Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th August – Machu Picchu
Up early this morning, today was the day that we were going to be heading out to one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, Machu Picchu! After breakfast at the hostel, I headed down to meet Anna and the kids at their hotel, and we had a bit of time to visit one of the local museums on our tourist ticket before making the trek to the town of Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu later that day. The museum itself, which was called the Regional History Museum wasn´t really that interesting, but did have some information on the local Incan people, their customs and way of life and on the upper floor the Spanish colonisation. The day was beautiful and sunny so we had a bit of time to wander the streets of Cusco and have an ice-cream before making our way to the bus terminal and taking another bus to Ollantaytambo from where we would be catching the very expensive train to Aguas Calientes which is a town pretty much cut off from roads and hence difficult to get to! We had a nice lunch back in the main square of Ollantytambo before walking down to the railway station for our train. Everything about the experience was very smooth and easy – which it should be for the money! The views from the train as the sun went down were amazing! I could see the snow-capped mountains with the blue sky background and the people going about their work in the local communities we passed by. After about 2 hours we arrived at nightfall in the town of Aguas Calientes. The first impressions were that this place was crazy – the platform was full of tourists and hotel people looking for them! I managed to find the guy from my hostel pretty much straight away which was really lucky. He was super helpful with information about how to organise bus tickets for the following mornings trip to Machu Picchu! We had a nice dinner at the local brewery and then it was time to get to bed because we had to be up at 4am ready to get into the lines for the buses to be up at the top of the mountain for the 6am opening time of the site.
We were in the line for the buses at 4.30am with thousands and thousands of people all wanting to make the same trip on the same day. Over 3000 people visit Machu Picchu every day and they have the process of getting up there and around down to a fine art. We got onto a bus at about 5.45 and were ready to enter the site with our guide right on 6am. The bus ride up was on a windy dirt road and there were about 25 buses winding their way up and down that road around the hairpin bends. As we reached the top of the mountain the sun was coming up and as we entered the site, the sun rose over the surrounding mountains and we got our first breathtaking view of Machu Picchu. It was at first shrouded in cloud but then as the sun rose the clouds cleared and it was beautiful blue-sky day! The view was just incredible, its really hard to describe. It´s such an iconic view and it is hard to fathom how the Incans could have built these structures on top of the mountain some 700 years ago. The ruins were only discovered in 1912 by a European and lots of work was done by locals to excavate the site which was covered in dirt and jungle, to get it to it´s present state. The Incans were incredible builders, and they like to build on top of mountains to protect themselves from earthquakes. It is said that MP was built for Pachacuti – an Incan Emperor. The location of the city was strategic – the Incas were looking to expand from the altiplano into the jungles beyond. The city was only occupied for 100 years or so until the Spanish arrived and the Incas deserted the city and concealed the Inca trails leading to the city so that it wouldn´t be found.
The Incas built their temples and royal buildings from large stone blocks, each perfectly fitted to the next block like a big puzzle. They used various techniques to bind the blocks together, carving the blocks into male and female shapes. This is the reason why the Incan constructions have survived so many earthquakes for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Machu Picchu was built as a retreat for the Incan Royalty. Regular people didn´t live there. It was a perfect location for astrological observation and many of the temples are orientated to the summer and winter solstice lines over the surrounding mountains. Many of the buildings were used for storage for the grains and food that was brought up from the valleys below.
After our tour concluded, we were able to walk up to the top of Montana Machu Picchu. It was about 2 hours climbing directly up which was difficult at that altitude! But the views from the top were incredible. Each turn in the road we got a different view over the site from further and further away which was awesome. We headed back down the mountain after some photos at the top and then decided to walk another hour down the mountain back to the town of Aguas Calientes instead of taking the bus. It was a beautiful walk with amazing views over the valley surrounding. I found out later in Cusco that a bus had flipped at the bottom of the mountain a little while after we had left so we were pretty lucky that we weren’t involved in that!
We were just in time for our 2.30pm train back to Ollantaytambo and then on to Cusco. I was sitting next to a lovely Peruvian family on the train so I had a great chance to practice my Spanish for perhaps the first time in Peru really! We were pretty tired by the time we got back to Cusco – but not too tired to head out for our last dinner together and our last team pisco sours! It had been a wonderful trip together with the Brickle family but I was looking forward to a couple of days to relax recover from the hectic pace that we had been keeping!