Monday, July 12, 2010
After Puno, Alex and I grabbed a bus to Cuzco. We opted for the "panoramic" option, which basically meant we were on the top of double decker bus, right in the front. In theory, this was a pretty cool idea. And yes, the scenery was pretty spectacular. However, it also meant we had a front row seat to the daring antics of our driver, which certainly led to us having second thoughts when he would speed around a semi while going around a sharp turn in a cliff side mountain road with no guardrail.. EEK!
View from the bus.
When we arrive in Cuzco, we found a taxi, and headed up the super skinny winding streets to our hostel. It was pretty beautiful, with a view overlooking the city. Alas, we only had this room for one night, but pretty cool nonetheless!
We would be back to Cuzco, but for the time being left the next morning for Aguas Calientes, the town that exists for no other reason then to be a sort of base camp for Machu Picchu. Due to mudslides earlier in the season we had to take a combination of bus and train to get there, but all worked out. I must say Aguas Calientes is a very strange place. It's extremely fake, almost a disney land of sorts for people coming to see Machu Picchu. There are no cars, and just hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops. Kind of icky, but it is in a spectacular setting, surrounded by green mountains and cloud forest. Kind of unfortunate.
Alex and I wandered around a bit when we arrived, bought our tickets for the next day and relaxed. Well, I relaxed. Alex decided it would be a good idea to hike into the woods and climb a broken down rope ladder up a mountain. Luckily, he made it back. :-)
Clearly this was a good idea.
The next day we set our alarms for the bright and cheery hour of 3:45am in order to make it to the bus stop first. (Buses begin departing from Aguas at 5:30am for MP) We'd been told only the first 400 people are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu, the huge mountain behind the ruins, and we wanted to get our shot.
We made it to the bus stop at about 4:20 and were about 20 or 30 back in line. People also hike up in the morning, but we figured we would take the bus to save our legs for the ruins. We waited and waited, and then finally the buses were starting up so we got ready to board. As we approached the front the woman asked for our tickets, and so I gave her our tickets. To the ruins. She again asked for our bus tickets. I looked at Alex who looked back at me. CRAP. We had been sitting there the whole time and had forgotten to buy our tickets!
We left the line and luckily one of the attendants saw our plight and said we could get right back in at the same spot. This was super lucky as the line now stretched all the way up the huge hill of the city. We ran over to the ticket person bought our tickets and ran back. We were knocked decently far back though, so were pretty sure we weren't going to make it and had gotten up early for nothing. Shoot.
The ride up to MP is a pretty motion sickness inducing one, back and forth and back and forth up the switch backs of a huge mountain. We reached the top and the gate just after sunrise. You stand in line once you arrive as the gates don't actually open until 6 or 6:30. As we were standing in line a ticket agent came down to stamp our tickets for admission to Wayna Picchu! We made it, 336 and 337! Hurray!
At opening time we headed inside and straight up hill to get our first glimpse.
From there we hiked down into the ruins to make our way over to Wayna Picchu. I'm really glad we got there as early as we did as the ruins are only quiet in the really early morning before the massive tour group busses arrive. This was one of the only times during the day we had things about to ourselves.
There are llamas roaming the main grounds, and I swear this one was posing for all the cameras!
What we were about to climb. You have to sign in at a gate, for crowd control, and to make sure you come out safely, as you have to sign out as well.
Wayna Picchu is the huge mountain in the back of all the ruin pictures, and it was quite a feat to climb. Old stone steps, a few rope ladders, and scrambling up some rocks. There were definitely a few areas where a fear of heights kicked in for me and I was having no more of that.
However, if you can handle the vertigo/fact that you are multiple hundreds of feet up with no safety net, the view is pretty outstanding. Just watch your step and hang on tight!
View about half way up.
This particular ledge was kinda scary as everyone takes their photo there, but a Spanish family was ahead of us, and taking forever!, and then the dad half slipped as they were backing off, and proceeded to give me a heart attack.
We made it to the top!
View of MP from the top, including the switch backs the buses climb to get to the site.
Ruins with surrounding valley.
We relaxed at the top for a good half hour or so and then made our way back down. There was so much step climbing this day my knees were killing me by midafternoon!
We spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins, we were there probably until about 1:30 or 2pm. I was plenty ruined out by that point, but glad I had gotten to experience everything they had to offer. The site also starts getting really crowded by this time, so it was the perfect time to head back!
Overall I would say of the three major ruins we've been to (Angkor, Tikal, and MP) I still like Angkor Wat the best by far, but Machu Picchu has such a spectacular setting, it's worth going just for that. The mountain surroundings truly are incredible and completely take your breath away!