If the Lincoln, Nebraska chapter of the Burt Reynolds fan club is going to go one place in South America, it's Machu Picchu. Despite this undeniable fact, I still decided to go.
I went with the same group that attended Antony's birthday party. Matthew, Sarah, Paria, Rhiannon and I decided that we didn't need to pay a guide to show us the way; We were gonna do it old school style.
Initially we all planned to buy our Machu Picchu tickets in Cusco the day before leaving. I missed the memo that the plan had changed, so I was the only one with a ticket when we left. The others were hoping to buy theirs when we got to Aguas Calientes, the town just below Machu Picchu.
We left early the next morning on a 5-6 hour bus to Santa Teresa, over a treacherous mountain pass. After that, we caught a car that was supposed to take us to Santa Maria. I never knew a station wagon could be so rugged. We drove up and down some steep and rough terrain, as well as through a pretty deep and equally sketchy river:
The car could not take us all the way to Santa Maria; It had to stop short because a landslide had covered a large portion of the road:
When we got to this spot, there were a few dozen people waiting around on each side, as well as a crew working to clear the landslide. One hero decided he was going to walk across to the other side, and when we saw that he didn't die, everyone else followed suit... We made it across safely.
After this, we took a van the rest of the way to Santa Maria, and then beyond toward Aguas Calientes. The van took us as far as a cable car, where we had to cross the roaring river to continue (This photo really doesn't do it justice):
The sun was setting as we got to the other side of the river, where we began the hike the rest of the way to Aguas Calientes. The first part of the path was on a jungle-covered mountainside adjacent to the river.
Matthew & Sarah on the jungle path:
A jungle plant in the fading light of dusk:
We walked for a few hours on this path in the dark, and eventually saw signs of civilization in the distance (i.e. lights). We got off the mountain thinking we were really close, but the lights we approached were not Aguas Calientes but a hydro-electric plant - we still had a few more hours to go!
After the hydro-electric plant we walked along railroad tracks the rest of the way. After a few minutes it started to rain. At many points, there were little streams or larger rivers flowing down the mountain into the big river. At these places, we had to cross bringes, during which we would have to walk on the railroad ties, with flowing water between/beneath them:
One bridge was particularly long, and invoked terror in one member of our group who will remain nameless. It took a few minutes to cross, with certain death looming between each step:
Nobody fell. We had a few slips and trips along the way, but luckily no injuries.
We made it to Aguas Calientes around 11 p.m. Unfortunately, the ticket office was closed and the others could not get tickets for the next day. So I was going to Machu Picchu alone. Initially, I was pretty pissed off. We found a hotel and I laid my head down for about 3 hours of sleep.
I popped up seconds before my alarm went off. I was energized and my attitude had completely changed. I was actually happy to be experiencing Machu Picchu alone. It allowed me to go my own pace and do whatever I wanted the whole day. I started the walk toward the mystical ruins in the dark, with the mighty river raging next to me.
I crossed the river and began the ascent of Machu Picchu. This consists of steep stone staircases through the jungle, which cross the path of a road that's ruled by buses later in the day.
A shot of the road to Machu Picchu (The path cuts up the middle):
I made it up to the entrance at about 5:15, and it doesn't open until 6. The wait wasn't long though, and when it did open, I was one of the first 20 people in.
The first hour or so in Machu Picchu, I was prettymuch inside a cloud. Some people complained about this, but I thought it was one of the coolest parts!
After a few hours, the weather started to clear up, and eventually the sun came out. It was amazing to see all of the details of the place come to life.
My favorite thing about Machu Picchu is that they incorporated natural rocks into many of their built structures:
And of course I had to get the classic Machu Picchu shot; the picture that every fat-ass tourist that's ever visited has taken. (Do you see the face in the mountains behind the city? (left to right: chin, lips, nose and forehead)):
It might help if it's flipped:
(If you don't see it now, you don't deserve to.)
The reason I point out the face is to tell you that I discovered what I believe to be scientific proof that the Inca people smoked marijuana:
Yep, he's french inhaling!
...The first 200 visitors each day get to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that forms the nose of the face). It's a steep climb, and the view of the surrounding mountains from the top is spectacular!
I didn't realize how far from the ruins Wayna Picchu is; They look tiny from the top:
I could also see the road and the river we had walked along the night before, as well as a massive landslide (can you spot the backhoe at the bottom left?):
How about now?:
I took an alternative route around the other side of Wayna Picchu to get down. It was beautiful and I only saw one other person the whole way back, which was nice. I had to climb down some steep staircases and wicked ladders:
At around 3, I was exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel. There's a buffet just outside the entrance to Machu Picchu. "Maybe I'll eat lunch there after viewing the ruins," I thought... until I saw that the buffet cost 95 soles. I laughed and headed back down to Aguas Calientes. I'm ashamed to admit that I took the bus down, which costs 20 soles. I think I deserved it though after the limited sleep and long days I had experienced prior.
I had to wait around Aguas Calientes an extra day for the rest of the group to see the ruins. Other than Machu Picchu and the beautiful surroundings, Aguas Calientes sucked. Everything was really expensive, it was packed with tourists (obviously) and it's the only place I've been to in Peru so far that charges tax in restaurants. I was ready to get out of there asap.
We returned to Cusco the same way we came. The walk back was much better, because it was daytime and not raining. It was cool to see all of the terrain we had walked by days before but hadn't seen really:
Remember the long, slippery dangerous bridge?! Well it turns out there was a walkway on the side of it that we hadn't seen in the dark, so it was really not treacherous at all! (The bridge with the walkway on the left):
And back across the cable car we went. View from the middle:
Once we got back to Santa Maria, it was all van from there to Cusco. And we made it home alive!