Day 4 Tuesday March 27, 2012
Wowee Wow! Today was very, very cool! I woke up @ 5:30am, ready to roll on up to Machi Picchu. There was no towel in my room, and it was dark downstairs still, so I instead of trying to track down a towel, I took a big sniff of my shirt and decided it and I were clean enough to forgo a shower. I brushed my teeth, slapped on some deodorant and headed out.
I bought a bottle of water (man, Aguas Calientes is expensive) and climbed onto the first waiting bus at about 5:50. After a few minutes, the bus began the roll up the mountain toward Machu Picchu. The sun was just beginning to light the area up, and the early morning views seemed to be forecasting a great day ahead. I began to notice ruins on the peaks surrounded us, ancient walkways and stone structures hidden amongst the trees. As we climbed higher and higher, the clouds became thicker and the scene more dramatic.
After the 20 minute climb from the river to the top of Machu Picchu mountain, we arrived at the main gate. I presented my ticket and proceeded to the bag check area. For a mere S3, I was able to check my backpack and jacket near the gate. Awesome, I thought I would have to lug those around all day. I then made my way past all of the guides offering private tours of the ruins and entered the complex. It was still quite foggy/cloudy, so I decided to first see if I thought I could tackle Wayna Picchu, the taller mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu. I first moved down the main structure to the bottom, checking things out as I went, and then turned around and attempted to make it up to the top of the main structure in one shot. No way, not even close. I still was no where close to being acclimated, and had to stop several times before making it to the half way point. I think that the altitude had a greater impact on me than many people, but when I reached the halfway point and this young-20-something year old stopped next to me and was gasping for breath, I felt quite a bit better about the situation.
I made it to the "main" level that was used to move between the two halves of the complex and provided the easiest access to Wayna Picchu and decided to head to the farthest end and work my way back to the front. As I reached the gate for Wayna Picchu, there were a number of people waiting to be let in, and the opposing mountain was shrouded in thick fog. I turned around and began my thorough exploration of the ruins. I saw things that I had read about in "Turn Right at Machu Picchu" a few months ago. Wow! The Temple of the Three Windows, The Royal Tomb, The Temple of the Sun, Intihuatana. It was overwhelming and exciting. I spent the better part of 4 hours wandering around the site, taking pictures, being amazed at all of the sites, and eavesdropping on the guides to learn a little bit more about various items. I was amused be the number of times that I heard guides tell people about things that were either, at best, guesses or flat out wrong, at least according to leading anthropologists.
It's pretty overwhelming as a whole, and really hard to get into words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking. After checking things out for a few hours, I eventually made it up to the top of the complex, and began to see signs for the Inka Bridge. I had no idea what this was, I don't recall reading about it during my somewhat limited research. I walked up the pathway and into the woods before reaching a small shack with a desk and "guard" behind it. He asked me to sign into the guest registry and then set me free to see this bridge. Before long I ran into a German couple and asked them if they had any idea what was back here or how far away it was. They did not know, but were a pleasant couple, so we chatted as me walked.
We reached the bridge about 10 minutes later, not very far from the gate house, and we were taking our time walking and taking photographs of the construction in the valley below. The bridge itself was very impressive. The walkway is made up of stones stacked up to a point, and then wooden planks suspended over an exposure. It would have been pretty cool to see this built, and even more so to see the Incans use the path to traverse the steep mountains.
Eventually, after seeing more of Machu Picchu, I made my way back to the buses. I wanted to grab something to eat in Aguas Calientes and I had to catch the 12:30 train back to the hidroelecric station. I had a plate of burritos at one of the restaurants in town right along the railroad tracks. They were very delicious, but quite spendy also. If I recall, I spent about S35 on lunch and a drink. As I finished up my meal, the Belgian couple from the train ride yesterday sat at the table next to me, and we discussed the possibility of them purchasing a car in the US, and what they should expect to spend on a vehicle, insurance, fuel, etc. I wished them well, and made my way to catch the train.
I hopped aboard the train just as rain began to fall. I sat at one table that promptly began to leak at the window and drip water everywhere, and then moved to a dry spot for the remainder of the ride. By the time we reached hidroelectrica, it had stopped raining, and I found Victor waiting. I jumped on the back of the bike and we rode to Santa Teresa. Today, the ride was much more comfortable and did not bother my hips nearly as much as the ride out. As we rode, Victor asked if I was interested in staying in Santa Teresa and visiting the hot springs. I told him that the springs sounded like a good idea, but it was already quite hot out, and Santa Teresa looked rather boring, so I'd rather ride some this afternoon. We got back to town and loaded up all of the gear before heading out.
One of the multiple water crossings between Santa Maria and Santa Teresa: