Monday, August 16, 2010

Machu Picchu!

On Saturday morning, we took off for a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu. I have to admit, on the one hand, it´s such a tourist trap that for a short while we talked about not going, but on the other hand, it´s one of those places in the world where I´ve wanted to go for as long as I can remember. And there´s a reason why there are so many tourists from all over the world--it truly is an incredible place and I´m so glad we went. But yes, it was quite the racket, too. If you don´t sign up a year in advance to be on the 400 person limit to hike the Incan Trail, then you have to take the only train there. And being the monopoly, they can charge whatever they want. Welcome back to USA prices! But oh well, it´s just one weekend.

The train turned out to be a very nice one, and kind of fun:
The scenery from the train was beautiful:
We arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu, which turned out to be in one of the most beautiful places that I could possibly imagine. It was surrounded by sheer faces of mountains falling into the jungle and weaving river below:
We took a walk through the jungle the first day there since we had a lot of time (you have to pay a lot daily to enter Machu Picchu, so we decided to save that for the second day). There were pretty birds in coffee trees:
And beautiful tropical flowers:
Bridges built into the cliff, and a dog that we would see the next day on the top of the mountain:
Although we were led to believe that Aguas Calientes would be quite a dumpy and overcommercialized tourist trap, it actually had quite the charm in my opinion. Yes, it had some trashy spots, and yes, it had too many pizza places serving the same thing and waiters chasing you down the streets with their menus, but it was nonetheless breathtaking, nestled in the canyon:
And of course, the namesake of the town is the thermal baths. OK, the water was a little dirty looking, but we went in and had a wonderful time. And again, I´ve never bathed in a more beautiful place (it even rivaled the hot springs of Uyuni):
And of course there were the requisite dogs. This one almost could have given the chinese crested a run for its money in the ugliest dog competition. So ugly it was almost cute:
So the next morning, we woke up at 3:30 am to walk up the hill and catch the sunrise. The idea being that we might be able to beat the busses up the hill. Everyone else who got up that early apparently was trying to race to the ticket booth to get the very limited 400 tickets daily to Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain above the famous ruins. It has a very steep switchbacking staircase built into it with some steel cables to keep you from falling to your death. Not my idea of fun, so we weren´t in any particular hurry, except to get up to Machu Picchu early. There are not many pictures of this hike because it was pitch dark, but fortunately a Christian shrine was lit up to mark the trailhead:
And when we finally got to the top (it´s basically a very steep staircase that goes up about 1000 feet, shortcutting the switchbacking road to the top), we were met by a long line of tourists waiting to get in. This is about the front tenth of the line.
Although there was not much of a sunrise to see there (The sun wouldn´t rise above the mountains until 9:00 or so anyways), the cool morning brought a fog over the whole place, which brought us this first view of the ruins:
We later made it up to the famous view point near the watchtower for a misty view of Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu towering behind it (the taller mountain in the backround with a stairway going up it [you can´t see the stairway, but just try to imagine it]):
There were views of the mountins through the windows of the watchtower:
This is the watchtower, which is at the top end of the ruins:
The clouds kept coming and going that morning:
Just to be honest about what the adventure was really like, many of the pictures were chosen from locations and times when there weren´t many people visible, or they were far away. But this is actually a good representation of what many of the more popular areas of the site looked like:
There were also gardens with orchids throughout the place:
And incredibly steep terraces falling into the clouds below:
The bread that we brought for lunch that day was not your good ol´ USA bread; without sufficient preservatives, binding agents, and softeners, our Peruvian loaf was reduced to crumbles in our backpacks. We had breadcrumbs with cheese and salami for lunch:

During our 2-hour guided tour in the morning, it was still cloudy but beautiful.
One of the most important buildings there was called the temple of the sun. It was the only round building, and the stonework was a lot tighter:
Beneath it was an underground temple that was carved into pure stone with some very interesting stonework fitted into the cracks:
We got to meet some of the groundskeepers who were mowing the lawns. They were very people friendly:
They were much better at mowing steep and difficult-to-reach terraces compared to your typical power mower (I had my camera on a funny color setting, but I guess it ended up interesting in this case):
Later in the afternoon, the skies cleared up and we braved the hot sun again for another shot at the viewpoint. I don´t have my software here to flatten out the fisheye, but we used it for some wide angle shots. Here´s one of the two of us:
Some other views from within the complex:
Here´s Kate looking out over the mountains and valley below:
And another view with the fisheye to see how Machu Picchu is perched in the saddle between two steep mountains:
After a full day there we returned for a tired train and bus ride back home. We did take the bus to the bottom of the hill to maximize our time at the site. We returned home late that night, tired and sore. It´s actually Monday night now, and we did another trip this afternoon after classes, but I will save that for another blog post later, since it´s getting late here. Cheers!


  1. Wow! Stunning views and wonderful pictures.


    Tonight I'm going to show Wally your amazing pictures. They are soooo wonderful. Wish I could be there with youl
    Love, Mom