Well, getting to Cusco proved to be half the fun! A simple 8 hour bus journey (cost about 3 finest gbp) turned out to take us 14 hours! Not a pleasant experience considering the couple sat behind us munched on a big block of queso the whole way! What caused the delay? The bus setting on fire! We heard a massive bang and smelt burning rubber - one of the tyres had blown out and caught fire, so it was all off the bus and watch! We´re getting pretty used to these situations now! This would be fine and dandy, were we not at 4000m above sea level, the words "bloody" and "freezing" spring to mind. Sandles in the cold is not too clever, so I was forced to commit the ultimate traveller sin, one which every german and swede we have met have been guilty of - socks and sandles. It was only once, and I promise to never do it again. Needless to say we were pretty glad to reach the terminal terrestre in one piece, without frostbite or rubber burns!
Cusco is quite a nice city, albeit a very touristy one, at least from our experiences that means there are actually things to do! We managed to meet up with Celia and Nick who we met in Santiago on the first day for a few drinks which was nice. We were not really expecting to bump into Becca and Toby we met in the Galapagos, but this made for a nice surprise too. We said we would try to get to Machu Picchu with them, but this depended on whether or not we could get the train tickets.
Peru rail is a nightmare to book tickets on, we tried about 7 times to book the tickets but Mikes credit card was rejected each time, just as we were about to give up on them we managed to purchase them.
Machu Picchu is a bit of a mission to get to, especially when like us two you are too out of shape to walk the trails to get there, and are desperately trying to save money! It involves a hour and a half on bus to Urabamba, then 40 minutes in a minibus to a town called Ollantaytambo. The journey here was a bit ramshackle, the minibus was built to carry 8 but had 20 bodies squeezed inside! At least it was cheap! Ollantaytambo is a nice enough place with its own huge inca ruins, we were also lucky enough to be there in the middle of a 4 day fiesta for their patron saint! Virtually the whole village was involved, the men were wearing rather scary white balaclavas with faces on them and a huge log burned in the central plaza. As we were at the ticket office for the trains who walks up to us but Becca, Toby and their friends! Another nice surprise! The ruins here were pretty cool, described as the "best example of Inca town planning" in Peru; I don´t think that terracing and me agree much though, I´m not fond of all the steps.
The train to Aguas Calientes (where you get the bus to Machu Picchu from) was rather uneventful as it was dark, as is Aguas Calientes itself. After a mad rush to buy our tickets for the ruins it was off to find a hotel and our mates. We managed to get the last room at Hostel John, in the basement, with no toilet seat, miniscule pillows and a door than didn´t lock from the inside! This didn´t matter too much though, we were planning on being up at half 4 to get ready and get our bus tickets. In true Mike and Natalie fashion, we were late after not hearing the alarm go off, and woke up at 5:10, with just 20 minutes spare before the first bus left. We made it on the second!
It´s only about 25 minutes up the hill to Machu Picchu, but this was made to feel like longer after and unidentified flying insect landed on my hand. This thing was huge, with two sets of wings, a body like a giant black maggot and huge pincers on its head. Neither Becca nor Toby had any idea what it was, and they know a lot about animals being vets!
Ou first impression of Machu Picchu was of mist. And it stayed this way for a good two hours! When the mist lifted the view was spectacular, just like in all the postcard perfect pictures. How people 500 years ago managed to build something like that is beyond me. My only complaint of the place is of the vendors who sell ponchos. I haven´t got a problem with plastic ponchos..as long as they are in muted tones, not rainbow brights. They really do look unsightly in photos!
We decided to climb Huachupicchu and Wanupicchu, the two mountains you see in the back of all the photos. The first was more of a scramble involvoving scaling sheer rock faces with ropes and all manner of perilously placed stepping stones next to vertical drops. When the mist cleared from here it was fantastic as no one else was there! The second climb was horrible, made even worse by having colds! I have no idea how many steps it takes to make the ascent, but its a lot, most at almost 90degrees! It was really hard work, the fact that it was also incredibly slippy made it worse (although it was much harder coming down than going up). From up here the view was spectacular, not only of Machu Picchu but also of the surrounding valleys. I managed to scramble my way through caves and more sheer rock faces to sit on the rocks right at the summit of the mountain. We must have stayed up here for an hour or so, just looking at the ruins beneath. Amazing.
Back in the ruins it was off to find that photo, the one everyone is familiar with. We found it, and it too was amazing. We managed to get the train straight back to Cusco, taking a mammoth 4 and a half hours, but this time we rode on the a posher trian rather than the backpacker service, difference being we were fed! We also got less legroom than the cheaper ticket, much to Mike´s dismay!. He manage to get a free beer though, but only after the waiter had spilt another drink over him!!
We decided to stay in Cusco for a few days (turned out to be nearly a week in total), taking time to see the entire city and potter around its streets, and get hideously drunk at a reggae night on free rum. The less said about that the better. We were held up by one day due to a strike blocking the road to Puno but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we found ourselves a pie and mash meal followed by the nicest apple crumble in existence. English bars aren´t always a bad thing. Anyway, on Friday morning we were off on our way to Puno and Lake Titticaca.