Machu Picchu

by CameronM Mon, April 17 2006 21:57

Buses to Machu Picchu leave Aquas Calientas from 5:30am, so we decided to be among the first up to Machu Picchu and woke up at 4:30m. Although we were driving when the sun rose, we were able to see the ruins before they became crowded with tourists.

Machu Picchu is amazing and looks even better than the pictures show. It is believed, according to our guide, that Machu Picchu was a kind of academic town, where people would come for short 'training' retreats. The site is massive and it is believed about 800 people lived here, in addition to the scholars and religious persons who visited the site from Cusco.

We had an informative two hour tour and were then free to explore the site or climbe the nearby Waynapcchu mountain. My legs were still sore from the huge hike the day before, so I decided to have a break before attempting the climb. The last section is very steep, with sheer drops hundreds of metres to the ground, so I wasn't at all sure I wanted to try it anyway.

After some mental toing and througing, I decided to give it a go and turn back if I didn't like the steep sections. That was the theory, but like always, once I started, I went flat out and hardly stopped on the climb up. Our guide said he had done the accent in 18 minutes for a bet, but most fit people did it in 30 and the others in about an hour. With this in mind, I made it to the top, sweating like a pig, in 24 minutes.

The descent turned out to be the hardest part, as the fear of looking down a hundred metres or so really makes me nervous. After coming down some of the harder sections almost on my butt and using both hands to steady myself, I was glad to be stuck behind slower tourists, as it gave me an excuse for going slowly.

After lunch back in town we boarded the 'Backpacker' train service to Cusco (US$44). The trip was slow and, once the sun went down and the scenery dissapeared into the darkness, it was boring. Eventually at about 8:30pm, we arrived at Cusco and said our goodbyes.

I had left some of my luggage at Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta and booked a room before I had left on the trail so after getting a taxi with some of the guys to Plaza de Armas, I wandered back down the familiar roads. Thankfully when I arrived I was told I even had a room all to myself.

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Sayaqmarka and Aquas Calientas

by CameronM Sun, April 16 2006 21:54

Today we faced three smalled passes, the first immediatley after leaving the campsite. At 3950 metres, it was only marginally lower than Dead woman's pass, however the gain in altitude was only about half as much.

In addition to the challenge of the trail, we stopped at a number of interesting Inca ruins, the main one being the storage and overnight Inca rest stop at Sayaqmarka. The town was located on a beautiful hillside and would have had amazing views over the valley below, if only we could see them for the cloud!

A recent series of landslides meant that we could not walk the final 6 kilometres from the Gate of the Sun into Machu Picchu, so the group decided to walk directly to Aquas Calientas, where we could stay at a hostel and take the bus to Machu Picchu in the morning. This meant that as well as having the normal full days hike, over three passes, we also spent an additional 2 hours descending to meet the railway line and then a 45 minute walk along the line to Aquas Calientas.

On the descent from Winay Wayna (2700m) I decided to follow the example set by our porters and began a slight jog down. Although running downhill with a 15kg backpack seems illogical, it actually reduces the impact on your legs, which normally begin burning after a few kilometres. This was also only possible because the descent is more gradual than “Gringo Killer” and had few steps.

We finally intersected the railway line, but had to wait for the rest of our group, who arrived just as it was getting dark. The brisk walk along the railway line was rather boring, although having to get out of the way of the train returning to Cusco added some interest. The railway line follows the river into Aquas Calientas and is bordered by rainforest on the otherside, so there wasn't a lot of scope for deviating off course too far.

Eventually we arrived at Aquas Calientas about 6:30 pm, in the dark, completely exhausted, but looking forward to a good nights sleep in a normal bed.

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