Ah, Machu Picchu- the gem of South America it seems. Maybe one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. The most popular way to do it is to backpack in- via the Inca trail or some other trail, and arrive after a few days of camping. Well, we didn’t do it that way, we did it on our own terms, for a few reasons. First, we didn’t want to spend much money. Lisa and Gilmer were hurting at the end of their trip as it was. Also, Lisa, John, and Gilmer didn’t have a whole lot of time with their flights in the next week. And then, to do the Inca Trail, you need to reserve a spot months in advance- we didn’t do that. Plus, we heard from a lot of people that they were disappointed with their trip.
Instead, Karl and I took an overnight bus from Arequipa to Cusco (again with the zero sleep thing), met the other three there, bought our park entrance (our 50% discount with the ISIC card saved us more than the cost of the card), bus and train tickets, and that evening got on the bus to Aguas Calientes (the city at the base of Machu Picchu). That was long day number one, getting to the hostel that we had reserved around 11pm.
The next day our self guided tour began. We were up at 4am, scarfed down (and pocketed) some crappy hostel breads, and started hiking. It was about a 2-hour hike, mostly up stairs and before the sun was up, to get to the park entrance in time to get our coveted Wayna Picchu stamps. Wayna Picchu is the name of the peak just behind all the ruins in most photos of the park. Only 400 patrons are allowed up the peak per day, so you have to get your ticket stamped before entering the park. Then it was into the marvelous ancient city of Machu Picchu. To be honest, what I felt around that point was more surreal than anything. Just being there- such a famous place that when I first heard about I never dreamed I would actually someday visit, with the people I was with- friends and family from home, it almost didn’t seem like it could actually be happening. I think that feeling is what I liked most about visiting Machu Picchu. I mean, the ruins themselves were nice and the mountains surrounding them were stunning, but something about that feeling was really great.
There really was a planned-out self guided tour that they recommended, but we didn’t stick to it at all. We more looked for the best views of the park with the fewest other tourists. First we hiked up to the ‘Sun Gate’- the place with the first view of the ruins for people hiking in on the Inca Trail. At that point it was a bit cloudy, but the view was still impressive. Then John, Gilmer, Karl and I (Lisa wanted some alone time with the ruins) took a chance hiking up Machu Picchu Mountain.
We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. We just started climbing stairs on a trail with a sign and had soon climbed to a point where the only option was to keep going. The trail just kept climbing- up and up and up and we kept following it. At one point while we were hiking we pointed to a ridiculously high peak and said something like “that’d be funny if this trail went up there”- then it did. When we first got up there we were looking down on the clouds covering the ancient city and really couldn’t see much. But before long the clouds lifted and way down below were the tiny ruins. I think just as impressive as the ruins were the surrounding mountains and river valleys. And to put a ‘city’ in a place like this- how incredible. We were awestruck for a while on top of that mountain, but soon realized that we had 10 minutes to get to the gate for Wayna Picchu (on the direct opposite end of the park) before our time slot was up. Oops.
We all but ran down that mountain (with only a couple slips and stumbles) and only a couple times stopping because the amazing view caught our eye again. We must have looked like fools running through the ruins, dodging old people with giant cameras, trying to find the quickest way through them to the gate that we got up at 4am to pass through. When we got there, there was no one in line, just Lisa standing there waving at us to hurry up while pleading with the guy to wait just a second more before cutting us off (we got there like 30 minutes after our time was supposed to be up). Nice work Lisa!
Phew, all that trekking before it was even noon. Yes, we were trekkin’ hard. We took our time getting to the top of Wayna Picchu, but by the time we did some heavy clouds had made their way over us. We still had a good view of the ruins, but we were very glad that we took the chance to go up Machu Picchu Mountain- there was surely no view like it. We walked around the ruins on Wayna Picchu for a while, snapping pictures all too often, and then eventually were whistled at to head down. That descent was rather sketchy- climbing down steep wet ruins in the rain.
We rested for a bit while it rained and when the sun came back out hurriedly explored the ruins up close. We spent some time walking through all the ancient rooms and doorways. Eventually we’d had enough and opted for a relaxing lay down on some of the grass that the alpaca were eating. It was nice laying in the sun that stayed out until the park closed. Then it was a hike back down to Aguas Calientes in pouring rain, and killing time back at the hostel. Our train out of there wasn’t until 10pm which put us back in Cusco around 2:30am. That was long day numero dos.
The very next day it was time to say some goodbyes. Lisa, Gilmer, and John were headed to Lima to catch flights back to the states. It was great to get some time traveling with some familiar faces from home. We had a blast with Lisa and Gilmer and were sad to see them go. But on top of that, we were losing an entire third of our tripod. John had been with us from the beginning, but now was time for him to get back to California and back to work guarding lives. It was hard to see him go but we were glad that we got the chance to travel and experience all the amazing things that we did with him while he was here. John, if you’re reading this, keep trekkin’ hard and never lose the spirit of the duck’s-face thumb’s up (now officially denoted DFTU).
Karl and I stayed in Cusco for a bit- it was a really fun city, filled with crazy travelers from all over. Yet again we got a chance to meet up with Sascha and Meike- our Dutch friends whose path we keep crossing, for a couple nights out on the town. We also took the chance to hike to the top of one of the surrounding hills to see the view that the Jesus statue had. Not bad. After Cusco we took a bus to Puno where we figured out how to get our visas for Bolivia.
Thank you all for reading.