Well, after 5 months of living within walking distance of one of the seven wonders of the world, I finally bit the gold plated bullet and spent the money to go see it. And guess what? I found out I literally live within walking distance of Machu Picchu!
Andy and I had big plans to go see MP from the start of planning his trip down here. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s ever been a tourist that’s come to Peru and not gone to see MP. We bought our tickets to MP and Huanay picchu. We booked a hostel for a night in Aguas so we could get there bright and early. But one thing we couldn’t bring ourselves to do was book transport there. It’s crazy expensive. We kept putting it off and putting it off until we happened to meet a nice french couple on the santa cruz trek who told us you could walk there. For free. Done.
We headed off to km 82 (where the road ends) one fine morning and began trekking the 28km (17 miles) to MP from there. The trail runs next to the train tracks (but certainly never on the tracks since that would be illegal) for the better part of the journey while constantly crossing back and forth over the tracks and occasionally disappearing. The hike took us about 6 hours.
It ended up being a rather nice hike since the trail runs along the valley floor next to the raging river and is flanked on either side by mountains that are seemingly always shrouded in mist for drama’s sake. For the first 4 hours we hid from every train that came by but got lazy in the home stretch. It was probably for the better since when we took the train back to Ollanta we realized that we were never really hidden, that everyone on the train could see us, and we probably just looked like strange train trolls. We sauntered into Aguas in the pouring rain, tired, wet and ready for a hot shower. Instead, we got to our hostel right as a Peru v. Columbia soccer match started and ended up drinking beers and rooting on the home team.
We had a nice dinner in Aguas where I decided to try my first slab of alpaca steak. I figured why not try the most touristy food item in Peru in the most touristy place in Peru? It was actually surprisingly good. We called it an early night so we could wake up at 4:30am the next morning in order to get to the bridge by 5 and be first ones in.
We woke up, threw on our rain jackets and headed out to the surprisingly bustling streets of Aguas. We made it to the bridge by 5am and crossed with no problems. From here, you can either wait until 5:30 and take a $20 bus up to the site gate or you can walk a trail that climbs vertically through the road switchbacks. Andy and I chose the latter, starting at 6:10 and making it to the gate by 6:50. We passed probably 40 people on the way up (many of whom had been at the bridge since 2:30am!) and were 5th in line to get into the site. When the gate opened at 6 we ended up being first onto MP soil since the people in front of us chose to stop and dawdle right inside the entrance gate. Huzzah!
It was a misty, cloudy morning which I suppose added to the mystical quality MP is so famous for. We headed straight for the sun gate which took us a solid 30 minutes to get to. It was perhaps a mistake. We got to the sun gate, quickly realized it is where all the people from the Inca Trail arrive to for sunrise and also that there would be no sunrise due to the aforementioned clouds. Shoot. We left the crowd before the sun came up and headed back down to the main ruins.
From there, we began weaving through the crowd that had already started to amass within the ruins and over to Huanaypicchu for our 7am time slot. We hiked the steep, stone steps to the top and from there we saw…. clouds. Sometimes we saw the road to MP. Sometimes we got just a baby glimpse of MP far below us. It wasn’t your quintessential HP hike but the hike was really very nice and Andy and I did just enough scrambling at the top to get to a spot none of the other tourists dared attempt. Entonces, we had a lovely little spot all to ourselves on the summit from which we could marvel at the shape shifting clouds all around as and smirk at the 50 tourists smooshed together on the summit boulders over yonder.
We headed down to check out the rest of the ruins and had a lovely time finding caves, deciding which could be fun boulder problems, making up theories about what things could possibly have been for (the perk to not having a guide), and also eavesdropping on the guides around us to find out the correct answers. I have to say MP lived up to all my expectations and is truly a spectacular site. The planning that must have gone into creating such a city is mind blowing and the subsequent labor necessary, astounding. We stayed until 1 or so and when the rain really started coming down we too headed down. I will say, that last half hour will always be a special memory for me. The rain transformed the ruins of MP and all the people within into a colorful circus of tourists, decked out in all manner of neon colored ponchos. I feel like even the Incas would have appreciated such a ridiculous sight.