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Published: February 26th 2011
Machu Picchu, Peru
Note: For some reason, I can't load any pictures today. I'll try again later.
There's a reason it's called the rainy season. The only time it wasn't raining during our trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu was while we were driving to and from the airport.
However, it was still a wonderful experience.
As soon as the ship docked in Callao, the port for Lima, we were off to the airport for our Star Peru one hour flight to Cusco. I was lucky to have a window seat and could see the change from the desert to snow-capped mountains to the incredible green of the Sacred Valley, where we were headed. Our Condor Travel guides -- who were terrific -- escorted us the entire trip, from the ship and back, so all went smoothly the entire trip. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, the five star Libertador which sits on top of an Incan palace, we were given cups of coca tea which helps prevent altitude sickness. Cusco is at about 11,300 feet, so that could certainly be a problem. Hugh and I were careful to drink lots of bottled water as
well as the tea and to eat quite lightly (although the food at the hotel, especially the bread, was so good that was difficult.) We were lucky and didn't have any problems except slight headaches; others in our group required oxygen and the attention of the hotel's doctor.
After checking in and having lunch, we started off on a city tour of Cusco. The rain began as we walked the half-block to the Temple of the Sun, but luckily that was mostly indoors because the Spanish built a monastery on top of it. (They recognized how good the Incan foundations were.) Our guide, Rolly, gave us a very interesting tour of the huacas (temples) there, explaining how the Incas cut the stone so carefully that no mortar was ever needed. Although Cusco has had a number of bad earthquakes, these temples have remained solid which was not the case of the buildings the Spanish erected on top of them. We then took a bus to Sacsayhuaman, an area above Cusco where huge stones created massive walls for more temples. Unfortunately, it was pouring so hard at this point that we couldn't have much of a tour, but it was
interesting to see the llamas that were wandering among the ruins. Our next stop was the Cathedral in the center of town, an amazingly huge place with incredible woodwork and ridiculous amounts of gold, the gold having been taken and melted down by the Spaniards from the Inca temples. We then had a very wet walk back to our hotel where we had dinner and a very early night since the high altitude really made us tired and we knew we had an early start coming the next day. Hugh and I had possibly the best room in the hotel, a corner room with a balcony overlooking the monastery.
Our wake-up call came at 5:00 AM and, after a quick breakfast, we set off for the train station at 5:45. Unfortunately, we were not aware that the station was two hours away, so Hugh and I were rather uncomfortable in the back seat of the mini-bus, bumping along the rough mountain roads with increasingly full bladders! But we made it, and after a quick pit stop, we were soon on the train heading down to Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu is 4000 feet lower than Cusco, so the altitude was
less of a problem there. This two hour train trip is one of the most beautiful in the world, but only if you are sitting on the left side of the train; guess which side we were on. From the station we walked thru the little town to the shuttle buses that took us the half-hour trip up the gravel switchback road to Machu Picchu. So, if you are keeping track, that's a 4 1/2 hour trip from Cusco (not counting the waiting at each change point.) Unless you walk the Inca Trail, a four-day trial for even the most fit, taking the train and these shuttle buses is the ONLY way to get to Machu Picchu.
So, finally we were there. Access to the ruins is so restricted, our passports were checked to be sure the numbers matched those on our entrance tickets. Which is really a good thing, I guess, because it keeps the numbers down and the crazies out. We were divided into groups of about 20 (61 from the ship made the trip) and started off by climbing to the lookout point where we got the view that you see in all the pictures, the
"Oh My God Point," as our guide said. And it was splendid, even with the low-hanging clouds which made the highest peak invisble. Then it was two hours of tromping up and down and thru the stone terraces and temples, with the rain pouring down all the time. It was really quite a scene seeing all the plastic ponchos, rain gear and umbrellas. Our guide was excellent at explaining the what, why and how of each area so that by the time we were back at the entrance we felt quite intelligent. This is not a trip for anyone with mobility problems as we were almost always climbing around on the ruins themselves, so there were often huge and/or uneven steps to negotiate. And they were wet. Of course, that doesn't stop some fools from dressing inappropriately, like the 70+ year old American woman with orange hair who had on sequined ballet slippers and inch-long false eyelashes. We had a buffet lunch at the hotel at the top, then took the shuttle back down to the town where we had a few hours to kill before our train. We did a little shopping at the huge artisan's market there and
had a cup of coffee in an open-air cafe which overlooked the river. And what a river! I have never seen such "angry" water! For one thing, it was so muddy it looked like chocolate milk. But the jumping and smashing of the waves was truly breathtaking.
Once we got back on the train, with good-side seats this time, we realized that the train ran right along this raging water...and it crossed our minds that maybe this was not a good thing. After all, last year the track had been washed out and it had taken three months to restore it. But off we set, enjoying the view. However, it was short-lived because the sun went down after only half an hour. Then the train ground to a halt, but before we had time to wonder what was going on, a dancer in a bright Incan costume, complete with animal mask, came dancing down the aisle accompanied by blaring music. This was followed by a style show of alpaca sweaters, modeled by the train's staff who had just finished serving us a snack. What a surprise...and how much fun it was to have something so unexpected happen. Eventually the
train started up again, but was held twice at crossing points to let trains pass in the opposite direction. So it took us 2 1/2 hours to get back. Then two more hours on the bus (where Hugh and I each ate a KitKat for dinner) and finally we were back at the hotel about 10:15. Dinner was available, but we were too worn out to do anything but shower and fall into bed.
The next morning we found out that the day before we went to Machu Picchu the train had not run due to the dangerous state of the river and our guides had been told that we probably would not be able to go. I'm glad they didn't tell us.
Before we left Cusco, Hugh and I went to a shop across the street from the hotel where I would happily have bought everything in the place, if it weren't a problem getting it home. The alpaca sweaters were the most beautiful, high quality sweaters I have ever seen! We each got one. Then it was off to the airport where our plane was delayed for about an hour. It became an expensive hour because
I bought three more beautiful woolen things at the shops while we waited! Finally we got back "home" to the Black Watch which had never looked so good.
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