Hey South America rookie! If you dream about travelling to that amazing land but you aren’t quite sure how to dive in, Peru is the perfect place to start your adventure. Mysterious history, astonishing nature which literally takes your breath away, but first and foremost – fantastic people. All that and much more is what you should be expecting when embarking on a great journey to the birthplace of the Inca Empire. Tourists exploring Peru are usually following the classic Peruvian route – Ruta de Gringo (aka the white face path 😉 ) ending their adventure with 4-days trekking from Cuzco to Machu Picchu – one of the most enigmatic place in the world.
The energy of this place is BRUTAL! – said Jesus, the owner of the hotel we stayed in Cuzco.
Brutal? That’s a good one! Spanish people they tend to exaggerate, but this time is not the case. I couldn’t think of a better word to describe Machu Picchu – that’s why when I’m being asked about my trip to Peru I constantly quote that phrase and I love it! Even now, almost half a year after our trip, day dreaming about the Inca civilization fires up my imagination. It turns on my mind. I just feel a bit sorry for the rest of the country because after visiting Machu Picchu, nothing really amazes me anymore. It’s hard to compare other places to such a GIANT of culture and ancient history. Make sure you learn from my mistake (we made Rute de Gringo the reverse way) and let it be the last thing on your itinerary. Like the icing on the cake. It’s worth it.
Machu Picchu keep calm and prep.
I’ve never been good at meticulous planning my travels. I can organize other people but not myself. I’m “unorganizable”. Sometimes it pays back and I end up with the WILDEST TALES to share, but more often I regret being so lazy. I do regret not preparing myself enough before going to Peru. Especially our first days now seem to me very chaotic. If you think you can be another Hiram Bingham setting off on a self proclaimed jungle expedition, you are wrong. Tickets for the famous Inca Trek have to be booked at least 6 months in advance. I’m dead serious. When we got to Cuzco we realized that there are no tickets left so we can only do Salkantay Trek or Jungle Trek (on bikes). As we were already in love with Cuzco we decided to stay there longer and choose another alternative option. Machu Picchu by train.
We bought our return tickets to Aguas Calientes in Cuzco. You can choose between Machu Picchu only, Machu Picchu with the mountain or with Huayna Picchu (the last option has to be booked in advance). Although our choice was Machu Picchu with an option to climb the mountain of the same name, the reality was tougher than we thought. I’m really ashamed to admit – we gave up. Climbing Machu Picchu mountain takes good 2 hours one way. After our morning 8 km up the hill “warm-up” we would probably die signing up for another cardio killer.
We have to travel from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and the only reasonable option is so called colectivo – small mini bus departing every… well it departs once all the seats are taken. Sorry! No fixed schedule. It causes a bit of stress as our train ticket is for a specific journey only. Luckily we got to Ollantaytambo on time to visit beautiful Inca ruins (I will blog about it, as well as some other attractions close to Cuzco very soon!) and we hop on the train. Return tickets are very expensive – around 200 USD – it wouldn’t be that bad but it makes me furious when I think that the rail company is in fact British… If you have time but you don’t want to spend so much money you can always choose the most exciting option of hiking on your own along the railway tracks like Hannah and Costin – a nice American couple from Texas we met in Arequipa. Viva adventure!
We choose one of the cheapest possible accommodations, next to a very exclusive hotel – Casa Andina. Classy! Especially if you have a snoring guy in your room 🙂 We go out to walk around the town – Aguas Calientes is a true mecca for all shopaholics. To be honest I also feel like shopping – I love colourful design, soft alpaca jumpers and all the stuff you really don’t need but it’s there and it’s soo cheap! I’m travelling light though and I’m already carrying 1kg of cocaine in my backpack (oh yes!) so I can’t afford to get anything apart from some small key rings – obviously with alpacas! There are hot springs in Aguas Calientes – advertised as one of the local attractions. No swimsuit? No problem! You can rent one here (am I the only one to think this is a bit disgusting?). The springs are tiny given the number of tourists but trust me, if I just finished 4 days trekking with no shower I would be OCCUPYING THAT SPACE.
In South America hot water in hostels is a real hit or miss. We got that in Aguas Calientes (no hot water) and later on in Puno (occasional drops of hot water). It’s worth checking before you pay for the room!
As the day is drawing to a close we head to a restaurant for a meal, some coca leaves and relax before the most important day of our trip – it’s Machu Picchu day tomorrow!
The Runaway Groom.
Machu Picchu is situated around 8.5km from Aguas Calientes. Not far. The problem is that we are in mountains so multiply your pain by two (at least!). Technically you can get to the main gate by bus. We don’t want to be wimps this time though! We leave our hostel at 5am and slowly start climbing up. Man, it’s like doing a million squats – my butt will be so thankful! Behind us a a cord of light from head torches. In front of us – never ending stairs. Ain’t no gym good enough to prepare you to this type of physical effort. Running could. On this height I wouldn’t say no to a better pair of lungs.
My heart jumps a crazy beat. I wonder how the Incac were covering that distance almost 6 centuries ago. Respect! They must have been some sort of athletes!
Climbing was tough, but it’s totally worth it for the beautiful views on the way. Today I’m not quite sure whether it was a lack of oxygen or most likely the beauty of nature constantly taking my breath away. Even though I wasn’t there alone – I could easily imagine how did Bingham feel scrambling through that virgin at that time territory.
We finally get there! 1.5 hour later we are at the main gate to the complex. I can’t believe that it’s over. Exhausted but happy we queue in front of the main entrance. You can hire a guide (and it costs peanuts) who will walk you around Machu Picchu – don’t miss it out. Wandering around without knowing all the history of this place is a stupidity unless you have a really good guide book. We prefer to imbibe stories and anecdotes instead of nervously flicking through Lonely Planet so along with a Mexican family we chip in to hire a professional guide.
Mornings in Machu Picchu are pure poetry. The complex is wreathed in mist so passing through the main gate you won’t see much more than some green mountain terraces. Make sure you have a jacket with you because once you rest after the morning climb it gets really cold. Time flies slowly while the impish mist tries to fool our eyes. The lost city appears for a moment just to disappear in clouds again. I haven’t seen nature more spectacular than that.
Right then I realised what Jesus meant when he said that the energy of this place was brutal. You are here to see something incredible and mysterious. Everyone experiences Machu Picchu in their own special way but I guarantee that none will stay indifferent to such a giant!
Mist and clouds are gone by the midday. Gone is the magic. Now we can admire Machu Picchu in its full glory. Look at me! – it shouts. Unfortunately the later it gets, the more people come (although there is a limitof 400 people per day). Visiting the main complex takes more or less 2 hours. After that you can climb Machu Picchu mountain or Huayna Picchu. The last entrance is at 9 so make sure you plan your day wise. We decide to walk to the Inca Bridge (this is what Mario thinks) or to a small shed on the top of the hill to take some pictures (this is what Anna thinks). I start climbing, leaving Mario far behind me. There is only one way up so we’ll eventually meet again at the top. I just need to wait for him. When after 30 min I can’t see his face I start worrying just a little bit. I’m not sure how can I find him. My phone doesn’t work in Peru – what I can do? I run down to check if he is waiting for me somewhere there, but he is not. Maybe somehow we missed each other and he is already at the top. I climb again and my legs get soft. He is not there. I sit on a rock almost crying. It feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. Now I can’t even think rational. I sob but I am also determined to look for a help. I approach a guard – let’s find out what’s their policy in case of a missing person. It must have happened before.
The guard takes all information from me and then he contacts other crew members through his walkie-talkie. Attention please – Amigos I have a señora here who claims she lost her husband!
The alarm is on. I’m not sure how relevant is the fact that he actually isn’t my husband. Señora is crying.. And then again running up and down the hill. In the meantime I see some paramedics helping out a young man – I go there scared to death it could be my Mario. Luckily it’s not him. Then where the hell is he?
After 3 hours. The longest 3 hours in my life, I find him behind the main gate. I cry and I scream – Damn it! Where have you been? It turned out that Mario was convinced we go to the Inca Bridge so on the crossroads he went in the opposite direction (I went up to the shed). Oh dear. It doesn’t really matter now – the most important thing for me is that he is alive. Hand in hand we walk back to the shed and the Inca Bridge to finally take some pictures. We still have some time to enjoy the day.
Girls, I understand that nowadays speaking about marriage is difficult and stressful for our partners – but seriously – do they have to freak out and try to run away? Mario’s spectacular getaway could be a good scenario for a romantic comedy. It’s one of my wildest tales from Peru as well 🙂 As you can see the “brutal energy” of this place makes men lose their mind so bear it in mind. And who said I want to get married anyway??