Written by Emily
We were awoken today at the truly ungodly hour of 3:45 am by one of the Porters rapping on the side of our long-suffereing tent. Feeling honestly the most rank I have ever felt, even worse than Gandoca times, I dragged my aching self out of the tent, trying to improve the situation by telling myself that this would all be worth it as I walked up those last few steps to Sun-Gate. Breakfast forced down in a weary stupor, and we all collected by the bar, ready to make our way to the final control point on the Inca Trail.
The group whiled away the wait in the queue to cross this point, by taking pointless photos of the dingy mist in the distance. Michael then whipped out his zoom-lens and proceeded to point the camera in our general direction. Thinking that this was a simple photo, I posed in an over-dramatic fashion, but then found that I had been holding the pose for an unusually long time. I enquired as to what was going down, to which Michael explained that he was making a video. Great, what a fit vid that was going to be...
Eventually, we got through the contol point, and had only to complete a sweet 2 more hours of trekking before Machu Picchu times. The group morale was at an all time high, despite the heinous waking hour, and it was with a large amount of energy that we all scrambled up the aptly named, almost vertical “Oh my God Steps” to Sun-Gate. You all know that I am not the sort of person who gets over-emotional, but on climbing across the entrance, Machu Picchu finally visible to me, I was fairly overwhelmed. A cool, cool childhood dream had been realised, and it was as every bit as amazing as I had hoped. Others took it even further however, and there were a few teary faces amongst the hearty crowd of hikers from all sorts of different groups, each of us united in the engulfing sense of achievement as we stared down at this ancient civilisation, resplendent in the new sunlight.
And then me and Rach were angrily told to move out the way by some photographing legend and his zoom-lens. After a good half hour of awed staring, interspersed only by a conversation with a guy named Richared who we had previously met as we used him as a photo-taker earlier on in the trek, and had then learnt that he was also from Bishops Stortford, we began to make our way down. Soon enough, we were actually walking around the ruins themselves, listening to intense Jose talks and basking in the welcome sun shine and lack of physical exertion. We were, after a while, allowed to wonder around freely, and I soon found myself with Rach and Clay, who had thankfully decided to forgive us for bar-gate the night before. On wandering down some promising looking path, which we thought would lead us to the exit and lunch, we were soon faced with the most intense set of stone steps I have ever seen, the Oh my God Steps had nothing on these babies. Sure as we were however that this was the way to the salida, we ploughed on down them.
What we were met with at the bottom, was a simple grass patch that lead to nowhere but off the side of a cliff. On the other side, were several grassy plateaus, each higher than the last, which appeared to lead up to a civilised path, but did not appear to be for public use. Looking in turn at Rachel, Clayton and then the mental steps we had just descended, I proceeded to jump my way up onto the first plateau and scramble up to the top in record time due, i´m sure, to my new-found trekking fitness.
An excrutiatingly long time later, and the three of us powered our way into the cafe and gift shop area, glaring around at the Machu Picchu cheats who had taken the train up. On walking down the steps to the bus that we were supposed to take to the nearby town of Aguas Callientes, who should we find just casually sitting around on the bottom one, but our missing tour-guide Ruben! A quick, congratulatory hug with him and it was onto the coach for the first time in 3.5 days.
Aguas Callientes, with its shops, banks, people and most of all restaurants sure was a welcome sight when we rocked up there for some lunch. Sooner than I could have hoped, I found myself sitting in a restaurant with Rach, Clay, Teresa, Trevor, Michael, Jennifer, Julia, Michael and Pedro, having just eaten my own bowl of pasta, Trevor´s chips and half of Jennifer´s pizza, laughing at Clayton and the 1L cerveza he had just ordered. The idea was then proffered that we should all hit the hot-springs that Aguas Callientes had to offer, and after a few people had agreed and a few had turned the offer down, I found myself sitting at the table with Pedro, Julia and Michael, waiting for Rach to return from an ATM so that we could cruise for hot-spring times. I decided that I should very much make the most of this time with Pedro, and finally attempt to break through his icy exterior. Typical me to attempt to do this with the opening line:
Me: “Pedro, do you even like your job?”
Pedro: “Yeah, very much, why?”
Me: “´Cause you seemed to be pretty much pissed off the entire trek...what´s that about?”
Pedro: “What?? No! You didn´t walk with me did you?”
Me: “No, I´m too much of a hiking legend to be stuck at the back with you, why?”
Pedro: “Oh, you should have walked at the back, we´d have had a laugh!”
This was followed by a cool conversation in Spanish, which continued until Rach returned with some money and we proceeded to follow Trevor, Clay, Ruben and Manuela up to the hot-springs for watery fun. Possibly the most hilarious moment of the entire tour occurred just as all six of us had slipped our way into one of the pools, after Rach and I had waved manically on spotting Richard in the one next door. I had just leant over to Rach, and whispered “Thank God we´re in a pool now, at least Trevor can´t take any more photos for the time being”. No sooner had this sentence left my mouth, than Trevor instantly whipped from behind his back, accompanied with the chilling phrase “Hey guys, look what I´ve got!” a frickin´waterproof camera.
Several million photos down the line, and we were all trudging our watery way back towards the restaurant to retrieve our duffle bags, before heading to the train station to begin the journey back to Cusco. Back at the restaurant, I decided to build on my new-found relationship with Pedro, and so sidled over to him, with my brokeback hat in hand, and proffered it to him as a token of friendship. He seemed 100% thrilled at this gesture, and promised me that he would wear it on every trek he did, and would tell people that it came from me. He then kissed me on the cheek, and waved me off with the rest of the group to the hearty train station.
One and a half hours on the train passed by in a chatty haze, with Rach and I yabbering away at an unwitting Julia and Michael who had had the misfortune to be seated opposite us. Presently we arrived at Machu Picchu station, and wearily dragged our exhausted selves and our duffle bags after Ruben to a car-park full of minibuses, one of which would take us on the 3 hour journey back to Cusco. The following dialogue illustrates the stress and strain involved at this point on the tour:
Ruben: “Ok guys, it´s this bus!” (Everyone clambers in as best they can)
Lisa: “But Ruben, there´s 17 of us and only 15 seats on this bus!”
Me (from the back seat with Rach and Clay): “Er, we can move up a bit if you want?” (Struggles to move even an inch).
Manuela: “No, that´s not going to work! Ruben, you and I should find another bus!”
Ruben: “Sighhh” (looking intensely stressed out).
Me: “Ruben, don´t worry, I can sit on the floor if someone wants my seat?”
Ruben: “No, guys, we have to move bus.”
(We all scabble out, tripping over each other and smashing duffle bags everywhere. We then reach another minibus, and climb back in, returning to the same positions as in the previous one).
Lisa: “Ruben, this is exactly the sams size bus!”
Me: “So, it´s almost like we didn´t have to move bus at all...”
Manuela: “Ruben, you and I will get another bus, don´t worry!”
Eventually we all settled down in our delightfully cramped seats, and Rach, Clay and I started up a b****ing convo about the ridiculousness of the whole situation in general. After a few minutes of this hushed discussion, we were interrupted by Lisa, leaning over the back of her seat to inform us “We can all hear you, you know, you might as well just talk normally!” Great, another journey where we had successfully pissed everyone off before the bus had even left. Finally it pulled out of the station, allowing me and Rach to peer over at the opposite bus, only to see Richard squashed up against the window. Again we waved manically at him, eliciting only a weak smile back.
About an hour of meandering and pothole-ridden roads passed, and we then began to recognise our surroundings as we drive through Ollantaytambo. Happily enjoying the darkened scenery, all 15 of us were truly confused as the bus came to a juddering hault halfway up the path through the town. It turned out that we were being held up by a sweet festival perade, having a jovial time up ahead, and heartily blocking the road wilst at it. Tired, as it was now about 9pm and we had been up and active for a sweet 17 hours, ragingly hungry, desperate for showers and generally in a pissed-off state, the half hour we were stuck stationary with constant blaring horns from irritated cars did not pass by easily. Once we eventually started to move again, the group´s mood was low. Scrap low, it was murderous.
On arriving in Cusco, this anger well and truly manifested itself thus:
Lisa (standing next to the open baggage storage compartment in the bus) “Guys, grab your duffle bags QUICKLY! Whose is number 289?”
Me: “Er, wouldn´t it be easier for everyone to just grab a bag since we´re just moving to that coach there?” (points at a coach about 10m away)
Lisa: “I think we need to work out whose bag is whose right now if at all! Just grab yours and go!”
Suffice to say I did as I was told, and headed to the coach to board for the quick ride back to the hotel. My mood instantly deteriorated however, as I overheard this exchange:
Robert: “Could we not just all grab any bag just to be quicker?”
Assorted group members: “O yeas, good idea Robert!”
Once we were all aboard, Ruben, who of course had arrived back before us, stood at the front of the coach, looking at our bedraggled, grimy, raging, exhausted faces, and thought it apt to ask us this: “So, who wants to go out tonight!?”