The following day we head down to the main WalkOnInn building and ask to store our large packs there while we spend the next few days getting to and from Machu Picchu. This isn't a problem, so we throw a clean change of clothes into a plastic bag and lock our packs together in their big luggage lockers. We book a night for when we get back to Cusco and then walk, unburdened by our big packs down to the plaza to get a taxi to the street where buses and taxis leave for Ollanta.
Our taxi has just pulled up when a guy enquires with our driver if we’re going to Ollanta. With confirmation, he tries to sell us a ride in his minivan (a nice one, where its one person per seat) for 15 soles. But we’ve been told this should only cost 10 soles, so we walk away, trying to explain we’ll catch a bus instead for 7 soles. He’s persistent and follows us, he needs to fill the remaining seats so that he can leave, and Ryan haggles him down to 8 soles each, so we climb in.
The drive is quite nice, through the countryside between Cusco and Ollanta with snow covered mountains in the distance and fields, varying shades of yellows and browns cultivated in the foreground. The only event of note on this journey was the old guy sitting next to Ryan taking a leak into his juice bottle!!
We arrive into tiny Ollanta, with just 2000 people, and are dropped in the main and only plaza. We are pointed in the direction of our hostel (Chaska Wasi) just up a street off the plaza and it seems nice enough. The owner has some pretty alright English and our room isn’t ready so we head off with our small backpacks to see the town, said to be the best surviving example of Inca city planning, and the Inca fortress on the hill above the town. It costs us 70 soles to get in, and we spend a few hours puffing up and over the steps of the terraces and the ceremonial area at the top.
There’s a small cluster of handicraft stalls at the bottom of the hill and we have a look through them. Ryan admires the intricate and detailed hand chiselled jewellery boxes one guy is working on.
We head back to the hostel and check into our room which is up on the third floor with a roof terrace. We have some lunch and our friendly owner shows us two baby guinea pigs, just born today, in a hutch in her garden. We ooh and aah, but are secretly wondering (and are too afraid to ask!), if these are destined for the family dinner plate once fully grown.
We try and find the train station so we know where we’re going tomorrow and typically for us, we go down the wrong road the first time. Train station found, we explore and enjoy the quiet streets of Ollanta, with locals going about their business and children playing in deserted alleys. Later we dine on spicy fajitas at the Hearts Cafe on the plaza, where all the profits are given to a charity for local woman and children.
We’re up early the following day, at 4.30am to walk down to the train station. We are half way down the street when I remember we have our room key in our pocket. So we whip back and push open the door and leave the key inside, half scaring our hostess to death by opening the door in the middle of the night!
We get down to the train station we found the previous day and stand around for ages, wanting to know where we embark the train. Eventually we are told that it’s actually further down the road, not where we are next to the sign reading ‘train boarding area’. So that’s a somewhat misleading sign then.
The train pulls in and we board and leave right on 6.02am, it seems PeruRail run a very tight ship. The train is the slowest ever, but at least we get to admire the towering valley sides to each side through the windows in the roof of the train.
We arrive into Aguas Calientes on time around 8am and follow the other tourists into the centre of the town. We have to ask a few times, but eventually we find our hostel, more of a hotel actually, on the main street. The staff member who greets us at the check-in desk has not a lick of English or friendliness, which surprises me for a town which lives solely on tourism. She disappears upstairs for an eternity and eventually comes back down with a key, so with no other conversation possible and no help forthcoming from her, we climb the stairs and find the room ourselves.
We stare despondently out our window over the main street, which is two footpaths, dissected by the railway line in the middle. The footpaths, both sides, are lined by restaurants and internet cafes. We head out, get our tickets to Machu Picchu (126 soles each) and our bus tickets (22 soles each) and grab some overpriced junk food for our lunch later and peruse some menus for our dinner later in the day.
The rest of our day is spent in our room, wishing we’d caught a later train and wanting to kill ourselves. We stash some food in our backpacks for tomorrow, as our tickets advise that no food or water bottles are allowed. We spend some time catching up on the journal and trying to while away the day as best we could in a town with nothing to do or see. Lonely Planet describes Aguas Calientes as follows: ‘this village offers little besides overpriced food and lodging and way too many pizzerias’ and ‘There’s a post office, police station and several lavanderias. Everything else is a restaurant or hostel.’ We wholeheartedly concur.
Eventually it is dinner time. We head out and select a restaurant that looked busy during lunchtime. We order a pizza and cokes. We are served our cokes in the wine glasses that are already on our table and then our pizza comes. I'm not sure how hard it is to make a bad pizza, but it's certainly do-able. For the price we are stiffed there must be something better in town.
Our hotel has a new staff member on at night and luckily she has some English and is more willing to work with our bad Spanish. We are offered a wake-up call, set for 4.30am and breakfast, which we ask for at 4.45am. The redeeming feature of our overpriced room is the shower, which is amazing. I spend as long as is humanly possible under the hot, strong water. May as well get my money worth somehow, right?
The next morning sees another 4.30am start for us, no thanks to our wake-up call though, which never eventuates. Lucky we have our travel alarm clock. We head downstairs and all is dark. When it gets close to 5am and it becomes clear that any staff and our breakfast are not about to eventuate, we nip behind the kitchen counter and help ourselves to a couple of bread buns we find.
We head out to the bus stop and are horrified at the length of the line for the first bus at 5.30am. It’s easily several hundred people long. We do the unthinkable and join the line near the front, and manage to assimilate ourselves into the line without anyone kicking up a stink. We manage to get on the second bus, with Ryan sitting up the front with the driver (where he sees the driver bless himself as he drives across a bridge to start climbing a winding road up the mountain side).
We are up at the site before 6am, and join the line already established from people climbing up from the town. In line Ryan gets talked into climbing W. Picchu, by some American’s, and gets his ticket stamped, number 76; only 400 are allowed to climb it each day.
Once the gates open we’re in; with no checks for any of the prohibited items listed on the ticket or in Lonely Planet (food, water bottles, walking sticks, etc). There’s a bit of a stampede up the zig-zagging path to the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock for those infamous picture postcards views. Then Ryan heads off to climb W. Picchu and I stay to explore the main complex. It’s fascinating, that much like the mystery of the Nazca Lines, the purpose and function of Machu Picchu is still speculated over.
I see the Temple of the Sun with curved stonework, the Royal Tomb, the Sacred Plaza with views across the spectacular valley to the snow dusted Cordillera Vilcabamba, and the Temple of the Three Windows. There’s a ‘sundial’ atop a small hill, though it was actually connected to the passing of the seasons rather than time of day. Spaniards smashed most such shrines in an attempt to wipe out pagan blasphemy of sun worship. There’s a Central Plaza dividing the ceremonial sector of Machu Picchu from the residential and industrial sector.
I’m sitting in the sunshine at the far end of the site ready to begin exploring the residential area when Ryan strolls by, so we carry on together and hunt down the Condor’s head sculpted from rock. We get up close with some llamas and then Ryan heads off to see the ‘sun dial’, while I soak up the sun on one of the terraces, and envy the people sitting nearby drinking their Cokes and Inca Cola. Jealous much? Then we head off towards the entrance, cursing our tickets, and Lonely Planet, for advising that no water bottles or food are allowed. Everyone but us has water to drink! At least we stashed some food. Ryan heads out and purchases two bottles of 500ml water for the pricey sum of 8 soles each (£2 each)! What a rip.
We refuel ourselves at the Caretakers Hut again and soak up the sun on a grassy terrace. We part ways once more around midday, with me leaving the site, while Ryan stays to see the parts of the main complex that I saw earlier.
I arrive back down in Aguas Calientes around 1pm and immediately track down a cold drink. I sit in the sun reading my book until Ryan comes down a few hours later. Much later than I thought, it turns out he had overdosed on the construction details of the Inca complex. Then we watch the clock tick ever slowly by until 6pm when we head to the train station. We get a small but tasty dinner on the train and arrive back into Ollanta around 8.30pm. Exhausted and ready for bed we head up the cobbled alley to Chaska Wasi for a good night sleep.
After two 4.30am starts in a row, we sleep in until 7am! I had a terrible night sleep, cold on my own in a twin bed. The shower is cold, cold, cold and barely a dribble so we pack and leave, to find transport back to Cusco. Down in the plaza Ryan finds a taxi driver who agrees to take us for 10 soles each. He tries to find more passengers in Ollanta but there are no takers, so we set off.
It’s a fast journey, and in no time we are in Cusco, where our driver wants more than 10 soles each, presumably because he never managed to pick up any more passengers. But we stick to our guns.
Back at WalkOnInn we dump our stuff in our room and then have a long, long, hot, hot shower. It’s the small things in life that are truly great.
Showered and ready to face the world once more, we head into town and sort out some lunch at a bakery, do some flag shopping and then with those trivial tasks out of the way, we get onto the good stuff – a massage. We bargain with the first lady who approaches us in the main plaza and line up a hot stone massage for an hour for 25 soles. It’s bliss, pure bliss. I’d forgotten how good a proper massage can be! Then we sit and relax in the plaza for a while, where we celebrity spot Paddington Bear before another delicious dinner at Paddy's.