Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
92Trip End Aug 27, 2010
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The train ride to Aguas Calientes was picturesque and interesting as we travelled through flat agricultural land, small communities, mysterious looking forests and then increasingly mountainous terrain (including a series of switchbacks where the train zigzags backwards and forwards several times to negotiate the hill). We watched families tending their livestock and crops in traditional fashion and remarked on their simple homes and lifestyles. Other than a short stop in Ollantaytambo the train was direct and takes a little over three and a half hours. For much of the journey our train travelled right alongside the river Vilcanota. A little troubling for Sarah was just how polluted and dirty the river was, with hundreds of plastic bottles and other trash accumulating in eddies in the riverbanks. However, as we subsequently passed further downstream we were curious to note that it was beginning to turn angrier and churned furiously with as the recent rainfall added to its impressive volume.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes and spent the afternoon making our arrangements to visit Machu Picchu the following day. Machu Picchu is located more than 8km of switchbacks uphill from Aguas Calientes and takes about 20 minutes by bus, so we purchased our bus tickets and entry tickets and spent the rest of a very wet afternoon exploring the town. Not that it takes a lot of exploring; there really isn’t too much to do in Aguas Calientes other than eating, sleeping and visiting the hot springs (Aguas Calientes means Hot Water) but based on some negative reviews and the revenge that Montezuma was starting to seek on Derek, we opted to avoid the hot springs
At 5am on most days line-ups for the first bus are common due to the desire to catch sunrise at Machu Picchu. For the Moodys, however, our objective was less lofty; we simply wanted to early enough to have a few hours at the site before the bulk of tourists arrive around 11am. The bus ride itself was quite exciting as you climb higher and higher above the town, watching the river below grow smaller and smaller until the first brief glimpses of the lost city itself start to appear. It is no wonder that it remained undiscovered by the outside World for so long. Upon leaving the bus, it’s very easy to "find" a guide (In tourist Peru, offers of service are at least as frequent as the time it takes to say “No gracias”, but to their credit, they will usually back off after a firm repost); we however, decided to explore without a guide and so with site map in hand we set off. While you think you know what to expect from the many pictures you’ve seen of Machu Picchu, there’s nothing like the first time you round that corner to one of the World’s most awe inspiring vistas; it’s simply breathtaking (and not just because of the altitude). We opted to hike out away from the main site toward the sun gate and the kids were delighted after about twenty minutes to come across some llamas grazing on the trail. After an hour of hiking, and reaching a point of not only having a magnificent view of Machu Picchu but also being able to see just how far away the sun gate was, we abandoned the quest and returned to explore the main site