Thursday, June 11, 2009

Conquering Machu Picchu

(Cusco - Machu Picchu - Sicuani, Peru)

The night before departing Cusco for Machu Picchu we wandered into the main Plaza in search of a restaurant and were treated to an impressive firework display on the Cathedral steps. A band was loudly trumpeting Andean music as a team of drunken ¨technicians¨ carried 4 enormous firework laden bamboo structures out onto the steps and set them ablaze. It was quite a spectacle to behold, sparks and flaming pieces of bamboo showering the crowd in what surely would not have been permitted in such a responsible country as the USA. Booooo!
At one point Grace screamed, ¨lookout!¨ as one of the towers began to collapse just behind me, and with the reflexes of a frightened possum I screamed like a girl and ran for cover. No harm was done, and the locals had a good laugh.
Afterwards we enjoyed a couple tasty beverages and an incredible shepherd's pie at Paddys Pub just off the square. A bit spendy, but in our opinion, well worth it.

The following day took us over the hill from Cusco to the tiny Incan village of Pisac where we were lucky to visit on a Sunday which is market day. We wandered along the cobblestone streets and through the colorful bamboo stalls for a couple of hours and picked up a few souvenirs, which I´m sure Grace can´t wait to share with you all, and then enjoyed a wonderful food cart lunch of chicken, stuffed peppers and pasta for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 dollars.
From there we headed to Ollantaytambo where we intended to stay the night. On a tip from Grace´s Auntie Palma, we stopped in at El Albergue Hotel to say hi to a distant acquaintance and what a fantastic stop this turned out to be. The incredibly generous hotel manager and son of the owner, Juaquin, invited us to stay, not at the hotel, but in his home, free of charge. He also joined us for dinner and filled us in on a lot of the local flavor, as well as let us play with his awesome doggies. A couple Pisco Sours, a bottle of wine, an incredible Alpaca steak and homemade Asparagus soup for dinner and we called it a night.
Thanks again Juaquin!

Getting to Machu Picchu on the cheap!
It costs $100 per person for a round trip train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu. From Ollantytambo, the half way point to which you can drive, the round trip train ticket costs $62 per person. This is in addition to the $40 per person entrance fee into the actual ruins that you pay once you arrive. Not surprisingly things can get pretty expensive and that´s why we decided to save some dough and have a little adventure.
It turns out that it´s actually possible in 4 1/2 hours to drive from Ollantaytambo, over the hill and around the bend to the tiny village of Santa Theresa. From there it´s a mere 2 1/2 hour hike down a set of active train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.
The trip is fantastic and I recommend it for anyone with the means. Unfortunately for us, after a somewhat heavy night of drinking (not really, but considering we are averaging a beer a week, it doesn´t take much) and a long motorcycle ride, by the time we stumbled into Aguas Calientes we were seriously pooped and Grace was NOT feeling well. It took an hour longer than our return trip, and it was dark by the time we arrived. We were welcomed by the twinkle of thousands of lightning bugs as we finished. We stayed in the fantastic Hostal Chokra and set our watches for an early wake up call. Grace didn´t get much sleep that night.

It´s hard to put into words our experience at the Ruins of Machu Picchu so I´ll let the photos do most of the talking. We were in line for the bus at 5am and passed through the entrance gate to the Ruins within an hour, plenty of time to see the sun crest the nearby peaks and light up the ancient city. The day began with the city shrouded in a thick and fast moving fog, but as the hours passed the sky cleared and the air became warm and comfortable. Due to Grace´s low energy we decided not to summit Wuayna Picchu and instead enjoyed a full 4 1/2 hours of wandering about the stones and listening to random tour guides explain the details. We were back at the hostal by Noon and ready for a nap. We stayed the night and headed out in the morning, once again along the train tracks. It wasn´t easy, but we had conquered Machu Picchu and it was spectacular!

We re-traced our route back to Ollantaytambo and then on to Cusco, a full 10 hours of travel. It was at lunch that day on the side of the highway that I met the pepper that nearly ended my life. You should understand that I´m not in the habit of biting into Serrano or HabaƱero peppers and so am not accustomed to the body's reaction to this type of event, but when I picked up what I thought was a seemingly harmless appetizer and sunk my teeth in I swear I almost threw up out of fear that the feeling wouldn´t pass. The pepper had been spat, drink had been drunk, and the burn went on for what seemed like an eternity. Grace got a good laugh and some fun photos of the experience. Suffice to say I eventually got over it but it´s certainly a lesson I won´t soon forget.
On the way home we also ran into our friend Woodie who was heading in the opposite direction, on his way to Machu Picchu. We traded stories from the last time we met in Ecuador and made plans to meet again in Bolivia.
After a long day we pulled into Cusco just as darkness settled in. They had a room for us back at the Pompawasi Inn where all of our gear was stored and we got ready for a restful night. A light meal at a nearby cafe and a little ¨Anger Management¨ on the Teli and we were out cold.

Grace was still low on energy this morning, so we had a late breakfast and I cleaned out the air filter while she kicked back. We left Cusco around 12:30 with the modest goal of spending the night in Sicuani, only 2 hours away. This turned out to be surprisingly optimistic as we soon learned upon arriving at the first of many road blocks. Three years ago Matt and I spent the night on a bus on this same road due to similar road blocks. The locals in this area are apparently often upset with government actions and decide to carry massive stones out into the street and make their point by blocking traffic in both directions, generally for a period of 24 hours.
We politely parked the bike and inquired as to the cause of the discontent as well as the expected duration of the blockade. For the most part everyone was very friendly and we were allowed to pass through the first 2 blockades without delay. The next two, however, required a bit more persuasion. On both occasions Grace waited with the bike and I went and made friends. About 20 minutes of talking with a group of surprisingly drunken protesters and answering all of their questions about our adventure, we were let through. What should have been a 2 hour drive became 4 hours and we were happy to make it into town and settle into our hostal for the night. Two twin beds with a shared bathroom and no shower for $5. What a steal.
We later learned that, as a rule, motorcycles are allowed to pass without delay, yet another reason to travel on 2 wheels.

**Grace´s Note:
I would just like to thank Adam for trying to be gentle in regards to my general state of being over these last few days. I can´t recall ever feeling so sick and yet accomplishing so much (3 hours of railroads, 5 hours on Machu Picchu, 2 1/2 hours back on the railroads). He´s been a great nurse, and let me sleep this morning while he cleaned the air filter. The night before Machu Picchu I was literally awake every 45 minutes or so till 4:30a when we woke up to head out. Monty´s Revenge, indeed.


FYI: All future photos will be loaded into a new Picasa Web Album, Two for the Road Two. This means that if you want to view any earlier photos you need click on the link for Album #1 at the top left hand side of the blog :-)


  1. Boy, those photos sure take me back... wish we were there with you. Kyle, lily, kat, michael and I were all there 8 yrs ago now!!! MMMMm cuy, stick one of those cute little suckers in your bag for me too. :)

  2. Great stories, they are definetely bring back good memories of my time in Peru That is an awesome way to get to Machu Pichu, way to be creative. I finally figured out how to post on this thing after just reading for the last 4 months. I love the story about Adam and the pepper becasue we know he can't handle spicy food.