Machu Picchu, Peru... The place everyone's talking about
Aug 25, 2005
|Oh dear, oh dear, we got our morning call only after five...hours...of...sleep! It was a bit early to eat breakfast at 4am, but I knew had to tuck in as much as possible, as food was (expectedly) overpriced up at Machu Picchu. And the stale bread rolls brought the previous night were not too appetising!
After walking with us a little way, Henry went towards the train station, and left us alone to make it up to Machu Picchu and face the scary Ana Cecilia. It's supposed to be about an hour's walk to the top, and we made it there slightly under par (and starting from our hotel too!). The walk started off by moonlight, but very soon afterwards, torches were no longer required as the sky was brightening pretty quickly. But as we were at high altitude, it takes longer for the sun to climb up, so we should have enough time left!
We followed the car road winding easily up the hill, but then Emiliano spotted signs for the Inca steps, and we manoevered onto it. They weren't too bad - but got tiring after what seemed to be a neverending series of steps - periodically intercepted by the new car road. The couple were going quite fast (the advantage of having longer legs!), but Seth and I pushed on, huffing and puffing past some French Scouts resting on the side of the road. Oh, was it a relief to finally see a house in ruins perched on the hill!
But there were already lots of people waiting at the entrance. They did it the easy and lazy way by taking the bus!! And even Ana Cecilia seemed to be in a better mood than the previous night. Still not totally sure what we had to do, we filed past the entrance, a short walk after was the Sun Gate - with the iconic position of the ruins of Machu Picchu as taken on most postcards. It was pretty stunning, but I wasn't receptive enough to feel the flow of energy... apparently the energy is strongest at sun rise... Speaking of which! whoops!! we had just missed the sun rise!! It's already risen above the mountain!!
At seven, we were herded onto a lonely hill top for Ana Cecilia's prep talk. Apart from us four, there were also other groups, known as "The Six French", "The Italians", "The Chilean Girls" etc. She made us sit down, whilst she stood majestically in front of the famous backdrop. To be fair, she was a very knowledgeable guide, and had a wealth of information. She just lacked something on the human scale. She dramatically looked at us patronisingly, was off-handed with most questions, and made us feel like it was our fault that the mighty Incas were no more.
The tour lasted about two hours, but since I couldn't appreciate which part of the ruins we were on (without a map), and then I got hungry, and then I was fed up with Ana Cecilia being patronising... I apologise for being able to annote the photographs better. If you are interested in learning more about Machu Picchu (which means "Old Mountain" in the Inca language of Quechua), I can recommend you doing a search on it in google! ;D
At half past nine, we were free to go... but not before Ana Cecilia looked at her list and told each group if they were fit enough, or had enough time to climb the neighbouring Waynapicchu (The Mountain of the Moon), and the latest time people had to leave. I was quite looking forward to Waynapicchu, and we made our way there quickly.
A study by Kyoto University found that the erosion caused by the numerous visitors meant the ruins were slowly, slowly falling like the Leaning Tower of Piza. So now, there was a limit of four hundred people a day - bu being Latin America, this was a guide only of course, and saw that more people were allowed in, if they had a good enough excuse.
The trek started off like a ride in a theme park - with nice green trees, gentle paths, round the corner of which was bound to have a surprise of some sort! Maybe about five minutes in, the steep part started, and I really liked bouncing up the trek. Breaks were naturally incorporated by letting people pass, who were on their way down the narrow path. Some parts were quite steep, but sometimes there was a rope or cable to give us a hand, but I prefered scambling up on all fours! ;) Towards the top, followed the person in front of me blindly, and halfway up the almost vertical staircase, found out we had gone up the wrong way of a one way system!! Whoops!! But we managed to make it to the top in about half an hour, which I was pretty pleased about, as it normally takes an hour!! Wicked!!
We spent some time sitting on the rocks, but had to begin the descent shortly afterwards. As the others had booked the tour only the day before departure, the agency could only get them tickets on the earlier train... leaving at 1:30pm! They basically had to leave more or less straight after reaching the bottom...whilst I still had a few more hours extra to lounge about.
Spent some time finding nice shady spots (not many!) for a nap, and going around taking photos and sketches. But having eaten my bag of Doritos already, thought maybe should head back to town for lunch, as was beginning to get hungry. Was recommended a place by a keeper of Machu Picchu, with a cheap menu. I guess I could splash out on 5 soles!!
With my twix bar consumed to give me enough energy down to town, had a very pleasant walk down. Much easier than going up of course!! Plus the whole walk was more or less in the shade, which was very comfortable. Had the usual big Peruvian lunch, and was no longer worried about starving until arriving back into Cusco. Almost made the blunder of waiting on what I thought to be the train platform (actually only for restuarants!), but managed to make it onto my Backpacker train. It wasn't totally full, but by now was getting too tired to enjoy the train ride. Woke up when we pulled into Ollantaytambo, where for the first time in my life! I was greeted by someone holding a placard with my name on it! Was put onto a tourist bus, at the front (all the better to understand the insanity of Latino driving) and got back to Cusco at 8pm.
After my first hot shower in four days, went back out to town to meet the others for a drink. Unfortunately Alice and Emiliano couldn't make it, as she had left her coat (with her passport) on the train, and were frantically searching for it. Shockingly enough, our guide to Machu Picchu had never heard of the Machu Picchu cocktail, so it was time to show him the fuller picture of his national treasure. ;) The days are as long as the nights near the Equator, so needless to say, we partied all night and surpassed the time we woke up!
On the whole, really enjoyed the previous four days, and very pleased that I managed to make it in (just about!) one piece, and really liked the walking and the variety of this trip. Of course that Machu Picchu was stunning, but I personally feel that it's slightly overrated. It's too much of a tourist magnet, that it's outrageous how much the tourists are charged. The cheapest train ticket to MP costs about $50 - very limited and quickly sold out, so that most people have splash out on over $100 on the train tickets alone. And for those who don't fancy walking up from Aguas Calientes, they would have to pay $6 each way on the 10 minutes bus ride - more expensive than any bus (and the underground too!) I know of in London!! And the Peruvians? Do you know how much they pay??? 10 soles ($3) for the train ride!! Which they can even buy on the day, due to its availability!
I think that's an outright tourist trap designed to suck in money from the fat gringos - because people in the West are more prone to appreciate culture and heritage. Fine, so say we are giving the Peruvian economy a helping hand... but sadly, I don't really see that reflected in the various parts of the country, where some people live in really appalling conditions. So if I had known about the inequality of the price differenec, I don't think I would have gone...