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Turning 30 South American Style With the dreaded 30th birthday looming, I ran away to South America to celebrate the landmark birthday in style.

Machu Picchu

PERU | Sunday, 22 June 2008 | Views [1760]

When something gets as big as Machu Picchu you get a little concerned that after great expense, time and distance to get there it can´t help but fail to live up the giant reputation that rests on its shoulders. It´s a wonder of the world visited by thousands of people every day and one of the most recognisable international landmarks.
Weirdly though, when you get there, not only does it not look like its pictures but it also seems strangely empty, easily swallowing up all the tourists who visit leaving you space to relax, sit on the terraces and just enjoy the feeling of being there.
The journey there is half the fun so we did a three day mountain bike a trek trip from Cuzco that would have been brilliant if we had working bikes. Sadly the bikes were not just bad, they were dangerously dis-repaired with broken gears, brakes and even saddles. Of our group of eleven, all of whom had done the death road trip or were experienced bikers, five came off on a mild down hill road, with one broken arm, cut head, arm leg and back and one concussion between us.
Rather than moan though, we simply kicked the bikes repeatedly when we finally came to the end of the road, cracked open a few beers and got on with it. Even our brave trouper with the broken arm simply swallowed a job lot of pain killers and trekked on with just a bandage - plaster casts are for wimps apparently.
The trekking days were lovely, looping across original trails cut into the side of the hills, through jungle terrain and onto the valley floor, following the path of the river to Aguas Calientes, the town that serves as a tourist base for Machu Picchu.
Along the way we visited the most stunning hot springs, where for two pounds you could sit in a huge naturally warm pool with great mountain sides dripping with tropical forests rising above you. As we were trekking with a Swedish girl, I even plucked up the courage to go hot pool, even hotter pool and then freezing cold water fall in that order. I cannot recommend it, the very cold water was unpleasant rather than refreshing but then I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold water plunges.
On the final day we were woken from our beds at 4.30am to climb the last hour and a half up the mountain to Machu Picchu by the light of the moon, arriving at the site at 6am in time for the doors to open. And it was great fun, made you feel like you earned it.
Once inside, the view is spectacular and you really get a sense of the majesty of the place that is so familiar through postcards, posters and documentaries seen a million times. It is not just the ruins that make it so stunning but rather the scenery around it.
It is set on top of a mountain, with a peak on each side of it and others circling all round it, all lush tropical hills dripping with greenery. The grass on the site is such a beautiful lime green colour that you don't see anywhere else in Peru and it is really soft, almost English lawn texture.
There is a different view around every corner, with more terraces, stone work or gardens revealing themselves bit by bit. And we even found the energy to climb Wana Picchu, the neighboring mountain peak that you see in all the photos of Machu Picchu which was just great. You got a lovely view of the whole site from the top and the chance to literally slide down the side of ruins and clamber over boulders and caves at the very top.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on one of the terraces, getting sunburned and tired until we absolutely had to leave to catch the backpacker train out of Aguas Calientes back to Cuzco.
All in all a very good few days.

Tags: agua calientes, cuzco, cycle, inca, latin america, machu picchu, peru, south america, tour, trek

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