March 24-25, 2017
We took a day to travel to Aguas Calientes, which is the tourist town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. (The expensive train was nice, with great views and complimentary snack and drink server.) The next day we got up at an hour that should be reserved for afternoons, to take a short bus to the entrance and be among the first 100 or so tourists to arrive there. Then we waited around for 45 minutes before deciding that the guide that was going to meet us wasn't going to show. We walked into Peru's most famous sight by ourselves.
First on the agenda was to climb Machu Picchu mountain. There are a limited number of tickets sold for this, and our entry time was between 7am and 8am. We showed up right at 7am, and were numbers 22 and 23 that day. The hike up was shrouded in fog and beautiful. We climbed through several habitats, including forest, cloud forest, shrubland, and virtually bare mountain top. Danielle really struggled with the altitude, so it took us almost 3 hours for a hike that is supposed to take 60-90 minutes.
At the top, there are supposed to be amazing views of Machu Picchu and its surroundings, but in practice there wasn't much to be seen at the top besides fog, and tourists waiting for the fog to clear. We gave it 30 minutes but nothing really changed, so we headed down. On the way down things did clear up a little, but we still didn't get the promised views. Throughout we enjoyed seeing orchids and other flowers, as well as some beautiful butterflies which appeared a pale yellow but shimmered blue when the light hit them just right (which would often happen as they flew by).
After this hike, we joined forces with a German couple and shared a guide, who was excellent. His English was fine, he knew everything, and presented it in an interesting way. The Inca's are primarily known for their fine stonework, so that's what we mostly focused on. There's a lot to be said about it, but the very quick version is: stones are shaped using water, sand, and hematite so that they fit together perfectly without requiring any mortar. Some times mortise and tenons are used to ensure they don't move. Many of these structures built 500 years ago are still standing, despite the fact that the area has endured several significant earthquakes.
Since Machu Picchu was in large part a temple complex, there were also rocks shaped to help determine solstices, as well as ones that indicate magnetic as well as true north. A particularly memorable rock is a model of the set of mountains that Machu Picchu is built on. After our tour was over, Danielle was done walking and sat down, while I wandered around a bit longer to take a few more photos. Then we caught the bus back down.
Machu Picchu is definitely an amazing site, but in the end I think I have more appreciation for landscapes and nature than I do for the things that people built (my obsession with computers not withstanding). Looking back at my pictures of the day, about a third are of plants and animals. I'm definitely glad I saw and learned something about the Inca ruins, but part of me wonders how much fun I would have had spending all that money on a private wildlife tour. Hopefully in Bolivia we'll do some of that.
In Aguas Calientes we picked up our stuff, and took the fancy train back to Ollantaytambo. It'd been a long day and the train ride (with food and drink) was wonderfully relaxing, until some local culture was forced upon us in the form of somebody dressed like a rainbow making noises like a bird, performing a traditional dance up and down the aisle. This was followed by a fashion show which was also hard to ignore since the performers successfully got most of the train to clap along to the music.
But all things come to an end, and from the train we took a short tuk-tuk ride to our hostel. Google Maps turned out to be invaluable since the driver didn't actually know where our hostel was, and we had to direct him.