So today is a day for travel from Copacobana to Cusco. We were up early again having been unable to sleep under the mass of bedding afforded us. We were fed and watered and lined up to get the ferry back to Copacobana. No hassles other than a slight delay for the American family who had paid for their bags to be brought down by donkey but it and the bags never materialised! That delayed us for 30 minutes or so but we still made it by 12 leaving us 6hrs to kill in the less than glamorous Copacobana. It's safe to assume Barry Manilow was definitely not singing about this place. Think of Courttown/Tenby and add hundreds of backpackers, dozens of Tour Operators, dozens of cafe's and restaurants all claiming to serve the best Trout in town. Traffic was bedlam too. There was some sort of festival going on in town and all the taxi's from Peru were dressed up in flowers and garlands. Strangely the Bolivian Taxis didn't.
Probably the best named Tour Company we came across
Anyway, traffic literally came to a standstill, whereby people got out of their cars and went to get lunch before returning 30 minutes later with nothing having moved. No one seems to be fazed by it mind. We also noticed a few of the Peruvian Taxi's getting 'blessed' by some fella. They were opening the Bonnets and what appeared to be an. incense burner was waved back and forth over the engine...and then in a particularly cruel twist designed to break all hearts....they sprayed newly opened bottles of beer and wine all over the bodywork. There's us thinking we were in for a boring afternoon.
I went to get some Peruvian Nuevo Sol from the bank but they don't do it so I had to withdraw Bolivianos and then change the money into Nuevo Sol. I'm not going to lie to you, anyone who can work out currency differences should be a member of Mensa because I'm certainly struggling. I told Yvonne to put the Chilean coins away before we get confused....she pointed out they were Euro's. Seriously, I've no idea.
We killed a few hours and hopped on to the bus. First impressions are that its not as luxurious as the one we caught in Uyuni. It's 'Cama' alright, the seats recline so you can sleep but there's no Wi-Fi, no entertainment, no pillows, no blankets so definitely a mark down for that. We got to the Bolivian Border 10 minutes later and whilst our crossing was smooth enough, a group of English girls were left stranded. No-one tells you that you have to keep hold of your immigration card so the girls left the bus and left the luggage on it. The bus then drove over the border while we were being dealt with by Immigration so the girls couldn't get their cards. Understandable panic ensued but we all showed solidarity with them and told the hostess on the bus we weren't going anywhere until they gave them a chance to go back to immigration. Turned out, they only had to pay a "$50" fine but, of course, no one tells them this. As if that isn't bad enough the road through no mans land is lined with stalls and cars and if you're not careful, you could walk straight past Peru's immigration office without getting your passport stamped. Sheesh! We both got a few hours sleep on the bus although I was woken by him flying around the bends doing 105km on a bus marked with a 90km restriction!
We arrived at 'The Hotel' at 5.30 in the morning and a few beads of sweat were shed as we waited to see what they had done with our reservation. Turns out they tried to take payment on my card which was a Debit Card, as it wouldn't go through they cancelled reservation instead of waiting until we got there to pay with a different card. Never known a hotel try and take money before you arrive but anyway we got sorted and threw ourselves at the mercy of the huge bed.
After a couple of hours r&r we headed out to stroll around the town. Cusco is very different to the cities we've been in so far, well the city centre is anyway. It's a very attractive place, has been lovingly restored with fabulous architecture and some particularly interesting features. It's quite westernised I suppose, reminds me of Bologna or maybe even Florence.
Of course, due to its close proximity to Machu Picchu it has plenty of Tour Operators, Restaurants and Tacky Tourist shops but, somehow, it shows the likes of San Pedro de Atacama and Copacobana that you can cater for tourists but do it in a subtle and less intrusive way. The pace of life here seems more relaxed too. We continued around the wonderful old streets and remarked on the lovely old walls. We discovered later that Cusco or Cosco was the ancient capital of the Inca empire and thus a lot of the old walls date back to those times. An indication of how beauty is only skin deep however can be seen here....
...in La Paz, people, everyday people I guess, don't like their photographs being taken, yet here they love to have their picture taken here...only to ask for money afterwards.
We checked into our tour and discovered we were to be picked up at 4am from our hotel rather than 8 as we had thought. Cue yet another early night. We did, however, find time to discover a great Organic restaurant where Yvonne stuffed herself silly! No sooner had we finished that then we walked around the corner and we stumbled across a small deli that sold gluten free bread and other lovely goodies. Needless to say, Cusco gets a thumbs up from the wife.
..so finally, after 2 weeks, we reach our ultimate destination....Machu Picchu. The Tour began with a train ride from the town of Ollamtaytambo to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town as it is otherwise known. A gorgeous train, a throwback to the golden age of rail. Even the carriages had these windows above your head so you could see the imposing mountains overhanging.
Peru Rail, Ollamtaytambo
It meandered its way alongside the river at a leisurely pace. At one point, we came upon another train that had broken down so we had to wait for several minutes while the two trains linked up. I couldn't help but think the river was mocking us as it continued its journey, unhindered, downstream (Yvonne told me not to put this in but once again I ignore her advice 😂)
We continued on and eventually reached the imaginatively named station of '104km' We clambered down, literally, as there was no platform and had our pics taken by our guide Henry.
A short stroll across a rickety rope bridge brought us to a small enclosure where Breakfast was laid out on an equally rickety table. We stocked up on supplies for the trek and doused ourselves in Sunblock and Insect repellent. It had been chilly enough in the morning so we had plenty of layers on but Henry suggested we strip down to just a t-shirt and trousers, it soon became obvious why. And so we set off. Within minutes we began climbing and climbing and we were delighted we had listened as the heat instantly started to have an impact. We continued on and seemingly after every 20 steps or so we had to stop for a breather and a top up of liquids. It seems so pathetic when it's written down but I cannot underestimate just how tough this climb was. Of course, the painful nature of the walk was eased somewhat by the gorgeous scenery that was unfolding before us. Each step revealed another magnificent view of this park and looking down, saw the valley below become just a dot on the landscape.
The acoustics amongst these mountains are phenomenal, however, and even though we had climbed so far we could still hear the train and the river flow as if they were alongside us. We continued onwards and upwards, stopping only at designated shelters for more water and shade. After an hour or so, the first Inca ruins revealed itself, clinging precariously to the side of one of these monoliths. Its name is Winãy Wayna, meaning Forever Young and is named after after one of the many flowers that grows plentifully in these mountains.
It's layered steps that were used for experimental farming apparently. As you gaze over the amazing view you start to spot one or two others and realise how vast the Machu Picchu area actually is. As we gazed in to the distance we wondered if we get a close up at some stage on our walk or whether it was too far....Henry said 'yes that's where we're having lunch in 3 hours' I mean look at it....we thought it was two days away on the back of an Alpaca yet here he was confirming we'd walk it in one morning. Clearly he had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.
The trek continued up and down and around, each step taking its toll on our weary legs and one minute we were exposed to the increasingly hot sun and the next we were in the blissful shade of some Jungle growth. Eventually we reached this fountain which even though we couldn't drink the water, the sheer sound of it was refreshing.
I think it was Yazz who sang 'The only way is up' which was destined to become our song for the day as, amazingly by 12.30, we had reached Winãy Wayna and stopped to look back at how far we had travelled. It's a beautiful place, and a lot more peaceful than Machu Picchu itself. There are a lot of Llama's here, farmed, but allowed to graze the light grass on each step. Henry took time to explain all the different mechanisms used by the Inca's at the time, Drainage, Farming methods etc before we moved on to our destination for lunch 10 minutes further on. It became apparent at this point that Yvonne was going to have no worries about her food on this trip. We should point out that while we were struggling in the heat and altitude taking an age to climb a relatively short distance, there were two porters and and a chef who rocketed on ahead, carrying our bags, their bags, supplies, food and camping gear and getting everything set up, ready for our arrival, hours later!
We were delighted to hear over lunch that the next section of the walk was a lot easier, being predominantly level although there were still a bit of climbing left to do. The views continued to get better and the anticipation continued to rise as we knew we were getting closer to Machu Picchu itself. The walk was more in Jungle territory so we were less exposed to the Sun which was a relief. We didn't see or hear as much wildlife as we might have expected although we did spot this little fella along the way.
Just before we reached the Sun Gate, we were given one last final test up what are colloquially referred to as the 'Inca Gringo Killer'.....not a term, I suspect, that dates back to the 1400's.
Once we had safely negotiated these steps we continued on and by around 4pm or so the Sun Gate came into view. The heart started racing, and fresh reserves of energy appeared as we approached the gate. It's these moments that live with you forever but.....isn't there always a but....I have to be honest and say that the expected rush never really came. You see this was the view we expected to see....
Postcard view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
...and this was the view we got.
Our view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate!
Henry looked on a bit bemused why weren't squealing with delight but the fact is you could see anything because the Sun was exactly in the wrong place. We can't say it was an Anti-Climax but we didn't get the buzz that we expected. Alpaca Tours who ran this hike have this as their catchphrase 'The Journey is the Destination' and I suspect it was very appropriate in this case.
After the ceremonial photograph taking we ploughed on undeterred aiming to get to the site before 5pm and therefore we'd make the bus to get back to the campsite. Failure to get there for 5 would mean we'd end up having to hike for another hour and a half. That was enough of an incentive to get us hopping along three steps at a time.
We made it and the sun had set sufficiently for us to get some much better shots and suddenly the place started to look as majestic as we had anticipated. By half five we were on the bus back down the winding road. At every turn it felt the bus was undoing all our hard work. 30 mins downhill in a mini-bus compared to an 8 hour climb.
Machu Picchu at dusk
We had only a few minutes of daylight left, which was spent getting ready for dinner. Needless to say, the boys had been here already for a good while and our tents were set up and the food was ready. We chatted over some great fare and got to know a bit more about Henry and the other guys on our tour Cassiano and his son Marcus. We agreed that we'd like an early start in the morning but Henry warned us that the hordes would start arriving from as early as 6am so we wouldn't get the peaceful image we had in our heads. With that we retired to our Bedouin tents and tried to get some sleep amongst the barking dogs, rumbling trains and flowing river.
A knock on the Nylon at 5am got us up and after a quick breakfast we headed off. Henry gave us a choice, either queue for 2 hours for a bus or climb directly up from the campsite which would or should take an hour. It was a no brainer...we said we'd hike. Doh..big mistake. Cassiano said Marcus wouldn't be able for the hike so he said they'd catch the bus. Henry agreed to take them and said he'd meet us up there. Turned out when they got to the long queue, there was a colleague of his at the front who got them onto a bus almost immediately so they were at the site within 30minutes. Meanwhile someway down the mountain, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing were huffing and puffing their way up, step by bloody step, increasingly frustrated at the stupidity of their decision to walk instead of getting a bus.
After an hour and 15 minutes we had made it. Get this, we had climbed 1350m in 75mins and had covered a distance of just 1.7km. When you think the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, is just over 1000m, it makes you, well, us, appreciate our efforts.
We arrived at Machu Picchu and it was magnificent, the sheer scale of the place and its dramatic setting made for some wonderful views that lived up to all the expectations. As Henry and co had got there earlier than expected we missed each other and spent an hour trying to find each other amongst the estimated, wait for it, 5000 people that visit this place every day. Eventually, we hooked up and Henry brought us around the site explaining all the intricate details as he went along. It was fascinating and a real insight. We had tickets for Huanypicchu, the imposing mountain overlooking Machu Picchu but sadly we were beaten, neither of us fancied taking that on after the hike earlier. Had we known the bus would have been so quick we'd have rather got that and left ourselves fresh for the climb up Huanypicchu but sadly we didn't have the benefit of hindsight. We continued to walk around, being both, educated and stimulated by the wonders of this place. After a couple of hours, we had to leave and head back down for the bus. Henry pointed out that he had never seen the place so busy and that was reflected in the queue for the bus back. I think we stood in the line for around an hour an a half. This was an indication of how the day was to go although we didn't realise it at the time.
The bus brought us back to Machu Picchu town and lunch was set up for us in one of the local cafes by our amazing porters. It really was one of the best features of the trek that they made so much of an effort to look after Yvonne and cooked meals that specifically catered for her needs. At that point Henry said his goodbyes leaving us with a gentle reminder that tipping is acceptable! We duly obliged. We killed the hour waiting on the train back, with a Pisco Sour and a beer , and wrote our postcards.
The train station was a bit chaotic with three trains all leaving at roughly the same time and no-one knowing which one was which or which door they should be standing at. Cue mad scenes with people getting frustrated, impatient and overheated....I should point out that for once I wasn't one of them! In fact I was enjoying the madness of it all. We found our seats which had been assigned 3 rows apart for some reason. When the guy arrived to sit next to me I asked him politely if he'd mind swapping with Yvonne so we could sit together....'No' came his reply, 'I'd rather sit here' Huh??!! Much to everyone's amusement around us, he took his seat and we looked at each other wondering what just happened!!
Our first time apart in 2 1/2 weeks...😉
Anyway, a romantic journey on the way to our trek in a classic old fashioned train turned into a monotonous, tedious, and long journey in a rickety old train on the way back. Same train just a different mindset. We arrived in Ollamtaytambo and met with our bus that would bring us back to Cusco. We sat unmoved in the car park for around an hour before eventually getting through the traffic and onto the main road. Another 2 hours was added onto the journey before we eventually reached our hotel, some 6 hours after the trek had finished.
All in all, we have to say, as one of the 'New Wonders of the World' Machu Picchu lives up to all expectations, and whilst it was a lot of hard work getting there and we could have done without the long journey home, overall we have to say, it was worth it.