4am is way too early to be a functioning human beings...lucky for us we had drivers and trains and buses to do the heavy lifting during these early morning hours. Sitting in our private shuttle, I was once again shocked at how early the sun rose here. Just after 5 am the sun has lit all the crevices of the valley producing a gorgeous view. As we winded along we had stunning views of both mountain and the Urubamba River
Upon arrival at the train station, two hours after leaving our hotel, our private guide Walter asked us if we had our passports...and our hearts sank. We did not because it doesn’t make sense to have passports when you are walking through ancient ruins and hiking up mountains. He persisted, however, asking and fully believing we were joking. I wish we had been. We had just 10 minutes to board our train but he explained we would need them for both the bus rides and the entrance to Machu Picchu. Making a split decision, we chose to board the train and hope we could figure out the rest from there.
Now when we travel internationally we typically take several steps to prepare for a situation where our passport might be lost or stolen. On this trip we had decided to make photos copies to have with us and had even left a copy at our home so our dog sitter (thanks Wayne!) could text or email if necessary. But in this particular situation we did not have our originals or copies, it was 5am back home, and we had no WiFi. As we struggled with our guide to come up with a solution it became very stressful. We had spent A LOT of money on this particular portion of the trip and the thought of losing it all was heartbreaking. Walter worked tirelessly with us (also having issues with cell service) and was able to get ahold of our hotel who graciously went into our rooms and sent us photos. Even then, Walter was still uncertain that this would be acceptable...but all we could do was try.
As we walked from the train to the bus, our hearts raced just hoping they would let us on. After a few smooth words from Walter we boarded the bus no problem. Another obstacle down!!! The bus ride up was about 20 minutes and it was INTENSE! Very narrow roads, with sharp turns, and shared by other buses!!! When we finally made it to the entrance, it was time for the moment of truth...AND WE MADE IT THROUGH! While I still do not understand why they need it, save yourself a ton of stress and don’t forget your passport ;)
The city of Machu Picchu itself is is jaw-dropping. The layout is impressive to experience as there is a lot of detail that went into the construction that made it stable as well as socially expressive. Here I found the guide to be most beneficial as the historical facts were relatable and interesting and his knowledge of the city layout made our motion through it as fluid as water running downstream. He navigated us through this ancient city thoroughly and efficiently so as to get us to our check in for the hike of Machu Picchu mountain on time.
Here we said goodbye to Walter and embarked on our self guided hike up the taller mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu city. Remember, we did our hike in Jefferson National Forrest to warm-up and prepare for this monster hike...or so we thought!!! No sooner had we climbed the 6th flight of stairs that we were stopping for a break. The altitude was evidently weighing on us, on top of our less than perfect shape bodies. Our pack was also on the heavy side as we were carrying 5L of water with us. So we trudged on taking frequent breaks and drinking lots of water. There were a total of 357 people that signed in to hike the mountain and we, two of the last 3 in. We used our breaks to take tons of pictures of the scenery as there is plenty of jungle and an unobstructed view of Machu Picchu city shadowed by Huayna Picchu mountain. The view was breathtaking...literally! Over the next hour and fifty minutes we made our way to the summit of the mountain...and the walk was well worth the effort. The view, the breeze, and just the accomplishment was a huge reward for both of us. We only spent about 15 minutes at the summit, resting and taking photos, before it was time to start the trek back down...and I still cannot decide if I hate going up or down stairs more! It would typically be much faster going down but with the narrow steps, lack of handrails, and my overall clumsiness we took it slow and steady one step at a time and reached the bottom about an hour later. We were completely drained, realizing we had only shared a granola bar between the two of us the entire day, so we headed to the bus that would take us into town.
I’m sure all of us have experienced the frustration of overpricing in tourist areas...that is what is in the town of Aquas Calientes. We needed to purchase more water. All of the restaurants have overpriced water so it is better to carry it in with you. While we had recently paid 4 sol for a 2.5L bottle they were now asking 7!!! I have learned that it is more of a bartering system here so when I walked to the next shop and the clerk asked for 6 I only offered 5 which she gladly took. Once again, the travel agency had scheduled a free lunch for us at a restaurant in town. While we will never turn down free food...we weren’t excited to go especially based on last nights dining experience. So we went in with low expectations and got a free plate of food from the buffet and just weren’t feeling it. So we instead went across the street to a restaurant called Wayna Pisco. Whatever you do...DON’T EAT HERE. We were craving some familiar food so we ordered a quesadilla and a burrito. Granted, some of my disappointment was craving Mexican style food in a Peruvian place. That’s on me. BUT each item was almost $15 each and some of the skimpiest dishes we have seen yet. The sauces they bring out are a standard chipotle...then ketchup and some type of mayonnaise. On top of having crappy food, when they brought the bill there was a 25 sol (about $8) service charge. This is the only place we have seen this and I am almost certain it is just because they thought they could get away with it.
We boarded our train at 4:15 and began the 3 hour and 15 minute ride back to town. Our guide informed us that each of the trains are different, some having bathrooms and food while others have nothing so mind this when you or your agent is booking. We took the Perurail train and they did serve drinks and a snack...which was mostly bread with some pizza like sauce and a small portion of vegetables. After the service the train crew put on a show with one dancer dressed in a traditional costume and mask while the others put on a modeling show displaying their wide collection of alpaca clothing which OF COURSE was for sale. After this, I was fast asleep in our comfortable, reclining chairs until we arrived back home.
Tomorrow we start our journey into the Manu Cloud Forest. Keep up with us for more photos and stories :)