For many, making the trip to the famed “Lost City of The Incas” is a lifelong dream, certainly one for the bucket list. For Emma and I that was exactly the case. There are some attractions that no matter the cost, when the opportunity presents itself all else must be abandoned and every effort to realise the opportunity must take effect. Having said that it must be mentioned that when the opportunity presented itself to visit Machu Picchu, Emma was at war with her stomach and we had about a day to make all necessary arrangements.
We had been volunteering in the ancient town of Ollantaytambo which is a popular stop over point for most travellers making their way along the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Unable to secure tickets for our date of choice, the next and only available date for us to visit the Lost City of The Incas was in a day and a half’s time. However booking the tickets is only half the battle. The popular route to access Aguas Calientes (the town that serves as the base for Machu Picchu) is by train. Travellers who come to Peru with the sole intention of visiting Machu spare no expense and happily pay the $120 for the round trip, however Emma and I weren’t exactly prepared to spend $240 on a 2 hour train ride on top of the entrance tickets, accommodation for two nights and all our meals (we eat a lot). The alternative to taking the train is catching a 4 hour bus, a 1 hour shared taxi and a 10km trek along the railroad into the town of Aguas Calientes. Having done the maths, a full days travel to Aguas Calientes for a third of the price was a no brainer.
As mentioned before, Emma and her stomach weren’t exactly friends at this point but that could not dampen our excitement. The bus we had to take went… smoothly. We caught the bus from the side of the road, and since the side of the road is not generally any public transport origin, the bus we joined was already full. With only two seats available Emma got the single seat behind the door with all the leg room in the world. I got the middle seat in the back row. The row where all the cool kids in American movies sit. But by the time we had reached our destination I felt anything but cool. The roads were winding and narrow. We essentially had to traverse a mountain. I usually don’t mind bus rides. I enjoy gazing out of the windows as all the new scenery unravels, however when the driver is determined to do twice the speed limit on extremely narrow and windy roads the plot changes. Being in the middle seat of the back row I was being thrown left and right without anything to brace myself against. The quintessential swallowing of excess saliva stayed with me throughout the trip as I fought to keep my breakfast in my stomach and not on the passengers in front of me.
Stepping off the bus into fresh air was extremely welcoming and we did not have to wait long before a driver from a shared taxi approached us and offered to drive us the next leg of the journey. Shared taxis are very common in Central and South America. A privateer taxi driver will intend to full up his car with people heading in the same direction with the costs being split. Haggling over with and we were on our way to the next destination. This part of the journey is where the fun really began.
Driving too fast on a gravel track with a sheer drop off into the valley below was how this leg of the journey started and would continue for the next 40 minutes. The track we were on wove along a deep valley. When somebody drives this route daily they develop a confidence (and ability to magically see around hairpin corners) that has every passenger grasping onto door handles with white knuckles. At one point we encountered road works at the base of a steep incline. A routine 20 minute stop turned into an hour of waiting in the sun. We may have been relieved when we were given the all clear but our drivers car thought differently. As we started up the hill the car suddenly started choking and spluttering and then stalled completely. After two attempts of trying to take off on the incline, the driver swivelled around, distress shrouding his face and ordered myself and the elderly couple we were sharing the ride with to jump out the car. He started the car again, gave it full revs and finally the car inched forward at a crawl. Myself and the elderly gentleman gave the car a bit of a push and off it went. Without stopping. All the way to the top of the mountain. Emma having been sitting in the front passenger seat was fortunate enough to get a ride all the way to the top. I found out afterwards from Emma that as soon as the car started going, the driver just wanted to make it to the top. He was worried that if he stopped again to pick us up, he wouldn’t be able to get going again. Its safe to say that 15 minutes later myself and the couple made it back to the taxi coughing all the dust out of lungs that was kicked up by all the other passing cars.
Our taxi lasted about another 10 minutes before it died completely. In total we had lost about 2 hours and we still had a 10km walk ahead of us. What a long day this was turning out to be. Our saving grace came in the form of an already full Toyota Corolla station wagon. Yes full. Emma, myself and the gentleman were shoved into the boot with our bags on our lap while the lady managed to squeeze into the front. Thankfully this part of the journey only lasted 20 minutes with our knees tucked under our chin.
By now we were well ready to be in our hotel room preparing ourselves for the 03h30 wake up in the morning, but we still had a trek to complete. The walk along the railway was surprisingly beautiful. The landscape had changed so drastically since leaving the desert like Ollantaytambo and we were now walking through a jungle. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we walked right passed Machu Picchu. At one point the ruins are just visible on top of the mountain from the valley floor. The railway weaved along a river for the full 10km. What would normally take us about 2 hours to walk took closer to 3. Emma had demons living in her belly which resulted in her feeling rather weak and us taking frequent breaks. We were so relieved when we caught a glimpse of the town. Aguas Callientes is only accessible by rail, there are no cars but there are a few tourist buses. The whole purpose of this town is purely to serve as a base for Machu Picchu.
A post about Machu Picchu. I´m sure that at the start of this you expected to learn of some of the wonders of the famed Lost City of The Incas that was only rediscovered by American Professor Hiram Bingham III in 1911. Or how the whole area buzzes with an air of excitement. Machu Picchu is a special place. We set off at 4am from our hotel to be at the entrance by 6am. To get to the entrance you must hike up the side of a mountain for an hour and half. The first half of this hike was done entirely in the dark. Entering Machu Picchu as the sun rose over the mountains was breath-taking. Every part of the journey was entirely worth it. There is no doubt that the ruins are the pride of Peru. Every part of the archaeological site has been meticulously cared for. Being in the ancient city, one is forced to ponder in awe at the ability of man kind all those hundreds of years ago to create something so spectacular with out the use of modern machinery or even pack animals for that matter. We really took our time strolling around the ruins trying to take it all in. No photos we took can pay this phenomenal place justice.
Our trip back to our Workaway the next day was very much the reversal of the route we took to get to Machu Picchu. After our hike back along the railway line we were very fondly greeted by the same taxi driver that had brought us here. Having assured us that he had fixed the car we could not resist the instant recognition and friendly smile and once again jumped back into his car. Better the devil you know, right?
To see more photos from our Machu Picchu adventure click here.