One wonder of the modern world down…
We arrived in Aguas Calientes around 10:00 pm and headed to our hotel. At our hotel, we were informed that in order to climb Huayna Picchu, (the big mountain behind the ruins which only 400 are allowed to climb per day) we would have to be on the first bus to Machu Picchu at 5:30 am. This meant getting in line by 4 am… meaning we woke up at 3:30 am. Needless to say, we went straight to bed.
We ended up on one of the first buses up and got our tickets stamped to climb Huayna Picchu at 10 am. When you first arrive, you can’t see the ruins. Then, you start to climb and climb and all of a sudden, there it is. Machu Picchu. It was early in the morning and there were clouds settling over the ruins. It looked like a living postcard… but pictures can’t capture its grandeur. The feeling you get is hard to describe, but mostly, I was in awe. We climbed up to some of the terraces overlooking the city and watched the sun rise over the ruins without any tourists on them.
After exploring the ruins themselves for a while, it was time to head up the mountain. Having looked at Huayna Picchu for a while, I was convinced I would make it about half way up at best. It looked incredibly steep, and it was. It took me a while… there are points at which the stairs just go straight up and I’m not in the best shape. But everyone on their way down encouraged us, telling us we were close. After the fourth time someone told me I was “close” I stopped believing them. Regardless, I finally made it to the top. The ruins look tiny and I finally got a sense of how high up I really was (which made me a little nervous as I’m afraid of heights). There is a temple which sits atop Huayna Picchu, the Temple of the Moon. That coupled with the birds eye view of the city made me think:
a.) Who decided this was a good place to build a city?
b.) The Incas were crazy/incredible/wicked smart.
c.) They also must have been in great shape and not afraid of heights.
We spent some time at the top contemplating these profound questions 😉 and then headed back down, which ended up being more nerve wracking than the trip up. Thankfully, I learned that a handful of people have actually fallen off the mountain to their death after I climbed it.
Once we were back to the main site, we walked around more but the sun was getting hot and we were all very tired. We headed back to Aguas Calientes to eat lunch with our Resident Director, Laura, and everyone drank enormous quantities of water. After that, some of us walked around the tourist market looking for gifts. It wasn’t long before we had to be back to the train station to head back to the city of Cusco.
I was expecting to sleep on the train ride after that climb and the lack of sleep, but that certainly didn’t happen. For the trip back, Laura bought us seats in a nicer train compartment. This ticket included a light dinner and a show. First, one of the train employees came out in a mask and brightly colored outfit, dancing up and down the isle. Then came the fashion show of the finest in alpaca sweaters and accessories. I have to say, it was the most interesting train ride I have ever been on.
There were a few things on our trip I wish we had done differently. Because we were running around every day, we never got a chance to really see Cusco. Everyone told us what a great city it was and that it has some of the best nightlife in Peru, but we never got a chance to experience it as everyone was always tired by the end of the day. Also, it would have been great to have a tour guide at Machu Picchu. Admittedly, I should have read more about it before arriving. All we could really do was wander around and try to guess what everything was. It would have been a much more enriching experience to have had someone knowledgeable with us for at least part of the day. All complaints aside, it was an incredible experience. I can officially cross one wonder of the modern world off my list!
From living amongst the clouds, to the hustle and bustle of Lima… a lot of people were a little upset to return to Lima. I am getting used to Lima and life here, although it can be frustrating at times. All I can do it take it one day at a time. Each day I feel like I’m riding a mini culture shock curve.
But that’s another post…