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Tegan & Ingrid's world adventure

Magical Machu Picchu

PERU | Thursday, 26 April 2012 | Views [7234]

Cool llamas walking the ruins

Cool llamas walking the ruins

Well, after our delayed border crossing it made for a late night arrival into Cusco. We were glad we had pre-booked a hostel room as we were feeling pretty exhausted. Our hostel was on the outskirts of town but the room was nice and they made us fresh pancakes for breakfast. That’s always a bonus.

But of course our main reason for being in Cusco was to visit Machu Picchu. After much advice from fellow travellers throughout South America we decided that the best way to do it was to take a Jungle Trekking tour. This tour was a combination of some downhill bike riding, trekking, rafting and zip-lining along with accommodation in comfortable guesthouses on the way. So our first morning in Cusco was spent scouting out the cheapest possible tour. Pretty much all the tours offered the same thing so it was simply a matter of finding the price we liked. It didn’t take us too long and we had booked and paid for a tour to leave the following day. So that left us with only a little time to enjoy the sites of Cusco.

Cusco is a really beautiful city nestled amongst surrounding mountains and with some gorgeous buildings to explore. It is of course also a tourist town with pretty much every visitor to South America using it as a stepping off point to see Machu Picchu. But still to us, it really didn’t feel that bad. Often those really touristy cities turn us off as we don’t like to be constantly badgered by people wanting your business however there were plenty of areas in Cusco where we could just wander freely and enjoy the architecture and some local food without all the tourist hoards around us. That first day we even managed to find a small local festival happening with some live music and dancing on stage. But with an early start in the morning it was a reasonably quiet day for us and we cooked a low key dinner in the hostel before getting some sleep.

Firstly let me just give you a quick overview of the tour we were about to begin. The entire tour goes for four days. The first day was a three hour drive and a three to four hour downhill bike ride.  We then had the option for white water rafting in the evening. Our second day was an 8-10 hour trek and the third day was two hours of zip-lining in the morning followed by a three hour trek in the afternoon. The fourth and final day was the trek up to Machu Picchu then back down and the train & bus back to Cusco. We were in for a busy few days.

We were packed into the minibus with 15 people in our group and only 15 seats available. In fact our guide, Guido ended up sitting on a little stool he picked up along the way. So most people had to nurse their luggage. We were however once again so happy to quickly realise we had scored a great group of people for our tour. We were a mixed bunch from Australia, France, Israel, Germany, South Africa, USA & Sweden.

Our first adventure for the trip was downhill biking. You can just imagine how thrilled we were to arrive at the starting point to find the weather cold and wet. So it was on with the jumpers, gloves and ponchos before jumping on our bikes. Not the most pleasant beginning to our trip. But hey, a bit of rain never hurt anyone so we went on our way down the mountainside. The bikes weren’t the most modern things and certainly weren’t as good as those we had used on Death Road in Bolivia but still, they at least had some suspension and most had decent brakes. Although poor Tegan got stuck with a real dud because he was such a gentlemen and agreed to swap with one of the other girls in the group who was having trouble with the bike. He then ended up with a sore arse for the next week. But he looked amusing trying to pick up speed down the mountain. His poor bike required a lot more effort than anyone else’s to actually gain some speed. Halfway down we were happy the rain stopped and off came the jumpers and ponchos. Although unhappily we soon all found out that there were many huge puddles/mini rivers we had to ride through and by the end of the afternoon we all had soaking wet shoes. Luckily for us there was a family with a knack for money making. They had a wood-fired oven and knew that the tourists always had wet shoes when they arrived so for three pesos ($1) we could hand our shoes to them to dry overnight and then pick them up before our trek the following morning. About half the group, Tegan included, tried their hand at white water rafting that afternoon. The rapids were class 3 and the river had actually only reopened that very same day after a tree had taken out a bridge earlier in the year and the debris had only just been cleared away. The group managed to all stay in their boat and had a good couple of hours on the water.  That night, after dinner we all pretty much went straight to bed after a pretty exhausting day.  I, however, had some very bad luck and contracted food poisoning. I won’t go into details but I’ll just say that I didn’t get any sleep between midnight and 5am due to running to the bathroom. It was probably one of the worst nights I have ever had in my life. I felt absolutely rotten and was trying so hard the whole time not to keep Tegan awake because of the big trek happening first thing in the morning. Needless to say when morning did eventually come my entire body was so drained that I was not trekking anywhere so I had to be put in a taxi to the next town whilst the rest of the group had a gruelling day ahead of them.

But before we get to the day of trekking a little note about the shoes…We all got our shoes back as promised the following morning and were very happy to find them dried as promised. However, when Tegan went to put his shoe on he found a screw in the back of one of the soles. We worked out that they must have put the shoe too close to the oven and the whole sole had actually melted off the shoe! Their way of fixing it was a screw in the back and they didn’t even say a word when they gave it to us. Needless to say Tegan was quick to get our guide, Guido’s, attention and his help in explaining to the shop owners that he couldn’t trek in the shoes like that and we needed to fix them another way. Sure enough, there was a cobbler down the street who could fix the shoes in half an hour. Tegan’s shoe came through the surgery with flying colours and he was ready to go.

So whilst I suffered an unpleasant day of lying in a room trying to make myself feel a little better the rest of the group hiked across rivers, down roads and small paths and even a small part of one of the original trails used by Incans on the side of a massive cliff. The plus side for them was at the end of the day they got to enjoy some thermal baths to soothe those tired muscles. That night was a bit of a party, with lots of cocktails enjoyed with dinner and some dancing at a local club afterwards where one of our new friends Joe gave Tegan his first ever break dancing lesson.

The following day I woke up to be feeling much better and ready for the day. I actually managed to eat my breakfast and decided to participate in the zip-lining. We got to do 6 zip-lines across the valleys before we headed off to lunch. After lunch we started our afternoon of walking. This walk was just 10 minutes uphill and then the rest was following the railway tracks all the way to the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. It was a beautiful walk with magnificent views of the sides of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu and some other great ruins along the way.

The next morning was an early morning get up of 4am so that we were ready at the entrance gate for the trail up the mountain at 5am when it opened. There were probably 50 people waiting at the bottom of the mountain ready for an early morning climb to reach the top by sunrise. Tegan and a few of the boys went racing off ahead and actually managed to get to the top in about 40 minutes. Tegan said when he got up to the top there were only about 11 people who had already arrived so he did pretty well. On the other hand myself and my new Swedish buddy Ines decided to take it a little easier and in fact managed to also get ourselves lost. You see, when we started out it was completely pitch black and the staircase up the mountain crosses over the main road in places. So at one stage we missed the staircase in the dark and then it took us three turns in the road before we actually managed to spot it again. We were not happy as we had to be at the top by 6am or our tour group was leaving without us.  Needless to say at about 1 minute to 6 we finally hit the top and were so happy to be there.  I had asked Guido the day before how many steps there were to get to the top and he had told us 700. I was like, oh well that’s pretty easy then. Ines and I were not impressed when we were counting and reached 700 and looked up to see we only looked around half way. I asked a couple of people once we reached the top and found out that actually there are 1772 steps… Thanks Guido, you were out by 1000!

But it is completely worth the tiring climb when you finally get inside those entrance gates. Wow, what a site. It is just so hard to describe. We arrived just after the sun had come up and the whole site was completely fog free. It just looked magical. There was fog hanging below in the trees and above us on the mountain tops but right in the middle where Machu Picchu sat there was just nothing. And as we were some of the first people to enter there was also no one around. It was completely quiet. So beautiful. However all that quickly changed. Within just 15 minutes of our arrival the fog rolled in and it stayed that way for the next hour or so. We were so glad we had arrived when we did to see the whole site in the first light of day. Guido took us on a guided tour of the site, sharing the history and stories of how it was first found in the early 1900’s. Our tour lasted around 2 1/2 – 3 hours, at which time Guido bid us farewell and we were on our own for the rest of the day. Most of us had pre-booked tickets to climb Huayna Picchu at 10am. Huayna Picchu is the big pointed mountain you see in the background of most postcard pictures of Machu Picchu. It is supposedly a gruelling climb but personally I found it easier than the one up to Machu Picchu. Although others said they found it harder. So maybe I just got my second wind at the right time. One thing that did confuse us was that we knew Incan people were generally very short and small however the steps up Huayna Picchu which were built by the Incans were massive! We were really stretching our legs to climb up them so I am amazed at how they managed to climb up and down that mountain. We all relaxed and ate some snacks once we reached the top. That was our time to really take in all the glory that is Machu Picchu. It is truly an amazing site and the past four days of effort to get there really makes it all worthwhile just to see that site. It also makes you feel like you really achieved something. We really felt for those people who did the gruelling original Inca Trail. You need to book months in advance and you basically walk 12 hours a day for four days. The few people we met at Machu Picchu who had completed it were so exhausted that they could hardly enjoy everything Machu Picchu had to offer as they were just too tired. After a few more hours we were ready to start our descent and looking forward to a beer at the bottom. But of course, knowing our luck, we had just decided to opt for walking back down the steps instead of taking the bus down the mountain when it started to rain and rain and rain. About half way down my knees started playing up so I had to slow right down and Tegan, the gentleman, stayed with me. By the time we got to the bottom we were actually walking down a fast running river that had drowned the steps below. It was just incredible how much water built up in such a short timeframe. We were definitely ready for that beer and some good hearty food when we got to the bottom.

The train and bus back to Cusco that night all went relatively smoothly other than the fact that our bus driver kept nodding off at the wheel! I was the only one awake in the whole bus as it was 1am. Everyone else just fell asleep but I was so damned terrified that I stayed wide awake the whole 90 minute bus ride back and just kept nudging the driver with my elbow every time he’d fall asleep. I was so happy to get out of that bus! I think Tegan wondered why I looked so wide-eyed when we arrived back. That night was a well needed long sleep.

The following day we enjoyed a relaxing day in Cusco before having a reunion dinner with those of our group still in town and then a few drinks at a local bar. The next day it was farewell to Cusco for Tegan and I as we flew back to Lima for our final two nights in South America.

Tegan managed to catch a cold/flu thing after all the busy times over the last few days so he wasn’t feeling great whilst we were back in Lima. We decided not to do a lot and just spent a lot of time in the area of Miraflores, enjoying the parks and cafes in the area. Then it was time to bid farewell to South America after almost three months here. It has been such an amazing three months. We have done so much and our Spanish has definitely improved a lot. We’ve made some wonderful friends along the way and now looking forward to the penultimate leg of our round world journey, in Mexico!

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