Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu, Peru (day 5)

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Jan 17, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Around 4:15am I was awake and preparing for the day. I didn't sleep very much last night due to being miserably ill, but my excitement for what was ahead gave me energy to get up and deal with it. I took some of the medicine I had bought, and that made me feel surprisingly better. This was great, because if I was sick for Machu Picchu my anger and disappointment could not be completely expressed. Once we got our backpacks ready John and I walked to the bus stop. We expected that since it was before dawn and since the site didn't even open until 5 am that there would not be much of a crowd, but oh how wrong we were. There was a gigantic line waiting for the buses! It didn't take all that long actually, and before I knew it we were heading on a very narrow uphill zig-zag road toward the site. I kept being paranoid that the bus would veer off track and we'd tumble down the cliffs to our imminent death, but all was good. The sun had finally risen and then we arrived! I was so so excited!

Now, as a side note, before this trip I had heard about Machu Picchu in history classes in school, and seen photos in National Geographic. I had always been fascinated by it and had wanted to go ever since I was a kid. So, for me, this was sort of the realization of a life dream. It was the main reason I wanted to go to Peru in the first place, and the driving factor behind me working all summer to save money and convincing John to join me on this trip. I thought it was internationally famous, but shockingly several people I talked to had never heard of it before! If you are one of these sheltered people, Machu Picchu is a famous Incan ruin and is located 8,000 feet up a windy mountain road. You can get to it via the Inca trail, however we didn't want to spend the 3 days hiking it. To quote John, "Machu Picchu is also extremely popular and has grown in popularity massively after being named one of the wonders of the world." It is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas" because it was unknown to the outside world until an American historian named Hiram Bingham "re-discovered" it in 1911 and began researching and excavating the site. The Incas started building it around 1430 but it was abandoned a hundred years later around the time that the Spanish conquistadors came and started wreaking havoc, spreading diseases, and basically oppressing the people of South America. Since the Spanish didn't plunder it, it is still very well preserved and to this day is considered a sacred place. According to my brochure, "Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the "Temple of the Sun", and the "Room of the Three Windows". It is also interesting to note that many religious celebrations occurred here, and that child sacrifice was practiced as a part of the Incan beliefs.

Once we arrived we waited in another line to get entry into the site, and once we handed over our tickets we were instantly bombarded with requests to go on this or that tour with this tour guide, etc. Somehow a young woman named Yrene convinced John and I that we should hire her as our personal tour guide for 2 hours. Her price wasn't bad, and since the site didn't provide many brochures or maps even, we figured we might as well. Huffing and puffing from the altitude (well, only I was feeling its effects- John is lucky) we climbed up many winding steps. We still couldn't see the city, so the anticipation was building. We turned one last corner and then suddenly, BAM! You could see it all, hiding up in the mountains, surrounded by clouds. (the photo shows our first view) It had a very surreal, almost eerie feel. My Spanish teacher had described it to me as "eerily magical", and I have to say I agree with that statement. It is hard to explain what it looks like and what it is like to be there without actually going, but in my opinion it was truly amazing.

Our guide took us down towards the main city and we learned about its history, and saw some of the main structures. The way they stacked the different shaped stones to somehow form even walls was very interesting. We also learned that they were very advanced technologically, especially for living in such an isolated, remote location. They had several buildings made to worship nature and the sun, and on the summer solstice the sun shines directly in the center of the "Temple of the Sun" (the circular building in the photo). They also had running water going through the whole village, and the step looking things on the grass are terraces for farming. They did this partially to avoid landslides, and also to be able to do agricultural experiments by testing different crops. It wasn't very crowded during the morning, and so we were able to do a lap around most of the site, and take many amazing photos.

I was in awe from all of the stunning views, and it was really neat to try to imagine what it was like to have lived there during its prime. It's also interesting to think about how and why the civilization ended. It was likely from disease wiping out most of the town, but there are some conspiracy theories about it too. John also asked Yrene about climbing up one of the mountains called Huayna Picchu, but sadly other tourists had already taken up all the slots to hike it for the day. It was alright though, because the views were still amazing. We understood Yrene's English most of the time, and so we did learn a decent amount from her. It was definitely worth it to hire her, especially since she led us around the potentially confusing and maze-like design of the place. Once our tour ended, John and I had some breakfast near the entrance, and by this point in the day (around 9am) it had gotten very crowded. Our first photo we took has almost no people in it, but if we tried to take the same thing again later it would have been cluttered with tourists. We decided to do a second lap around the site, and explore more in depth. This involved some dodging and avoiding maneuvers of tour groups, (which we were happy to not be in) but once we broke free of crowds it was all good.

We walked around some of the homes, and saw the temple of the condor (stones shaped like a bird) and a tomb where the Incan priests were buried. John touched some stone that supposedly gave you the sun's energy, and at one point I slipped and fell down a couple of steps, scratching the screen on my camera. I wasn't that upset about it though since I am normally clumsy, and at least it's a cool story when people ask what happened to my camera! As we explored we got to see one stunning view after another. In a way, it is indescribable. We ended up going higher up the mountain toward the guard's hut, and it was there that we found the population of llamas! We got some good photos of them and then laid out John's poncho on some grass and sat down to just rest up and take in the sight. It started getting really crowded after that, and then it began to rain. I was very glad about my purchase of a yellow rain coat at that point! The clouds were more or less blocking most of the views, so we were definitely lucky to have arrived when we did because otherwise we would have missed out on the initial clear view we had. Once we decided we had taken all the photos we wanted and had seen Machu Picchu to my satisfaction, we took the bus back into town. I was very happy with our visit- it was everything I had ever hoped it would be, and more! It was amazing and something I will always remember. Plus, John got the most classic photo of a llama ever. It looks so confused, it completes my life:

Once we were back in good old Aguas Calientes we decided to get lunch. After the usual attack of menus in your face we ended up at some generic tourist place, again. There isn't much variety though. It is odd because even though the workers are so exceedingly pushy and desperate for your business, once you sit down, they more or less forget about you. You have to flag them down and fight to make eye contact so that you can order, then your food takes forever, and then they disappear until you can hunt them down to get your check. It was actually humorous to me in a weird way though. This restaurant took especially long, and so John and I played a whole game of chess waiting for our food. It was also funny because someone ordered a pizza, and then watched the server run the pizza across the street, and then run it back later. I guess their oven wasn't working? I was so happy I was feeling better though and that I had been able to eat food.

After lunch we did some more shopping in town. I had my eye on a colorful woven blanket at the craft market, and so I asked the old woman vendor the price. It was a bit too high for my liking so I said no thanks. She protested and lowered the price slightly, but I ignored her and we continued on. About fifteen minutes later after I had bought some other items I turned a corner and the old woman was there again! She had been following me with the blanket, and basically handed it to me and stated a price about 15 soles less than her first offer. I could tell she was really desperate for my business, and since it wasn't a bad price I gave in. It was just funny to me that she stalked me that far! We also stopped by a less-touristy fruit market where John began his hunt for custard apples. Sadly, no one had any. After that John and I hung out in the hostel and did some writing until dinner time.

I guess that since I had gone most of the day without feeling too sick, my illness was angry at me for ignoring it, and so decided to strike back. I ordered pizza at dinner, and as soon as it was set in front of me the smell of the cheese made me feel queasy. I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat it, and so without taking so much as a single bite I had to sacrifice it to John. I was pretty upset that my sickness had come back, and so we went to one of the pharmacies so I could stock up on the gravol for the rest of the trip. The woman at the pharmacy randomly told me that the place I bought my drugs at the day before was a bad place and that their pills were "contraband", and since hers weren't she was going to charge me more money. I don't care if they are contraband or not because they were the exact same thing, so I returned to the original store and bought more! Take that! At about 9pm it was bed time for me, and I was so happy about it. It was a long day for sure. I fell asleep to the sounds of children loudly playing and yelling on the street.
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