Finally made it to the storied site of Inca civilization.
Aguas Calientes is the tourist town below Machu Piccu pueblo. As lonely planet guide book describes it: “It is a tourist town designed to cater to the one night stand tourist who will never be back”. It is a gauntlet of venders hawking their souvenirs. Restaurants, hotels, hostels, and the train tracks dissect the town.
Arose for a 5 am breakfast and were in line at 5:30 for the shuttle bus to top. (We being the members of Lares Trek) 15 steep switchbacks later we were nearly 2000 feet above town. Machu Picchu is on a ridge with sides dropping steeply down to the Orobamba river below. Unfortunately it was cloudy so our sunrise was not to be the drama desired. But it made little difference as once you pass through the gates with ticket checked and ID confirmed you walk out to the famous view. It is as spectacular as one would expect. Pictures all around trying desperately to capture the feeling and moment, knowing the photograph will never capture that sensation. It was here Jeanne and I planned our Christmas card picture. Alas, things change.
After dozens of pictures in our group, Reuben our guide spent the next 2 1/2 hours guiding us through the historical features of this civilization, which in many ways was more advanced than ours. Maybe not more advanced just different. Hence the Spanish attempted to destroy it. I will not go into the history of the Incas as it is long and complicated and subject to historical interpretation. I suggest he book “Turn right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams as a great read.
It seemed funny to me that since Jeanne had left I felt alone despite group being around and great. I missed my partner. Normally I relish my solo time and seek it out but now this time was not planned for and I could not get into the feeling of viewing the remains of a lost civilization. Hence I headed off to climb Wayna Picchu, the peak behind Machu Picchu. I had obtained one of 400 daily permits to climb the trail. Reuben had said allow an hour, the ID and permit check booth said 2 hours. I did it in 1 1/2 but did not dawdle. Trail is steep with some exposure. One set of stairs on descent I measured a slope of 68 degrees for about 200 feet, another not quite as steep but a wall on one side and 2000 feet on the right. But the views were spectacular varying the usual Machu Picchu pictures.
Returning, it was time to catch the bus down and the train back to Cusco. The journey to busses was slowed by massive number of tourists viewing the site. Many folks do the trip in one day from Cusco, arriving about 9 or 10 and departing about 2-3. Visitors are limited to 2500 a day and I wound my way through all 2500 of them trying to also navigate the narrow mazes of the old city network.
Made it back and connected with group for last time, as I was on a separate train for unknown reasons. It still amazes me how one gets thrown in with a diverse group and shortly you become friends quickly. Something about shared suffering I guess.
Sat with a couple from Mexico City who had very passing English and enjoyed the trip and conversation with Jorge and Rosa. I guess I misunderstood the directions and got off the train at Ooraythombo instead of end of line as I was supposed to do. Thus no one to meet me. Pulled out the phone and turned on cellular which was going to cost dearly. Was going to get a SIM card here but they are expensive too, so had opted out. Called Llama path,the tour organizer, and told them of my plight. They were very helpful saying get a taxi and have them talk to Llama path for payment. Hence somehow I ended up feeling like I was being argued over, who was going to drive me to Cusco, about a two hour drive. Keep in mind my Spanish is extremely limited. I figured the choices were one of the ubiquitous 3 wheel motor scooter taxis, a car taxi, or minibus. I had no idea who had what as they talked on my phone with my minutes to Llama path which said they had to be in Cusco by 8 pm an hour and half away. Ended up in a minivan with 14 others for ride back, making it at 8:15, too late for Llama path to pay so I paid driver the standard rate of 80 Sols (about $27). Had a window seat and watched the stars, but do not know the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. (Hopefully I can change that in next months) Very nice not having the light pollution of everywhere else.
My friend Buck (buckbenson.org)arrived in Cusco this morning from being sick on trip. Altitude and the cold had dealt him some sickness and he came to Cusco before rest of group arrives Tuesday. He had an all night bus ride and came here to hostel and is currently sleeping. Sunday and I am relaxing about Cusco. Later will park to city park for another festival. And time to reorganize gear from trekking, buses, tours and rearrange into biking travel. Tired I guess from the stresses of travel and being sick which has improved, but lungs still a bit congested. I will survive.
Talked with Jeanne via FaceTime when she arrived in Atlanta, for changeover to flight to St. Louis. Face time is a wonderful thing. Amazing world.
Everything works out for the good.