So this is it, the big one. Macchu Pichu is the reason for me wanting to come to South America so to say that I was excited would be an understatement. We had arranged our visit to coincide with my birthday so the pressure was on for Machu Pichu to deliver. It did not let me down.
Our journey started at Cusco train station at 6.30am. Just to make us feel at home the first half of the journey to Aguas Calientes, where we were to spend the night had a rail replacement bus service in place due to maintenance work. If I had looked more closely when booking the tickets I would have known this and we could have saved money by getting the public bus, but hey, I digress. Whilst leaving Cusco we entered higher mountains and were in the clouds. It was very atmospheric travelling through market towns covered in thick fog. When the clouds did lift the views were outstanding. We were sat right at the front which meant that we had a front row seat to the dramatic mountains as well as nerve-shattering hairpin bends. I had to close my eyes more than once as
people would overtake on blind bends with sheer drops to the side.
The bus dropped us at a temporary train station outside of Ollantaytambo where we boarded our train. Having travelled for nearly five months on buses I cannot tell you how exciting it was to travel by train. We booked the cheapest train of the three options on Peru Rail but it was still an impressive train. The roof has windows so that you can see all of the dramatic mountains looming over you from the valley floor. The train follows the ferocious Rio Urabamba which pours over rapids with huge rocks. The piped in oxygen made us a bit giggly and the pan pipe moods playing through the speakers made us feel like we were on our way to the ewok village.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes with a strong drizzly rain falling, hoping that it would be clear for our 5am start the next morning. As it has done on my birthday for most of my thirty two years the sun came out and we were blessed with a gorgeous day. Our early start paid off and we were on the first bus up to
Machu Pichu. As the bus zig-zagged up the crazily steep road to the ruins the sun was rising and out of the gloom we could start to make out the shapes of the mountains. All of the excitement was getting a bit much for me and it was all I could do not to cry when we reached the Hut of the Caretaker and got our first view of Machu Pichu. It is every bit as amazing as I had hoped and we managed to get the picture postcard photo with almost no tourists in it. It is baffling how the Incas even had the idea of building something this high up, let alone going through the logistics of actually building it. We probably spent an hour at that spot taking photos from different angles and watched the sun rise from behind the mountains. We saw the shadows creep across as the sun hit the ruins. The Incas were into astronomy and this spot was picked to gain the maximum amount of sunlight; the buildings are made with the windows on the east and west walls so the sun shines through them all day. This made for some fantastic shadows.
Next we headed to the bridge of the Incas which I would not recommend if you have even the slightest fear of heights. The walk to the bridge is on a path around the mountain of Machu Pichu with no barriers and a sheer drop on one side. The Incas destroyed the bridge when they were escaping the Spanish to ensure that they were not followed. This part is now blocked off as a tourist fell off.
There are no signs or explanations at the site which is great as it does not spoil the view but I would suggest reading up about it before you go or hiring a guide. We had visited the museum the day before which helped to get a good perspective. However there are so many conflicting theories that no one seems to have any definitive answers as to what it was built for; the terraces were definitely used for farming and there are other places in the sacred valley where these are still being used. It is fun to try and imagine what it would have looked like 500 years ago.
Walking around the ruins took quite a while as every
time you turn a corner or go up a set of stairs you get another amazing view. Even without the ruins, the mountains themselves and the landscape make for dramatic photos. After about five hours of walking up and down stairs at high altitude I was exhausted. I have no idea how people hike the four day Inca trail to get there.
Unfortunately the altitude floored me again so I spent the rest of my birthday in bed instead of celebrating but I wasn’t missing out on much in Aguas Calientes. The restaurants are overpriced with bad food and bad service so I would leave my celebrating for another day and another town. Even this did not mar my birthday. Machu Pichu is ace!
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