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Machu Picchu – Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of my Machu Picchu adventure! As I’d mentioned in Part 1, we decided to do Machu Picchu without a guide, so I honestly couldn’t tell you much about the history of the place. A Google search would probably take care of that, so I’ll just tell you about our experience.
We followed the crowd though the ticketing area to the ruins, beholding not only the monument, but also the mountains beyond. These were shrouded in mist, giving them an ethereal feel. It was as if we had been admitted to a movie set. As I said before, it was breathtaking. We were standing on stones more ancient than I could possibly fathom, crafted by hands that had never touched a power tool and placed by those who would never see a crane or forklift. What wasn’t stone was a lush green. From above, the ruins looked like a puzzle or an elaborate maze. Although it was early, there were plenty of people around, so we knew we had to act fast if we wanted photos that weren’t filled with tourists.  Fortunately, most had opted to use the tour guides, who would take a while to explain each site, so we had a little time to play with.
We heard some voices behind us and turned to find two Black dudes who looked American. I got excited, because I hadn’t seen too many of us in Peru, so we waited for them to catch up. They were from New York. We chilled with them for a while, since they also skipped the guided tour, and traded South American experiences. These brothers (for real, they’re related) have family in Brazil and invited us to stay with them when we finally get down there.  We told them that we do capoeira and it turns out we actually have some friends in common (I love how small the world is sometimes). Just as we were exchanging contact information, the llamas arrived.
I wasn’t sure what to do at first. I haven’t spent much time with wild animals, least of all when they’re not behind bars or a fence of some sort. When I realized they didn’t see me as a threat, I started taking pictures, being careful not to spook them. Selfie sticks are not just for selfies. They come in very handy when you want to shoot an animal up close without getting llama spit in your face. There were four of them, two smaller ones and two bigger with matted fur. The younger ones were all awkward energy, running around and stumbling on stones, while the the older ones were much more graceful and self possessed. We later learned that they were the mothers of the younger two when one of them started nursing. We must have spent twenty minutes to half an hour with them before resuming our exploration of Machu Picchu.
Not to sound irreverent, but the llamas were kind of the highlight of our experience. Without the guide, we really had no point of reference for what we were looking at. We climbed higher up the mountain, having said goodbye to our new friends (human and animal) to change our perspective. As we were taking photos of the ruins, now filled with people, and trying to imagine what it must have been like centuries ago, it started to rain. This made everything even more beautiful, adding an air of mystery and mysticism to the place. Unfortunately, before long I couldn’t appreciate it anymore. My glasses were all fogged up and it was getting cold, so we took this as our cue to leave.
There were still people coming up in busses as we made our way down and I hoped the skies would clear for them so that they could experience Machu Picchu as we had. Then I realized that this was an impossible expectation. I would bet money that even the guides who are on that mountain day in and day out, never have the same experience twice. That is the beauty of life. There is always some new discovery to make, if you are open enough to see it.
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Machu Picchu -Part 1

When visiting Peru, you HAVE to go to Machu Picchu. It’s just what you do. I don’t think any of our family or friends would have forgiven us if we didn’t go. I mean, it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We had to go! We had no idea what we were in for….

First, we had no idea it would be so expensive to go to Machu Picchu. Many people pay upward of $400 (that’s USD) to take the train there from Cusco, pay the admission fee, and stay in a decent hotel . We didn’t have that kind of money to burn, so we paid $100 each to take a van which picked us up at 7:30 am and drove for seven hours up, around and down these crazy mountain roads. (The train would have taken about 2 hours). It was hot but the driver wouldn’t let us open the windows because of the breeze from the speeding vehicle. This was problematic for one Chilean woman because she wasn’t doing so well. Fortunately she had a plastic bag on hand, or else things could have gotten VERY unpleasant. I had to use the bathroom about 2 hours in but it was not to be. At about the 5 hour mark, as everything was starting to take on a yellow tinge, we stopped for lunch.

There was this stand alone patio area in what could generously be called a town, where there was a buffet setup. A little further down were the bathrooms. I made a bee line for them and all was right with the world again. We ate a simple meal of soup, some kind of stew over rice, and some other stuff I don’t remember anymore, and it was back on the van to continue our journey. Traffic signs are treated as a suggestion, rather than the law and somehow every driver has the right of way. This mentality caused several occasions where our van had to reverse out of a narrow passage because two more vans were coming the other way. Ah… Peruvian driving….

Beyond that the most interesting thing about the drive was the way the landscape changed around us. We were in the mountains the whole time, but we went from a sparse, almost barren landscape with low grasses, to pine trees in the clouds, down to rainforest where there were plants growing on the plants.

When we finally stopped, we were at a train station which hosted a tiny line that took people to Aguas Calientes the small town just outside Machu Picchu. The train ride was not part of package and we didn’t want to shell out $25 each, so we walked to town. They said it would take 2 hours. With our bags it was more like 3.

It was about 7:20 pm when we reached the Plaza de Armas and we were led to our hostel on what felt like the outskirts of town. We were informed that dinner would be at 8pm as we were handed the key to our private room. We asked about the hot springs, the “aguas calientes” after with the town was named. Apparently those closed at 8 pm, were a 20 minute walk away and it was already 7:40 pm, so that was not happening.

We slept on separate beds and awoke at 5am to take a bus up to Machu Picchu. Many people in our group walked up, but Marin had twisted her ankle on all the gravel the day before and though it was feeling a little better, we weren’t taking any chances. We reached the entrance, waited in line, showed our tickets and were finally inside. The view was breathtaking! It seriously made the whole ordeal getting there worthwhile. We had opted to go without a guide, so this ancient civilization was our playground.

Check back in for the rest of the story and the rest of the photos.