January 18, 2013 by jiejie768
Our journey continued Dec. 28, 2012, with Machu Picchu. The undisputed highlight (for me, at least) of our entire trip so far. To read about our other adventures over the Christmas holidays, click on the links at the bottom of the page.
Day 7: Machu Picchu (Looks like we made it!)
When the alarm clock went of at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2012, my heart was instantly racing. I didn’t even waste time being groggy as I took a quick shower and headed down to the hotel’s complementary breakfast. There would be time later in life to be tired, today I was accomplishing a goal I’ve had for as long as I can remember: We were going to Machu Picchu.
Meg and I have seen some amazing things on this trip, and when it’s all said and done, I’m sure our longest lasting memories will be tied to Kids at the Crossroads and many of the amazing children we’ve met there. That said, the entire impetus for this year-long trip, in all of its incarnations over the years before we actually left for it, was getting to Machu Picchu.
At one point we were going to try and travel all the way around the world. Later we were going to spend a month each in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc. with maybe an extra month in Ayacucho at Aunt GeGe’s. Eventually the trip morphed into what we are actually doing, which is spending most of our time at KATC (which was absolutely the right decision), but through all the planning the question of “Well, what would you want to do if we took a year off and traveled?” was always answered first with “I don’t know, but we’d definitely have to go to Machu Picchu.”
So it was with little hesitation and great excitement I rose that day. There are two methods to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu PIcchu: A 20-minute bus ride ($10 each way) or a 90-minute or so hike ($0). Meg, Ty, Lolo, Katie, Kathy and I all opted for the hike, which required a slightly earlier start so we could meet Pam, Tom, Dan and Bill at the entrance at about 7 a.m. The sky was overcast, but the downpour that greeted us upon arriving to Aguas Calientes the day before had subsided. It was a very reasonable 60 or so degrees as the six of us headed out. After a quick stop off to pick up our tickets in town, we hit the trail.
The first 20 minutes or so was along the same path we had followed on our hike the day before. It was a fairly flat, and therefore, leisurely stretch that took us to the bridge across the Urubamba River. Meg and I had glimpsed the bridge the day before, but you are not allowed to cross without tickets to enter Machu Picchu. Today we had them, and as we made our way across the bridge we looked up at the rather daunting task in front of us. Documentation in town indicates Aguas Calientes is around 5,800 or so feet above sea level. Machu Picchu sits at 7,920 feet. We were about to climb those 2,100 feet in about two miles and 75 minutes.
As I said, it was a pleasant temperature for such an endeavor, but nonetheless we were all dripping sweat within 10 minutes of starting the stairs. That’s right, the hiking trail did not bother with meandering switchbacks like the bus route, but went pretty much straight up by virtue of stone steps of varying interval, height and width. So, so many stairs.
It was a physically trying hike, but the breathtaking (literally … hah, get it?) scenery and lure of our destination was a constant boon to our energy level. The early morning clouds hung around the tops of the mountains making me feel like I was hiking in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Misty Mountains.
The five non-Ryan members of our hiking party managed to strike a leisurely (as leisurely as could exist anyway) pace and pause at regular intervals to drink some water, recover and admire the surroundings. I am not built that way. I did pause out of necessity here and there, and often stopped to snap pictures as the mountains that once towered over us came closer and closer to eye level.
But I was not able to pace myself in the same way as my companions. When faced with a grueling task such as hiking directly up the side of a mountain, my goal is to get it over with as quickly as I am able. I’m more of a big-rest-at-the-end over little-rests-along-the-way kind of guy. So it was that I made it to the top about 10-15 minutes ahead of my fellow hikers. It was good, as it gave my sweat-soaked shirt extra time to dry before actually entering Machu Picchu.
The bussing party was already at the top when I arrived, and I recovered in the outdoor cafe while waiting for the other hikers. Machu Picchu, being virtually unchanged since it’s “discovery” by Hiram Bingham in 1912, does not have bathrooms, concessions or any other such things inside the gates. So any calls from natures, or hunger pangs must be addressed outside before entering — you can exit and reenter as many times as you like during the day, though. Once our entire party was assembled, we gathered our goods, emptied our bladders one last time and headed for the entrance.
Machu Picchu Park, which is owned by the Peruvian government, does not directly employ any tour guides. Rather there are a number of licensed guides who are granted permission to sell tours to the visitors as they arrive. One such tour guide, Felix, latched on to us outside the park and refused to listen as we told him we weren’t interested. He was trying to charge 20 soles a person for the tour and completely ignored our counter-offer of 15 each. We told him thanks, but we were going to look around. Unperturbed, he followed us into the park and continued to act as if we had an agreement, which we most certainly didn’t. While Tom and Meg were explaining to Felix that we didn’t need his services, Kathy and Katie forged ahead and struck up a conversation with a different guide.
This new guide, whose name I cannot remember, was a very pleasant woman who, without knowing anything of our talks with Felix, offered to let us join her tour group for 15 soles each. Kathy, keen to support a woman and eager to avoid spending the next two hours with decidedly obnoxious Felix, quickly agreed.
Guide acquired, we were ready to enter Machu Picchu in earnest. We descended past a couple of thatched-roof huts, turned a corner and were greeted with our first, full-on view of Machu Picchu. It was still early and much of the city was shrouded in mist, giving it an almost other-worldy feel. Many times in life the expectation of something is so overpowering the actual experience ends up being a let down. This was not one of those times. Actually being there in person, seeing the terraces and the white granite structures, finally standing in the place I had strived for so long to get to was absolutely incredible.
Shortly after entering the main part of the city, our tour was interrupted when Felix, along with a tour company official, barged in and claimed our tour guide, who had absolutely no knowledge of our interaction with Felix, had stolen us by price gouging him. As the conversation between Felix, the official and our guide grew heated, Tom and Meg stepped in to explain in no uncertain terms that we had not been stolen; that, in fact, we opted not to go with Felix because he was rude, pushy and obnoxious. That settled (or so we thought) our guide rejoined the group and our tour was again on its way.
From here, I think I pretty much have let the photos do the talking (and there are a TON). I’ve culled it down to about 25-30 from inside the park, but I don’t know that I can describe what it was like. I walked around most of the day in a kind of elated daze. Even though our attempt to get day-of tickets to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that rises behind the classic postcard shot of Machu Picchu) failed, there was more than enough to capture our interest for the next several hours.
I will share with you a couple of anecdotes that cannot be told in picture form; one featuring the comic(al) musings of my young brother-in-law Daniel Anderson.
As mentioned above, there was no food or restroom inside the park, so after our tour, about 9:45 a.m. the Andersons and I left the park to grab a bite at the cafe and use the restroom. The Collinses made one last, unsuccessful attempt to get Wayna Picchu tickets and we would not meet up with them again until later that day back at the hotel.
When we left the park, our guide, who we had left about 30 minutes earlier, approached Meg (who by then she recognized as the Spanish speaking expert of our group) and asked for a favor. Apparently, Felix-the-Douche had not let things be with our earlier conversation and had filed an official complaint with the guiding service. Our guide, through no fault of her own, was now facing a potential three-day suspension for price gouging unless Meg would agree to write an official letter to the service stating that Felix’s version of the story was BS. Meg was only too happy to oblige, and I struggled to restrain myself from using my (limited) Spanish expletive vocabulary on Felix when we saw him a little later (still, fittingly, without a tour to lead … douche). That settled (we hope) once and for all, we turned our sights on lunch.
The sandwiches at the Machu Picchu cafe were overpriced (about 25 soles/$12 each) but surprisingly good — arguably the best I’ve had in Peru — and we planned out our next endeavor while we ate. It was decided we’d do the two-hour roundtrip hike to the Sun Gate which offered (what we thought at that time was) the traditional post card view looking down over the city with Wayna Picchu in the background.
After food was consumed, we all visited the restroom and the four guys gathered near the entrance to wait for the three women in our party. After about 10 minutes we begin to wonder what was going on, and Ty asked rhetorically, “What are they doing, dropping deuces or something?”
Dan, who so far had been a silent member of our waiting party, followed this questioned by delivering an out-of-the-blue singsongy refrain: “Dropping deuuuuuces.”
Ty and I just lost it. It was probably about as hard as I laughed during the entire two weeks of traveling. It was just so unsuspected, and on Dan’s part almost stream of conscious, as if he was unaware he was doing it. Shortly thereafter, the women rejoined our group and Pam asked Dan if he needed some water. He declined and she mildly scolded him for not drinking enough liquids which led to Dan’s second gem in as many minutes as he implored his mother: “Don’t judge me by the color of my pee!”
Again Ty and I (and Meg this time) were rolling as Dan had unintentionally delivered the two funniest moments of the day, if not the whole trip. “Dropping Deuuuuces” became something of a theme song for the rest of our trip; especially given some of the digestive issues floating around the group (both overactive, and underachieving digestive systems abound in Peru). We re-entered the park laughing and set about the second part of day. First up was the passport-stamping station near the entrance where we all affixed proof of our visit to our traveling documents.
The morning’s tour had offered a great knowledge base for the rest of our exploration, but the best part of the day was simply wandering around and taking it all in on our own. We had planned to hike to the Sun Gate, but as we hiked up past the Guardhouse on the hill we realized the view we were seeking, that quintessential postcard vista looking down over the ruins with Wayna Picchu in the background, was in fact the view from the Guardhouse.
The runaway highlight of it all was climbing up to the Guardhouse as that famous view began to materialize below us with each flight of stairs we climbed (yup, more stairs ). Finally standing there, in person, and looking down on that view that I had heretofore only seen on a postcard, in a book or on the Internet was a heady experience.
Another high point on the path the Guardhouse was the numerous llamas grazing on the terraces along the way. This was the first time any of the Andersons had seen a llama live and in person during their trip to Peru. It was fun for everyone, and Lolo spent most of the afternoon scheming to steal one and take it back home with her — I didn’t check her luggage, but I’m pretty certain she did not achieve this.
With one item checked off our bucket list, and several self-portraits, family photos, jumping pictures and landscape photographs in the bag, we headed back down the stairs out of the park and to the line for the bus (Ty, Meg and I decided we did not need to hike back … Katie and Kathy did, however). It was absolutely a dream come true, and I’m glad that I will have the chance to go back in April when my mom comes to visit, because so much of this first trip was spent in awe that I was even there.
That evening, emotionally and physically spent, we grabbed some vegetarian food early and passed the night away playing cards, sipping beer (or wine) and just taking it easy in our hotel before setting off the next day for Ollantaytambo (another famous Incan ruin) and Cuzco once again.
Catch up on a our holiday vacation with the following links:
- The Andersons arrive: Yeah, that happened …
- Day 2: Christmas in the Campo: This time things go right
- Day 2: Returning from the Campo
- Christmas Eve, Part I: Acquiring (some of) the food
- Christmas Eve, Part II: The KATC Christmas Party
- Christmas Eve, Part III: Mass, Socks and Fireworks (Oh, My!)
- Christmas in Ayacucho
- Day 5: Getting to Cuzco
- Day 6: Aguas Calientes