Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Machu Pichu (and cautionary tales)

This weekend has been on the horizon for some time and by now I had a firm plan. The very first part of the journey was by taxi to the bus station for a bus to Urumbamba. The driver took me by a long route and charged me 3 rather than 2 soles but I couldn't be bothered to argue for the difference of 15p.

The bus journey was fine and I chatted to a tourism student who had just begun to learn English. At Urumbamba I changed to a colectivo (dormobile) for the 1 sol drive to Ollaytaytambo. This turned out to be a great little village with a nice square and some fantastic ruins etched into the surrounding mountains. I was enticed into a cafe by a young Scottish mother and her 2 year old daughter (Nina) who was becoming bilingual in 3 languages, not including Scottish. As and aside I have a good link to some podcasts about bilingual children at . I was I was introduced to Nina's grand parents, a retired couple, GP and Child Psychiatrist and we chatted about changes in UK heath care.

A little later I caught the train to Agua Calientes – it was full of backpacker and I read my book.

Agua Calientes is a horrible tourist trap full of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. I tried a hotel recommended in lonely planet and they wanted $100 for the night. Since it was 10pm and I aimed to get up at 5am this didn't seem sensible. A little ways on a man asked me if I needed a room and I looked it over. He was charging $20 but I found later that the shower didn't work, there was no hot water and the bed was rock hard. To add insult it managed to escape my attention that in converting dollars to Soles he had doubled the price!

I awoke to the sound of pouring rain but with some resolve made my way to the trail up towards Machu Pichu. Almost everybody else was taking the bus but I latched on to an amiable group of US backpackers and we climbed the 1 ¼ hours to the top. Even though it was a tough climb I enjoyed it but with the rain and jungle humidity I was both wet inside and out by the time we ascended to the ruins.

Sadly I arrived to be greeted by thick cloud and obscured views, but even so the ruins were impressive. Later I climbed Waynapichu to try and get a better view of the ruins and keep warm until the sun emerged - but to no avail. Eventually as I returned to the base the cloud mostly cleared and I had some great views of the impressive ruins and then walked to the Inca Bridge.

Finally on returning to Agua Calientes I sought out my hotelier and managed to shame him into giving back 40 soles which was all he had left of the 60 that he owed me. Then, after a beer I boarded my vistadome train back to Ollaytaytambo. I managed to find a great hotel, had an enjoyable meal and tried a couple of neat Piscos, retiring early and sleeping for 9 hours straight through.

The next morning I saw my Sottish family again and they drew me a map of a nice circular route along a mountain path to some ruins called Pumarca and then back to town by the valley track. This was a 4 hour hike and was very enjoyable. Finally, I got buses back to Cusco and quickly took to my bed.

I suppose that my overall opinion of Machu Pichu was that I would have enjoyed it more had I had my first sights of it with fewer tourists, but that said, in the low season I never felt too crowded and would not have wanted to have come all this way to Perú and missed it.

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