Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Machu Picchu

The alarm wakes us up at 4.15AM. There is still no electricity. Armed with a headlamp, we head out into the dark streets. By 5AM we join an army of backpackers who, like us, are not willing to cough up the money for the bus ride up the mountain. The guys are sleeping in but we want to beat the crowds. There is a long line up at the gate and I am surprised by how many people will be taking the stairs up the mountain. Once the line of people starts going up hill it quickly becomes clear that we are not in our twenties anymore. I always used to be leading the pack in situations like this but no more. It’s very painful to watch one after another 20-something sprint by. But hey, we are going up! Slowly but surely. 
Good morning! The only ways up to Machu Picchu. The green line is the hiking path and the black line the bus lane.
Great view to wake up to... once our eyes were finally ready to be open.
Soon the first buses start riding by and we are wondering if we should have bought a one-way ticket. Especially since it has started raining. An hour and twenty minutes later, we make it to the top of the stairs and are exhausted. The café deems it to be to early to open up for the hundreds of coffee thirsty people making it up the mountain but there is a machine that saves the day. We take a short break and then start walking towards the Inca ruins. It is still raining and the clouds are hanging low. The first sight of Machu Picchu is nothing short of amazing, with the clouds making it a magical experience. We take it all in for a while and walk through the ancient sight. The llamas walking around in the mist look like guardians of what once was a city in the clouds. 

No words can express the magic of this place. Waynapicchu in the background.
We have tickets for Waynapicchu, a part of the site with restricted access, but it means more climbing and we are not sure we’ll see anything up there due to the clouds. We decide to take a chance as this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and climb up the steep path to the ruins. We sit down once we make it to the top and hope for the clouds to clear while we are having breakfast. An hour later the guys join us. We have a laugh over the crazy climb this morning following yesterdays long ride and hike. The clouds part all of a sudden and for a few seconds the full size of the city is revealed, only to be covered in mystique again a blink of an eye later. 
This rock is at the base of Waynapicchu. At first sight it's just a nice big rock but then you learn that it is a miniature version of the holy mountain behind the rock (now covered in clouds). Impressive.

A few more steps Azure! Almost there!.... not...

Great feeling to be up here but slightly disappointed by the restricted view. Can't win them all!
And then, just for a few seconds, Machu Picchu was visible.
We start the hike down and conclude that the Inca must not have been big people… We are having difficulties finding room for our feet. My size 14 does not fit on the tiny stairs and the rain has made it slippery. A steep drop off to the right makes for a few freaky moments. This is the only point at which Azure is grateful for the cloud cover - at least she can’t see how far down the drop-off is! 
Go ahead Patrick. I'll catch up. Damn that is steep!
Parts of the "staircase" had to be done on all fours.
One missed step and you can only hope the clouds will catch you.
Back at the main structure we walk around a bit more in the rain. The busloads have arrived and we choose to hide in the café for a while and pray for it to stop raining. The café is expensive but the food is delicious and the portions very generous. And they have APPLE PIE!! We spend a couple of hours just sitting there as we see more and more people leaving. A long discussion on whether or not to hire a guide for the afternoon is held and the majority is for. We find a nice woman who is willing to give us a good price.

Upon re-entry the sun shows itself. It even stops raining. Well, for a few minutes. We have a very interesting tour and learn a lot about the structure and the culture. We now know the function of ruins we had mindlessly ambled by earlier and rocks that seemed like just rocks now are astronomical observatories. Fascinating! 
The temple of the Condor. Check out the rocks shaping the wings, the head on the floor and the white neck of the male Condor. Very impressive how they managed to build on the slopes of the wings.

Well camouflaged and damn cute!
Temple of the Sun.
More stairs...
Inca Sun Dial.
All the hiking has taken it’s toll on our bodies but we want to be around here as long as possible and go for a last minute hike to the Inca bridge, which is just carved into the cliff. Just before we leave Machu Picchu the weather really clears up and we get a last full view of the sight. There are no words for how incredible this is.

Nice bridge! No I'm just fine here taking in the view.
Leaving the ruins to the llama's on our way out. The Inca spirit feels alive in this magical place.
The hike down is fast as is the walk back along the tracks. We get to the hydroelectric plant and convince a waiting, yet un-eager taxi driver to bring us back into town. Our bikes sitting in the hotel lobby. After all of the walking, we are more excited than ever to be back on two wheels again tomorrow.

The ride back to Cusco gets the blood pumping again. Tim, Pat and Matt take off into the paradise of hairpins while Azure and I are taking it easy. The recent rains have brought up the water level where a river crossed the road in several places. This isn’t a problem until I’m suddenly facing the opposite direction and am on the ground with water rushing all around me. The high-side of the road had been ok on our way in but the low-side has algae growing everywhere. I try to get up, my feet sliding all over the place. I look to the right and see the 5-meter drop off that I was fortunate to avoid. I try to lift the bike back onto it’s rubber but my feet slide away. I tell Azure over the SENAs that I need help and watch as she makes her way over, and can’t help but laugh when her feet fly out from under her and she goes down hard. It looked very funny, as if in a cartoon, but she landed hard and was in pain. Soaking wet, she gets up and helps me with the bike. Together we get it up and I slowly ride it out of the fast flowing river. 

It feels good to be back on the road. Let's give the legs a break for a while shall we...
I was coming from the right side. Perfect 180 though!
Azure was already wet but the rain on top of the pass makes sure we are both cold and not loving life for a bit. We catch up with Matt and together we make it back to Olantaytambo where Tim and Pat are waiting for us. Here Matt finds out that he will need to return to the US suddenly and Pat joins him to return to Cusco immediately, while we make a little detour with Tim to yet another Inca sight.
Salt mines on our way to Moray.
Moray. What archeologists believe to be an agricultural test site. I think it's a UFO landing strip! And I bet the "Starship Enterprice" could land here in a heart beat!
At Moray we marvel at an Agricultural test site where the Inca managed to create a 60F /15C temperature difference between the highest and the lowest terrace. These guys were so ahead of their time. Or maybe we don't learn enough of the past. Maybe the same goes for lessons about civilizations that are at the height of their power... 

Tim finds a nice dirt road back to Cusco on his GPS and soon we find ourselves riding through agricultural land, herding livestock for locals as we go. We have a fun ride before we get back into the city mayhem again. 
Are we sure we wanna do this!?! Well, the GPS says it's a thru-road... LET'S GO!!!
Do you need some help?
Nice work Azure. Don't forget the one to your left!
Never ask me to ride your bike around the mud Azure! Braaaaaaaap! Thanks for the picture Tim Kemper.
When we get back to the hotel, the mood in somber. Matt is heading home. We are all sad to see him go. Azure and I had loved talking to him and riding with him. The energy of the three guys together had made us laugh so many times. We had a very special connection and although traveling in a big group makes for a different experience we had loved every bit of it. On the other hand it showed again that leaving for a long journey is the hardest part. Stepping out of the system is what is difficult. Getting back in is done in a matter of hours. We’ll miss you Matt and we hope to see you again back in the US.

1 comment:

  1. Salkantay Trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.