Travelling always involves adapting plans as situations change. Our plans for our Machu Pichhu trip changed at the last minute due to Keira and I being sick with what we thought was 24-hour stomach bug.
Instead of taking “the back door” into Machu Picchu, which involves a long drive through the mountains to get to Santa Teresa and then to Machu Picchu, we took an easier route. We drove to Ollayantaytambo and took a 2-hour train journey to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town, which it is often referred to.
The train trip was beautiful following the river valley through the Andes Mountains.
We stayed 2 nights in Aguas Calientes so we could explore Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes has grown ten fold in size since our last visit. It is crazily busy. Tourism has escalated and now businesses are competing for the tourist dollar.
Aguas Calientes translates to “hot waters” and there are hot mineral springs in town, but after observing about 20 people sitting in a small swimming pool of water we opted not to partake. “Human soup” is not our idea of a relaxing experience.
The morning of our trip to Machu Picchu we decided to rise early to get there before all the crowds. However every other person had the same idea, and we were left waiting in a long line of about 100 people in order to get the 30 min bus up the steep road to Machu Picchu itself.
Machu Picchu is an Incan city set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It is known for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar. Some of the buildings are associated with astronomical alignments. Its exact former use remains a mystery, but there are many and varied theories.
Machu Picchu is a truly amazing archeological site in an incredible location. It is breathtaking to see and wandering through the ruins as you get a sense of how life may have been for its Inca inhabitants.
Even though there are 2000 people on average that visit the site daily, it is so well organized that it does not feel crowded. We spent about 4 hours exploring the site, by which time more tourists had arrived. We were glad we had gotten up early.
For Mike and I it was a very different experience from 18 years ago when we hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. At that time we could hike ourselves carrying our own packs, it cost about $50 USD, we had the place to ourselves with only about 10 fellow hikers and there were not so many restrictions in place. Now you have to book 6 months in advance, there are 200 hikers per day, you have to walk with a tour group paying ~600-800 USD, they provide all meals and your tent is set up for you.
The Peruvian government with the increased numbers of people has put these restrictions in place in order to have some control. We have heard from hikers that the porters and guides have to carry all garbage out and have to show at each checkpoint their garbage separated out into recyclable and non recycles items. This is a positive thing, but it has taken some of the mystic and the adventure out of the trip.
We visited a butterfly sanctuary near Aguas Calientes, which was fun adventure for Keira.
We also were able to witness the festivities of the Virgen del Carmen, which involved a parade in Aguas Calientes. The Virgen is known locally as Mamacha Carmen and is a patron saint. The festival itself consists of lots of traditional and significant dances by people in awesome costumes. Many of these dances have ingenious choreographies that portray events in Peruvian history. On the central day, (July 16th) the Virgin Carmen is carried around the town in a spectacular procession to bless those present and scare away demons (represented by the Sa'qra dancers, who position themselves on rooftops and balconies).
Unfortunately in the next few days Keira and I got sick again. The symptoms pointed to Giardia, so we took an antibiotic and seem to be fine now.
We had heard from fellow travelers that they all got sick in Peru and Bolivia. We had been avoiding sickness as we usually cook for ourselves and seldom eat out. However with Lesley and Phil here we have been staying at hostels more, don’t have kitchen access so have been eating out. Talking with some locals in Cuzco, they reported that the restaurant owners don’t have any respect for tourists so don’t take care with meal preparation.
Eighteen years ago, I got a bad cold in Cuzco and got Giardia and history repeated itself again this time. I guess some things haven’t changed.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: first aid kit- Tinidozole treatment
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- seeing Machu Picchu; Keira-seeing Machu Picchu and the butterflies; Riss- seeing Machu Picchu again
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-the girls being sick; Keira- being sick, however getting to watch movies and staying in bed all day was great; Riss- being sick
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-,nothing significant this trip- Peru is a lot of rice and potatoes; Keira- probably something sugary; Riss- nothing
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping; expensive hotel in Aguas Calientes was right by the train tracks, noisy, no hot water
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.