Cuzco and the Now Legendary Machu Picchu March

Trip Start Jul 06, 2005
Trip End Mar 10, 2006

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Saturday, November 5, 2005


Just making sure we're all awake, nice to see everyone again. It's so great we can get together like this! So what's up? Oh, actually, tell me later, when I'm not paying...

So Cuzco, Peru, what to say, what to say?

It's got us up in the ol' altitude again, making the mission of a hike up to our hostel from town a worthy challenge of Everest Sherpa.

It's got more tourists than I've seen in one place since maybe Rome, especially those funny looking ones with the fanny packs and black socks.

It's got Mark's wallet (more to come).

It's got a full on vegetarian dinner with matè tea for like $0.50, you just have to walk FAR away from the silly looking fanny packers.

It's got more llama based souvenirs than you can shake a stick at (leaving room for individual stick shaking ability and sheer drive to prove me wrong).

It's got access to some of the best preserved and most important Inca ruins anywhere (and they covered a LOT of ground). On that note...

Cuzco for Hallowe'en

Craziness. Our hostel overlooks the main square from way above, so we had a few drinks while watching the fireworks, listened to the live Peruvian band, and just watched the milling throng of revellers. Once we headed down into the square we were immediately and continuously bombarded by shrieking cries of "Hallowe'en, Hallowe'en!" from costumed rugrats in all directions. I gave a couple some doritos which were gleefully accepted (expected?!?) from my open bag, and another of the group was prepped with a pocket o' candy.

After surviving the stroll to dinner we eventually ended up at Hostel Loki. Chilled, chatted, flirted, drank, and eventually fled when Mark smashed some guys drink on the ground (you'll find Mark was on a roll this night). On to the bar, all in all a fun night: some pretty crazy dancing action with our little possee to the decent music selection, little breakdancing for the local crowd, oh, and several hours of drama surrounding Mark's "lost" wallet.

Sigh. So seriously, the one night we bring out WAY too much money - yoink, someone nabs the wallet. Now there were only a handful of possible suspects, all local, shifty, beady eyed potential wallet nabbers. All at the bar when he took it out and it proceeded to disappear on pocket re-entry. What to do? Why, if you're Mark at the end of a big night, accuse them all one by one in decently drunken Spanish. With his thuggish posse at his back (me, several girls, and some nice but not exactly intimidating German guy named Stefan), we proceed to alternately beg, threaten to call the police, get security (not interested really) and in the end, FORCIBLY SEARCH EVERY DAMN POCKET OF THE PRIME SUSPECT. Nuthin'. Double sigh, oh well, about $50, no cards or documents - could've been worse.

The Legendary Machu Picchu March or How Real Backpackers Roll

My budget $15 US/day:

4 day and 3 night Inca Trail trek cost to Machu Picchu - $400 US

Return ticket cost for the tourist train to Machu Picchu - $90 US

Cost to find your way into the country side and WALK the 30 KM tracks - Negligible

Hence you see our decision was easy. About 400 people a DAY do the Inca Trail version, hundreds more show up daily on the cushy trains, in 2 days walking we saw ONE other group of four doing our version. This is simply not an option for 99.999% of people. Here's how to do it.

Day 1

Wake up at five in Cuzco (me quite sick...again). Bring lots of water and snacks. Walk to find a mode of transport and negotiate a cab fare between our four intrepid adventurers for the 1.5 hour ride. Arrive in Ollantaytambo, get in a little bread van collectivo in the main square with a dozen other people for a half hour ride to the end of the road and JUST short of the railway guard station, located at Kilometre 82 of the tracks.

From here, ask LOTS of questions and essentially bust off high into the hills above the station, cut through lots of farmers fields, fend off the overprotective dogs, and eventually sneak back onto the tracks past the guards. Home free, only 28 MORE KILOMETRES in the blazing sun at altitude. After power-walking 15 K in about 7 hours (including the time consuming hill run) stumbling between the rocky tracks and an on again off again local trail, we managed to hitch a cheap ride with a railway work crew that hid and transported us for about 9/10 K and left us a short stroll into town. All said, took about 11 hours, cost about $5, and despite my illness was way too cool.

Oh, don't forget, LOTS of trains, and tunnels that you would rather not be in when the train does come so keep your ears open and head up (check the pic above).

Day Two

Machu Picchu! On foot! Stomach virus day 3! So rumour was you could get in free if you could beat security to the front gate. Not sure, but we got up at 3am, and were the FIRST people there at about 5, except security. So best of luck on that front. I arrived well behind the group, dragging my well dehydrated body up (after being sick, almost passing out, and actually falling off the trail into a bush!) to partly embarrassing and partly heartening cheers from the others.

The site itself lives up to ALL expectations. Its absolutely stunning, first in the morning mist then in brilliant sunshine later on. The whole site is perched on top of a mountain, surrounded by majestic peaks and original access from the Inca Trail which cuts through a high pass before descending into the city. The ruins are dominated by local llamas and much of the layout is preserved, including cascading terraces still being uncovered all the way to the valley floor below. This place would have been virtually unassailable, if the Spaniards had ever found it!

Above the main city is Wayna Picchu, a much smaller site overlooking the main one, perched on top of what would seem an impossible steep mountain. There is a trail desperately clinging to the side and climbing several hundred metres into the clouds, and this too I eventually conquered (again, well behind my companions, again after acquiring the nickname vomit boy from a perfect stranger, and again to the same cheers). Pretty unforgettable day, and a well earned early bedtime after the hike back DOWN the mountain.

Day Three

Oh, right, we have to get back. Pay to return? Not us! So, up at 5 am and off to run the rails again. No such luck with any random work crews this time - hard legging it for every damn one of those 30 KM. About the most exciting thing during the 8 hour march was getting caught in a small space between two tunnels for a passing train. If you think we were surprised though, you should have seen the faces of the passengers! Relatively uneventful beyond the fact we all arrived absolutely dead. Seriously could not have walked another metre for anything, just collapsed on the side of the road and waited for the collectivo van again.

Couldn't bring ourselves to face a ride all the way back to Cuzco and wanted to see some other ruins in Ollantaytambo so crashed there for the night. Next morning we headed to the ruins only to find out there is only one kind of ticket, good for 16 sites, and VERY expensive if you just want one site. So, forget it.

INSTEAD, we spontaneously decided to jump into the local (NASTY) river and help a local high school class clean up a bit! Grabbed some bags and baggy gloves and filled four big garbage bags between the four of us along a little stretch in about an hour or so, then went and washed up to catch our ride back to Cuzco. Locals thought we were nuts, other tourists thought we were a curiosity, but it was time well spent in our books.

And now, seeing as these ol' typing fingers are all of my body still in working shape, I retire to some well deserved relaxation.

I truly hope this finds everyone well. Don't we all feel closer for the shared experience? Bolivia bound and feeling unstoppable (after some sleep),

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