Wednesday, 5th November
We awoke at 5:30am and were at the breakfast table for 6am, as we had requested the day before. We wanted to get to Machu Picchu early but not too early. The first bus leaves Aguas Calientes at 5:30am with those wanting to get there even earlier walking up (takes an hour and a half). Some do it for the sunrise, we didn’t. Breakfast was okay, not the best we’ve had but then we are up too early to want to eat anything that substantial. We packed a backpack with snacks, rain-coats, hats, sun-cream and of course a camera and then made our way to the bus stop. We hopped on the bus and after winding our way up the hillside were at the entrance to Machu Piccu around 7am. We didn’t think we would get a guide but when we got to the front gate, we asked around to see what we could do and it wasn’t as much as we thought it would be so we opted to go for a guided tour to start with. It was also cloudy on the mountain-side so there wan’t any point in climbing Macchu Mountain for the view just yet. I had downloaded some information to by eReader that could fill in the gaps left by the tour.
Our guide, Felix, led us and two other German tourists around Machu Picchu for around two hours. The complex is split into two sectors, the agricultural and urban sectors. We spent most to the time in the urban sector, walking around various buildings and learning about their constructions and uses. This whole site is just incredible, to think that is lay here unknown by the wider world since it was abandoned when the Spanish arrived in the mid 1500s. It was inhabited by a few local families however, who used the same terraces the Incas used for farming. It was built around 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire and so was around 100 years old at the time of it’s abandonment. When the Spanish moved through Peru they never found this site and so the condition is remarkable. You can’t believe just how perfect it looks, most of the buildings look like they are just missing a roof and they could be lived in again. That said, some restoration work has been done on the site and some buildings have been re-thatched (only five or so) to give you an idea of how it looked back then. We walked around houses, temples, storehouses, astronomical buildings and plazas. The thing that really struck me was the workmanship on the buildings. Those lived in by the nobles were perfect. No mortar was used, instead the joins were so close that none was needed. The cloud lifted as we walked around and we could see the whole site in it’s setting amongst all the surrounding mountains. The setting is as breathtaking as the contraction itself. We could see nearby mountains that look as the area Machu Picchu sits on would’ve looked all those years ago. It makes it all the more astonishing how and why this was built where it was. We even saw some llamas kept there to keep the grass short. I think the best way to get an idea of this place is to see the photos, most of which are in the gllery but there are some here. It was hard to choose which ones to upload, I took around 500 photos in all.
After the tour ended we walked towards the foot of the Machu Picchu mountain. This is the mountain from which the site takes it’s name. We had bought a ticket that included entrance to this mountain, with entrance limited to 400 people a day as the paths are narrow and too many people could be dangerous. The climb to the top would give great views back down onto the site of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys and mountains. Kirsty opted not to make the climb, having suffered a bit from altitude but I pressed on. She instead went on another walk, heading towards the Sun Gate, another Inca structure set on another mountain through which the sunlight shines at certain times of the year. By all accounts she got as good as view as I did but without the pain of having to walk about 500m up stone stairs. I powered up, finding this easier than prolonging the pain and breathlessness and made it to the top in under an hour (recommended time, one and a half hours). Once at the top the views were stunning, with the site of Machu Picchu looking so small in the setting of the whole range. I actually think though that the views are better closer up when you can make out the structures of the individual buildings. The way up was tough due to the hard work of climbing stairs and gasping for air but the way down was just as hard, not on the lungs but on the knees. I got the bottom completely drained and met up with Kirsty to have a sit down at another point, in some shade looking out upon Machu Picchu and towards Huayna Picchu, another smaller mountain which has fortress at the top. You can climb this mountain too, a more popular climb, but all the tickets had gone by the time we got ours. These sell out months in advance for some reason. After a sit down we went to check out the Inca Bridge, a walkway into the city by another route which along the way has a stone pathway built up against a cliff-face, resembling a bridge, hence the name. You can’t actually go on the bridge, being too precarious and dangerous. By now we were done, by the all the walking around and the early start, so we headed for our hostel home, walking back to the entrance through the urban sector once more to check out the Temple of the Condor on the way, This is a temple dedicated to the great bird, the condor, and on the ground is a representation of the bird. You really have to use your imagination to make it out though, as expected. We got a Machu Picchu stamp in our passport as a souvenir, then caught the next bus down back to Aguas Calientes.
We vegetated for the rest of the day, getting back to the hostel around 2:30pm and sat on the bed watching cable TV. Around 4pm it started to pour down with rain so we were glad we left when we did, thinking it would be pretty miserable to be stuck up there in the rain. For dinner we found a place along the main drag of restaurants and I had the set menu again. It was good although incredibly slow service. I didn’t mind too much though as my legs hurt too much to leave which we did do eventually. going back to the hostel to vegetate some more. We had no plans for the next day, only to leave on the train back to Cusco in the late afternoon.