That next morning, we awoke at a very uncomfortable hour to make it over to the train station on time. Turns out that we read the ticket wrong and had more than enough time, but decided having a bit more leeway wasn’t so bad either. We had to go by taxi a half hour out of town to get a better rate on the train ticket, but that’s not to say that they were cheap. The only means of getting to Machu Picchu are either by hiking the famous four day Inca Trail or else by riding the monopolized train. The trail would have been more up my alley, but we lacked time, equipment, and worthwhile weather. We were soon joined by the masses of ‘softer’ travelers, seated, and on our way.
While I’m sure that the hike would have afforded us a memorable experience, the train too was very scenic. We rolled out of the city and into the mountains, through little villages and also the Sacred Valley. It was interesting to see their native purple corn growing, along with a couple of other vegetables. After a couple hours, it was clear that we were getting close to our destination. The mountains were getting greener and steeper, and the river we traced meaner. Everyone aboard marveled through the windows and precipitation, and soon enough we arrived at Aguas Calientes.
This little village exists only as a staging point for tourists, since a day trip would be rough, and doesn’t accommodate anyone who wants to arrive to the ruins in the morning. Once we got checked in at the Supertramp Hostel , our mission was to track down a place to eat. Our translator had heard rumors of a local food market where we could get our fill without paying tourist prices, so that was our first stop. We walked around and I found a sandwich, but we ended up at one of the countless tourist restaurants all the same. This was where I finally ate my alpaca steak, which was a good but a bit small. We were ushered in by this beauty.
After lunch we needed to fill the afternoon with something, and little mountain hike I had read about was tempting. There was a path leading up to the top of nearby Putukusi, and what started as a tame jaunt, quickly became something a bit more strenuous. Although we were caught off guard by the grade, really, that was our fault, given the nature of the mountains around us. Grueling steps gave way to very steep, and shoddily made ladders. We set right to climbing up, one rung at a time, and paused at the top to marvel at what we had just scaled. It was steeper then this photo shows, though my dad would insist that it was vertical.
The landing atop this portion was far from the Putukusi summit, which required another hour of grueling climbing and more ladders still. Continuing onward and upward, we were grateful to sense the air cooling just a bit. For some reason we all had on jeans and jackets, and we were fast becoming sweat bombs. We kept going though, eventually reaching the cloud line. Here we paused again to appreciate our vertical accomplishment and to look back on where we had come from. Thanks Saad, this is still the best shirt ever.
We were pretty well exhausted when we finally got to the apex, and very hot. Fortunately our efforts were rewarded with a view of Machu Picchu across the way. It was a sneak…peek…at some of what the next day would hold. We took a few photos, and once rested my dad gathered the gumption to make it down. He thought that it would be much worse than it actually was, and some time later we arrived back to the town. Throughout the whole trek, we only happened across a couple others, which gave us the sense that our little adventure was a bit more unique among the average tourists that come out this way. We celebrated with a brew, and later a little locally fried chicken before bed. The early morning start and then that hike really took it out of us, so sleep came easy.
The next morning we arose before the sun, hoping to beat the crowds, the heat, and also to take advantage of the Wayna Picchu add on we had bought. I would say that most visitors are exceptionally lazy – or else rich – and are thus willing to pay the exorbitant 40 dollar bus fare. One my budget, I sure didn’t fit those categories, so, we willed our weary legs to haul us up even higher than the day before. We were all sweating profusely by the time of arrival, and though those hopping off the buses must have thought us fools, we made it all the same. Our tickets guaranteed us entry to Wayna Picchu, but there was only a short window that we had to make it in by. We hustled across the ruins and to that entrance, only to realize that we had a whole lot more climbing to do. And this was going to be the steepest yet. We paused for the first of many photos.
Despite promising us that he would never again climb what he had done the day before, there he was, fighting his way up something even worse. There were a lot of people clearly unfit for this sort of excursion, and I took it upon myself to remind a few Japanese people that 諦めたら、試合が終了. The hike was incredibly scenic, and the view as we rose above the ruins perfect. It took us another 90 minutes to summit the thing, and there we paused with a number of others to soak it all in. This photo is fairly telling of the locale, and also helps to explain why ol’ daddio wasn’t even present to take the photo…
Ignoring the beauties of the view, he despised the height and was quick to get back down. As a result, there are very few photos of him at all, and those that we did manage generally captured a grown man clinging on for dear life. He remarked that once you turn 50 everything changes, and also that he was doing pretty well to yet be in such physical shape as to manage something like this. I’d say that’s fair and that he did well, but also that I’m glad to be doing this while I’m young and uninhibited by reason.
Back at the bottom, we were able to reconnect and set to exploring the rest of the ruins together. Here was where the majority of the tourists were at, and for good reason really. This whole place remained unknown to the western world until 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham was led there by some locals. This meant that despite a few hundred years of Spanish rule and dismantlement of indigenous culture, this Incan gem remains virtually untouched. We saw some other ruins in Peru, but this was certainly the best of the best (of the best, Sir!). We explored the expansive remains, and took a whole lot of photos. That mountain to the right proved a worthy adversary.
We finished soaking it all in, and then woefully started back down the mountain. Our legs were mush. We were completely satisfied with all that we saw, although for me it was the compliment of the mountains piercing up into the clouds that made these remote ruins so incredible. If one were to change the setting to something less dynamic, the mystique of the rock walls and terraces would be completely different. With our mission accomplished, we had only to gather our things and get ready for the train ride back. For whatever reason, our return train wasn’t going all the way back to where we started, but instead dumped us half way. We just had to flag down a van in the pouring rain to shuttle us back to Cuzco. This was an action packed couple of days, and we were ready to relax a bit before finally bringing this adventure to a close.