Machu Picchu, Peru- Kate
The day after our trip through the Sacred Valley, Jen, Will and I got on another morning bus to go to Machu Picchu. A 6-hour bus trip through the most incredible scenery followed. We went up and down mountains, along switchbacks that would give even the most ardent roller coaster fan a bit of vertigo. I think my mouth was agape for the entire time, unable to believe my good fortune at being able to witness such beautiful scenery. It’s hard not to believe in a higher power/energy/whatever when looking at these wonders. Waterfalls from the snowfall were streaming all around, some peaks were over 16,000 ft, and we passed through charming towns and villages.
For me one of the highlights was actually going into and above the cloud line. When happy, a lot of people say they are on cloud 9 or floating on the clouds. I literally lived that! It was so incredible and beautiful, and at times we couldn’t see but a few feet in front of the bus. Nothing could dampen my excitement and all I could think was that people have no idea what they mean when they use those phrases. I forever will because I actually was in the clouds.
Down the mountain we went and out of the clouds… Then our bus driver stopped. We assumed it was to take a bathroom break, but suddenly realized we were on the side of the road at a mechanic’s shop and it was time to change the brake pads. Looking around there were brake pads littering this stretch of road, and it became clear the buses take a huge beating going up and down the mountains. A long hour or so later we set off again, almost immediately taking a hard left onto an unpaved dirt road. This road would take us the last 60-90 minutes to our destination. I cannot convey how crazy this road was. It barely was wide enough for our airport-style mini bus, and was covered in holes and other hazards. Not to mention hairpin turns. Occasionally, the road widened a few feet, just enough for a car to pull to the side and allow an oncoming vehicle to pass, but for the most part the only security we had was the driver honking as he navigated the blind turns. On one side is a rock face jutting up high into the mountains. On the other is a sheer drop to the ravine. Depending on where on the switchback was on the mountain, this could be a couple of hundred to tens of thousands of feet. Harrowing to say the least. But incredible in a way you have to experience to understand. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but trust me, this was nuts!
We considered taking the more expensive but shorter-duration train, but I’m so glad we didn’t or we would have missed this incredible road trip. The bus eventually pulled up in the middle of nowhere to this bustling ramshackle outpost, and our trip was over. We were at the end of the bus line, and from there we needed to set off on foot.
The route is supposed to be 9 kilometers, but I would swear on my life it’s longer. By this time, we were significantly acclimated to the altitude, and Machu Picchu itself is a few thousand feet lower than Cusco, so we didn’t feel any bad negative affect of the altitude. There was a small hill at the top, but otherwise the route — along train tracks (which totally reminded me of Stand by Me) — was relatively flat. We took a fairly brisk pace, or at least we thought we did, and expected to arrive in about 2 hours. After all, I walk about 4 mph, which is about 6 kilometers per hour. But to our surprise it took closer to 3. I still don’t get it, but the walk was so incredible and the scenery so majestic we didn’t care. I took pictures as best I could, but I don’t think any camera or lens has the capacity to show what we saw in real life. And in a way that’s how it should be. These are my experiences and they are forever in my mind and in my memory’s picture book. I want to share this with my family and friends, but more I am content with being able to close my eyes and relive through sounds, smells and sights the experiences I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to have.
We rounded this corner and in between two mountain peaks I saw what appeared to be ruins… we could see the famed Machu Picchu! A few more kilometers to the town of Aguas Calientes, and we arrived at our hotel for the evening. Apparently people queue early for the first buses up to the ruins, so we set off to find a place to eat and settled into bed as early as possible.
The next morning came early. We got in line for the bus at about 4:30 with our new Spanish/French friends, and about 100 other tourists. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and it was alternatively raining and thick-soupy foggy. But we trudged on and arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu by 6 am. After a few starts and stops with a barely English-speaking guide, we were ushered to another guide, whose English was great. Our friends joined us, partly because the native Frenchman was more comfortable with English than Spanish, but also because we had formed a bond and wanted to see the sight together. I can’t say enough about the guide and the tour. Through the fog and sometimes rain, the ancient Inca city presented itself and its mysteries. Because much of the history was lost with the Spanish conquest, most of what we learned was conjecture and estimated guess. One thing I did find incredible is how long it remained a mystery and how relatively recently it was unearthed. Apparently as the Spanish started to infiltrate the Inca Trail and lay ruin to its cities, the Incas fled and mislead the Spanish, so the city was never found and ruined.
Below are some striking photos of our time in the ancient city. While I would rather not have been rained on, I can’t say the fog didn’t add to the incredible sights and pictures. After touring the site for about 4-5 hours, we headed back on our 9 km hike to the bus point. Also in the slideshow below are some of my favorite shots from those walks.
I’ve heard a few people say Machu Picchu is overrated, and it’s certainly touristy. As you can see, there isn’t really a vantage point where you can take a photo without seeing throngs of people — and we were there in the slow season! But overrated it is not, unless you think the Great Wall, Stonehenge, and pretty much every other UNESCO sites are overrated.