Up to Machu Picchu

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Mon 13 Oct 2014 17:35
Aguas Calientes is a hectic, ramshackle place of mostly hotels, cafes and souvenir shops.  Life revolves around the train and bus stations.  We were warned that it can be very noisy and were not expecting much, but ended up in a surprisingly quiet hotel - even though it overlooked a building site.  Finding somewhere nice to eat was another challenge so we took the safe option of booking into the nearby (posh) Inkaterra hotel cafe.  There was a delay when we arrived as the head waiter didn't want to let us in but we stood our ground and prevailed.  The food and pisco sours were excellent so we kept going back.

When the goods train arrives the streets of Aguas Calientes fill with precariously balanced barrows

Supervising is obviously a man's role

We had two whole days to explore Machu Picchu - a luxury compared to most of the tours that only allow a few hours.  This meant we could avoid the morning rush and catch the (rather expensive, but we didn't feel like walking) bus up the mountain after brunch.  The 30 minute drive along the narrow dirt road that zig-zags up the mountain is an experience in itself.  The bus drivers do a good job avoiding one another and the road repairers also seem to have an endless job filling in the potholes and damage from the regular afternoon rain.  It's only when you get close to the entrance that you catch first sight of the Inca ruins: a "wonder" of the modern world, fascinating and still mysterious. 

As soon as you get in (bottom right in this pic), every way is up!

At mid-day the site was teeming with people so we chose to walk east to the mountain pass called the Sun Gate, where trekkers on the five-day Inca trail - fit folk who maybe can't afford the train - get their first glimpse.  Billed as an hour's walk in our guide book, it took us at least 90 minutes so we were back at the main site by mid-afternoon.  It was a fairly gentle climb and a good introduction to Inca trails, which include lots of steps and are hard on the feet. 

Going up

Inti Punku - The Sun Gate - is the pass on the Eastern approach (the Inca Trail), at  2,720m altitude

view from IntiPunku, showing most of the bus route up from the river

On the way back we paused from time to time to rest our knees (and to admire the view of Machu Picchu)

another 'knee break', and relief as we reached the well trodden paths around the site

By the time we got back the crowds had eased and it was starting to drizzle so we were able to explore the ruins at a leisurely pace until clearing out time at 5pm.  The site is undoutedly special for it's position and the engineering skills deployed.  It remains mysterious because so little is known about what it was used for.  The Incas appear so skillful in some respects but backward in others.  Why did they not develop a written form of their language, Quechua?

By mid afternoon we had the observatory to ourselves!   

Camelids graze in the central area

In the Western Aricultural Area the Incas' mastery of civil engineering, as well as masonry, can be seen

We didn't let a spot of rain dampen our spirits

For the next day we planned an early(ier) start and a climb to get some more exercise (and better views).