Sunday, May 7, 2017
Heading to Machu Picchu
When I got in the van for the ride to Ollantaytambo, the city where we would catch the train taking us to the base of Machu Picchu, I didn’t even think about the curves going down the side of the mountain. There were many more curves going down this side of the mountain than what I experienced going up on the other side before we began our hike.
As the driver of the van accelerated between each tightly wound hairpin curve, then hitting the brakes, and then accelerating again, I began to feel sick through the multiple repeats of this process. I had Dramamine, and took some about half way down the mountainside, but I was too far gone. It wasn’t long before I was yelling for the driver to stop, and as he did I flung open the side panel door of the van making it just in time to lose my lunch…literally. But hey, then I felt great… and I’m really glad I had mints in my back pack. 😉
When we rolled into Ollantaytambo the town was bustling with people catching the train to Machu Picchu. From what I could see from the street, an extensive Incan ruin site lined the mountainside here. We however had no time to explore, it was time to board our train. It was a two hour train ride to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. All of us were pretty exhausted from our day of hiking so it became a good time to take a nap on the train.
Aguas Calientes is a cool little town. It’s tightly nestled in a valley with a river running right through the middle of town. The only way into this town in by way of the train. The train itself has “tourist” cars and “local” cars. There are many locals who make their living in Aguas Calientes so they need a way in and out too…and cheaper than the tourist ticket which is around $70.
The tourist cars are nice however, with a row of 4 seats around a center table going down each side of the train car. Each car has two attendants that serve drinks and snacks during the two hour ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Our guide was in the locals’ car, not the tourist car, and by his description there may have been chickens and llamas too. :-0
The streets in Aguas Calientes are narrow. I don’t remember seeing any vehicles, as it appears these streets were only built for pedestrian traffic. Hostels, hotels, restaurants, and spa/massage businesses that all cater to the Machu Picchu hikers and visitors line the streets here.
Getting to Machu Picchu
If you want to hike into Machu Picchu, I believe there is only one way to do it. There is one train stop before Aguas Calientes, and from there it is about a 4 hour hike up to the Sun Gate which is above and to the east of the Machu Picchu ruins. From the Sun Gate, you can walk down into the ruins of Machu Picchu.
We took a bus from town to the entrance of the Machu Picchu ruins. Did you know that no one knows the true name of this city? Machu Picchu is the mountain where the ruins are located. There are many theories as to why this city is here, who built it, and why it was abandoned.
A Little History
Machu Picchu was built in 1430, a full 100 years before the Spanish arrived in Cusco in 1533. In the 1400’s Cusco was a chiefdom among several in the Inca tribes. Pachacutec was an Incan royal son living with his brother, and father who was King of the chiefdom.
A great battle was fought in Cusco among the warring Inca tribes. Pachacutec’s father and brother fled before the battle began, but Pachacutec remained and fought. He won the battle and became King of all the Incas and thus began the Incan Empire. He chose to build a new Capitol city, one he could defend from all directions, and that was the beginning of the city at Machu Picchu. After his death however it is believed the city was abandoned for reasons unknown. At least this is one explanation among many theories that try to explain this mysterious place.
Hang on to What You Have
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Did you know that before this designation it was almost sold by a corrupt President of Peru to become a private enterprise? Can you even imagine how such a thing is possible? If not for the huge protests and uprising of the local people it almost happened. Since then, and because of UNESCO, it can never be sold and privatized.
Shine of the City
Shortly after we arrived the clouds blew out and the sun was in its full shine on Machu Picchu. We were lucky to be able to see it under these conditions. Some people hike up and through the Sun Gate hoping to gaze upon the well preserved ruins of Machu Picchu below, but more often than not fog and cloud cover shroud this mysterious old city.
Exploring the Ruins
With my focus and energy mostly on the Lares hike before arriving in Peru, I came to Machu Picchu not knowing any of its history or theories, and that was a mistake.
Our guide, Elio, was well versed on these ruins, and it would have made for a far more interesting conversation had I better questions to ask. Still, I felt well informed by what he shared with us.
We made our way through the ruins and visited what was left of the temples, alters, meeting halls, and homes in Machu Picchu. There are a lot of structures in these ruins, and because the Spanish never discovered this city, many of the structures remained in tact.
When it was “re-discovered” in 1911 by Hiram Bingham from Yale University, the jungle had overgrown much of it. During the following year, a team from Yale worked on reclaiming the site.
To the west of the city is a connected mountain peak, Huayna Picchu. At the very top of this peak are more ruins, supporting the idea of a military presence and use as a lookout point. This mountain can be hiked by tourist to the top, but it requires several months advanced registration and an additional fee.
Mark, Jenea, and I had a great time in Peru! Machu Picchu is a wonder to see. Having hiked in the Peruvian Andes on Incan trails leading to Machu Picchu, gave me an authentic glimpse into this culture’s past. I highly recommend it. A big shout out to Elio our guide, and Saul the owner of Sam Travel Peru for an excellent experience!
The rules to visit Machu Picchu changed almost the day after we visited. Now, you must choose one of two available blocks to visit the ruins. The first is from opening until 1 pm, and the other is from 1 pm until closing. As I understand it, there is talk of dividing the day further into three blocks, obviously with fewer hours in each block.
In 2018 I understand visitors will be required to hire a professional guide to take them through the ruins at Machu Picchu. Hopefully these changes will not be too cumbersome, and will help alleviate the heavy flow and large presence of people at any one time. Currently there are between 12,000 and 15,000 visitors daily at Machu Picchu.
As for now, Mark, Jenea, and myself are headed back to Ecuador. No more snow and sleet for sure, and hopefully no rain as I bring my friends to my place to hang out with Heidi, Chase, and me on the warm beaches of the S American Pacific Ocean!