Machu Picchu

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Apr 03, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Friday, January 14, 2011

Between the 10th and 14th January Joe, Chris and myself did a 4 day treck to Machu Picchu. The trek cost $170 for a 4 day hike with guide, travel, all meals and accommodation included.
The Inca site was built in approx 1450 and situated at the top of a mountain. Machu Picchu is said to be one of the modern day Wonders of the World, the fact that it is preserved so well is down to the fact that it was never found by the Spanish when they invaded south America, and therefor never plundered – unlike many cities and towns nearby e.g. Cuzco. 
Although the site was apparently know to the local Peruvians for some time, along with other people laying claim to the city's disovery, the American historian Hiram Bingam holds the claim to discovering the site by being the first person to attract the worlds attention via the National Geographic magazine. Bingam first discovered the site (via tips from fiends and being guided by a local boy) in 1911.

Day 1: Mountain Biking.
Abra Malaga (4350m) – Santa Maria (1250m)
We awoke at 5:30 to catch the minibus from Cuzco to Abra Malaga. Leaving through Cuzco's poorer districts it soon transformed into the beautiful rural area surrounding the city - as we neared the mountains the roads naturally started to wind, and giving some breathtaking views.
Our group consisted of Edgar (our Peruvian guide), 1 Dutch, 1 Korean, 4 Argentinians, 1 Columbian, and our good selves – as time progressed we all started to get on really well and ended up being a good group.
Reaching the top of Abra Malaga, the weather turned from a sunny day into miserable drizzle with the mountain so high that we were in parts of the cloud. I was wearing a cheap poncho that looked like a cape as I flew down the winding mountain road on my bike with it making so much noise that people could hear me before they could see me. Going down the mountain we were greeted with spectacular views, overwhelming my fear of heights with me constantly reminding myself to look where I was going and not at the beautiful scenery. I stopped a few times (and sometimes didn't stop at all) to take pictures as we descended the 3000m.

In total it took us about 2 hrs to cycle down, with us venturing past rockslides – where one piece fell as Joe was cycling past, and rivers of water crossing the road as the rain was trying to find it's way down the mountain to the rivers far below. By the time we finished we were soaking with our feet taking the worst of it from the river spray. At the bottom, we got back in the van and made the rest of the way to Santa Maria where we had a change of clothes (not shoes – I had to walk barefoot), a cold shower, drinks, dinner and then bed.

Day 2: Jungle Trek.
Santa Maria (1250m) – Santa Teresa (1500m)
It was another early start with us having to be up at 6 to have breakfast and start our trek. We left the town at 8am with rain still pouring down from the early hours. Today was to be an 8-9 hour trek through jungle and parts of the original Inca trail. We followed a path adjacent to a very busy river, through an old deserted village and crossed many areas of thick wet mud and rock sliden paths. Edgar showed us the plant that the Inca's used to paint their faces and we all had our faces painted in their fashion. At about 11am we made it up to a point called Monkey house where we had refreshments and a much needed break from climbing the steep ascent. Here they had a Monkey that was trained as a pickpocket as a pet, so he was tied to a post whilst we were there.

After the break we carried on with our journey and joined the Inca trail. Again it was more climbing up the mountainside seeing coca fields and more views. At one point the rain cleared and the path started drying out, which I was really thankful for as we had reached our highest point and needed to descend on steps the size of a child's foot. To put a bit more perspective on why I was thankful, the width of the path was approx 1 armchair wide, with a direct drop to the valley floor on the side. The steps were made of stone and so would have been slippery especially for when you could only put part of your foot down. I was absolutely bricking it walking down these stairs, clinging onto the mountain wall. After doing one set of steps, there would be a path, and then another set of steps. I was quite proud of keeping my composure and making it all the way. I have to thank Mieke (the Dutch girl) for holding my water bottle as I climbed down the stairwell. - thank you for not letting me die!
Once we had finished with the stairway, we stopped at an anomaly of the mountain where a path stuck out with clear drops either-side. It was hear that our guide wanted to tell us about the Incas, and it was here that Columbian and I said that we will wait here.
The path widened as we head away from the mountain edge, carrying on into paths further in the jungle - here I saw many plants including mango and banana trees. We made it to the valley floor again, near the river that had been carving out the bottom of the mountains. It was
here that we stopped for lunch and were given a really nice meal in a small village restaurant. Afterwards we slept in hammocks for about 30mins before continuing out trek, this was pure bliss with the shoes and weight off our feet and swaying from side to side in the warming sun, piercing through the protective plant leaves.
It was another clime – and this time we prepared by taking off our waterproofs and putting on our Deet and suncream – Yes the sun was out, and the mosquito's knew it

 The second half of the day was very different purely from the weather, we had a small hike up a hill and then continued on a road path to Santa Teresa – again the view here was astonishing. It was at this point of the trek that we started talking more to the people in our group, as it was a very long flat walk. One of my favourite points of the last part was looking off far into the distance and seeing a huge waterfall coming down the side of a mountain. I think what I appreciated most about it was the perspective of being so far away it only looked a few inches, however knowing that that fall was massive passing gallons by gallons of water a second.
We arrived in Santa Teresa about 12 hours after we left Santa Maria, it was a really nice little town with a central plaza. After we settled into the hostel – and took my waterlogged shoes off again, I took a walk around and sat there for a bit. The plaze had a statue in the middle of the square where you could see mountains surrounding every part of the small town. I was sat in the square for about 20 mins when I realised that my feet were the only parts of me that I hadn't Deet'd and had managed to gather 14 bites from loving mosquito's.
Going back to the hostel I had a hot shower to which was one of the best things in the world at that point, later we went out for dinner where Joe ended up with 3 and me with 2 free Inca tequila shots, we followed these by having a few beers on the porch of a pub and went to one of the worst clubs which sold some of the worst drinks I had ever had.

Day 3: River / Rail trek.
Santa Teresa (1500m) – Aguas Calientes (2000m)

I woke at 7 to another rainy day. Actually like the previous day – I woke many times in the night to hear the rain pouring down, however this time every time I woke I felt things crawling on my skin! When I woke properly in the morning I had no bite marks, no burrows, nothing – I'm not sure if I just dreamt the crawling, but the rain was again definitely real. One of the first things that happened was that I discovered Joe was in pain, being up half the night throwing up – I gave him some Ibuprofen and Doxycyllin to help with what was happening, unfortunately however he remained in pain. Being up half the night and still feeling terrible, he had to take the bus to today's halfway point. The same went for Mieke, who's knee had been playing up during the previous days hike.
We started our walk by crossing a swinging bridge over a river to a disused railway to Cuzco – the trains used to run to the town, but because the river got too big and flooded the track they changed the trains route. Looking at the river you could see remnants of previous bridges which had become victim to the river. 

 Moving on, we followed the river through the valleys to man made caves where the water outlets of the hydroelectric powerstation's water came powering out into the river. Not far afterwards we had to sign into the Machu Picchu area, got to a train station and stopped for lunch. It was here we met up with a rested Joe and Mieke who were both feeling better enough to do the second – non raining part of the day. For this part we followed the railway line (which also followed the river) to Aguas Calientes.
Arriving at Aguas Calientes after about 6 hours, my first impression was a fake plastic town designed solely for tourism. It was nice enough, however full of restaurants, bars, travel shops.

Joe and I dumped our stuff off at the hostel and went straight to the hot springs. The hot water flowing against my damp cold skin was really nice, with a feeling of the water massaging my worn muscles. We were there for about 2 hours in the hot water, meeting some members of our group. We saw was an old man with a big white beard in small swim-shorts walking about, his big belly protruding and blocking the view of his balls hanging out of his shorts. Everybody must have seen this because when his wife told him – everybody just started laughing. The Springs were really relaxing and also delivered drinks to the poolside. the mixture of the gravel floor of the hot-springs massaging my feet along with the warm water and the cool beer going down made this a moment of true relaxation - and a definate treat after the long hikes we had done.

Again it was another night going out for food, but an especially early night tonight as we had to be up at 3:30 the next morning for Machu Picchu – the final and pinnacle stage of our journey

Day 4 - Machu Picchu (2425m).

As expected it was a 3:30 start, and as expected it had been raining all night. We left the hostel at 4, leaving the town onto the pitch black tracks to Machu Picchu. We arrived outside the gates at the bottom and had to wait until 5am until they opened. After making sure others had their tickets and student cards etc I didn't manage to get my ticket out in time and had to play catch up with everyone in the dark. I managed to find Mieke, however the others had stomped on ahead. We almost went the wrong way as we couldn't see the start of the 6800 steps we had to climb that morning, but someone pointed us in the right direction. We were too late to tell the others who had already started their mile journey in the wrong direction. The steps were tough, just step after step after step with a few breaks as we crossed the road that the buses (for lazy non-Inca's) take. 
We made it to the top after about an hour and had to queue in the pouring rain for the second part of our entrance to the park. Once in we waited for the rest of our group to arrive and took a tour around the ruins of Machu Picchu in the pouring rain. Our guide was really up-beat and full of interesting information which really helped as we were soaked to the core. Looking around everyone looked absolutely miserable - I remember trying to smile for a photograph but looking at it later, you could really see the damp soaking through to my soul. 

Some Machu Picchu Facts:

  • Machu Picchu is the name of the mountain nearby. It means 'Old Mountain'
  • The 2 windows to the church point to the spots for the Winter / summer solace
  • When building the houses, the doors were custom built to height of the people living there 
  • 1 door = house, 2 doors = church or sun room
  • After performing ceremonies, the priest would address the subjects on a stage of perfect acoustics. The guide showed us by shouting and clapping his hands – the sound magnified and echoed down perfectly.
  • There is a Sundial (the Intihuatana stone) that has 4 points pointing to exact magnetic north, south etc. The points are arranged to point directly at the sun during winter Solace and the sun is to stand directly above the pillar – casting no shadow.

After we took our tour we waited for the weather to clear outside Machu Picchu, trying to stay warm by drinking coffee, moving and talking. A fair few people went back to the town as it was too cold, however I was determined to stay and wait for the weather to clear. I had to wait until midday in the pouring rain, soaking to the bone – somehow the rain managed to penetrate everybody's clothes. After mid-day as had been the fashion over the past 4 days, the rain eased up and the place looked amazing! It looked like the site was just floating in the clouds. 

With the sun shining a new light on things the rest of the day was just met with mouth dropping beauty. The conversation solely revolved around Machu Picchu's beauty and practicality, mostly starting with 'look at the' and 'I wonder'. I spent some of the time thinking about how people worked with such a beautiful background all the time, and as I watched and saw new things, it kept on raising new questions in my mind. I spent a fair few hours just walking around in a daydream of awe.

It was good that we spent 4 days trekking as I felt that everyone in our group really earnt this. Yea you can go to Machu Picchu by train and bus, but trekking the 4 days going up and down mountains in rain and sunshine, walking next to drops of hundreds of feet on route to the site gaining aching mustles, skin soaked to the core and piercing blisters was tough but all part of the build-up with every stage earning the beauty of what was Machu Picchu.
I returned to Aguas Calientes at about 4pm and had to wait until 10pm to get the train back. From the train station we then got a minibus back to cusco and got back at about 3am – almost 24hrs after we woke up that day to climb the mountain to Mchu Pichu.
The following day we all met up to go for a much needed massage, a good meal and and a few much needed drinks.

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