Just like the postcard

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Aug 29, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Monday, August 2, 2010

After the two hour train ride, we were pleasantly surprised to find an affordable hostel with vacancy for the night in Aguas Calientes. Aguas is known to be overpriced and touristy, and it lived up to its poor reputation. However, if you just look past the touristy crap, the surroundings are pretty incredible. The place is only a few miles from Machu Picchu and has similarly striking jungle peaks around it.

The only reason to crash in Hot Water is so you can join the death march at 5 am to be one of the first 200 people let in to Machu. After the first 200, they stagger the entrance times, letting in only a couple hundred more every hour. Be sure to buy your ticket the day before in Aguas.

We woke up at 4, met up with Laila and took the 20 min walk down to the gated bridge below Machu only to already find a sizable line waiting to be let in. We were in good shape from hiking at altitude around Cuzco, so we figured we would just pass all these people on the hour hike up to the ruins. They opened the gate early and we took off. The trail was narrow, so we couldn't do much passing. However we would pass people every few minutes who had stepped off the trail to catch their breath. One girl was throwing up.

If we weren't so hopped up on adrenaline it would have been a hard hike, but we made it up in a little less than an hour. I think we were about 150th in line. I think the best way to go would be to show up earlier at the gate (maybe around 4-4:15) then we wouldn't have had to rush up the hill.

Anyhoo, we got to go in first and also got a stamp to hike Huayna Picchu (the big hill overlooking the ruins that also has limited access) at 10 am.

When we entered the ruins, our hopes of watching the sunrise were stifled by thick fog. Regardless, it looked pretty cool and mysterious rising out of the clouds. It looked just like the postcards.

We followed the guided tour in our book and wandered around the site until it was time to hit up Huayna Picchu. In need of rejuvenation, we ate our packed lunches at 9am. Packing lunches was a good call, they gouge you for food up there.

Llamas, aka nature's lawnmowers, were tending to the terraces that had stood since Incan times due to their crazy drainage systems.

I, Evan, thought that the stonework here was less impressive than at the other ruins in the sacred valley, but the integration with the natural landscape and shear size was unparalleled.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves for the Machu Picchu tour.

We embarked on the Huayna Picchu hike at 10 am, but we had been up for so long it felt like late afternoon. It was steep, but not too long before we reached the summit and were peering down on the ruins from a condor's eye view. Immediately after we heard a guy say "I've waited for 2 hours for the fog to clear, I'm going down" the fog cleared and we got an awesome view of the site and surroundings.

The book suggested the moon temple hike, which is nearby Huayna Picchu. We took off for that after soaking in the views on top. What the book doesn't mention is that the trail is straight down and straight back up for an hour each way. Normally we would be in perfect shape for this, but we had already practically ran uphill for an hour that morning and walked up and down stairs in Machu for another two hours. It was exhausting and we ran out of water. But the moon temple and cave were pretty cool. The stones were perfectly fitted into a natural cave. Just know that it's far. Also, there's some cool Indiana Jones type ladders and narrow stairways.

We dragged ourselves back to the main Machu Picchu site, which was now fog-free. We took some postcard shots, bought a bottle of water, then realized we didn't have enough money for the bus ride back down. It was $7, about a quarter of our daily budget, but we would have taken it then...we were wiped.

Anyhow, we toughed it out and walked down the trail, it seemed way longer than it did on the way up.

We crashed after eating a burrito and an enchilada that was floating in chicken broth (Dear Chez Maggy, enchilada sauce is just water, tomato paste, cumin and chili powder. Not that hard. Get with the program.)

We caught the 5am train back to Ollantaytambo and a 10 sole collectivo back to Cusco (2 hr).

There was talk of a possible roadblock at the train station, so we decided to spend a night in Cusco then take a luxurious Tour Peru bus to Puno during the day.

We highly recommend Tour Peru buses, even though they weren't in the Lonely Planet (gasp! blasphemy!).
I wish we had had time to visit the ruins at Moray, that place looked cool.
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