The biking was finished and it was time to become tourists – one can’t (or shouldn’t) visit Peru without visiting Machu Picchu – the famous Incan city. We opted for one of the cheaper tour options that would fit into 2 days. Day one was a 6hr mini bus drive over a very scenic 4300m pass (with muchas curvas – wouldn’t want a sensitive stomach for this one) and finishing with a very rough 1.5 hrs of unsealed, and hairy road with a driver who was rubbing his eyes and showing serious signs of weariness. We all gave a sigh of relief for having survived the drive when we got to the road end.
From the drop off we walked for 2 or so hours along a railway line that took us deep into a Fiordland like valley (flat bottomed with steep granite walls through rich jungle flora. Somewhere above us was Machu Picchu but the cloudy afternoon was not revealing the location. And the end of the walk we reached Aguas Caliente, the full on tourist town squeezed into the steep valley with pizza restaurants and 1-5 star hotels/hostels galore. What a bizarre place. Next morning we were up at 4am for breakfast and the vertical part of the pilgrimage up steep stone steps to Machu Picchu perched on a ridge 500m above the river. There is a road that most people catch a bus up but some of the younger crowd (and us) chose to walk up.
We arrived up there before sunrise and had 2 very informative hours with a guide. Machu Picchu was a place of higher learning, not a regular town (families didn’t live there) and it was built showing the highest standards of engineering and architecture and incorporating serious agricultural and religious areas. When the Incan capital of Cusco was taken over by the Spanish the Incans were one step ahead and they abandoned and cut off access to Machu Picchu and it was not rediscovered for 450 years. Not touched by the Spanish it is now invaded daily by thousands of tourists (daily max limit is 2,500).
After our tour we walked out to the Sun Gate which gave good views back to the town. Then it was back down the steps and a short train ride to the road end and the 6 hr journey back to Cusco. We were all dreading the ride back – same driver with same bad cornering techniques but a little bit more awake so we made it back to Cusco safely.
We had one day to pack up our gear in preparation for flying home – we also managed to pick up our first bug of the trip and I woke on departure day with the D’s and V’s. It passed relatively quickly and I made it through the first 2 flights. On our 7 hr lay over in Santiago Alan dropped like a fly and spent half the time in the toilets. He survived the 13hr flight to Auckland and made it home before succumbing again – ah the joys of travel…
..and isn’t it is nice to be back home again…kg’s lighter in weight, giga bytes richer in experiences.