And I’m back. Not only am I publishing a new post, I’m also back in Bolivia. In the meantime I had a short trip north, to Peru.
From Potosi I have headed towards Uyuni, like I have announced in my previous post. The route that I chose has lead me, after 4 day, to the main road La Paz – Uyuni. Into a small town, Challapata. Here you turn left and you head south. First Uyuni, then Argentina and a few kilometres (let’s say 5 – 6 thousand) later you are on Tierra del Fuego, at the end of the World.
It’s just that I had a small errand up north. Despite almost 4 months that I have spent in Peru last year, I still haven’t visited Machu Picchu. And I cannot finish my stay in South America without visiting it’s probably most famous tourist attraction. But since I was (and again am) about 1.000 km away from it and since there is more or less only one main route leading there and back and because … Well, because I felt like it, I have decided to leave Lou here with Luis, the owner of a cheap accommodation in Challapata and to take a bus to Machu Picchu. I wouldn’t exactly call this an easier option (changing on small local bus for another, a bit bigger and then with the biggest one to Cusco – just the last part was almost 14 hours on a bus), but it certainly is a faster option. This way I will be left with some more time for Argentinian south and will still manage to reach Tierra del Fuego before the southern winter.
I have started with a rough plan, a minivan to Oruro, then a bus to La Paz and another bus to Cusco, ancient Inca capital which also serves a first base camp for at least 95% visitors to Machu Picchu. From there on, I’ll figure it out.
After the bus marathon, I was in Cusco at 6 a.m. There I found a cheap hostel and after a morning coffee and a short brake, the work has begun. Already in advance I knew that a visit to Machu Picchu should not be taken lightly. There are two main, interconnected reasons for this. Given the fact that this is one of the biggest if not the major tourist attraction of South America, everything connected to it is very touristy. And this means highly overpriced. Even before I came here I have searched the web a little. And the numbers I saw almost made me forget about the whole thing.
First there is the entrance fee which is almost 40 EUR. Then one has to get there. The train (which is the official means of transportation since there are no roads) from Cusco is probably by kilometre the most expensive train on the planet. For roughly 110km to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), second base camp, the cheapest ticket costs almost 50 EUR. This makes it almost 50 cents per kilometre. And just as much for return! And then there is accommodation in Aguas Calientes since if you want to escape the main tourist rush, it pays of to be among the first one’s there,… The numbers made my head spin, so I left the details of this part of the expedition for Cusco.
But once in Cusco, I had to face the fact that now I’m here and that I cannot postpone any more organizing the visit. I need a plan!
So I went out, making a tour of the tourist agencies which in the city centre are more abundant than trash bins. After visiting about ten of them, I had a rough picture and I surely had no more motivation to visit another one. In every one there is a seller with a cheap smile that then presents you with the most expensive option. Before you manage to stop him/her in order to ask about cheaper alternatives, you are almost without any desire to keep on. And this scenario was repeated almost 10 times. The options are more or less the same at all of them, the only difference is the price and sometimes not even that. However you still have to pick one.
Then I went in line for the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (it has to be bought in advance since they do not sell them at the entrance). At least this task is much easier. There is the official ticket office and you have to buy it there. And the price is fix, no haggling or anything like that.
Entry ticket in hand I made my way back to one agency. The one that was closest and cheapest. It is possible to reach Machu Picchu even without the train or, again official, 4-day trekking (which is obviously even more expensive than train). There is a back door which is a marathon of local buses, minivans, maybe even riding a llama. This way you can come within about 10km of Aguas Calientes (second base camp) by road. From there to the town itself is about 2 hours walking along the train tracks. The bus marathon and the llamas can be avoided by going to a tour agency and buying a seat on a direct minivan. And that is what I have done.
First part of expedition planning behind me, the second to be done in Aguas Calientes.
On the day of departure I was at the agreed upon location (in front of the agency) at the agreed upon time (7 a.m.). But I was the only one keeping up the agreement. The agency was closed and there was nobody in sight until 8 a.m. when a guy showed up. After we established that he was looking for me he took me in a taxi almost to the other side of the city where a van was waiting only for me to show up. I have climbed inside, took and empty seat and braced myself for a 6 – 7 hours ride. Our driver made it in under 6. Probably because he was convinced that he is the reincarnation of Colin McRea, judging by the way how he drove.
After two hours walking I found myself in Aguas Calientes, the most touristy town in Peru. Second phase of conquering Machu Picchu can begin. Searching for accommodation! After about an hour I have in light of my plan and budget the most optimal location. A hostel that starts to serve breakfast at 4 a.m. This is very important for the execution of the third phase which is the climb itself. If I want to avoid the hordes of tourists, then I have to aim at being among the first ones at the entrance which opens at 6 a.m. Satisfied with the execution of the second phase I treat myself a beer before heading to bed (it also makes it easier to fall asleep).
The next day phase three begins. In accordance with the plan this means getting up at 3:45 a.m., breakfast at 4, a morning visit to the toilet and at 4:40 starting from the hostel. Just before 5a.m. I join a line at the bridge. We are waiting for it to open. On the other side and almost 500 metres higher is Machu Picchu. There is about 8km of a zig-zag road leading up or not even 2km long walking trail which goes more direct and is almost all staircase. You can also take a bus, but that is almost 10 EUR one way.
At 5 a.m. the bridge opens, I cross it a 5:10. The gate at the top opens at 6 a.m. so I have to hurry. The walking trail is supposed to take about 1h, I make it just under 40 minutes. Sweating and cursing all the way, but I do not stop. I know if I stop, it will take a while to start again.
I’m not the first one at the top, but I am among the first ones. When the gates finally opens, I pick up the pace a bit and at the first possible option I take a turn away from the herd. Left and up towards a viewing point. A few more stairs, a bit of left-right and I get a view of Machu Picchu without tourists. A photo and then I look for a quiet spot (yes, this early such spots can be found). There I sit down and admire the remains of the Incas’ hidden city basking in the morning sun below. Plan successfully executed!
Up here I’m in almost complete silence. There are just two employees down there making noise with a couple of weed-whackers!
You cannot plan everything in Life. There always have to be room for surprises. Like for a beautiful sunny day, which is not so common on Machu Picchu.
With a Smile on my face, until next time!