Send Lawyers, Guns, and $$$ Tour
Sometimes feel that the reports might tend to run to the superlatives but in this case it is going to be hard to avoid. Right now we are in Agua Caliente which is the gateway to Machu Pichu. Totally inaccessible by road, you can only get here by rail or walking. It is literally a one rail town. The only vehicles are the buses that take you up the mountains to Machu Pichu seven miles away. It did occur to me that the bus drivers may never have driven on any other road in their lives. The town has a Wild West feel to it, but as you can see it does have the Internet.
We left Cuzco two days ago on the train, well actually we left three times. First time we backed a mile to the station to pick-up some left behind passengers. Have no idea why we went back the second time, but you must always fear the worst. Fortunately the third time was the charm and in three and half hours we were in Agua Caliente. There are three classes of trains that arrive. The first has all the trekkers and backpackers and the last has all the Abercrombie & Kent type tour groups. We were in the middle with all the independent travelers.
Everyone offloads the train and turns their luggage over to the hotel operators who meet the train. Then you get the aforementioned buses for the half hour trip up to the ruins. The weather was nearly prefect when we arrived. A blue sky with a lot of puffy white clouds. After what it takes to get here you always fear that it will be total rain and fog, so that you actually never see the place - it can get that way, as we found out late in the day.
The history and mystery surrounding this site has filled innumerable books, but there was nothing that prepared us for the beauty of the place. The mountains that surround the site rise straight up from the Urubamba River and they are covered with green jungle, as we are perched on the edge of that region of Peru. The air was crystal clear and not a hint of anything but the Spring flowers blooming here in the southern hemisphere. Pictures we had seen of Machu Pichu had only shown the ruins themselves but the surroundings are amazing in their own right.
The Peruvian government has constructed a hotel and visitors center that in its present size and configuration does nothing to detract from the site itself. Some object to the fact that the springs that used to feed the site are now used for the facilities, but others attach some mystical significance to the spring. The concern will come in the future if the demands of tourists result in degeneration of the location. We heard of plans to build a cable car supposedly for those who didn't want to take the bus, that would be bad. The helicopters that ferry passengers from Cuzco in less than half and hour are bad enough.
There is much climbing to be done going up and down the stone staircases and there is no lack of optional climbs back up the Inca Trail or to the top of several of the small peaks. We confined ourselves over the two days to the site itself. Late on the first day it started to rain, much as it has been for the last several weeks in the area. Once the rainy season comes it is very persistent. We talked to a number of trekkers who were soaked for the four days they spent on the trail getting here. Quite fortunate we decided early on to not take that option. There was a consolation as late the first day the sun broke through during one of the storms and a full arching double rainbow spanned the entire valley just to the east of the ruins. Even the workers stopped to admire it. The rainbow was more vivid than anything we've ever seen, as you could even see the blue in it, something we've never witnessed. Not really into the mystical but for those who are this certainly would have been a special moment.
Staying overnight is most important in visiting Machu Pichu as the the bulk of tourists come in on trains in the morning and leave on the 3 and 4:00 PM trains. So by staying over you get the late afternoon and morning until 11:00 AM to see the site with minimal interference and confusion. Spend the first half day getting a tour showing you all the special spots and then take your time to relax and enjoy it. The hotel we stayed in was really quite nice, though its frontage fit in with all the other semi-ramshackle buildings on the main street (rail line). Once you cleared the door you were transported into a very comfortable world of hot showers and a balcony that basically hung over the raging rapids of the Urubamba River. No sound was heard all evening except for the water below - no television here. We got a great night's sleep which was needed after all the climbing.
Our second day at Machu Pichu was beautiful until the tour groups arrived and then followed the daily rain. It was back to town to get a good meal before heading off on 4:00 train to Cuzco. We'll be flying off to Lima tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. For those of you holding daily itineraries forget them for the time being. We will be restructuring in Lima. We hope to go to Trujillo in north Peru and then come back through Lima to head to Nazca in the south, but will keep you posted on new plans in a couple of days.
-LOIS & JOHN
© Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan
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