15.11.2015 - 15.11.2015 15 °C
Our trip to Machu Picchu was the pinnacle of our South American adventure and consequentially what we based the rest of our itinerary around. It’s been on the bucket list for me since I was 8 years old, the iconic photographs of the lost city emerging from the clouds capturing the imagination, lying dormant for the 23 years it’s taken to finally arrive here. Getting there is an experience in itself, we booked our tickets months in advance, 2500 people are allowed on the mountain per day and only 2 groups of 200 for the Huaynapicchu climb, both sell out. We took the PeruRail train from Ollantaytambo after our trip in the Sacred Valley, synchronising our arrival in Aguas Calientes with a torrential downpour. A wise local woman must have read the signs, her smile ever-growing as the overpriced plastic ponchos in her basket were snapped up by the dozen. As the crowds disembarked with their chaffeurs, the realisation dawned that we had selected the only hostel not offering a pick up service. With clichéd wide brimmed hats keeping the faces dry, and bright yellow ponchos covering our belongings, and the directions of more than a couple of locals, we opened the door of our hostel to find candles as the only source of light and buckets collecting the leaks inside. Save for the downpour outside we would have found other digs, and the hostels saving grace came with a much appreciated high pressure, HOT shower ( can be very sporadic in Peru), and some of the comfiest beds we have experienced, (they also stored our bags while up the mountain). We are not religious people in the least, yet both found ourselves praying to some divine presence to get the weather out of his system tonight- we’ve travelled far too many kilometres for the weather to obstruct the view.
4 hours of blissful slumber later, we awoke to hear the first birds singing and what appeared to be the beginnings of blue sky. (at 0415 in the morning it can be hard to tell). Someone had answered our prayers. Although we were at the station at 0515 we didn’t get on until the fifth bus (apparently others were just as keen). The ride up the zigzag road to the city was filled with anticipation, with glimpses of the iconic terraces that follows the mountains contours, coming into view around the turns. After another queue waiting for the gates to open we were finally climbing the stone path towards the guardhouse, Atop the platform our eyes were finally treated to a full view of the ruins, flanked on both sides by heavy mists. Picture Perfect. Words couldn’t do justice to experiencing this place, if you’ve ever had an inkling to go, DO IT. Nestled into a saddle between the two peaks, with steep bush covered mountains for the backdrop, the city continuously retreats into the mist, reappearing to show off it’s impressive layout and stonework, instilling intrigue and mystery to its creation, history and demise.
We set off for Wayna Picchu at 0730, joining the other 198 whoo secured a pass in a gruelling, single file, step by step climb to the summit. It’s a slow-going process, every photo taken holds up the queue, quite frankly it’s a relief, offering plenty of chances to grab a much needed breath, without feeling guilty about holding up the line. Despite her voiced concerns about not being fit enough, 1 hour after setting off, Jo made it to the top in better shape than me. We avoided the crowds at the first photo opportunity and continued up to the next platform, where we were treated to some stunning vistas of the city, between the closing curtains of mist. Some quiet contemplation on the massive boulders at the summit, and the arrival of the tour groups signalled time to move on. Splitting up, Jo headed back for the city, and consequentially decided her legs weren’t knackered enough from the first climb, and tortured them further with a 50min trek to the sun-gate, on the opposite hill. I opted for the downhill route to Temple of the Moon & Gran Caverna- 2 buildings built into and under natural rock. The trek down is gnarly with and includes descending a couple of dodgy branch ladders that would be well at home in an Indiana Jones flick. The bush gives way to a mild form of jungle, I was pleasantly informed to keep an eye out for a brown snake that’ll kill you within 2 hours (aka stick to the path). The sites are much less visited and still not completely uncovered so make a good place to get away from the crowds, I was fortunate to have the place to myself for a good 40 minutes of peace. Beware, the climb back up is gruelling, any perceptions I had of myself being fit were shattered as I hacked for breath every 5 mins. Again the efforts are rewarded with spectacular views you won’t see elsewhere at the site, and the narrow path offers a vertical drop several thousands of feet below, only centimetres from the outer edge of your right foot.
Foolishly, I had organised to meet my wife at the highest point of the city, meaning a further hour navigating more steps and a one way system that seemed to refuse allowing me a straight path to the building. (Finding 1 person amongst 2500 is a mission in itself, and Macchu Picchu is a lot bigger than it looks). Our day finished with one last trek to the Incan bridge- essentially a tiny path that clings precariously to a cliff face and appears to continue right along its vertical face. Our day here came to an end far too quickly, the train ride back to Cusco spent between reminiscent conversation, admiring the grand scenery outside, and nursing the quickly seizing legs. As I write this 3 days later, I’m still struggling to make it up or down steps.