Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Machu Picchu

So we finally made it to Machu Picchu. We couldn´t be arsed doing the Inka trail or one of its alternatives. Somehow, to my ears, the phrase "organised trek" is anathema. I don´t want anyone carrying my bags and telling me where to go; and I don´t want to head off with 30 other people.
So we opted to take the train and organise our own tickets and accomodation.
We were horrified that the shortest train journey with the cheapest fare was $30 one way! They must have been studying British Rail prices. And to make it even more infuriating all the train places were heavily booked up.
After queuing for ages at the train station in Cusco we eventually secured a "backpacker" ticket one way, and a more expensive "vistadome" fare to return. In all $77 each. On top of that our tickets to enter Machu Picchu cost $40 each.
It struck me that Peru is charging a lot more than Angkor Wat, the Pyramids, The Taj Mahal or temples in Kyoto. It is debatable whether the train fees and entrance fee represent comparative value for money.
So feeling ripped off before the journey began, we took a mini bus to the small town of Ollantaytambo. A fantastically picturesque place which has been continously inhabited for 800 years. On one slope it has a famous Inka fort where the Spanish were famously defeated. You need the touristo boleto ($40) to enter. Naturally we didn´t have the ticket but managed to sneak in through an exit. We stayed the night at Ollantaytambo and scored a massive plate of chicken and chips for dinner.
The next day we took the super-expensive train to the town at the bottom of the hill where Machu Picchu is situated. Strangely enough the place is called Aguas Calientes, which means "hot water". It was a lovely place made deplorable by crass commercialism and a surfeit of Americans and tossers with walking sticks.
After a few arguments we got a tiny double room for 50 soles, got something to eat and got stoned in our room for the rest of the day.
At 3.45am the next morning we got up, dumped our rucksack on the Peruvians sleeping in the cupboard next door, and headed off for the walk up to Machu Pichu.
Needless to say many others were trekking with us in the dark up the 1,700 steps to the summit. The reason being that only the first 400 visitors to Machu Picchu can do the steep climb up the neighbouring mountain, Wanapicchu.
When we reached the top at 6am there was already a big crowd of people waiting to enter the ruins. Just before they started letting people in, buses from Aguas Calientes started arriving and a few cheeky fuckers from the buses started to push to the front of the line. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed calling these rich folks "motherfuckers". You can´t beat a bit of righteous indignation.
Once in we made it straight to the Wanapicchu office. We were numbers 48 and 49. At 7am we started the one hour trek up Wanapicchu. It was hard going. At the summit the paths and steps were slippy and had no rails stopping you plummet 100s of metres to your doom. My wife and I found a secluded spot and had a piss and a joint and took in the epic view.
By the time we got back to Machu Picchu we had been walking for hours and felt exhausted. We strolled around the ruins trying to catch snippets of information from passing tour guides. Eventually we found a beautiful terrace over a sheer drop, had another smoke and lay around in the sun.
At 1.30pm we had seen pretty much the whole site (including a detour to see the Inka bridge) and so we started to slowly descend the mountain back to Aguas Calientes. When we got there we were exhausted and filthy. In such a state we hung around until 6.30pm for our train back to Ollantaytambo. For the extra $10 for the superior "vistadome" train we got nowhere to put our pack and a sandwich.
All bad value but what is beyond doubt is that Machu Picchu is a magical (possibly spiritual) place that didn´t disappoint. It was great getting stoned there, but even without the herb, the place would´ve spellbound me. It is a massive site (the lower terraces aren´t open to the public) and despite what the tour guides claim, it´s purpose and true significance remain shrouded in mystery, like the mountains are covered in clouds.
Hiram Bingham, the yank who paid an 11 year old boy to lead him to Machu Picchu in 1911 and thus became "the discoverer" of the World Heritage site stole several artifacts from the area, and to this day Yale University refuses to give them back. Which just goes to show that from the very beginning of the history of foreigners visiting Machu Picchu people have been on the make.
Wanapicchu (the mountain that looms over Machu Pichu)

View of Machu Picchu from Wanapicchu

Behind the Watch Guard´s House

Llama drinking from the fountain