Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
100Trip End Dec 11, 2006
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With Fiona having spent the night praying to her own porcelain god, we were a rather subdued pair the next morning. I went to breakfast by myself and we then headed off early to the train station to allow Fiona plenty of time to walk down. We only just made the train following some confusion on Loula and Paula's part as to when it was actually leaving. We were the last to board the train but made it and sat down with all of the other tourists for the hour and a half trip to Aguas Calientes, our jumping off point for Machu Picchu. The train trundled along very slowly and we both found ourselves dropping off to sleep.
Aguas Calientes is basically a town built around the tourists visiting Machu Picchu. After getting off the train you pass by the main square and up along the main (and only) street in town
Her day in bed had certainly done Fiona the power of good as she was up and about with the rest of us at our 5am breakfast. After checking we had everything (not the best idea to forget your camera on the day you visit Machu Picchu!) we headed down the hill to the bus stop. Our early rising had paid off and we managed to board bus number three for the day. It is possible to walk up from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu but seeing as we weren't hiking the Inca trail the wisdom of trekking uphill for an hour and half instead of taking a 15 minute bus ride eluded us, particularly when our guide said that the walk would involve dodging the buses as they made their way up and down...
The road up to Machu Picchu winds up the valley but you can't really see anything because of the steep sides of the valley and the fact that everywhere was covered in fog. At the top we headed into Machu Picchu itself to be greeted by even more fog! With a real fear that the mountain would be shrouded in fog for our entire visit, more Misty Picchu rather than Machu Picchu, we sat down to wait for the walkers who would be joining us at 7am having walked down from the sun gate high up above the citadel. At around 7.15am the walkers appeared from out of the mist accompanied by screams from Paula - cue much tut-tutting from the other tour guides and those attempting a zen-like experience whilst waiting for the fog to clear..
With the walkers returned their guide took us on a tour of the citadel pointing out all of the important features and telling us of the debates that still exist as to what Machu Picchu actually is (our guide went along with the view that it was a place where the Incas came to study the sun and the moon and perfect their agriculture, sort of like an Incan version of a technical college). After the tour we had a chance to look around ourselves and Fiona and I had a stroll through the ruins with Rita, her traveling companion Cecilia having decided to climb up Huayna Picchu, the large mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, all by herself as no one else fancied it. I have to say I was very impressed with Cecilia as our guidebook said the climb was not for the faint-hearted! Seeing all the buildings and walkways, terraces and water conduits that had been built on top of the mountain certainly left me in awe of the Incas' building prowess and the sheer reach of their imagination. However, having taken in the views and clambered around the ruins for the best part of 6 hours we decided to call it a day and head back down the mountain before it got too busy
Back down in Aguas Calientes we had a couple of hours to kill before the train back to Ollantaytambo. After some very frustrating "shall we go here, what about this place?" discussions regarding lunch, we eventually ended up back in the Mexican place we had eaten in the day before, although this time we had pizza instead of Mexican food. After that we did some more blogging mainly because we had to sit out a truly massive thunderstorm that rolled into town around mid-afternoon. The rain was running down the streets and lightning lit up the sky. Very impressive from where we were sitting under cover, probably not so great if you were still up on Machu Picchu where there was virtually no cover at all!
At about 4pm we climbed back on the train to Ollantaytambo where we would be catching a bus back to Cusco. The train chugged away just as slowly as before, but the bus ride was an altogether scarier experience. Once again Fiona and I sat at the front (the trade off you have to make for more leg room) and therefore got a ringside seat as our driver swerved to avoid a girl on a bike cycling in the dark with no lights on, and hit a cow..
After showering and changing it was time to celebrate the return of the walkers and everyone's visit to Machu Picchu. Paula was in charge of dinner arrangements and took us to an Argentinian steakhouse on a street running off the main square. The place was run by an enthusiastic Argentinian ex-tour guide and served some excellent steak. We also had a fair amount of very good Argentinian red wine which helped to revive the tired legs around the table. As an after dinner show we were treated to Paula tangoing with the owner and one of his friends in a very impressive display, clearly being able to dance the tango is a required of all Argentinians! It was a great way to finish our day on Machu Picchu and we staggered home with amazing memories and a real sense of achievement having visited one of the most amazing places on earth.