March 27, 2007
I am sitting here writing this at 9:30pm. I am ready for bed but have decided to journal before my head officially hits my pillow…
I headed out to Aguas Calientes yesterday so that I could be one of the firsts to get into Machu Picchu this morning. The trip out to
Machu Picchu is somewhat of a back-to-back transportational experience. Yesterday a couple bus rides and a train ride got me to
Aguas Calientes by 10:00pm. After waking up at 4:45am, it was time for a 5:30am bus ride out to Machu Picchu.
And so I arrived at 6:00am…
I had a small delay as I wasn’t aware that it is most common to buy the entrance tickets in town. They didn’t even have tickets at
the time I was there. I had to give them my passport as collateral so that my early-rising morning wasn’t pointless. How was I to
know any of this???
My first stop was joining the llamas up at the top where there were sweeping views of Machu Picchu. It was wonderful to see it
from up there; it was even better seeing it with a llama’s profile in the foreground. This is out in the middle of nowhere and you can’
t help but find it a bit amazing someone found it (history lesson: it was American Hiram Bingham who discovered it in 1911). I ran
into Talia and Emily, Canadians whom I met in Copa and then again in Puno, and we decided to do an early hike up Waynapicchu –
the steep mountain that stands in the background of most of the pictures of Machu Picchu that you see. But I would experience a
snag as they needed our tickets for us to pass. And I didn’t have my ticket. I told them I would run into them in a bit as I had to go
back to see if the tickets had been delivered to the office yet.
Less than twenty minutes later, I was on my way up Waynapicchu. This hike was manageable…though I wasn’t breaking any
records. Doing this with this kind of altitude left me gasping for air many o’ times. An hour later I got the top. Seeing Machu Picchu
again from a great vantage point. I sat up there for a while because let’s face it…I just put all that work into getting up there – there
was no way I wasn’t going to bask in the moment of making it up there.
By the time I headed down to the bottom, I felt a sense of relief when I saw the line of people that were about to go climb up the
mountain. First of all, I was glad I went when I did because there were barely any other people who were on the trail. Secondly
(and more importantly), I was just relieved that I had already put my legs and lungs through the torture that these people had yet
While wandering around, I felt like I was in a maze. It was fun. I stumbled across some great little nooks and crannies. And can we
talk about the condition of these ruins? Wow. Things are still so in tact. Impressive. And can we also talk about the views of the
towering mountains? Once again, impressive.
I wish I could provide some information about when Machu Picchu was built. But I can’t. My guidebook is very vague – all it says is
that the Incas were around from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Even after eavesdropping on some of the guided tours, I wasn’t
really learning anything. This was mostly because everything is a ‘theory’ since nobody really knows. The tour guides end almost
every sentence with “Well, we aren’t exactly sure what happened. But this is a theory that…” For that reason, I took everything
with a grain of salt.
At the end of my self-guided and unknowing-tour-guide-assisted tour, I made my way towards the entrance where I ran into Talia
and Emily again. Perfect timing as they were about to head down (earlier in the morning we all stated our plan to walk back down to
the town of Aguas Calientes instead of taking the bus).
I was out of water but I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal. It kind of shocked me that nobody was selling it outside.
But, hey, we were only going to be walking down some stairs, right???
Holy hell. My dehydration became extremely apparent early on. Thank the Incan Gods for Talia who gave me some of her water.
But about half-way down my ankle buckled underneath me and completely twisted which made me do a near face plant down the
stairs. Luckily my hands hit the stairs before my face did so it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. But once I sat to give my
ankles a break (as the other one twisted a bit during the fall), I realized how dizzy I was. At this point I was really doubting that I
could make it the rest of the way. But, once again, Talia and Emily were there to help out: this time with a bit more water and an
Over an hour later, we ended up in Aguas Calientes. Hallelujah! Lunch time!
I knew I was going to have to leave Talia and Emily early in order to catch my train. No problem. I would still have about 45
minutes. My train was leaving at 1:20pm. I actually had to splurge on the Vistadome train as there is only one Backpacker train and
it leaves at 5:45am. This didn’t work with me wanting to head out to Lima tomorrow. So the Vistadome it was. I had to let the
waiter know that I was in a bit of a hurry as it was 12:50pm and I still hadn’t gotten my main course. I was told to get to the station
20 minutes early but I knew I could leave around 1:00pm and get there with enough time left to go. So it was 1:06 when I left. I
went down to the train station. But there was no train. What!?! Now I am finding myself asking everyone “Donde esta el
Vistodome?” It is now 1:15pm. People point to where I should be heading. I keep asking everybody in route because I don’t even
have a second to spare to take a wrong turn. Keep in mind the walking and hiking I have already done today. Now I am running like
a madwoman. Us Westerners are not meant to be running in altitude like this. Probably the reason why I was wheezing like a dying
animal. I seriously couldn’t help it. My abdomen was in extreme pain with every breath I took. Finally I saw a ‘billeteria’. Oh, thank
God! It was 1:19pm. I ran up to the guy. He then radioed the crew at the train. He basically motioned that I could relax – I would
be getting on the train.
How in the world was I to know that the Vistodome and the Backpackers trains were in different locations??? And it was imperative
that I get on this train as there were no more trains leaving today. Not only would I have lost out on the money for this train, I
would have had to find a train with available seats for tomorrow. And I would have had to change my plane ticket for tomorrow to
Lima. It really could have been one big disaster. Ahhh, but it wasn’t.
Almost the entire time on the train, I still felt myself gasping for air – and there was pain with each breath. While I was actually
really impressed with the Backpacker’s train last night (it seriously felt like first-class after some of the buses I have been in), this
was definitely a nice way to spend an hour-and-a-half. The rounded windows that went up to the ceiling provided views of the
mountains. And there were more ruins to see. We got beverage service. We got an entertainment portion of the trip – I guess it was
meant to be some traditional Peruvian entertainment with a guy in a white mask walking down the aisles having people pet his
llama. To be honest, it kind of creeped me out. Actually, it really creeped me out. The last segment was a fashion show where a guy
and a girl modeled the latest Peruvian fashions which were then on sale at the end of the ride. All in all, a very pleasurable ride. But
mostly because I actually made it on.
Now it is time for me to state a few of my personal opinions regarding Machu Picchu. There were a couple things that definitely
turned me off to the place. The first being that there are signs all over the place to ‘Vote for Machu Picchu as a Wonder of the
World’. They have sheets to sign when leaving Waynapicchu. They have sheets to sign when leaving Machu Picchu. They have a
lady telling you on your way out “Don’t forget to vote for Machu Picchu.” I already feel like a lot of incredible things in the world get
too popular for their own good. Or at least they get too popular for my own good...meaning that by the time you go to see it, you
have already seen 1,265 pictures of it and it, well, looks exactly as it does in all of those pictures that you have seen. That’s not to
say that these things aren’t amazing sights – they just lose some of the mystery, some of the unexpectedness that would normally
make my mouth drop. All I can say is that there are so many things that I have seen in the past year that caused mouth-dropping
moments…and this wasn’t one of them. To be honest, I don’t think any of the mouth-drop-inducing places were places that would
be considered for ‘Wonder of the World’. Part of the fascination was coming across these places feeling like I was one of the first to
ever see them (don’t worry – I’m not that stupid – I know loads of other people saw these things before me). I’m just talking about
the places that are virtually unknown to the rest of the world. Those are the places I can’t get enough of. Another thing that irked
me was that after paying a whopping $40 US for the ticket to gain entrance to Machu Picchu, you then have to pay to use the
bathroom. I know it is only .50 soles…but still. It’s the principal. While on the topic of costs, let me say that you will be hard-pressed
to find a more expensive tourist site to visit.
Let me break it down as to the absolute cheapest way (all in U.S. dollars) you can do this…
About $2 to go from Cusco to the town where the train leaves from by bus.
The Backpacker’s Train is $44 roundtrip to Aguas Calientes.
The bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is $12 roundtrip (for a 20-minute ride).
Entrance is $40.
About $2 to go back to Cusco.
That is $100. And we are talking $100 in Peru. Six dollars for a one-way bus ride to Machu Picchu is just plain wrong. So what
would happen if this actually becomes a ‘Wonder of the World’? Clearly they want that claim-to-fame so that they can then raise
prices. I’m sorry. I just think these prices are already disgusting and I wouldn’t want to contribute to them feeling like they could go
and charge even more. Once again, sorry. That was just me getting on my personal soap-box…
March 28, 2007
It no longer hurts to breathe. Ahhh… Big sigh of relief (especially as it is no longer painful to actually sigh)…
A llama enjoying the view.
The ancient city of Machu Picchu.
On the top of Waynapicchu.