28/04/2008 - 29/04/2008 26 °C
Our journey to Machu Picchu began yesterday morning in Cusco at 9am - we caught a collectivo to Ollantaytambo, where we bought our tickets for the train (ripoff, 34 USD ech way!) bolted our lunch and jumped on the train. unfortunately not a steam train but still pretty nice (with enough room for backpacks, shock horror..they should give Virgin trains some pointers...)
At around 1.30pm we arrived at Aguas Calientes, which is the nearest town to Machu Picchu (somtimes called Machu Picchu Pueblo), and is therefore the most touristy place ever. I have never seen so many restaurants in such a small place, and ALL of them serve pizza...apparently they decided that is the staple diet of all tourists and we will starve if they dont all fight over who gets to serve it to us...
We bought our tickets for Machu Picchu (paying the full price after the guy literally threw my student card back in my face...we had a big argument with him about it and he then ignored us and started playing solitaire on his computer....soooo rude) and then of course had some pizza and an early night.
Today began at 4.30am, when we dragged ourselves out of bed to go and buy tickets and queue for the 5.30am bus to Machu Picchu. We caught it and headed up to the site, arriving at 6am, in the rain (joy) - thank god for the enterprising lady at the bus stop selling ponchos for a dollar, and thus enabling Ian and Peter to look like superheroes in capes...
When we finally got in, we wandered around in the drizzle, unable to see anything much due to the heavy mist/fog that was covering all of the Inca city. after a while we found ourselves at the entrance gate for Wayna Picchu, which is the steep mountain at the back of the ruins - only 400 people per day are allowed to climb it (compared to the 2500 people who enter the ruins every day at the height of peak season) and only from 7am until 1pm. luckily we found it at 2 minutes to 7am, and were within the first 20 people to enter and begin the ascent.
It was NOT easy....it's at least one hour of hard climbing up steep rocky steps, and that early in the damp morning it was slippy...though at least it was cool, i don't envy the people trying to climb it at midday! I was not the only one struggling - plenty of people were stopping every two minutes gasping for breath. the altitude doesn't help of course, because the air is thinner to begin with, and once you start climbing something so steep there just isn't enough oxygen! Ian of course climbed it in his flip flops (to many comments of "is he crazy??" from other climbers) and barely broke a sweat while i arrived at the top a sweaty dishevelled mess, covered in mud, rust, dust and rain.
not far from the top we came across a small problem - a fourlegged, furry problem. A dog had decided that he wanted to go for walkies, and had followed some walkers all the way from Aguas Calientes, into the ruins and all the way up the mountain with us. Well...not quite all the way. He got to almost the top, to a very difficult rocky bit and then lost his nerve and just sat there on a narrow ledge whining. He couldn't get up, he couldn't get down, and nobody could get past. So began Operation Dog, with several climbers trying to shift the poor thing, either to lift him up or down or encourage him to jump (he was golden retreiver sized so not easy to shift), but then he got quite agitated and started trying to bite, so everyone backed off and eventually he jumped down to the next ledge...and disappeared. then we realized he'd gone into a tunnel, which was actually where we were supposed to be going as well, rather than climbing up the really nasty steep bit that he'd got stuck on! so we all followed the dog thru the tunnel and carried on up the final stretch to the top.
when we finally reached the top...everything was still covered in mist and fog. we couldn't see a thing, but having staggered up there we weren't moving until the mist cleared and we got the views we were promised!
Eventually it happened, the sun came out, the clouds cleared, and Machu Picchu appeared out of the mist, laid out before us in all its glory. it was worth the climb and the wait to see this ancient site, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery and glorious sunshine. we all stayed at the top for ages, taking photos and soaking in the views, competing with everyone else for the best shots, and ignoring instructions from a spanish guide telling us to just take photos and leave quickly!
Coming back down - tricky, slippy, not so fun, but once we got back down to the ruins, the herd of alpacas were grazing in the sunshine which was a great sight
we wandered around a bit more, took some more photos, then headed home to get some well earned food and drink!
All in all it was a great day - very tiring but worth it, an amazing place