Macchu Picchu (Aguas Calientes)
July 28th, 2008
Our “Vista Dome” train left Cusco at 6 am. Today it was Karthik’s stomach acting out. We were really hoping for an empty train (so as not to make the breathing space unbearable for the fellow passengers), but no such luck. The ride was slow (super slow), but beautiful. Karthik slept most of the way, as that was the only way to bear the discomfort. We were sitting across the table from a guy from Montreal and one from Japan. Interesting time chatting with them – we got to share some tips and tricks since they were coming from where we were headed after and were heading to where we had come from! The beautiful scenery also helped to pass the time on that slow moving train! We were finally there, and when we met the representative from our hotel, we found out that there are no taxis in this town. In fact, there are no motorized vehicles in this town at all (except for tour buses that drive up to Machupicchu every 10 minutes, all day). We had to walk to our hotel, which was about a 15 minute walk only, but carrying our backpacks and our laptop bags, especially for Karthik in his condition was just not happening! The hotel rep borrowed a large wheel barrow and pushed our luggage to the hotel for us. Poor Karthik – he was completely out of it by the time we got to the hotel. And what a hotel it was! It was the only hotel that had availability for the dates we were to stay there (our mistake for not booking much in advance). This was a 1 star hotel. Basic room. No phone. No TV. No frills of any sort. But we lucked out, because it was a new development, so the place was super clean – especially the bathroom. The fact that there was a hole in the wooden roof (we could actually see the sky through it) didn’t bother us. Besides, we had no choice. So we pretended we were staying in a rustic cottage, and since we had some important deadlines to meet, we wouldn’t have the time to watch TV or talk on the phone anyway.
After a quick nap, we headed out to find the nearest internet cafe, and to get something to eat. After spending quite a bit of time uploading design files (which are huge), since the internet connection was hella slow (satellite internet), we grabbed something to eat. Not pleased with the food at all, we decided to head back to the hotel and finish up work. We skipped dinner that night – to give our stomachs some rest, and had some good night’s rest. We decided to not wake up super early to catch the first bus (for which we’d have to line up at 4:30 am) to Machu Picchu. Instead, we would sleep in, and head up to the site when we feel like it.
July 29th, 2008
We woke up relaxed, and both of us feeling better. We grabbed some coffee, bought our bus and entrance tickets (super expensive) and lined up for the bus to take us to Machu Picchu. It was still before noon, so we were happy to have at least 6 hours to spend there. We were super excited! The ride up would take us half an hour, so we thought it would be a fair distance. The distance between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu was only of one and a half mountain. The drive up this one mountain is what took that long. We were getting closer, and closer, and closer, and the view was getting prettier, and prettier, and prettier! Finally we were there! We got off the bus, bought a map of the site as we weren’t going to hire a tour guide (we wanted to just be and experience the place today), and entered. The view of the mountains surrounding us was just spectacular. We couldn’t see the site yet, but could feel the excitement throughout our bodies. This was the main reason we were in Peru. Actually, this is what got us to South America! But we still couldn’t see the site. We had to climb up a hill to see it. So there we went, climbing another hill. Got to the top, and there it was. Machu Picchu (the city and Huayna Picchu – the mountain behind the city). Beautiful. But not like we had imagined it or seen it in pictures. To see that view, we had to climb further. But since we were pacing ourselves today, we decided to go somewhere else first.
We decided to hike up the mountain to the “Sun Gate”. The Sun gate is where the Inka trail ends, and it’s the point where the hikers first get to see Machu Picchu, after trekking for days to visit this place. Those who take the easy way (like we did, by taking the train and bus) get to go backwards to see the view from the Sun Gate. This hike was not easy. The path was paved by jagged rocks and large stones, was steep at times, and just hard! Again, we took our time. We weren’t in a hurry, and most of all, weren’t competing to see how quick we get up there! We wanted to enjoy each and every moment and that’s what we did. Sometimes we even took a break after two minutes of walking – just because the view called for it. After walking up almost half of the trail we could see the site in its entirety. It was beautiful. Finally, we made it up, and we were there! It was worth the hike, and worth the thoughts of ‘Oh I’m going to die…I can’t do this…is this worth it…I can just see someone else’s pictures’ (most, actually all, of these thoughts were Penny’s!!) So we got there, and plopped ourselves on rocks, and just sat there for about an hour. People came, and left. Some rowdy trekkers going on about their adventures during their 5 day trek up, others discussing work politics back home in the US (Yeah we got quite annoyed at times). We just sat there. Holding hands. Our eyes taking in the view. Our minds imagining the Incan times. Our hearts feeling calm. Our souls at peace. We just sat there. We didn’t want to leave. How could we? This wasn’t a place where we could be satisfied by being at for only an hour. We stayed longer. And finally, we headed back.
On our way back, Penny looked back and saw Karthik climbing inside a cave. And then he jumped out, with a proud look, and a stick in his hand. He found a perfect walking stick! We walked down, and again took our time, enjoying each minute. Took our breaks. Felt our surroundings. Admired the views. Back where we started the climb to the Sun Gate, we headed off to the other side of the site – to catch the world famous view of Machu Picchu. We cut across an agriculture step, and went past the centre of the site. We’d come back to the centre a bit later. There were more agriculture steps to the other side, and we decided to walk along one, until the edge, where we were alone. The view of the city was absolutely different from here. It was incredible! It was so quiet here, so peaceful, so beautiful, so perfect. We sat there for another half an hour or so, and then Penny said “This is exactly what it looks like!”. It was amazing. Because it was true. The pictures we have seen for years. The place we have forever wanted to visit. The sacred site of the Incas that has been such a mystery! We were looking at it just as we had always seen it and imagined it to be. We had a chuckle. We finally got up from there and decided to head to the Guard House. The Guard house was located right in the middle, in front of the city, and offered the picture perfect view of the city and Huayna Picchu. Not so quiet here. Quite loud and busy. The tour guides blowing their whistles to get their group’s attention. Other guides speaking loudly to make sure their voice is heard over other guides. Kids running around. Other idiot tourists talking about work and parties. It was time for us to go… we didn’t want our peaceful experiences to be tarnished by the annoying tourists and the touristic scene. So we headed back. Knowing we’d be back tomorrow.
July 30th, 2008
We wanted to, really really wanted to, wake up super early, line up at the bus stop at 4:30 to see the misty Machu Picchu. But we had to work late, and we were so tired/sore from our climb up to the Sun Gate that we just couldn’t. So we left our hotel at 5 am instead. But when we got out of the hotel, we noticed that it was raining (lightly), and was quite cloudy. We lined up (it was a super long line), and caught the bus at 5:30. The views during the drive were totally different. The mountains were covered with clouds. The air felt crisp. We got to the entrance, and decided against tour guides again. With our ponchos on, we stood in the long line-up to get inside. We were super excited. The day was perfect…and we got to sleep the extra hour! It was misty. We knew exactly where to go, which path to take, and where we wanted to sit to take in the view. So we headed straight there. People were turning around, going back as the view wasn’t the greatest. But this is exactly what we had wanted to see!
We headed straight to the Guard House, and sat on an agriculture step right above it. We were lost in the view, the quietness, the mist, the milky clouds that looked like waterfalls, the beautiful green peaks that showed themselves once in a while, the beauty, the richness, the location. We sat there, holding hands, and simply couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. It was perfect! IT WAS PERFECT!! It was so perfect, that a professional photographer from the US walked over to us to tell us that we both looked so peaceful sitting there that she couldn’t help but take a picture of us. She then wanted us to take the same shot of her sitting where we were. We did, and decided to let her sit there and enjoy the view that we had been for so long. We then walked over to our next favourite spot – the edge of the agriculture step on the side of the site. We sat there again, in quiet, in admiration. The clouds were moving, they were flowing down the hills, and coming up from the stream below. The view was clearing now. We decided to head over to the city, since that was our plan for today – to check out the city below. As we walked down, the rain started. We took our time and admired the different views.
Since it was a little later in the morning, the tour groups were flowing in, and the place was packed. Not enjoying sharing our experience with hordes of tourists, especially those that were loud and rowdy (most of them American), we decided to leave while the feelings we had were still positive! So mid-day, after soaking in the most beautiful 6 hours of Machu Picchu, we headed back to Aguas Calientes. The rest of the day we worked, relaxed, and got ready for our train back the next day. And oh, Karthik had the most interesting dinner – a plate full of toasted buns and jam!
July 31st, 2008
Our train left in the morning, and dropped us off at Ollantaytambo, where we had arranged for a taxi to drive us to Cusco airport for our flight to Lima. Our taxi driver (the good old man) Eugenio, was nowhere to be seen. We were waiting and getting worried. In the meantime other taxi drivers wouldn’t leave us alone, and were harassing us to have them drive us instead. It didn’t feel right, especially since Eugenio was driving from Cusco just to pick us up. We waited patiently, but also were considering taking another taxi, when a lady with our names on a sign came running towards us. It was Eugenio’s daughter. His car had broken down, and so he had sent his daughter to pick us up instead. The only car she had available to pick us up in was of her friend’s. So Viviana, with her friend Elvis, were going to drive us back to Cusco. We were just glad that we waited, and so was she! The ride back to Cusco turned out to be real fun. We got to chat with the both of them (Viviana spoke English fluently, and Elvis spoke enough to communicate). They were both exactly our ages. So it was really neat to get their perspectives on Peru, on the world, on life, on politics, on education, on family, on careers! The time flew, and before we knew it we were in Cusco.
They walked us into the airport. It felt as if they were our friends dropping us off! It felt great! We found out later that our flight was cancelled, and so we had to wait around at the airport. It was too bad that they had already left, otherwise we would have loved to spend more time with them. We hung around in the VIP lounge, which was free as long as we purchase something from their kitchen. So we ordered Ginger Ales (first time we had seen Ginger Ales being sold in Peru), knowing that our stomachs will thank us for it. While we were in the line up to check-in, we ran into two different couples, who remembered seeing us in Machu Picchu. On the plane, we didn’t get to sit together, so Karthik enjoyed his nap, while Penny spent the flight chatting with the lady (one of the couples who saw us in Machu Picchu). She was an artist (painter) from New York, and her husband a Molecular Biologist. Some interesting conversation about US politics, travel, and life in general. Before we knew it, we were in Lima. We were only going to stay here one night and rent a car the next morning to go do our Road Trip to Nazca, Paracas, and Ica.