Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Arrival in Machu Picchu

Meghan and I were up at about 3 AM in order to reach Machu Picchu by sunrise.  We were supposed to leave at 3:30, but the Germans were late getting up.  I wouldn’t have been as upset by this if they hadn’t been so animated about their desire to see the sunrise.  Edwin gave them an opportunity to see it, but they were 25 minutes late so there was no way we could make it.  I also didn’t appreciate that I 25 minutes of sleep that I could have savored.  I was tired and sore at this point.  I don’t know how many stairs we had to descend in order to get to the altitude of Machu Picchu, but it was absurd.  Doing so in complete darkness (of course with a headlamp) was also a bit more complicated.  I was very focused though, so there was never a time when I was scared of slipping or falling.  We saw some lights from an electrical power plant that is powered by the flow of the Urubamba River, as well as from the “Machu Picchu Town” called Aguas Calientes.  Its only purpose is to serve tourists who come to see the marvelous ruins.  They were very far away from our position on the trail.  Once the sun came out we could see the Machu Picchu mountain and the Urubamba river far below.  The topography of this region is unreal.  The mountains are so sharp, they look like the dorsal fins of huge, mountainous fish.  You can see that in all the famous pictures of Machu Picchu, but being surrounded by them on all sides is far more incredible. 

When we passed through the gate into the preserve of Machu Picchu I thought we were close to our final destination, but I wasn’t entirely correct.  Our bodies were barely functional at this point.  I had only eaten a tiny sandwich with cheese for breakfast, and we had been rigorously hiking for 3 hours.  That was an odd feeling before 7 AM.  There was one horrific set of steps to get up before arriving to the main attraction; there were only about 50 of them, but they were probably near a 40 degree angle up.  They were easier crawled than hiked.  After another 10 minutes Meghan and I almost stopped to eat some breakfast and drink water, but then Edwin caught us and told us were 5 minutes away from the sun gate, an iconic viewing place of Machu Picchu.  So we pressed on. 

Finally, after what seemed like years, we were in Intipunku, the sun gate.  The clouds obstructed the view sufficiently to ruin any pictures, but at least we could see it.  Within 15 minutes, it was completely blocked off from view; I felt bad for the people who arrived at that time.  We waited for probably an hour for a good view to open up, but eventually gave up and moved on to the ruins.  Down the little path from Intipunku, the rain started.  It was conveniently at this time that I noticed my natural gravitation toward the edge of the path on the drop-off side rather than the mountain side.  Meghan had noticed all along and wasn’t a huge fan.  I tried to overcome this temptation on the slick rocks, and succeeded for the most part. 

Arriving at Machu Picchu was almost culture shocking.  After taking pictures on the iconic rock where all the famous shots are from, we ventured down into a more dense area.  We definitely stuck out among the clean, well-groomed tourists.  Meghan found girls putting on make-up in the bathroom, which by the way was much nicer than what we found on the trail.  We had to laugh about the contrast with our bodies that hadn’t been bathed in 4 long, sweaty days.  I will fully admit to judging all the tourists who didn’t take the trail.  I certainly felt like we earned the beautiful views more than they did.  Granted, those who are older or don’t have sufficient traveling time to do the trail have good excuses.  But anyone who looked fit and too clean probably received a dirty glance from my direction. 

After relaxing for a little bit, we re-entered the ruins from the restaurant area for our tour.  Unfortunately, it was this moment when it started raining hard.  I was happy about our luck on the trail, but it sucked to be in the most iconic place of Peru while cold, wet, and unable to take pictures.  After about ½ the tour things cleared up and the sun came out, so I was still able to take pictures to my heart’s content.  It is probably the most photogenic place I’ve ever been.  Everything is beautiful.  The mountains are breathtaking.  The ruins are one of the 7 wonders of the world for a reason.  And, of course, I had a beautiful woman to take pictures with J  I won’t try to describe all parts of the ruins here because uploading the pictures would be too hard.  Instead I’ll include a few highlights and you’ll have to check facebook in ~1 week to see the details of all the buildings and sectors of the city. 

This was one of the best memories we had of Machu Picchu.  We were standing looking at the 3 doors, which apparently once housed a school for the privileged of the Incan civilization, when this llama sprinted through the path.  I have no idea how it even got into this part, since there aren’t many doors, but it was hilarious.  Another witness came up to us excitedly babbling about how Machu Picchu was a magical place.  Yes.  Yes it is. 

Urban Sector

An iconic shot with the sun out this time J
After the tour and further exploring, we decided to go back to the sun gate to take pictures when it was actually sunny.  Wow, it is quite the sight when it isn’t covered in clouds.

Finally, we began our last decent of the trek to Aguas Calientes.  It only took an hour and a half, but we were tired and sore so it was a long hour and a half.  I will mention that we still passed 10 of those pretty, clean tourists on our way down.  Still got it after 4 days of lugging those backpacks around through the mountains J 

We reached the bottom after several eternities had passed.  We sat down and ordered a pizza.  I could have eaten at least one family-size pizza on my own.  I had been awake for 12 rigorous hours where I’d only eaten an orange, some cookies, the tiny sandwich, and a cliff bar.  Not ok.  Mmmm, but when that pizza arrived in all its glory I was in heaven.  A very smelly, dirty heaven, but heaven nonetheless.  We hung out in town for a little longer and got M&M’s for dessert, then headed for the train station.  We were both looking forward to the nap on the train.

Once on the train, it became evident that sleep was nothing short of impossible.  Some drunk Argentinians (not our group) in the back of the train were singing and dancing.  Eventually they discovered the Americans on the train and involved us.  I really didn’t want to dance because I’m rhythmically challenged, but they at least got some pictures with me.  Suddenly they decided to include Meghan, and her face in that moment was one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Surprise, fear, panic, and other emotions were all communicated in a fraction of a second.  It took a little time, but Meghan did return to her normal self.  It didn’t help that I was talking to the Argentinians in a language she didn’t understand, but eventually we all switched to English so Meghan could take part in the conversation.  I don’t know why it took them all week to do that.  I was glad she got a chance to talk without needing my translation, because I know it’s been hard for her.  Those guys are fun, I would not be opposed to visiting them in Buenos Aires.  I would probably feel like I didn’t speak Spanish though, it’s so hard to understand them.  They also have some phrases to watch out for there..  I must say I’m glad I chose to learn my Spanish in Cuzco. 

I’m going to skip the bus ride from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco because it was uneventful.  We were dropped off near the plaza, where we said our goodbyes to all our new friends, then caught a cab.  I was told on the street that I could take it for 6 soles, then in the car he told me it would be 8.  I’m not ok with that.  If it had been 8, I wouldn’t have gotten in.  Anyway, eventually we arrived home.  After we had each taken our much needed showers, we went downstairs to find that Sandro had left out dinner for us.  This is totally an accurate representation of their kindness to me throughout my time in Peru.  Again, something I’m glad Meghan got to experience.  We also had a small chocolate party with the cupcakes my mom had sent.  Oh, so good.  

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