On Tuesday we went for a couple of drinks at Los Perros with a lovely Ozzie couple called Dan & Jodie, that we´d met in the hostal. We also checked out a club on the main square called Mama Africa´s that a couple of people had recommended. It was good fun, with cheap drinks and good music!!
The following day we got a taxi to Santiago Bus Station, which is basically a side street where the local buses depart from. We caught the 8am bus to Santa Maria (20 soles each/4 pounds). We were the only `foreigners´ on the bus and it had the usual smell of food and people standing in the aisles. The journey took 6hrs and went high up in the mountains, past the clouds on a road very similar to the one we biked down in Bolivia! There was also the same drop down and as usual I had the window seat looking down into rainforest below, praying that the bus didn´t go too close to the edge! Thankfully the road was tarmaced, in places, and in much better condition than in Bolivia! The scenery was absolutely amazing, mountains, lush forests and little villages. When we arrived in Santa Maria and got our rucksack out of the luggage compart we noticed that there was a man asleep in there - not an unusal sight here in Peru!! A traveller told us that he´d had goats in the aisle of his bus!!
Santa Maria basically consists of one street, lots of noisy cricket like insects and loads of mosquitos!! We found a nice, cheap hostal (s/25, double) and a lovely, quiet local restaurant to have lunch. Well it was quiet until a tour group arrived; complaining, fussing, asking stupid questions and generally being annoying! What do they expect in the middle of no-where - a Starbucks!!! That night, due to the straw roof above our room and no glass in the window, we got eaten alive by the nasty mozzies - all part of the fun hey!!
Yesterday, at 6am, we got a combi (Toyota minivan), which cost 1.50, to Santa Teresa, along another mountainside gravel road with a sheer drop of about 1500m down to a river. Again the views were spectacular, we saw the snow-capped Andes in the distance and some lovely hot springs down below, about 2km out of Santa Teresa. It would have been nice to go for a dip but we knew we had to get on with our hike to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu.
In 1998 the small village of Santa Teresa, and the railway line that connected it to Aguas Calientes, were destroyed in an enormous landslide which killed 15 people and left over 350 families homeless. Almost 80% of the buildings in the old part of Santa Teresa were damaged or destroyed. The new Santa Teresa is higher up the mountain and you can still see the deserted old town below.
Once in Santa Teresa we asked for directions to La Hidroelectrica (the hydro electric station we were heading) and muddled our way down to the river, past workmen who directed us and across the bridge to the other side. We had no idea if we were going the right way, it´s what you get when you don´t really understand Spanish, but we trekked on, past more workmen digging up the path until we past another gringo couple who´d hired a guide!! We knew then that we were on the right track. The journey took us up and down (poor Jem had the big, heavy bag!), past little villages, friendly locals and delicious avocado trees (sneaked a few in my bag for lunch!!). Lots of taxi´s and minivans full of tourists beeped, waved and went past but we were glad we´d decided to walk because the scenery was beautiful. Ater two & a half hours we arrived at the hydro electric station, filled in our details at the checkpoint and then found the beginning of the railway track.
From there we followed the track for another couple of hours to Aguas Calientes. By now it was 10am and the sun was beating down on us. I carried the big rucksack for an hour (on the flat aswell!) and then went really dizzy and faint (think I was dehydrated, hadn´t drunk much water the previous day due to long bus journey and horrible toilets!!). Jem looked after me though and wet my sarong in the icy, cold river to cool me down and I had a rehydration sachet, a bottle of water and, after a break, Jem carried the big bag again - what would I do without him hey!!! We walked quite fast but it was difficult to set a pace because you had to walk on the wooden tracks and they were either too close together or too far apart. It didn´t matter though because the surroundings were so gorgeous that it was good to be able to take it all in. We were really tempted to have a swim in the river and cool down but the rucksack was heavy so we decided to get to Agus Calientes as quickly as possible and chill there. Without realising it we past Machu Picchu on our way but we definitely admired the mountainous scenery and took lots of photos.
We arrived at Agus Calientes at lunchtime, checked into Hostal John (s/40 double - cheap for here!), had a lovely hot shower and went for a delicious buffet lunch at Toto´s house overlooking the Urubamba river. We then did all the admin and bought our Machu Picchu entrance ticket (s/122 each), bus ticket ($14 return each) and train ticket from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo (a very steep $53 each & the only choice we had!) for the following day. During this time we discovered that we´d been given a fake s/50 from an ATM in Cusco! No-one would take it so we went to the bank in Aguas Calientes to see if they´d change it, like they do in England, but because it didn´t have their mark on it they wouldn´t take it - gutted!! It´s only a tenner but it´s the cost of our accommodation for one night. We´ll try our luck in Cusco on Monday.
Today we were up at 4.15am and in the queue for the first bus, at 5.30am, at 4.30am! There were already about 20 people waiting, we had a nice cup of tea from a lady on the street and got chatting to a nice Canadian couple. By 5am the queue was all the way down the road. We just go on the first bus, there must have been about 12 other buses for all the people waiting, and after a windy drive up Hiram Bingham Highway we arrived at the entrance and ran to get in the queue. Jem put our big rucksack in storage and at 6am the gates opened and we rushed to the queue to climb Huayna Picchu which opened at 7am (only 400 people can climb it a day). Once in the queue we took it in turns to explore the ruins and take some amazing photo´s of Machu Picchu - without any tour groups!!!
Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu (Quecha: `Young Peak´) rises above Machu Picchu and divides it into sections. The Incas built a trail up the side of the Huayna Picchu and built temples and terraces on its top. It´s peak is 2720m above sea level, or about 360m higher than Machu Picchu. It took us an hour to climb, up the very steep steps and through a cave, to the top. We were one of the first to get there so we chilled there for a bit and took it all in. This was a special moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. The sheer beauty of Machu Picchu and the peaceful surroundings took my breath away. The climb back down was much harder, and by then a lot of people were climbing up, but once we were down we took our time to explore Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu (Quecha: Machu Pikchu, `Old Mountain´) is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2400m above sea level. It is situated on a mounatin ridge above the Urubamba Valley, which is 80km northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Also known as `The Lost City of the Incas´, it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Built around the year 1460, it was abandoned for centuries until 1911 when Hiram Bingham, an American Historian, rediscovered it. It´s primary buildings include; Intihuatana (which was damaged in a Cusqueña ad!!), Temple of the Sun and Room of the Three Windows which are in the Sacred District.
It was 10ish by now and the tour groups had arrived, making the ruins very crowded and noisy. Even so we still managed to find quiet areas (usually after climbing lots of steps that the majority of tourists can´t do - hee hee!!) to take in the views. We had an absolutely magical time but after five hours there we were ready to go so we jumped on a bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We had a walk through the Plaza de Armas, went inside the pretty church and then had a gorgeous lunch, Quiche Lorraine, at a great French restaurant called Indio Feliz. After lunch we caught the train to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. The journey took an hour and a half and we were entertained with dancing and a fashion show which was very funny!
Here in Ollantaytambo we have found a fantastic hostal, El Tambo,which has beautiful rooms, a flowery courtyard and views of the nearby ruins on the hillside all for s/40.