Category: Aguascalientes

Machu Picchu – maravilla del mundo

(I have to apologize in advance…this is a very long post.  Not huge amounts of text, but there are lots and lots of pictures and videos ;])

We woke up at 5:00 on Monday morning, so that we could catch the first bus from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu at 5:30.  Even at that ungodly hour, there was a huge line of people waiting to go the rest of the way up the mountain. And the line continued once we arrived at the entrance. Despite the unexpected amount of people, however, our timing was actually pretty good. We made it to the entrance gate by the time Machu Picchu opened at 6:00, which gave us a little bit of time to walk around the grounds before there were too many people, like there would be in the afternoon. We were a bit nervous at first – it had poured most of the night before, and we were worried that it would continue into the day.  But it turned out to just be cloudy, which helped with the heat and actually made it quite a nice day.

Here are a few videos from Machu Picchu itself:

So at 7:00, we made our way to the entrance of Huayna Picchu, a neighboring mountain. That was our entrance time to begin our ascent – they only allow 400 people on Huayna Picchu a day, and we were fortunate enough to snag entrance passes by buying our tickets over a month before we left. There were 2 options, an easy and a hard climb; of course we chose the harder one. I couldn’t come all this way and then take the easy way up the mountain! :-). While we waited to be let in, we struck up a conversation with a fascinating couple from California, Kim and Sally. Kim is a photographer, and he has been all over the world taking pictures of different news and travel stories. Together, they’re an intrepid traveling couple who has seen nearly every country in the world together. They became our buddies for the rest of the climb – when one of us got tired, the others would encourage them to keep pushing, so we all made it up to the top.

The encouragement was definitely needed. The climb was…challenging, to say the least. Thousands of stairs stood between us and our goal. And these were no ordinary stairs. Some were nearly two feet high, others so narrow that even my tiny feet couldn’t fit sideways on them. Often there were sheer cliffs that fell away just inches from where the side of the steps ended. My fear of heights was definitely kicking in with a vengeance. And of course, don’t forget to factor in the altitude – Huayna Picchu stands over 8500 feet above sea level. It’s truly amazing how much high altitude messes with your body when you’re not used to it. Caro and I are both in fairly good shape, but we still had to stop every few minutes or so just to catch our breaths.

Here’s an example of some of the stairs, tunnels, and ladders we had to climb to get to Huayna Picchu:

But getting to the top made all of the effort worth it. When we first got there the entire mountain was shrouded in fog, so we had to wait a while before the clouds cleared and we could catch a decent view. But it was truly gorgeous. And, although the clouds were a bit frustrating at times, I kind of liked them – they added to the mystery and excitement of the whole experience.

Coming down, though, while physically easier, was wayyyyy harder for me. Fears of heights are much more applicable when you are going down instead of up. By the time we got to the bottom my poor legs were like jello from having been shaking the entire way down. But I did it!! I was really proud of myself :).  After the climb, we spent a few more hours at Machu Picchu itself. We learned a ton about it without even having to pay for a guide – the advantage of understanding both English and Spanish is that you can sidle up to pretty much any tour and hear what the guide is saying without having to pay for anything ;).

To head down the mountain back to Aguascalientes, there are of course buses available for a small fee. But there is also a stairway, hewn out of the side of the mountain, for those hardy souls who didn’t endure enough punishment climbing Huayna Picchu. Guess which route we chose? Oh yes. The stairs. Only ten minutes into the trip, we were regretting our decision.  But by then it was too late. So we shouldered on, and finally reached Aguascalientes about 2 hours later. It made for a very long day. But it was fun. And totally worth the hassle. Worth the multiple bus rides, the train ride, the hike, the money, the sore muscles, the bug bites on steroids (I was left with scars from the bugs of Machu Picchu)…everything. All throughout Peru, the sort of unofficial slogan for Machu Picchu is “maravilla del mundo” (marvel of the world).  While it is admittedly a somewhat cheesy slogan, it is undoubtedly true.  I don’t generally like super touristy places, and Machu Picchu is one of the most touristy places in the world, but Machu Picchu is indeed a marvel, and definitely worth putting up with the tourists.  I ended that day a very happy camper, indeed :).
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The morning after arriving in Cuzco, Sunday, Yuri and Roxi gave us a ride to the bus station. It wasn’t really a bus, but a colectivo, a minivan in which they cram as many people as possible and strap all your stuff on top. Because we’d bought our tickets so late, we had to leave from a farther station, which is why we needed to take the colectivo to get there. So we arrived in this tiny town called Ollantaytambo around noon, and then were able to take the train to our final destination of Aguascalientes.

To see just how remote Aguascalientes is, and some of the passes that we had to cross to get there, check out this short video: Train to Aguascalientes

While in the train on our way to Aguascalientes, we got to meet some really fascinating people. Two of my favorites were Natalia and Señor DeBere. Natalia is a Russian national, but has been living in Norway for many years. She was traveling throughout Peru for about a month, all by herself – and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Whew. That’s either incredibly brave or terribly stupid, I can’t decide which. Completely blows out of the water the pair of girls that I met in the plane on the way to Lima who were winging it together around Peru for 2 weeks :).  The other interesting person was Señor DeBere.  Señor DeBere was from Chile, and on vacation with his entire family. Super nice, super friendly, we had a lovely conversation with him almost the entire 1.5 hour ride to Aguascalientes. And we actually got to see him twice more, once in the city and once in Machu Picchu itself.

The train runs right through the center of the town – for someone who almost never sees trains, it’s pretty cool to watch:

Upon arrival, the first order of the day was finding a place to stay, as we had no idea where we were sleeping when we got there. I’ve got to say, although this whole traveling without any sort of plan at all is difficult for my type-A personality, it’s also rather fun.  I enjoy being spontaneous and flexible and just seeing what life throws at you and taking it one day at a time.  It’s certainly a great way to force someone who’s wound too tightly to relax a bit! 🙂  After finding somewhere to stay, we went and checked out the huge handmade craft market, one of the few things to do in the very very tiny town.  I even did some haggling for a few gifts while I was there! I was proud of myself – I find haggling incredibly difficult to do, and generally just don’t bother buying something if I’m not willing to pay the full price.  But hey, this is how it’s done in Peru – when in Rome, right?

Anyway, after taking freezing cold showers (especially ironic considering the name of the town) we went to sleep early. The next day, Machu Picchu, was gonna be a long one, and we wanted plenty of energy to enjoy it!!

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Mr. DeBere and Caroline 🙂

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