So today we are off for a two day one night trip to the Inca land to see one of the most preserved remains of citadel Machu Picchu. Fortunately our minibus pick up isn’t until 10am so no rush in the morning, a rarity for me on this trip so far as most excursions have been at the crack of dawn.
Michelle (who had quite rightly corrected me on the fact although she lives in Essex now, she is in fact a Wolverhampton lass not an Essex girl) with her organisational tendencies wants to make sure we are early so we hail a cab for 9.30am. I must be getting better at my Spanish as the fare is getting lower so we must seem less like clueless tourists. Our first taxi ride was 9 soles (that’s just over £2) which we thought was OK in English money terms, but today we are down to 5 soles so a whole £1.10! Bargain.
As usual the cars are darting in and out of each other, dogs await a human to cross the roads with, pedestrians dive in and out of the moving traffic. However today we did indeed have a crash. In the UK it would be a road blocker, shouting match and insurance claim. Here the driver honks his horn a bit louder and longer than usual, curses and continues to drive. The car we hit, who did stop abruptly, has a new dent (I say new as most cars have a few already) in his bumper (I say his, they are all male drivers it seems) and no one cares about what happened, life continues as normal.
So we get to the Plaza in plenty of time, having enjoyed our roller coaster ride and await our guide at 10am. There is a kids group dancing beside us, the teacher on a wooden recorder and the kids are loving it. Jumping around, waving their arms in the air (like they just don’t care!) it’s lovely to see. We later find out it’s a deaf school as teachers/helpers come asking for donations.
We also have the honour of seeing how security guards at banks work as they stop right in front of us to get to the bank. Guns at ready on both guards who exit the van, little silver hand guns, very movie like.
Anyhow, 10am comes and goes and no sign of anyone so Michelle pops into the shop. They have an envelope for us which we should of picked up. Nice to be told! A lady then comes out and hails us to follow her and her daughter she is carrying across the square and around the corner. She then passes us onto another lady who is on the phone but also hails us to follow her. At the make shift bus stop we are put in one bus, get comfy then get ordered off and onto a less comfy one. Never mind, all fine, and off we head. I check my ticket to find my name is wrong. I’ll introduce myself, I’m Samanta Willansan. Let’s hope when I have my passport checked at Machu Picchu they can’t read?
We had been told a three hour journey but I’m pretty sure it was about two. I manage to sleep most of the way but do that really embarrassing thing where you wake yourself up with a funny snore/snort noise, twice.
We get to Ollantaytambo in ample time for the train but head down to the track anyhow. More fun and games as we get told our train is delayed and they aren’t sure by how long but they think we should return to the track for 2pm for further information. Handy. So we head to the nearest cafe for some pisco sour hot toddies and chill. Michelle and Lindz FaceTime family as wifi is pretty good. It’s becomes habit of me and Michelle. As soon as we find wifi we get the code and are back online. But sad really as I love being un contactable but when it’s available you get drawn in.
As we were told to head back to the train for 2pm we are enjoying the sun, but our waiter clearly knew more than us as we were given our bill at 1.30 and realised why when we saw our train filling up fast. It’s very posh, well compared to the C2C and First Great Eastern gains I frequent. Tables that we are sat around, windows in the ceiling to see the scenery and decorated with great care in general. Patterned walls, carpets and comfy spacious seats. We had originally thought we may get the first class train, as the train journey is classed as one of the finest mountain journeys in the world, however after the fiasco that trying to just get to Machu Picchu entailed we took whatever seats we could so were pleasantly surprised.
Fed and watered as well with tea and cake so all in all a fab journey. I kind of felt like Michael Pallin on an adventure as our train curved around the mountains. Michelle likened the scenery to Jurassic Park due to the high mountains surrounding the valley that the train weaved through. The train passes fields and highland villages before dropping into the Urubamba Valley. It follows the Urumbama river as the valley gets tighter (hence no roads) and the mountains become more forested as well as steeper and seemingly taller. There were kids and dogs playing beside the track, workers building the track not stopping for the fast train to pass and the sun shining over the mountain tops.
When we arrived at Aquas Calientes (the busy little town at the foot of the valley, a bus journey from the ruins themselves) the real fun starts. No board with our name on at the station and we had no name of our hostel. So all we could do was panic or guess? Well we do seem to like an adventure so no need to panic (mr mannering!) We chat to a few people we recognised on the platform from our bus and they suggest going to a hostel called Aquas Calientes as on our receipt it said hostel in Aquas calientes? Loose link but it’s a starting point. So up we headed on the long narrow street up the hill through the town, past lots of lovely hostels, waiters and waitresses trying to get us to eat at theirs. Women offering massages, and all we bloody want is a bed each. Anyhow after about a ten minute hike we find it, pretty basic, smells stale and I think we all kind of hope it’s not ours but equally need a bed. Whilst we sit there we check all other documents. Our Machu Picchu pass is for August 21st, only 18 days out? We all panic a tad and I decide to try an e mail the crappy tour company with our issues, a copy of our receipt and hope but don’t expect a reply. They are called Perusing Peru Magic. Nothing magic about them right now. Every hostel has wifi (priorities out here in South America are wifi before sanitation, very odd, but equally useful) so I use it whilst we wait. We weren’t booked in there, but they did help by calling our tour company and helped find some answers. Namely that however I pronounced my name, or any of the others names, or even gave them the receipt number, they didn’t know who we were? We had to call three times but eventually one of this hostels staff took us up the hill to another hostel. They seemed to be friendly and spoke some English and told us to wait. After about half hour, whilst quite frankly we think the tour company actually booked somewhere for us as they had finally realised their cock up, we get to our room, basic but colourful with bright orange blankets. Windows about as thick as cardboard so we can hear everything outside on the street and others rooms. Looks comfy though and bathroom nice. Hooray, beds. Now we need to know about our guide or the day at Machu Picchu and our wrong date passes. The receptionist is about as clued up as when we asked where we meet our guide and tells us to come back at maybe 6.30, maybe 7.30, when he will have a guide to see us, helpful timings. Although he does reassure us that the date on the entrance ticket doesn’t matter. What a bizarre way to organise things.
Hungry travellers that we are we head off to find a suitable eatery. Lots of offers again but the statement ‘free nachos’ grabs Lindz attention and the decision is made. Happy hour (I think it’s all day to be honest but who’s complaining) so Michelle and I have two Pisco Sours each and Lindz has two beers. The menu offer is a starter and main for 15 soles, that’s a whole £3. And the food not bad at all. I attract the stray animals again and have a kitten sit on my lap, very sweet and to be fair kept me warm. We expected to be cold as the sun set but it’s really quite pleasant, we forget we are a good 1000m lower altitude as it seems higher than Cusco with its dizzying slopes. Great place to people watch. You have the Trekkers who have filthy clothes, look physically drained and often head to the swimming baths (that was my priority last time, just the feeling of being clean was a highlight), the day trippers such as us shopping, excitable and chattering amongst themselves. The stray dogs and cats by the dozen trotting up and down and then locals busy heading to work or to find supplies. Such an eclectic mix. The delicacy out here is Guinea pig, expensive on the menu compared to other dishes but always a picture to try and entice you.
There’s a massage sign in my eyeline, so I suggest I may go and relax with one. We all agree and get offered a full body massage called the Inca massage, £11 for the hour, which I’m sure you agree you can’t pass that offer up. Well, all three of us put in one room, with its dark lighting, curtained sections and as expected massage beds laid out with towels. One of us has to have a male masseuse which ends up being me as I’m the least fussed and what can I say, it was an experience. I had what can only be described as almost a full bum massage at one point, my hand was put in in his crotch on more than one occasion, and I’m not sure what techniques he used at times as they were very odd. However it was very relaxing, I do like a massage and we came out fully moisturised and chilled. Well not quite all of us. Michelle’s reaction after was hilarious, she hated it. Me and Lindz had a great time but not Michelle, it’s just not for her it seems. Her masseuse was rather elderly, had a woolly jumper on and apparently kept dangling her boobs in her face. Add to that it was too hard, painful, and she felt uncomfortable at being massaged. Ah well, not for everyone’s liking. She did have the rather butch of the two women as well.
Back to the hostel for 6.30 to meet our guide. Still no info and a good half hour of phone calls by our receptionist later I think they found one who is available, has space on their group and can come and chat to us. We are told he’ll be over to meet us at maybe 8pm. Oh dear god!
He arrived, he sorted us out and said to see him at 5am, so at last it is falling into place.
So off to bed at 8.15pm, as we are fully moisturised we don’t use the lovely hot shower but go to sleep. Well try as there now seems to be a street party outside our window. Locals chattering, music blaring!
I’d seen some pictures of friends who did Machu Picchu two days earlier in vet tops and shorts. Change of plan for thermals then!
Up at 4.30am, quick breakfast (for me anyway, the others pass). We arrive at the town square with 15 mins to spare, pitch black and pretty quite, especially in comparison to the afternoon and evenings, but the town is awakening as the tourists venture out and leave their hostels/hotels ready for their day at the ruins. The guide arrives as promised although one person is late so we have to wait. 5.10 and she’s arrived so off we hike up the hill again to the bus station, being really touristy as we follow our groups flag -groupo Pedro, hi ho, hi ho, off to Machu Picchu we go. Oh dear god, the queue is already huge. We don’t get on a bus until 6.30am. No chance of seeing the sunrise then as that’s 6.15. It really is a mad house of tourists. It’s a two week school holiday in Peru as well as summer for Europe so it’s the peak travel time out here.
On the bus and I’m sat next to a lovely local guide trying to see if we need his services. (Others had tried in the line too) but he was very chatty and told me about the strikes happening that had made our booking of the trip so difficult. It’s because the bus and rail firms hold a monopoly and don’t even give money to the locals. One of them is a British company to. Informative journey anyhow. So here we are. Off the bus, head to the ridiculous queues to get into Machu Picchu and then meet our English speaking guide. Very sweet man and follow him around the ruins. I see Huayna Picchu mountain and ask if we can do that and as soon as he reminds me it’s a special ticket as only 400 can do that trail a day, I kick myself as should of remembered and booked. Maybe next time? Well not sure I need to come back again to be fair, twice is enough, maybe with a significant other?
Our 1pm train back doesn’t leave us loads of time to explore, especially with a two hour tour and the ridiculous time it took to get in. My main aim is to go to the sun gate and see the view bathed in sunshine this time. It’s an hour and a half up and back. My last visit was via the Inca trail and a very wet and cloudy few days. After four days of trekking we arrived at the sun gate for Machu Picchu to be covered in cloud. So disappointing. Fab weather today though!
So I listen to the guide for the first 45 mins or so, the stories/history all coming back to me now. We look at how the a Temple of the Sun and Royal Tomb are built more meticulously than all other buildings. How summer and winter solstice were used to determine time of seasons through positioning of the windows. All very interesting and I’d like to hear it all again and soak up the information, but need to dash. Michelle is in her element as the seven selfies of world number three is now done.
I head off alone up to the sun gate. The path is narrow and dusty, through trees and Inca sites, and now it’s 9am the sun is beating strongly. Time to strip a few layers and march on up. I stop to take in the view every now and then and when I reach the top the effort is well worth it. What a beautiful view. I take selfies, self timers and ask randoms to take pictures for me. The more the better, and then just sit and admire the view for a while.
Time to race back down as I want to see the Inca bridge too. More stop offs for photos and I keep bumping into the same French dude who took pictures for me and vice versa at the sun gate, at least we can get photos taken.
Off to the Inca bridge. Not read up on it yet but will see it, admire it and then research. I pass some weary Trekkers laying under trees looking dirty, knackered and the feeling I remember for my trek, that you just want to get washed and get clean clothes on. It’s written all over their faces. It’s nice to be fresh and eager this time. The Inca bridge is around the mountain along very narrow tracks overlooking steep ravines and is an amazing use of wood and rope connecting the two paths. Not sure if I’d like to walk along it, very scary looking from afar.
So that’s the sites seen, I have 10 minutes to get to the baggage to meet the others. However Machu Picchu is now even busier, like and ants trail and I just can’t move quickly. I quickly (well behind about 10 people) get in the queue to get my passport stamped to say I’ve been here (got all four last time then preceded to lose my passport and all my travel stamps, and as par for the course a few months after getting a new one I bloody found it!!)
So glad we came early, as annoying as the early alarm call was as now theRe are just too many people milling around everywhere. And to top it all off the queue for the bus back down is equally ridiculous, and about 200 people long. A tad panicked as we have a train in an hour and a half, but fair play, the queue moves steadily and takes just half hour.
Enough time for a drink in the same river facing restaurant as last time, it has a wooden balcony sat over the raging river, Indian a wood burning stove which doubles up as a pizza oven, beautiful setting to relax (obligatory photo to send to my Aussie mates I trekked with) and then to find our train.
We see loads of locals running past us down the train line. Very odd sight as they range from skinny little kids to overweight adults (this particular large man ended up walking), kids dragged by the arm and men carrying luggage. We try and work out what is happening and realise they are economy with no fixed seating so they have been queuing one end of the platform and the train had changed platforms. We eventually find our train and sit in the waiting room to board. Very bizarrely there is a man playing the pan pipes to entertain us and he starts playing when a child is born. How very random in August
We finally board our train and are pleased to see its the next step up in poshness. Woven tablecloths, cutlery and extra leg room. Thankyou very much! We have a family from Boston sat with us, the mum has drawn the short straw and sat on our table to make up a four whilst her other four family members get to sit together. She chats away nicely. They’ve done the Inca Trek so we chatted about that, and have had 14 days in South America doing adventurous stuff. What a cool family holiday!
We get fed and watered again, nice roll although no vegetarian option which is rather poor show! Then comes some entertainment. A regional festival dance by one of the waiters in a colourful clown/devil mask. He dances up and down the train picking out people to dance with him and low and behold Lindz gets picked. She did a very good job of following his lead. We are then treated to a fashion show of top of the range baby alpaca tops. It’s all very bizarre to be honest but passes the time. The tops are around $250 so I think l’ll pass as lovely as they look and feel.
One last obstacle to get us home, will there be a mini bus waiting for us? We don’t hold out much hope after this trip but here goes. Knock me down with a feather, we have a sign held up with our names on. Wonders never cease. Off we trot to the minibus thinking just two hours and we’ll be home. Oh no. He hasn’t filled the bus so we wait 40 bloody long minutes for the next train to come in. Not happy having been up for 12 hours at this point. Although it is a nicer mini bus than the one on the way out.
Eventually we arrive back in Cusco and head home. We are supposed to be going out out tonight into town but Lindz looks awful and when Michelle comes out of her room in her PJ’s I think they are heading to bed. I decide that as I’ll not be here again I’ll go out on my own. I head into town, watch a Michael Jackson street performer, peruse the shops getting the girls some paper and glitter so we can entertain them tomorrow and then head for dinner. I sit at another restaurant overlooking the plaza and just relax for the evening. Shame I’m out solo but can’t be helped, I had a fun evening and enjoy the ambience of the whole place once more.