12th Mar 2006 - Cusco
Well to be honest writing this few days down the line I can hardly remember the details, but…
Started the day late and with slightly foggy heads due to that 2.30 am finish in Norton Rats last night. Great at time, but next day seems a less good idea. Of course wouldn't swap it as we all had a great time swapping tales, and Jeff as Mien host could hardly be bettered!
Generally a rest day then! Decided to organise a trip to Machupicchu through an agency as details weren't entirely clear in the 'Handbook' (a rare example) as to how to go about it ourselves, and we didn't really talk to Jeff about it either. So we tried a few and got the general idea before deciding on one that we thought better than the others.
Basically you get a package consisting of a taxi to the train station, options on train, either backpackers or Vista Rome (we'll ignore the Hiram Bingham luxury service at US$476 p/p), pickup at station in Ague Client, overnight in Hostel, transfer to bus at daybreak and bus to site, 2.5 hr tour with guide, rest of day - till 16.30 to ourselves then return journey via bus, train, taxi to hotel by 20.00.
The price for an organized tour is obviously more than independent, but we just wanted it sorted so would pay. In effect it was US$360 for both of us, or £104 each, obviously more than doing it yourself. But we just wanted to get it done easily so went with that, and let's face it, not bad to visit somewhere we've dreamed about since childhood.
Booked it to leave next morning.....well same night as far as we were concerned seeing as we'd be up next two mornings at 5am...great after the 2.30am finish this morning !
And so to bed.
Monday 13th March 2006
Cusco - Machupicchu
0 kms by bike - train
5am is a good forsaken time of the day anywhere, but 5 minutes after getting up that's over with and the day has begun.
The taxi arrived, there were a few people sleeping in street outside (only a few) and plenty of folk setting up for the day. There were sights you don't generally see, people sorting through rubbish...later it would be gone. In one case a kid in school uniform, long day ahead for them, hard life.
The train station was a buzz, but we were on time and got a great service like BR first class, smartly dressed attendants and good allocated seats. We'd plumbed for the vista Rome service as little better from viewing perspective, otherwise not sure of difference from 'backpackers' train.
Biggest surprise to us was the fact you effectively descend all way from Cusco to Machupicchu....it's lower than here even at the site! Thinking about it, it makes sense as I guess you wouldn't get such good living or crops at 3300m in comparison to 2,380m
Having said all that you have to leave Cusco first and that means a climb out of city. Never been on a train that ascended the way this one did, and sure some technical name for the methodology, but I don't know it so description alone.
Like a road climbing in hairpins saves space, so to does having a number of climbing gradients and points. the train goes straight at I guess it's maximum gradient, then comes to the end, the guard switches points, and backs an equal steep section, before the same again forwards. Hence by the backwards and forward motion you quickly gain height without a massive land take, clever!
Was nice to discover a simple breakfast was included and the attendants served the same way hostesses on a plane would.
So after the climb through some rubbish strewn less salubriously neighbourhoods (with great views of the city) we were on the virtually constant downhill to the station called Ague Caliente, but wanting to be called Machupicchu.
The journey is slow but very picturesque, only about 69kms but 3.5 odd hour’s time wise.
By half way along the scenery has swapped from pastoral to immense steep sided mountains closing in on the line. An easily protected route (unless you're a peaceful culture like the Inca's, who I always confused with Aztecs until now). Even with the roof lights you couldn't always see the tops of the mountains, some even overhanging faces. How the thousands of Bromeliads hang to these faces I don't know, but they do.
Now we were lower and into a more temperate jungle region, all around the vegetation lushly sprouting forth.
You pass several spectacularly ancient sights on the way, some I guess pre-Inca and defensive in nature as very fort-like, the journey is definitely more than the sum of the parts and worth enjoying in it's own right, definitely in the class of 'Great Railway Journeys of the World' even though short (distance not time).
The village of Agua Caliente nestles between majestic peaks
By our destination we were truly surrounded by the most amazing of steep sided vegetated peaks. The view you see behind Machupicchu is those same peaks, from below they are equally impressive as you crane your neck from the shadow lands below them.
Disembarking we were collected and taken to our basic but fine hostel for the night. The town is small, and we were on the edge, but if was fit for purpose and fine. As we had arrived at 10am we obviously had quite a bit of the day spare. The local tourist info gave us some options and we decide to go for the walk to a waterfall and the museum of the Machupicchu site.
The walk down to the waterfall involves starting from the old railway station were you cross the river to Machupicchu and walking a couple of kms down the line. We didn't realise this section was 'live' so were surprised at the hoots and smoke of a train bearing don on us! Fun anyway though very muggy down here as temperate jungle and temps of around 25 degs. When we reached were the falls entry was, a small 'jardine' or garden apparently, we had to pay 5 Sols each. A little overpriced as it wasn't that spectacular, but the walk had been interesting at least. Saw some nice plants and a few pretty birds.
The wander down the train line, not out of use after all!
Returning to the road we visited the Machupicchu museum and orchid garden. The museum was 20 Sols each (just over a quid) and quite enjoyable. We got far more background than we previously had, and it would make a great introduction to the site. Due to it being located at the bottom of the hill up to Machupicchu site it is very rarely visited by folk. Shame as it's very informative and a good modern but small museum. Certainly glad we visited it first. The Orchid garden would be at its best in a month or so, but even now there were some wonderful plants and exquisite smells. Also a few large butterflies and humming birds. We saw a large cat sized rodent on way back to road too.
Returned and ate - not too surprisingly lots of tourist facilities in town as this is were the train ends, and the bus to Machupicchu starts.
We'd opted for two days in order to get a full visit of the site. If you do it in one day this way you arrive about 10am at sight, have 2.5hrs guided tour and only an hour or so before you have to return, not enough time.
And so to bed for yet another 5am start.
Tuesday 14th March 2006
Machupicchu - Cusco
0 kms by bike - train
A 5am knock on the door, and a breakfast (quite good) at 5.30. Our personal assistant arrived and took us to the bus at 6am and travelled up with us to ensure we got there OK and knew the score.
We had nearly half an hour to ourselves before the guide so wandered it to see our first spectacular - and it is - sight of Machupicchu. Undoubtedly it is a special moment when you first see it, and all the more so for the lack of visitors wandering around at that time.
First sight of Machupicchu in swirling cloud
The pictures do more justice, so limited words on this one.
The guide was very knowledgeable and excellent covering not only the history, but also the mythology, and a few close to the bone home truths on the site and the money raised etc. He was a great bloke and we could have spent all day in his company. Two of the lads there who were as interested as us christened our guide 'the Inca thinker' and it was very appropriate as he had a very good alternative view of life, in the right way, not some semi-hippy ideology.
This next comment is going to sound arrogant in the extreme, but it's a personal view (of us both). We'd say 60% of the folk visiting the site shouldn't be there as they have little interest other than saying they've been there. And more controversially, 95% of Americans shouldn't be there either.
Our group consisted of a mixture of nationalities, but the ignorance and manners of more than half of them were a real nuisance to us. No concern for talking over the guide or interrupting our attempts to make the most of the guide’s knowledge. Very irritating. But we, as a nation, have occasional to be branded similarly when we visit other countries for the pleasures of beach holidays or even football I guess. The people you see and meet are representative, but not necessarily a true reflection of the society they come from.......we all hope!
The light rain continued on and off for most of tour but wasn't enough to spoil anything, and only added to the surrounding views as the clouds engulfed the site occasional adding extra mystique.
The history you can find out for yourselves, but the oft mentioned masonry skills and staggering vertical nature of the sight can be glimpses in pictures or better experienced first hand.
We had a few hours to ourselves after the guide and spent those wandering around the sights various aspects. The temple of the Moon path was closed which was both a disappointment and benefit. It has the most stunning of views, but takes a perilous path to the top of the overlooking peak. Due to a landslip it was closed and we had no option of the climb anyway.
Inca terracing, some structural, some for growing crops
Many words can be spent describing your feelings and the immense beauty of the place, but we'll let the pictures talk.
A view of the site from higher
A couple of observations though. Many of the buildings reminded us of Scottish (not again) ruins of castles - see if you can see that in the high pitched roofs? The site is lower than we though altitude wise. It's far more interesting from the perspective of the sites like to surrounding areas and Inca beliefs and lifestyles. Biggest surprise is the lack of real investigation, most of the finds in museum were from late nineties to 2004 - quite unbelievable considering around 1500 at £13 a time viewed the sight today, and that's 'off peak'.
A Scottish castle ruin - go on squint a bit! (similar period too)
We returned to the bus as by mid afternoon it was thoroughly chucking down and we'd seen the bits we were able too. Time for lunch in town before the return train. The sights were as spectacular in reverse, the number of other things you see being surprising. (Not so for the number of tourist...mainly one nationality...who spent the journey watching DVDs on their personal players or with heads stuck in novels....why come ?)
Marvel at that stonework, size, quality and fit, exceptional
A strange thing occurred on the trip back. The background music heightened with some Peruvian music and suddenly to our side appeared a spectre in traditional dress and those particular knitted face balaclavas, quite startling when you're sat there looking forward and this face appears to one side of you. A dance up and down the carriage was an introduction to the steward and stewardess doing a fashion parade in various pricey alpaca fashion items...all for sale of course. Don’t think you'd get either of those on BR.......yet !
Imagine that in your face on BR?
Back just after dark we had the only let down of the package, no one made themselves known for the transfer back to the hotel, so we took a taxi. Safe and cheap, but disappointing.
Martin and Alan's bikes are here in the courtyard along with ours and Chris and Liz’s, so quite a collection, and all UK reg !
Casa Grande and Brit biker collection, nice central spot
A few beers with Jeff in Norton Rats and off to bed feeling somewhat tired, but exhilarated by the day.
Norton Rats Tavern. We occasionally go there!
Wednesday 15th March 2006
Cusco is a beautiful city, all Spanish style colonial buildings on top of Inca foundations ruins roofed in clay pan tiles giving it a different feel to previous towns and cities. A bit of a wander and some museums today before meeting Alan and Martin in 'you know where' for a 'couple' of jars. There is the possibility of a ride out with Jeff to the sights of the Sacred Valley tomorrow.
Typical colonial detailing
Cusco skyline (that's the Inca colours on flag)
The Inca foundations the conquistadors built on - again, absolutely stunning stonework (work related! I'm so dedicated I think of work most days.. have to every day soon.)
We had another bit of blind panic about our time till return again this morning, but looking at the map we have to give ourselves the opportunity of at least this possibility of a local tour to see what we are missing, and still get to Nasca for the tourist bit there before our final real return to BA.
Posted by Simon McCarthy at March 17, 2006 08:17 PM GMT