Sunday, June 11, 2017

Machu Picchu Makes Three for Three

I posted to this blog recently that there were three places in the world that I hadn't just wanted to visit but knew that I would visit at some point in my life. Seeing a photo, in high school Spanish class, very similar to the one above is what put Machu Picchu on that list. In the years after that, I felt pangs of jealousy when I discovered that someone I knew or had just met had been there. I finally told the husband that we were going before we both got too old and crotchety to enjoy the experience.

Several friends, on hearing we would be going to Machu Picchu assumed we would be hiking the Inca Trail to get there. If I were thirty, or perhaps even twenty, years younger, that might have been the case. It sounds as if the number of hikers daily is limited, meaning one needs permits and guides. The trek also takes three to five days that I figured could be better used seeing other things. And by the time we got to Machu Picchu, we could well be too exhausted to appreciate it. The situation about climbing Huayna Picchu, the mountain in the rear right of the photo, is similar.  Only 200 people are permitted up there each day.

Getting to Machu Picchu from our hotel in the Sacred Valley made for one of the earliest wake-up calls of the tour. First up was an hour in the bus to the train station in Ollantaytambo, where we had to arrive by 7:30 to catch the 8:00 train to Aguas Calientes at the base of the road up to Machu Picchu. There, we got in line to get on a bus up to Machu Picchu itself. The bus ride is at times a bit harrowing given the number of switchbacks up the very, very steep mountain face. Even so, you might find yourself feeling sorry for the people you see walking up.

At the time we went, only 2,500 visitors were permitted into Machu Picchu daily, (this may have just changed) so having tickets in advance is the way to go. We had to show not only our tickets but also our passports, but then we also had to show those getting onto the train and again getting onto the bus. The ticket was good for three admissions in one day, which is very handy given that the only restrooms are outside the admission gate.

Fernando, our local guide was something of a walking guidebook. It would have been nice to have been able to take notes on all he told us (he also showed us the best spots from which to take photos). Since I could not, here are some shots, without commentary, that we took that morning.

We all left the main complex for lunch with re-entering in the afternoon optional. Like I was going to come that far and only go in for a couple of hours?!? The larger question was whether to join some others who planned to hike to Inti Punku or the Sun Gate. I didn't want to hold the others back, possibly being the slowest hiker in the group. To give an idea of why I might feel that way, here's what the way up to the Sun Gate looked like. This was taken from the level of Machu Picchu; the Sun Gate is directly down from here:
See the two white dots almost at the vee between the mountains? Yeah, that's the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is actually where the Inca Trail arrives at Machu Picchu.

I did decide to  go along and had no real problems. It turned out that, at 60, I was the youngest of our party of six. The oldest was 75, with our average age being 67. When we got to the Sun Gate, I drew laughs noting that we should have brought an AARP flag to plant at the summit. Was the hike worth it? Definitely! Here's the proof.
We had the choice the next morning of returning to Machu Picchu or doing some other activity. One couple did a nature hike at our hotel complex. I must admit that the almost microscopic orchids they described would have been interesting to see. Still, I wasn't coming that far not to have one more chance to see what Machu Picchu might hold.

Finally, the sign below was outside a cafe on the street from our Aguas Calientes hotel to the bus station. It's what you think it is, a roasted guinea pig. We were off to Cusco next, where we had been told (warned?) we would have the chance to try it.

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