Published: August 19th 2008August 18th 2008
Machu Picchu in the clouds
You couldn't even see Huayna Picchu in the background.
Today we got up the earliest we have yet to hike the great Huayna Picchu (or sometimes spelled Waynapicchu like on the sign there). I woke up to the sound of fighting alley cats right outside my window. After a quick breakfast of runny scrambled eggs and some interesting concoction I threw together from granola cereal, prunes, blueberry sauce, some kind of honey, and either milk or yogurt (I'm still not sure, which is a little gross), we were out of the hotel by 4:45, and even that proved too late. I can't believe how many people get up so ridiculously early to go up to the top. By the time we got to the line for the bus, it was already a block long, with about 200 people in front of us. We were getting a little discouraged, and tempted to back out, but we stuck it out. We waited until 5:30 for the first bus to go up. We got to the top around 6, then waited in line again (the same queue, just at the entrance to Machu Picchu now instead of for the bus). Again, we were getting a little discouraged. I should mention that we were
Clouds in Machu Picchu
The llamas were everywhere. It was especially fun to watch them climb up the stairs.
there so ridiculously early because they only let 400 people hike Huayna Picchu a day: 1 group at 7am and the next at 10am. We made it through the gate and booked it across Machu Picchu (along with the crowd) to the other side where the entrance to Huayna Picchu is. Lucky for us, many of the people in line were just there that early to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. I must say that I had been disappointed that we didn´t get to do that the day before....until I was there today during sunrise. What a letdown. It´s supposed to be so great because of all of the Inca building that was focused around the sun, so at sunrise it looks amazing. However, it was so misty (I guess it´s just clouds when you´re up that high) that you couldn't even tell when the sun was up. In the meantime, we had made it to the gate to Huayna Picchu and now stood in another line. It was 6:30. They walked around and gave us numbers a whle later -- Edwin and I were 161 and 162, so we got to go in the first group (thank god
It was so thick I felt like we were in a Stephen King movie.
because after all that standing around and waiting we were getting antsy. It was hard enough to drag ourselves up there to do it, except that everyone kept saying how amazing it was.) So we stood in line some more. Finally, after a grand total of 3 hours of standing in 3 different lines in the cold, we started our journey up the mountain at 8am on the dot. We had no idea what we were in for...
If I thought the walk up to the Sun Gate was tough yesterday, I was sorely mistaken. At times it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. You snake around this mountain that you had only an hour ago been staring straight up at. They break you in easily, because it starts with this nice gradual up then down a little then up a little. Then the fun begins. You start going up steeper and steeper trails. It's all rock lined, which is either a blessing or curse, I haven't decided. Many of the steps are at your knee, so you have to hoist yourself up. It gets even worse at the top. About 30 minutes in, we had had about
Hordes of people waiting in line for Huayna Pichu
enough fun. We started passing people coming BACK down from the front of the line (which feels like when you're running around a track and the faster people are already done and watching you run your last few laps). They were kind though, and spared us the truth about what lay ahead, and instead just told us it was only another 20min or so (which was about right). It was so cloudy that you could only see Machu Picchu (now way in the distance, as I saw it from the Sun Gate) when the clouds broke. Clouds move really fast when you're in them, surprisingly. Our last climb up to the top was painful. If you thought about it and looked down, it's easy to get intimidated. We were soooo high and essentially scaling the side of a mountain. We climbed up the narrowest steepest steps I can imagine. We went up like babies crawling up the stairs, with hands grabbing the next step for balance and safety. When we got the VERY top, there was no more trail. Now it was mostly rock climbing where you find a purchase and hold on for dear life. It wasn't as bad
So full of energy at the beginning
Standing in line for the gate to Huayna Picchu. I think the sun was actually up by this point, you just couldn't tell.
as I make it sound though because it was a bit flatter at that point. There was actually a little Incan building up there. I couldn't believe it. You look straight out into the clouds. Like looking out from an airplane window, but you're in someone's house. I can't even imagine living there. The whole time I was again struck with awe at the fact that people actually used to do this on a regular basis.
The view from the top wasn't all that great, actually. Perhaps it would have been better if we were in the 10am group, but the weather was pretty overcast all day. At one point it started sprinkling up there, which had me a little nervous since we were IN the cloud. Our guide yesterday told us about the 2 deaths on the mountain: one was a Peruvian whose body was never found and is rumored to have faked his death to release himself from social obligations; and the other was a German tourist who was taking a picture during a little rainstorm and was struck by lightening. I was grateful we weren't German at that point. Although I could already hear the next
Me and my number
All that hard work paid off -- we made it into the first group. But man was I tired, and I look it! That's Huayna Picchu in the background, shrouded in clouds.
guide giving the speech, "the third death was this American tourist who slipped on a rock and fell all the way down." I don't have a fear of heights, but when i was up there on that relatively small peak and looking down into the valley FAR below, or straight across at the peaks of other giants, I had an instinctual jab of fear in the pit of my stomach. It was still pretty amazing.
We stayed up there for 15min or so, then started the long hike back down. I should mention that by this point, after a day of hiking yesterday, it was hard enough to drag ourselves up there today. We almost talked ourselves out of it. In the end I think it was worth it, but at the top, all I could think was, "just make it back to the bottom and we're done." We had no real activities planned for the day, so we could rest and relax a bit. For the climb down, we were dreading going back down those stairs we had to climb up like babies, so we found another way around. Up there there are little paths and tracks everywhere,
It was so thick and misty that we didn't even notice when the sun was up. Sucks for all those people who got up so early just to see Machu Picchu at sunrise...
so you could really go exploring, if you had the energy and were crazy enough. Neither applied to us, so we scaled the other side of the peak to go back down, and ended up finding a much more interesting way down. We had to jump down a few times, but it was still more fun, and I'm pretty sure less dangerous. We passed a girl on the way who was hugging the wall at one of the corners and crying, with her boyfriend nearby. She had vertigo and was having trouble. There are police all over the place up there, so 2 of them were nearby keeping an eye on her. I'm sure it's not the first person that's happened to. Wish I could have done something for her, but since I didn't have a pharmacy in my backpocket (and I suspect it was just that same fear of heights that had gripped me briefly), we just passed with a "lo siento". We had to climb through this little tunnel that was cut through the peak to get to the other side of the peak (kinda fun) and ended up with a much shorter version of those scary stairs.
In the beginning
It got so much worse...
And we were on our way back down. It was nice to be the person passing people on the way up and be glad we didn't have to do that again. In fact, I think we even vowed never to do that again. haha We clocked out at 10:05am, almost exactly 2 hours for the whole thing. And believe it or not, we had skipped the long route. There are a few more ruins to see up there, but it's a 2 hour hike to them, and after our trip to the top, we could barely even laugh at the thought as we panted our way back down. In the end, it was a great hike and I'm glad we did it. I would recommend it to anyone in good shape with good footwear.
The rest of the day was pretty sedate. We were supposed to take a 7pm train, but the thought of spending 9 hours in Aguas Calientes was miserable, so we took an earlier train. Unless there's this whole other part of the town that we never made it to, it was really nothing impressive, and filled with tourists. We didn't go to the hot springs,
So fresh at the beginning...
but since they're rumored to smell awful and be filled with piss from tons of Peruvians in there all day, I was ok with missing it.
The hotel (or someone, we're still not exactly sure who) was kind enough to change our train ticket, but instead of the agreed on 1:30 train, they changed it to the 12:26 train (and that 26 would become important...) Lunch was included with our tour, as it was on most days. It was at this great little restaurant called Toto's fairly close to the train station, fortunately. The buffet didn't start until noon though. They love their buffets down here. They actually seem to eat large lunches here and often either skip dinner or just do something very light for dinner. I was antsy standing at the line for the buffet waiting for them to bring stuff out and open it. They recommend getting to the train station 20min early, and we were cutting it really close. We piled up our plates with a little of this and a little of that, and ate pretty quickly. We had just enough time for dessert (which looked amazing, and one even tasted amazing). For Peruvian
In some places it was so steep or narrow that there were guard ropes to hold onto.
buffet (which I have so far been less than impressed with), the food was actually pretty good. Much better than the one yesterday at the top of the mountain. However, I had to taste quickly since we were running out the door. Too bad because I think it would have been a nice place to just sit and enjoy -- we were by the big panaromic view window which sits right on the river and looks out into the mountains. Very nice. It's very daunting to be at the bottom of one of those big mountains though. Way more so than the fjords in Norway for some reason. There were people camping at the bottom (a little campground, not just squatters, I think), and at first I was thinking it was such a good idea and how fun. Then I thought about it and was struck with the same feeling of overwhelming insignificance as I had the day before being high in the mountains by myself. A little disturbing.
We made the train with about 2 minutes to spare (and had gotten there at 12:23, so there goes their 20min early rule). The ride was uneventful except for a
Above the clouds
They say that at noon on good days, the mist suddenly clears and the city appears. How mysterious. Was still cool with clouds all over. Edwin has way more pics but we can't upload them yet because he has no wire for his camera. :(
nice little nap. We got to Ollantaytambo, unsure how we would get to the hotel 35min outside of town, since we had changed our ticket and didn't think anyone knew where we were. However, there was the guy from the hotel with our names on a sign, ready to take us to the hotel. And now I sit, after a 3hr nap in our hotel in Yucay. It's actually pretty nice. Similar to the hotel in Cusco, but a little more rustic and with bigger rooms. It's a farming community, and feels like it. I didn't have time to explore before the sun went down, but I get the feeling that it's just one road that goes through the sacred valley, and the town is on it. Not much out here on either side. Tonight will be a very calm and relaxing night (too bad there's no hot tub!). They have massages here pretty cheap, so that might be my evening. Tomorrow we're off again to see the Sacred Valley, eventually winding our way back to Cusco (Ollantaytambo is on one end, and Cusco is on the other). I'll try to upload some pics now, but my internet connections have
been really slow lately, so when I try, it doesn't go through. Sorry for the delay, you might have to wait until I get back to the developed world!
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