Peru – Machu Picchu

Today was the day!  We were going to the famed Machu Picchu!  We were both very excited, but wary of the long day ahead of us, and the timelines on which we had to stick to.  Up by 4am in Aguas Calientes, at the gate crossing by 4:45am to get in the queue for the 5:00am opening, and then climbing roughly 1,700 steps up to the entrance to Machu Picchu and through the gates by 6:15am ready for our tour.  Then, because we are poor backpackers, we had to leave Machu Picchu by 11:30am, to walk back down the mountain, and then hike the three hours along the train tracks to Hidroelectrica where our bus to Cusco would be departing, with or without us, at 3:00pm.  Finally arriving in Cusco at about 10:00pm if we were lucky.  Yikes!

So after a night of very little sleep due to a rowdy group in the hostel, Pedro and I woke up at 4am in Aguas Calientes and set-out fifteen minutes later on our walk towards Machu Picchu.  It was pitch-black, and we relied on the light from a tiny torch to navigate our way along the path.  We made good time, and were amongst the first twenty people in the queue at the bridge crossing including the other four in our tour.  It started to rain lightly, and we took out our cheap plastic ponchos to try and keep our packs dry.  We’d had near perfect weather up until that point, so we were hoping the rain would pass quickly.

The other four had trained for this.  They were proper hikers.  And I was prepared for us to get left behind, telling them that we’d meet them at the top.  But I had no idea how hard the climb would be.  I hate stairs on the best of days, but add to that the rain, altitude, still feeling crook, climbing in the dark, the lack of sleep, being incredibly unfit after being on the road for seven weeks, and the fact that we had to be at the top by 6:15am or we’d miss the tour…. and I was thoroughly hating life.  I was close to tears a number of times, but thankfully Pedro stayed with me and encouraged me, stopping for breaks often, and just talking and trying to lighten the mood.

And we made it to the top at about 6:00am, right on opening time.  We got through the gates, met up with our tour guide, climbed yet more stairs, and then turned to over look the famous Incan ruins and….

Fog.  Lots and lots of fog.  We couldn’t see a thing.  It was very disheartening, but I suppose one of the risks of visiting in the wet season.  We sat on the ground while we listened to our tour guide explain the history of the ruins, and I felt thoroughly deflated.

And that was basically the feeling for the visit.  The rain didn’t let up, bar a brief five minute window, but the fog was ever present.  We were wet, cold, and looked like drowned rats.  My camera is my precious, and I was anxious about getting it wet.  Every time I tried to take photos the lens was soon covered in rain drops, and it didn’t take long for all of my lens cleaners to be wet and useless.  We tried to make the most of it, exploring the ruins, checking out the Inca bridge, and trying to weave our way through the ever-growing crowds of people.  We stayed until 11:30am, and then had to leave, the ruins still shrouded in an eerie fog.

We ended up paying the US$12 or so for the bus back down the mountain and to the bridge crossing, because I was worried about walking down the slippery steps.  We discussed our visit on the hike back along the train trek, and decided that we’d hyped it up in our minds too much.  I wanted to be able to see the ruins without the fog so that the enormity and scale of the site really hit home.  I wanted to climb those 1,700 steps and feel like I’d accomplished something, and hoped it would make the view at the top even more hard-hitting.  I wanted to take an absolutely postcard perfect photo of Pedro and I to frame on a wall in the house that we will one day own many, many years into the future.

But I guess that’s the thing about travelling, and life in general I suppose – it’s never predictable.  There are no guarantees.  The best laid plans can easily fall by the wayside. We are incredibly lucky to have been able to live in Canada, quit our jobs and go travelling for five months, and experience Machu Picchu at all.  And I feel like a whiney brat for complaining about it.  And honestly it probably made it a more memorable experience because we had to huddle with dozens of other tourist under straw-thatched huts to stay out of the rain, there was a real risk of us slipping off the side of the mountain when we walked to the Inca bridge, and now we jokingly compare all of our other experiences to Machu Picchu.  “So Pedro, is this calving glacier better than Machu Picchu?”, and the answer is always a resounding “YES!”

It could have been a lot worse.  At the bridge crossing there was a couple in front of us who only had their driver’s licences as identification, but entry strictly requires passports, so they weren’t allowed through.  I can’t even imagine what was going through their heads!

If you have the money, and you aren’t interested in climbing the 1,700 steps, pay the extra for the bus to the top, and pay the US$70 for the train back to Cusco, because the bus is extremely long.  Or even stay in Aguas Calientes that night.  It means that you have longer at Machu Picchu, and you don’t have to hurry back to Hidroelectrica.  And if you’re going in the wet season, take an umbrella!  Plastic ponchos won’t cut it.

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