Once the Huayna Picchu adventure was over, we headed back down to Aguas Calientes to stop by the souvenir stands, eat and get our stuff together for the train ride back to Cusco. I finally bought my llama duffel bag!
As we were on the excruciatingly long train ride back to Cusco (the train stopped several times on the way for some technical difficulties – I think we even started going backwards at one point!), I actually felt sad that our hiking adventure was over. In a way, I felt like our vacation was over. What would tomorrow morning be like when we didn’t have to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn, in a cold tent, baby-wipe shower before a breakfast feast prepared by Jorge in preparation for hours of walking?
Machu Picchu is so overwhelming, it’s almost hard to make sense of it all and to truly take it all in. That being said, I wanted to highlight some of the most memorable parts of my visit to the ruins.
The Condor Temple
I loved how the wings of this temple are pretty much nature-made yet are so strikingly condor-like. No wonder the Incas worshiped nature.
Llamas, and sparrows, and chinchilas, oh my!
Yes, as I mentioned, I loved that there were animals throughout the ruins. From the bold blue sparrows to the photogenic llamas, the seemingly isolated ruins were really not that empty of life. And what better place to call home for this family of chinchillas that reside at Machu Picchu?
While at Machu Picchu, you can’t avoid noticing Huayna Picchu, the huge mountain overlooking the ruins. The ruins actually sit between two mountains – Mount Machu Picchu and Mount Huaynu Picchu. Interestingly, in all the photos you see of the ruins, the mountain in the background is actually Huaynu Picchu, not the namesake mountain.
We had planned on climbing Huaynu Picchu (an option which is only available to the first 400 visitors to Machu Picchu each day I believe), but as I looked at how high and steep the mountain was, I started to panic. I didn’t want to climb it anymore, screw the $15 ticket I already paid for, I’d rather relax at the ruins and meditate on my own.
We finally made it to Machu Picchu! We got up super early in Aguas Calientes so we could take one of the first buses up to the ruins. By the way, most people seem to really hate Aguas Calientes, and it’s only true purpose is a pit stop to Machu Picchu, but I didn’t think it was that bad. It’s an interesting town, with the railroad running straight through the middle of town, intersected by a river and surrounded by hostels, restaurants and gift shops. To me, it seems to symbolize a little mountain town.
Anyways, I digress. So, 5:30 am and we’re standing in the long, but quick-moving line of people waiting to be shuttled up the mountain. Our 30-minute bus ride was terrifying to say the least. Let’s just say the bus goes up along endless switchbacks and our bus driver was loco, speeding towards the edge of the road and whipping the big bus around bends at breakneck speed.
Day 4 of hiking is allegedly the hardest. So last night, Alex said we had options to take the train and bus instead of hiking. I was really torn because on Day 4, we’d actually go along a part of the “official” Inca Trail and see some ruins. But, that would be preceded by more than three hours of uphill hiking. And my body literally hurt everywhere. I could barely move.
So when Alex woke us up at 4 am and said it seemed really cloudy, and visibility of the ruins might be shoddy, that was all the excuse I needed to bow out of that morning’s hike. I couldn’t risk hiking for more than five hours before lunch and maybe not even see the ruins. Daniela and I decided to sleep in while the boys hit the trail.
On day 3, I woke up in tons of pain, but at least I felt hungry and had an appetite again. Miraculously, my tummy was almost back to normal. Once again, Immodium worked its magic. Even though I could barely move, we only had half a day of walking ahead of us, so I felt I could do it.
We started along a dirt road from our campsite, then our guide Alex, just starts going off the road down the side of a cliff along a narrow, steep dirt path. Are you kidding me?? Somehow, we made it down to the valley to catch our path for the day, which flows along the river.
As you may remember from my Day 1 post, I finished off our first day of hiking by trying alpaca for the first time. Bad idea.
At night, I had some crazy nightmares and couldn’t sleep well. I’m thinking that was due to my adventurous dining, not because I was freezing and sliding downhill in my sleeping bag inside the tent. By early morning, I definitely did not feel good. Here’s one good thing about mid-night trips to the bathroom tent: you’re standing alone in the dark in a silent valley surrounded by mountains and glaciers, with nothing but the bright moon and millions of stars above you. I took care of business a few times before breakfast even kicked off, and at the table, the smell of food was making me nautious. It was officially time to start popping Immodium.