Magical Machu Picchu

Travelling needs to flexible.

Our plan to rise before sunrise to be at Machu Picchu (old peak) was shelved. It rained all night and there was heavy fog so we pushed our leaving time back to 7.30.
Our guide Jo Ricardo from Chimu Adventures arrived promptly and was all smiles and full of sayings. ‘The early bird catches the worm’ ‘make haste while the sun shines’ ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket ‘. It was like he’d swallowed a book of proverbs.
A brisk walk to the bus station to a very short queue and we were at the main gate when Joe announced ‘no time like the present ‘ as we entered the gate.

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Right from the start I was captivated by this amazing sight. We walked with Joe for 2 and a half hours as he brought the story of the Incas alive for us.

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Joe resting while we take photos

The building of this city, how the Incas lived, how potatoes were as precious as gold, the invasion of the Spanish, the customs of living in such a remote place, and the discovery by Hiram Bingham. Hiram Bingham III was an American academic, explorer and politician. He made public the existence of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911.p1000628

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The walk with Joe was the history part. He gave lots of information and took us to the most intact and important buildings on site. Then he left us to discover on our own.

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Dressed ready for walking Including one walking stick to aid my poor knee

 

We were keen to go to the Sun Gate. This is the Top Gate which is the entry port for those intrepid walkers who have done the 3 night / 4 day walk up from Ollantantambo. People like our Rob and the Youngs’ and Baartz’. I have such admiration for them as it’s not an easy walk.

So Steve and I set off up hill for what we thought would be an hour walk. The path was rocky and shaded in part by vegetation and you needed to concentrate on your footing. We were passed by young groups of all nationalities. After about 35 mins of steady slow walking stopping for photos we thought we were only half way when we rounded the corner and there above us was the gate. It took about 40 mins. We actually got there before so the younger ones who tended to sit on the way up and have a break. We walked steadily!

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Was it worth the climb. Yes, yes and yes. The cloud came and went and revealed, as if by magic, the ancient city of MP below. We sat in silence on a rock overlooking this magical place thinking. It’s a special place and as the Incas thought – close to God, if that is your belief. It’s certainly a spiritual place and apart from a few noisy people every now and then it’s quiet.

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We loved it. Coming down is a different walk. Going down is hard on knees but again we moved steadily. Stopping for photos of some men planting ground covers, and a posse of three spotted hens, we made it back to a shaded terrace overlooking the city of Machu Picchu. Quicker time.

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The walk back from the Sun Gate

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See the City of Machu Picchu behind Steve

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The livestock on the track

A little more walking to the guard house.

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Some photos and by 2pm we cp1000712alled it a day.
We would love to have climbed to mountain next to MP – Huayna Picchu. Word was it is a hard climb quite treacherous at times because of its steepness and narrow track. But if you can climb and don’t suffer vertigo then go for it. We would love to have stayed another night and go up but ………
we were satisfied.

We sat at the cafe overlooking the old city and had a beer before returning back to the hotel for a shower and the train ride back to Ollantantambo and then car to Cusco.
A late dinner with our new swim buddy friend Bill , father of Swim Trek owner Simon Murie, from London. We were exhausted but happy.
In a separate post I’ll give some suggestions of ways to plan for a visit to Machu Picchu

Secret Valley Tour onto Machu Picchu. 

Pick up at 7.30am and a new guide with a name that sounded like Alora! He spoke with gusto and is a born story teller. He was raised in Ollantantambo so when we reached there he was in his element.

First stop, a llama and alpaca farm. Close up they are inquisitive faced messy haired creatures.

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The drive towards the top of the valley is a sight. After so much rain it’s green and flat with crops growing toward the hills and mountains which are terraced, intact from Inca days. My how those Incas worked. Al told us that they all knew ‘no work no food’ so to the locals it was as important to grow potatoes than it was to have gold ‘ because you can’t eat gold’.

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View of the Sacred Valley

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First stop Pisac. We walked up hill and got a very good story from Al about how the Incas survived. Potatoes! We climbed to the top – the guard house where the view was magnificent.

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Next stop the town and a rather good look at a jewellery shop with explanation of the design, materials and stones used.
As it was Valentines Day I was spoilt with a pair of silver and mother of pearl earrings.

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Young man in the bakery in Pisac

Onto lunch at a hotel that was Monastery. A beautiful place in a very humble town. Mind you we could have stopped at any of the road side roast guinea pig stall to try the local delicacy.

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We shared lunch with a couple from a NSW country town. Steve happens to know his brother!
Then it was onto Al’s home town of Ollantantambo. It’s charming.

p1000531He was so excited to tell us about the 200 steps we would walk to the temple, the faces that can be seen in the rock face, the point where the sun appears on summer solstice. He explained how clever the Incas were to be able to transfer rock to such high places, to cut it straight. To join it without mortar. Impressive.

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p1000548By the time we climbed down it was onto our next adventure. Our train to Agua Caliente.

There are several trains going slowly up to Machu Picchu. The top shelf ride is the Hiram Bingham. It’s expensive. We had decided on the next class down. But I was so disappointed.
It was hot when we boarded. We weren’t seated together. I was on the aisle next to a big bear of a man and across from the toilet. Not a good place for a view. Steve was a row in front. On the aisle as well. He offered to swap but I stuck with my bad seat and after a while struck up conversation with Carl, a most interesting Austrian man. A retired naval architect. He’d lived a lot in South America and had with him 14 other Austrians. He was their tour leader.
We chatted most of the way. He was a font of knowledge and funny as well. So my bad seat turned into a good seat. Never can tell. Steve was quite jealous. No view though!

Our flash hotel had sent someone to meet us and carry our 5 kg bag to the hotel. We had a suite. Very nice. It’s a good 60 step climb to our room with its heated outdoor spa pool. I wanted to stay in the room for dinner but we were meeting Barry our swim trek friend, who had arrived in style on the Hiram Bingham train!

Our guide also met us and we made a plan for the morning. We are hoping for fine weather as it’s raining steadily tonight.

It was Valentines night so we made a lovely threesome in the dining room by candlelight, eating our 3 course included in the tariff meal.

Too excited about tomorrow to sleep. So listening to the rain and imagining.

Discovering Cusco

Do you feel energised  arriving in a new city? I do. The sense of discovery. Wanting to get straight out on the streets.

Cusco looks great. We changed and got out walking. Loved the road dividers

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Then to dinner.
After a great dinner at Green  we gave up the city by night walk. It was drizzling, very cool and our colds were making us feel very ordinary so we went to bed in our lovely room. We’ve managed to avoid altitude sickness so far.

The next day we got up late, a luxury in our trip so far. The Hotel El Mercado is very comfortable and make the guest very welcome. Lots of choice for breakfast.

Then a walk through the streets to the markets. Interesting new new sights and sounds in this important Peruvian city.
The San Pedro markets are divided in category according to items. We bought Steve a warm jumper – not genuine alpaca according to its price! But it suits the moment- now ! It’s quite cool. Such a change to Galapagos.

The remainder of the morning we wandered and soaked up the sights and sounds. Steve’s favourite was the traffic policewoman and motorcycle police . Decked out in cream jodhpurs with knee high boots and leather straps at the top of the thigh securing a large gun. It’s a mystery how they get it out quickly!The road police stand in the corner of the Main Street waving arms and blowing whistles. The fluorescent green gloves on their hand reflect as they wave cars on.

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Funny thing they all look like they could be sisters. Young, pony tails, gorgeous really, so with Steve happily watching I ran into a shop with beautiful alpaca jumpers

The window displays are very inviting. A rainbow display of coloured knitwear  and fabrics just waiting to be bought but with Brisbane having so little winter I’m going to resist!

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The afternoon city tour included the main Cathedral, built in 1563, with Flora our entertaining guide who sweetly insisted on calling us ‘my friends and family’. She gave a good run down on the importance of Catholicism and some of the ways the religion is observed. She told us about the ‘ cinnamon Christ’ who was cinnamon coloured but is now black. There are many important festivals where statues, beautifully dressed in gorgeous coloured dresses embellished with scores of gemstones , are carried through the streets.

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Illegal photo before i was told to put my camera away. so no silver altar car!

The solid silver altar to Mary was the ‘piece de resistance ‘. It has a port hole on top which houses a large vase of flowers and in Holy Week  the flowers are removed and a driver pops into the hole, the alter is raised and it becomes  6 tonnes of silver car to be driven through the streets. Classy!

Next stop was a monastery which had been home to an Inca temple.

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Thankfully some wonderful examples of the stone work remains and you get an insight into just how amazing the Incas were at creating buildings. The precision of the shapes and the piecing together of the cut stone. Incredible. And the rest of the short tour will build the story until we get the climax, the main event the day after when we visit Machu Pinchu.
We left the town behind to visit 3 important sights. Each one different but all adding to the Inca story.
Saqsayhuaman ( “sexy woman” as Flora called it !) our first stop we saw great evidence of the building skills and also the effect altitude has in your climbing! Puffing heavily we made it up to the top and were rewarded with a view back over Cusco. Reassuringly everyone seemed to be puffing – even those years younger than us.  A walk down and across a large green flat area to the car park. We were farewelled by men, women and children all trying to sell up some bright and beautiful and possibly made in China. Can’t escape it!

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Second stop Q’enqo for more examples of stone work and we walked through a labyrinth and went underground to see the stone altar.

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Last stop at Puka Pukara had us walking up a steep hill to view the water temple.

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All very impressive. And lots of walking. 

Back to Cusco and a quick turnaround as we were meeting Barry and Bill from Galapagos Swimtrek. Both are suffering the team cold but hoped they could make it to Limo restaurant.
Fortunately they did and we reminisced as we sipped a Pisco Sour before eating the local delicacy – alpaca. You can eat it and / or wear it – or pay to photograph it with women and children dressed in traditional costumes in the streets of Cusco. Alpacas are very much appreciated in this area!
After much chatting I gave Bill the last of my cold tablets – I’m over it!
And so to bed after packing for tomorrow’s trip to the Secret Valley. We have to leave most luggage behind as you can only take a 5kg bag on the train as we head to the township closest to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes – hot water).