We took a day to travel to Aguas Calientes, which is the tourist town at the
bottom of Machu Picchu. (The expensive train was nice, with great views and
complimentary snack and drink server.) The next day we got up at an hour that
should be reserved for afternoons, to take a short bus to the entrance and be
among the first 100 or so tourists to arrive there. Then we waited around for
45 minutes before deciding that the guide that was going to meet us wasn’t
going to show. We walked into Peru’s most famous sight by ourselves.
First on the agenda was to climb Machu Picchu mountain. There are a limited
number of tickets sold for this, and our entry time was between 7am and 8am.
We showed up right at 7am, and were numbers 22 and 23 that day. The hike up was
shrouded in fog and beautiful. We climbed through several habitats, including
forest, cloud forest, shrubland, and virtually bare mountain top. Danielle
really struggled with the altitude, so it took us almost 3 hours for a hike
that is supposed to take 60-90 minutes.
At the top, there are supposed to be amazing views of Machu Picchu and its
surroundings, but in practice there wasn’t much to be seen at the top besides
fog, and tourists waiting for the fog to clear. We gave it 30 minutes but
nothing really changed, so we headed down. On the way down things did clear up
a little, but we still didn’t get the promised views. Throughout we enjoyed
seeing orchids and other flowers, as well as some beautiful butterflies which
appeared a pale yellow but shimmered blue when the light hit them just right
(which would often happen as they flew by).
After this hike, we joined forces with a German couple and shared a guide, who
was excellent. His English was fine, he knew everything, and presented it in an
interesting way. The Inca’s are primarily known for their fine stonework, so
that’s what we mostly focused on. There’s a lot to be said about it, but the
very quick version is: stones are shaped using water, sand, and hematite so
that they fit together perfectly without requiring any mortar. Some times
mortise and tenons are used to ensure they don’t move. Many of these
structures built 500 years ago are still standing, despite the fact that the
area has endured several significant earthquakes.
Since Machu Picchu was in large part a temple complex, there were also rocks
shaped to help determine solstices, as well as ones that indicate magnetic as
well as true north. A particularly memorable rock is a model of the set of
mountains that Machu Picchu is built on. After our tour was over, Danielle was
done walking and sat down, while I wandered around a bit longer to take a few
more photos. Then we caught the bus back down.
Machu Picchu is definitely an amazing site, but in the end I think I have more
appreciation for landscapes and nature than I do for the things that people
built (my obsession with computers not withstanding). Looking back at my
pictures of the day, about a third are of plants and animals. I’m definitely
glad I saw and learned something about the Inca ruins, but part of me wonders
how much fun I would have had spending all that money on a private wildlife
tour. Hopefully in Bolivia we’ll do some of that.
In Aguas Calientes we picked up our stuff, and took the fancy train back to
Ollantaytambo. It’d been a long day and the train ride (with food and drink)
was wonderfully relaxing, until some local culture was forced upon us in the
form of somebody dressed like a rainbow making noises like a bird, performing a
traditional dance up and down the aisle. This was followed by a fashion show
which was also hard to ignore since the performers successfully got most of the
train to clap along to the music.
But all things come to an end, and from the train we took a short tuk-tuk ride
to our hostel. Google Maps turned out to be invaluable since the driver didn’t
actually know where our hostel was, and we had to direct him.