Machu Picchu, Peru
For seven years a thought of visiting a certain place among the lush jungles of Peru kept coming back to me over and over again. I never imagined, though, that this dream of going to the ancient Inca sanctuary would mean me one day crossing the whole of South America by hitchhiking.
So, how does it feel now to have achieved my dream? Having succeeded in getting where I have wanted to get for so long?
I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me it was awesome! But then again, could it have been any otherwise? I doubt it!
Five days after my 3-day tour to Salar de Uyuni, I already arrived in Cusco, Peru, some 1500 km up north. On the first day of travelling, I was lucky enough to traverse 700 km, and then spent one of the remaining four in the Peruvian city of Arequipa charging my batteries and checking emails. The following morning just outside Arequipa a lorry stopped for me. The next day it was about to reach Cusco, and I kindly asked if I could come along. The driver agreed, and so on the 20th of August, having just arrived in Cusco, I already booked a tour for the next day to Machu Picchu.
I thought I had been given a discount – I am always eager to ask for one whenever possible – until I walked around some more and realized that every other travel agency offered the tour at the exact same price – $ 100. The only exception I came across was at a travel agency that offered the same package for only 75 dollars if one had an ISIC Student Card.
Finding a Couchsurfing host for that night didn’t bring me any results, so I opted for another option – a hostel. I knew the night would be too cold to sleep only in my sleeping bag, but finding a place to pitch up a tent didn’t seem possible. So for 15 soles (4.66 dollars) I got a bed at a cheap hostel’s dormitory room right around the corner from the main plaza. As it turned out, that night no one else was sleeping there, so I had the 6-bed room all to myself.
The next morning, having left my big rucksack at the travel agency, I boarded the minibus that would take me into the jungle. It was also possible to get there via train, but unfortunately I didn’t have spare 200 dollars for the ticket. So instead, I spent 8 hours jolting in a minibus, sometimes even on the edge of a precipice, to get there. And “there” was a parking lot at the end of the road after which we still had to walk along the railway tracks for two hours to reach Aguas Calientes – a town which can only be accessed by foot or train; no roads lead there.
A few facts about Machu Picchu. Built around the year 1450 by Incas, the city was 100 years later abandoned for unknown reasons and almost completely forgotten by everyone but some of the nearby villagers who frequented the site and even grew some crops on the city’s lands that stand 2430 m above sea level. It wasn’t until 1911 that an American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered the site and introduced it to the western society. Nowadays, this icon of the ancient Inca Civilization, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, has become one of the most visited places in South America. And rightly so.
Every human being feels that this place is sacred. Its semi-isolation from the outside world makes it unique, almost one of a kind in this ultra accessible world. This place is sacred, and as such I wish it shall remain for generations to come.
The funny thing that you soon realize upon arriving in Cusco is that every tour agency advises to get to Machu Picchu in the early hours of the day “to avoid the crowds.” In reality, the biggest crowd at the entrance is exactly then – just before the opening. I woke up at 4 AM to arrive at the entrance to the site just before the opening, which is at 5 AM, only to realize that there was already a long queue waiting before me. And, as I climbed up the steep steps of the hiking trail to Machu Picchu – it is located on top of a hill and you have to climb up there, unless, of course, you are willing to pay 12 dollars for a 15 minute bus ride – I saw, literally, hundreds of people waiting to get inside through the second, the main Entrance. But when I left the site at around 11 AM, there were considerably less people wishing to see the city. If I could have stayed another night at Aguas Calientes, I would definitely have gone to see the ancient Inca city later.
We started the tour just as the rising sun appeared from behind the mountains and soon learned, with the help of our guide, of course, that Machupicchu is in fact the name of the mountain behind the city; the Inca city itself has no name. We then proceeded with a 2-hour walk among the old ruins, ritual tables, and terraces that once produced enough food for four times the amount of the city’s residents and places where the reconstruction and ever-lasting cleaning process was taking place. As it turned out, the workers considered a regular toothbrush the most convenient tool for this important work.
The surrounding landscape was, of course, breathtaking. The mountains, steep hillsides and terraces where one wrong step means death, the view to the Urubamba River some 450 metres below and the bridge that we the day before had crossed and were due to do it again some time later that day, all so distant and small. And the lawn that, as I had read somewhere before, gets watered every morning so that it would remain this green for tourists to enjoy; the lamas lazily posing for yet another camera. Our guide’s announcements of “Kodak breaks” at every picturesque spot – and there were many of them, indeed. And, as mentioned before, the herds of tourists flashing their cameras and phones high atop their selfie-sticks, sometimes seemingly out of place, inappropriate, intrusive, damaging, just like me, a site where they do not belong.
And then I with newly met Mexican friends – well, not exactly “newly met” for we had first met on the minibus already the day before – climbed back down to the first entrance where I turned to go back to the minibus as before, by foot, but my friends made their way toward Aguas Calientes and their train. On the way there, I was taken by a sudden fancy – it was quite hot that day too – and decided to go for a quick swim in the Urubamba River. The water was cold, but refreshing.
I spent a few more days in Cusco, for I had luckily found a Couchsurfing host there. So, the following day, first having had my first ever yoga session at a local Healing Centre with some other travellers where I also had a very delicious vegan brunch, I spent two days editing pictures and writing and planning posts for the next few weeks. I was so immersed into work that almost forgot to eat properly. And I forgot to take a picture of Albert, my CS host, and his Canadian friend, a girl volunteering for an Canadian organization helping indigenous people in Cusco with advertising and selling their produced textiles.