August 4, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 6)

Hugo gave me a choice to either take the bus up to Machu Picchu or hike the road up to the site. He suggested that I take the bus since I had a ticket to hike Huayna Picchu and I would need to reserve my energy.

Taking his suggestion, I woke up at 4:30am to get in line for the bus. There were already some 200 people in line already when I arrived. Luckily, the couple who could not join the hike was to join our day at Machu Picchu. Since Hugo had been posting picture online from our hike, the wife recognized me and we were about 150 people from the start of the line. Hugo arrived late as he helped me checked out of the room. I didn't know we only had the room until 9am. This is common as many people would take the morning train back to Hydroelectrica where they then catch a 6h bus ride to Cusco. This was a much cheaper option than the $85 train ticket to Ollantaytambo where one can take a 2h car ride back to Cusco.

At 5:30am, we finally boarded the bus (probably the 5th of 6th bus of the morning). The 30min bus ride was less scenic this morning as it was cloudy and still quite dark. The park entrance had an even longer line from all the people who have hiked up earlier in the morning. It's expected of such a well known archeological site, I guess.

All of us were hoping to see sunrise in the morning, but it ended up being an extremely cloudy morning where much of the ruin was shrouded in clouds and fog. It gave the site a very mysterious appeal, but the light was too low to photograph.

Hugo started to tell us about the site. Machu Picchu was thought, at one time, to be the lost city of the Incas. It was completely reclaimed by the forest until Hiram Bingham excavated it with the help of a local family who knew about the site. Although it is commonly called Machu Picchu, the name actually applies to the mountain where the citadel is located. The real name, in Quechua, is unknown.

There were gaps in the terraces that was intended to channel excess water out of the citadel.

We visited the king's quarters. As rich as Incas were in gold and silver reserves, the king had a very humbled dwelling. It was not much more than a typical North American bedroom.

Machu Picchu was never finished as a result of the Spanish Conquest. There were many large rocks that were moved to site as building material that remained untouched when the citadel was abandoned.

As the clouds and fog lifted, more of the citadel was revealed in the morning light.

My hiking ticket on Huayna Picchu was schedule for the 7am-8am period. Hiking on Montana Machu Picchu and Montana Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people for each trail, divided into two 3-hour periods. Just before 8am, I left Hugo and the couple to begin my hike. This was the last time I saw Hugo as he would depart for Cusco around 9am.

There are actually three trails to hike. The shorter hike to "Huayna Picchu", the smaller hill, takes 1h round trip. Much of the trail was very narrow and extremely steep. The path followed steps built by the Incas at times, and at times it followed natural rocky footholds. My energy level and endurance was substantially improved from a couple of days ago and I powered up the trail in less than 20min!

This hike affords a different look of the citadel from a different angle.

Return back to the trail head, there was still a lot of time left. I decided to hike up the longer "Wayna Picchu" trail. This trail would require 2h to complete. Again, much of the trail is very narrow, just barely wide enough for people to pass.

Close to the top, the steps became extremely narrow and small. Steps were barely the width of my feet, and I'm not a big guy with big feet. I found it best to hike up placing my foot sideways one each step.

I climbed up within 45min with a few short hydration rests and a granola bar. There were ruins up at the top, but it was the view that really captivated me.

A 180 degree view of the mountains in the area.

I tried something new and took a number of photo using the vertical frame to capture more height to include the Rio Urubamba. It turned out very well as a panorama.

When I returned back to the site, the sky had cleared and it was great for photography.

This was a workshop building.

Looking across the farming terraces with storage buildings at the bottom, and the guard house at the top. The guard house is the important landmark where the iconic photo of Machu Picchu can be taken.

Here's the facade of the Temple of the Three Windows, and Intihuatana is the structure at the top of the pyramid structure.

The Incas incorporated water delivery throughout the city, and it continues to run today.

Most Inca structures are rectangular in shape. However, the Temple of the Sun was semicircular and intricately constructed.

The iconic photographs of the citadel of Machu Picchu. The smaller outcrop on the left of the citadel is "Huayna Picchu", while the larger outcrop on the right of the citadel is "Wayna Picchu"...according to the trail map. However, the mountain is known collectively as Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu in Spanish to add to the confusion).

Yes, I was here.

I left the complex at about 2pm when it was getting too hot. My train to Ollantaytambo was scheduled for 5:45pm so I had some hours to burn at the hotel lobby and caught up on emails. I met the couple on our tour at the station again. We were arranged seats together so we had a chance to chat and get to know each other a little more. However, we were in a car with a bunch or rowdy twenty something tourists who thought it was necessary to blare their music, sing loudly, and scream about their card games while the rest of the people on the train tries to catch some sleep. They were so loud it was difficult to even talk to the couple next to me. It's people like that who gives tourists a bad name. Yes, the whole world knows you are having fun. Congrats.

When we arrived at Ollantaytambo, we were going to arrange a taxi back to Cusco until I saw a driver holding a sign with my name. Apparently, our tour company had already arranged the driver for us. Sweet! It was great and all until the driver got on the road. We felt like we were riding in a rally car for 2 hours, and honestly came very close to a head on collision once. It was a relief to arrive at my hostel and I couldn't wait to get out of the car.

Despite the car ride thrill ride, I was really impressed by Terra Quechua and I would recommend them to anyone. I rarely put commercial links on this blog, but I felt in this case it was deserved. The staff, from Raquel who is responsible for booking and correspondences to my trekking team of Hugo, Rubin and Anjelino, were all extremely accommodating to every change and unexpected developments along the way. Their trekking group is usually limited to 12 people. Other larger companies may have as many as 70 (personally witnessed this on the trail) as booking companies serve as middleman and passed off their clients to other tour operators. They are completely locally owned, having to pay 18% taxes when foreign companies enjoy tax-free operation, yet their prices are even lower in some cases. I hope you would consider Terra Quechua if you plan any trekking tours in Peru.

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