top, we came to a flat patio-like area that afforded a wonderful view to the south of Manchu Picchu in the morning sunlight!
Continuing on we crawled through a tunnel passage, up a crude ladder, and reached a jumble of large boulders at the summit, populated by about 50 tourist/hikers sunning themselves, talking, enjoying the views and eating their snacks. We lingered there a while, then looked for the return path.
The return path entailed crawling scrambling or jumping from boulder to boulder down a rather steep slope for 30 yards or so until a discrete path appeared. A slip or loss of balance carried the risk of a quick descent to the River way below! Of course, that was only the beginning of the challenge.
There were several courses of STEEP stairs to negotiate, with little to stop a slip or tumble. Another opportunity for a very long rapid descent! We did well though, and were back to the trail head by 1030 or so, with time and energy to explore the main Manchu Picchu site!