Machu Picchu - Day One
Our journey to Machu Picchu was an unorthodox one. It began at the horribly early hour of 5am on the 31st. While Jason and I were up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, at five there was no sign of the other three. It took us half an hour to drag them out of bed but thankfully the van picking us up was late arriving.
For a couple of hours we drove along narrow windy sealed roads. When Jason voiced a complaint I blithely suggested that it would be worse on dirt roads. A couple of minutes later the road duly changed into a dirt one and we spent the next few hours driving up and down hills, through dodgy fords and around slips. The area had clearly taken a battering recently, I´m not sure if it was mostly the result of the January flood damage or a more recent development though some of it clearly was fairly recent like the slip that cut the road just before we reached the village of Santa Teresa. Rocks were still falling as we arrived and as the van couldn´t get past we were forced to gingerly make our way across the scar. We´d barely started to creep across when people at either end started yelling at us to run, so we ran. Once on the other side we could see dust rising above the slip as more of the hill moved downwards and a minute or so later a cascade of football sized rocks swept down where we had just crossed.
A short walk down to Santa Teresa followed where we had lunch before driving in one of the local cars to the river crossing. I´m not totally sure what to call the crossing as it consisted of a cable strung across the river with a small box, just big enough for two people to sit down in, suspended beneath it that was pulled across with ropes at either end. One dodgy river crossing later we began the walk up to the hydroelctric station where were to jump on a train to Agua Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Due to yet another slip however we were forced to walk the extra two or three hours along the train tracks. I was actually fairly pleased by this as it meant we got a free jungle trek along the valley that curves around Machu Picchu. After about three hours of walking we finally arrived in Agua Calientes just as it got dark and exhausted, we bolted down some dinner then crashed.
The plan for the second day was to wake up early to walk up the hill to Machu Picchu but thanks to the lack of a train the day before the tour company shelled out the extra for bus tickets to the top. We still got up at 5am and the town was packed at this point. This was the first day that Machu Picchu reopened and even with a 5am start it took us until 7am before we got to the top, half an hour in the bus and an hour and a half waiting in line for buses that left every five minutes.
Unfortunately the weather left a lot to be desired and visibility when we reached the top was about 100m through the mist and rain. I was feeling a bit dark at this point but we stayed mostly optimistic about the weather for the next couple of hours while our guide gave some (partially correct) descriptions of the most important areas.
After the tour to our great relief the weather cleared up and the vista revealed was beyond stunning. Along with Iguazu it is the clear highlight of the trip. After poking around amongst the building s for a while we headed up the hill to the end of the Inca Trail where the postcard shots are all taken showing the full extent of the ruins. Maybe it was just the excitement of being there but I´m sure our photos looked far better than any postcard I´ve seen. With the main bulk of the ruins below us we could see mist swirling around Huanya Picchu in the background while more spilled over the mountains along the edge of the river valley that surrounds the lost city on three sides.
Just before midday we had to head down the hill for the return journey, well satisfied with the visit but eager to come back someday as well. We caught the train to the Hydroelectric station (the slip had been cleared) and walked out to the box cable across the river where a van took us into Santa Teresa.
The second night was spent in Santa Teresa. At this point the group had split up and we were the only ones left, our tour guides even left us with the promise we would have transport back to Cuzco the next morning. When the next morning arrived we went to the restaurant we had been told to go to and found out we´d have to wait until 2pm before our ride showed up It didn´t help that our Spanish is minimal and the no one there spoke English. We kicked up a bit of a fuss so we got a free lunch courtesy of the tour group that wasn´t supposed to be included and waited around until about 1:30 when someone turned up who said he had to pick up some others then would be back for us at 2:30. At about 5 or 6 he came back, squeezed us into a tiny van and took off. We´d spent the last few hours buying junk food and talking to people passing through the tiny village to entertain ourselves.
The drive back was just as long as the drive in but it felt a million times worse. For 6-7 hours in the dark we wound our way back to Cuzco in the most uncomfortable seats known to man. There is no way to truly describe this journey so I´ll leave it at that. We got back to Cuzco with no where to stay at 1am and had to go hostel hopping on Good Friday to find a place to sleep. Had we arrived at 2 or 3 in the afternoon as promised we would have been happy to do this but 1am is not a friendly hour. At one point we´d just been rejected by another hostel and the owner told us to be careful on the next street as it was a dodgy area at night. We did eventually find a place (in the dodgy area) to our great relief, we were so exhausted we didn´t even bother to pick up our bags from the hostel up the road until the next morning.
The final day in Cuzco was spent sleeping, eating and getting ready for the bus at 2pm. It was a 20 hour journey through the mountains of Peru that was a bit difficult to sleep on due to the windy roads but once we reached the coast it was all good. We reached Lima at 10am (well, quite a bit earlier actually as it is a city of 8 million but we reached the bus terminal at 10) and taxied our way to Loki Hostel. We´ve had a bit of a walk around (and a visit to Dunkin Dounuts) but a day and a half is not much time to anything so Lima is just a stopover for us and where the rest of us part ways. Nick has already left on his bus to Quito, Rob left for Spain a few hours ago and Pete and Jason will leave me at the airport (though I´ll see Jason 12 hours later in Toronto).
Our final few hour were spent wandering the suburb of Miraflores around the hostel. Just a few blocks from the hostel are the cliffs of Miraflores above a surf beach. The whole area clearly has money and the cliff front property in particular. We went to a building complex that hung out over the cliffs that was comprised almost totally of places to eat on one side (with the view) and chain stores on the other. The quiet gelato Jason, Pete and I had on the cliffs above the ocean was a great way to finish off the day and the trip. It's been great but I'm looking forward to getting back. Just a meal and a taxi ride to the airport left and that's South America done. Until next time of course.