Friday, August 21, 2009
6:15 Sunday morning and our very sweet driver, Mr. Edwin, was patiently waiting for us all to make it upstairs. The two small flights of stairs in our hotel up to the lobby literally seemed like a mountain to me each time I took them. Even as you feel you’re adjusting to the altitude you do something stupid like take a flight of stairs at a normal pace and find yourself at the top clutching your chest and screaming “I’m coming Elizabeth! I’m coming!”.
You have two choices of trains to Machu Picchu. One is the backpacker train and the other first class train is called the “Vistadome”, which alludes to its skylights in the cars. If you know me, you know I can smell a dirty hippy from at least a mile away so when discussing I was all for the first class train. And yes, I am well aware that backpackers and hippies are not always one in the same but I didn’t want to take my chances.
It turns out that the first class train offers little more than a small table in-between the seats and one pitiful excuse for a snack for the 3 hour ride. Although it is very warm in the day, the nights and morning are extremely cold, like just above freezing, so you can imagine my dismay to find that there was no heat on the train. I’m not sure what is “first class” about that but if they thought the thin little blanket made up for it they were mistaken. Needless to say I was miserably cold in my capri pants so after our table was cleared I laid my head down and napped for the majority of the ride.
When I awoke I found we had left the valley farmlands and arrived in the jungle. It was a lovely ride and thankfully the sun had come up and was slightly warming the train car. The train arrives in Agua Caliente, a small town below Machu Picchu. From there you take a 25 minute bus ride up, up and up the mountain. The views were breathtaking and when we spotted Machu Picchu for the first time I have to say my heart skipped a beat.
Visiting Machu Picchu was one of the places we wanted to see most in the world. A lost Incan city found high in the jungle and shrouded in mystic. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Our guide, Franklin, met us as we stepped off the bus and after shedding some layers and slathering on some sunscreen we made our way to the site. Okay, after everyone else slathered on sunscreen. I was so desperate for some color I decided to forego the protection. Stupid? Yes, and I paid a dear price. The sunburn and subsequent peeling is bad enough but I will be fighting this ridiculous bib tan line for months to come.
Believed to have been built during the height of the Incan Empire in the early 15th century there are a lot of theories about the uses of the site. It seems the prevailing is that it was an estate of the then ruling Inca king. The site was largely unknown until an American historian, Hiram Bingham, was brought there by some locals in 1911.
Machu Picchu is one of those places where you cannot begin to understand its grandeur until you are standing there in front of it. The beauty of the city itself is nothing in comparison to its location...
We spent two hours with our guide and had another hour or so to enjoy the views ourselves before heading back down to Agua Caliente.
I don’t think any of us were looking forward to another three hour train ride back to Cusco. Of course this was because we had no idea what was in store for us. About halfway through the trip Julie was napping and out of nowhere this loud flute music begins to play. I look over and we’re all thinking “what is this?” and two seconds later this guy comes running out…
He was running around dancing, doing this weird trilling sound and rubbing his stuffed llama on everyone’s face and neck. Um, yeah…we have no idea but, I think Julie’s face says it all…
After he was done an announcement came on telling us that we were going to have a fashion show. Um, yeah, still no idea. The music then changed to loud techno and low and behold our attendant had taken her hair down, put on some lipstick and was cat-walking down the aisle in a sweater. They even had our male attendant modeling some of the local wool creations. They were both pretty funny strutting their stuff for the people they had just served drinks. The guy was the best though, when Julie reached out to feel the material of his sweater he leaned in, gave a bicep flex and said in a low, sultry voice “baby alpaca”. This is the term for the wool from the very first shearing of the animal- very soft and very pricey. Anyway, everyone was clapping, whistling and yelling for them…it was so strange but it did make the time go by quickly and was good for many, many laughs.
We all got freshened up and went out to dinner together for our last night in Cusco. Even with 4 days it didn’t seem enough for the trip. Peru is one of those places where you can’t help but be completely captivated with the beauty of the people, the culture and the country itself. It's one of those places where you can’t stop yourself from saying “I could so live here”.
We’ll be enjoying our last weekend of the round in Buenos Aires. We need to get in all the leather, steak, dulce de leche, and tango we can handle because in 6 short days we’re hopping on the plane bound for home!