Waking up at 4 AM isn’t really so bad when you know you’re finally going to see the thing you’ve been waiting (and killing yourself) to see over the last three days: Machu Picchu. We dragged ourselves out of bed, put our luggage in storage , then walked in the pitch black, freezing cold up to the bus line, which at 4:50 AM was already a full block long.
I was seriously beginning to question everyone’s logic who suggested we get up at that crazy hour to be on the first 5:35 AM bus up the mountain, but I was already up, so that was that. The bus ride was dark but slightly nauseating so I didn’t get in the nap I was hoping for, but the adrenaline and excitement kicked in once we were finally at the entrance gate. Just after 6:15 they began letting us through the gates.
It was bizarre, yet incredible, to see this huge ruins site in person after I’d pictured it, and seen it in so many pictures, for so many years.
Juan Carlos spent the first two and a half hours of the morning walking us around the ruins, explaining the history and showing us the various temples on the site. We saw the sun rise, which was spectacular over the jagged peaks, and at around 8:45, Juan Carlos said his goodbyes and left us on our own to explore and wander. Mat had disappeared somewhere on his own, but the 5 of us found a spot in a corner overlooking part of the site and sneakily ate some of our snacks and bagged breakfasts the hostels had supplied us (you’re not supposed to eat at the site… oops).
From there we walked up toward the Guard House, which is where the perfect picture overlooking the ruins is taken. We sat on the edge of the cliff for a while and took too many pictures, then decided to let some other tourists in and made our way to the start of the walk to the Sun Gate, which is the very end of the commercial Inca trail where many hikers arrive into Machu Picchu. We were all exhausted and Juan Carlos had really been able to show us the entirety of the ruins, plus Dan’s leg was starting to ache, so instead of splitting up, we decided to pick a spot in the sun overlooking the ruins, sunbathe and enjoy the view.
We hung out and watched the crowds completely fill the site — hoards and hoards of gigantic tour groups were making their way up the stairs. I had to leave the ruins to pee at one point, and it was like working my way against Los Angeles rush hour traffic. Only then did I appreciate waking up so early to be at the site before sun rise — it was really great to be able to have a guide explain everything without being swarmed by other groups.
There really are no words for how stunning Machu Picchu is — there’s no doubt in my mind why the Incas chose the spot they did, nestled between beautiful mountains, overlooking the gorgeous river valley — but it’s mind blowing to try and grasp how they built such an intricate city at such a high altitude in the middle of nowhere. Where did all of the stones come from? How did they manage to be so precise, so many hundreds of years ago? The questions are endless, and as we were sitting taking it all in, I decided I had to read Hiram Bingham’s (the man given credit for discovering Machu Picchu) “Lost City of the Incas” when I got home.
After 6 1/2 hours in the sun at the ruins, we made our way down the steps to discover two llamas seriously goin’ at it. Be thankful you’ve never had to witness llama sex, it is one of those train wrecks that you can’t look away from. Hundreds of tourists were taking pictures, and the noises as we walked by were just… scarring. Apparently these two llamas like to get it on at the ruins, because as we lined up for the bus, one of the many Peruvian souvenir sellers tried to sell us the “llama sexy time” postcard. I guess humans are humans, wherever they are in the world, everyone is obsessed with sex, even llama sex!
Dan, Millie and I went back to our hostel, grabbed our bags then perused our way through the souvenir market on the way to the train station. Our Inca Rail train from Aguas Callientes to Ollantaytambo was quite luxurious — we had complimentary beverages and snacks, and a beautiful view through huge windows and smaller windows in the ceiling of the beautiful mountain scenery we had walked through the day before.
When we arrived in Ollantaytambo a van was waiting to drive us back to Cusco. We thought it would just be the three of us, but the driver and a woman assisting him crammed it full with locals looking for a cheap ride back to the city, so we were relatively crammed for the hour and a half drive.
The van dropped us off at the plaza just a half block from my hostel, so Dan and Millie came with me to grab my suitcase and re-check in. I quickly changed and stuck my stuff in my locker, then hopped in a cab with them down to the bus station in the southern part of the town. Instead of staying the night in Cusco, they were taking an overnight bus down to Puno that night, since they were only on vacation for just over 2 weeks, they wanted to save some time.
Being at the bus station was a big slap in the face — it’s so easy and so cheap to book bus tickets between cities in South America, prepaying for all my busses was not only a huge rip off but a big mistake. I wasted a ton of money booking my “hop” through Green Toad Bus, but of course I could have only known this after coming down to SA and doing the traveling myself. You live and you learn I guess — next time, I know!
Once they got their bus tickets we went back to their old hostel, grabbed their bags and got some dinner. My lasagna was relatively unimpressive, but they had some good pasta. Then we had to say our goodbyes, and I was off to my hostel to find my sweats, take a long hot shower and pass out!
The internet at my hostel is very slow, but I will try to upload the rest of my MP pictures ASAP!