Day 113: Machu Picchu, Peru
Tiny wild strawberries and tomatillos, big bright pink orchids, thick misty clouds rolling in and out obscuring the view of Wayna Picchu. This is Machu Picchu. It’s easy to understand why the Incas chose such an unlikely place to build the most important city in ancient Peru. (To learn more about the history of Machu Picchu, click the wiki link here). It’s also equally understandable why the Spanish never discovered such a magnificent, hidden place.
We were out the door early (4:30 a.m.) and rushed down to the travel office to buy our bus ticket up to Machu Picchu. There was already a line forming and by the time we left (5:45 a.m.) the line spanned 2 city blocks! The views up to Machu Picchu (from here on just MP) were stunning. We entered the gate like a hoard of hungrey animals but everyone was rushing in for one thing, tickets to hike Wayna Picchu (the large mountian in every photo you have ever seen of MP… ever). We followed along but cut line and grabbed tickets for the 10:30 instead of the 7 o’clock climb. They only allow 400 people a day to climb Wayna so you must get a ticket early if you want to do it.
Desperate to escape the noisey, un-pictureque piles of tourists, we hiked around and down onto some of the back terraces where we had a meager breakfast of some cookies and crackers overlooking the river so far below.
We watched colorful birds flit past our heads and marveled at the clouds that quickly covered the highest mountains and just as quickly retreated to reveal and endlessly spectacular view. During our escapades trudging carefully around the back terraces, we found an entire terrace dotted with the tiniest red strawberries, ripe only on one side.
In the early morning, it seemed like it might end up a rainy day but the later the morning got, the more clear the sky got. We tried our best to steer away from the crowds as long as possible, we cut along the back of the ruins, went up to the Inca bridge and wondered through the parts of the ruins that the guides don’t tromp through. A lovely morning, really feeling as if we were finding MP for our selves.
The chill in the air dissipated with the heavy clouds from the morning just in time for us to make the strenuous climb to the peak of Wayna Picchu, the mountain towering above MP that affords one a great panoramic view of the ruins and the surrounding mountains as well. It was a tough, slippery, one person at a time ”trail” over wet rocks cut into crude steps with only (sometimes) a chain ”handrail.” It was one hour each way and proved to be every bit as challenging as it appeared from the faces of those who had just descended that we met on our way up.
When we arrived back at MP we wandered through the more popular ruins, luckily by this time it was around lunch and very few people were milling about so we were not accosted by tour group after tour group.
Back in Aguas Calientes, we hopped the more appropriate train–the backpacker train, which is code for super shitty–and sadly watched as the luxurious train rolled on by (Side note: apparently the backpacker train is also about an hour or so slower). Anyway, a taxi and cramped bus back to Cusco and Saben was feeling really terrible by this time. Whatever had attacked Lin just days ago was now looking for some fresh victim. We had no choice but to take the night bus to Lima–we’re seriously running out of time till our flight to Madrid! But, we splurged in efforts to make Saben as comfortable a possible and not die along the way. Yes, it’ true: we traveled first class! Well, Peru first class which came to about $28. It’s an 18 hour ride and there were only 6 passengers total. When we discovered that the overhead compartments (which always fit) were smaller than usual, our backpacks weren’t treated like common street vermin stowed below the bus. No, instead they were treated to their very own seats right in front of us! Not only did we get coffee after a snack but we got sandwichs and blankets and English movies! When we tried to adjust the A/C over our seats, the wonderuful stewardess immediately interrupted snack service to go turn on the air conditioning!
Now this is the way to travel. Oh, and did I mention that it was the first bus in months that didn’t smell like urine…and stuff…the entire ride?! Now we can understand those funny people who ”only fly first class”—it’s freakin sweet!
Buy your bus ticket the day before if you can because the lines at 4:30AM for the 5AM buses are just insane! And we would recommend getting into the line for the bus around 4AM. We arrived at 4:30AM and the line was already getting long. And despite what everyone will tell you, you don’t really need a rain poncho! Unless it’s pouring down rain when you board the bus, you will probably be just fine. It was sprinkling a bit while we waited for the buses but when we got to MP it was nothing more than a little foggy and quite chilly. By about 10AM, the sun came out and warmed everything up. Most people then felt comfortable enough to wear short sleeves. Be sure to bring sunscreen though because the sun is really intense up there! The websites and brochures all say not to bring in snacks and water (we did)…use your own discretion but please, please DO NOT litter! You won’t see any garbage on the ground when you arrive and to keep it looking so beautiful, just take a plastic bag and carry your trash out with you.
Depending on your speed and if you go with a tour, you can adequately see all of MP (including the climb of Wayna Picchu if you feel up to it) in about 5-6 hours. We just walked around leisurely by ourselves and spent as much time wherever we pleased and still left about 12:30 (arrived at 6:30AM; half hour bus ride from Aguas Calientes). Also, there are only 400 people per day allowed to hike Wayna Picchu. One group goes at 7:00AM and the other at 10:30AM. Most people want the early one to ‘’see the sun rise” but it’s actually pretty tricky to get up there in time for it plus it’s usually pretty cloudy so early and you may not even get a very nice view. We took the second time slot (no guide or anything, just a time you are allowed in) and had absolutely perfect visibility! Just be very very careful because it’s so slippery going up and down from the mountain. If you are not able or interested in making the climb, you can honestly see as equally incredible view from the upper most terraces of MP itself (above the curved terraces near the beginning of the walk to the Inca Bridge).