36 hours of Inca adventures begins now!
Wake up at 2:43. Lucky since I’d set my alarm wrong. Toe wiggle the guys to consciousness. Quietly grab the day pack, bundle up, and venture into the chilly dark of early morning.
Outside waiting for the bus, an English girl pulls up in a taxi. “Excuse me, where are you from?”. Canada. “Do you know where any underground night clubs are, sorry I’m very drunk”. We don’t really. She’s gonna get into trouble tonight.
The bus is one of those van/bus dealies. It rides around town picking more ppl up. When we’re done things are pretty cozy with an eclectic posse consisting of: a Peruvian couple with cute daughter in a long white fluffy coat, 3 Italian Mafia types with slicked back hair and leather coats (the 300 pound one sits by Drisdelle), a mountaineer type, 2 girls with Honduran passports.
The bus rattles through the streets, everyone trying to catch up on sleep, Drisdelle succeeding against his Godfather teddy bear. A couple hours in and we’re taking switchbacks down a cloud wreathed mountain into a town with a steep river running through its center. The sun isn’t over the horizon yet and most passengers miss out on this gorgeous pre-dawn descent into Urubamba.
Off the bus and directly onto the Inca rail up to Aguas Calientes. Some vendors go past on the train and I snag a deck of cards. Machu Picchu theme. Drisdelle and I begin a crazy eight countdown tournament.
Off the train in Aguas Calientes (only accessible by train btw) we meet our guide, Barbara. She immediately hands us off to a different guide named Victor whose English is better. He gives us 10 minutes to look around before hopping the bus to Machu Picchu. We get a brief look at Aguas Caliente, pretty nice, very touristy of course. We manage to get Narcopiggy and Starfy in on some Incan fun.
Off the train and onto another bus up to the main event, Machu Picchu. The site is spectacular. A large sprawling series of terraces, half constructed buildings and temples, greenery, and the mountain peak resembling an Incan face set perfectly behind. Seeing the pictures is one thing, but being able to walk around the site, learn about it, and soak in all the majestic views is well worth it. There’s a reason it’s the most visited archaeological site on the planet, and it’s nothing short if stunning.
Victor turned out to be a good guide, telling stories and giving us tidbits of info about everything. He started every single sentence with “My dear friends”, which was endearing at first but later it became hard for the three of us not to crack a smile on each repetition.
Here are some Victor Tidbits:
– Machu Picchu means Old Mountain, or Peak. The young peak, Wayanuwigalicka (sp?) Picchu is the one you see behind the city. No one knows the real name of the city. The Explorer, Bingham, who discovered the site, named it after the mountain it was built on.
– They didn’t find any weapons when excavating. Machu Picchu was not a military location. Set high in the mountains, close to the sun, their God. It is a good astrological site.
– There is a large central area for announcements. People could sit on the terraced hills like at a stadium. You can hear the echo there quiet distinctly. They also played a game like field hockey or cricket here.
– Incas absorbed the knowledge of cultures before them. Their golden age was only 100 years and they expanded rapidly in that time, using the knowledge from previous cultures to spread their own.
– While there were houses enough for only 250 or so ppl to live here, it would have taken maybe 20,000 workers to construct it. Presumably, they used Coca leaves to curb hunger in the workers to help with the human waste element.
– A spring from Machu Picchu (the mountain) is channeled all the way into the city providing some ridiculous amount of water. They still use this for the bathrooms and tourist buildings built there now.
– Only the kings were actually named Incas.
– The beer company Cusqueña filmed a beer commercial in Machu Picchu and ended up breaking a piece off of the Inca Sundial. They had to pay the country back in massive fines.
Coming down from the sundial and suddenly there are several llamas hanging around snacking on the lawn. I guess some tourism company brought them up here. Now they’re the official residents. Someone asked if you can feed them and Victor replied that they like bananas. From behind us, in a thick Asian accent, and more excited than I can possibly express, “Ohhhh I have a banana!!!”. This Japanese girl’s whole life was just made in that moment. She was so visibly excited about this. It was adorable and at the same time hysterical. The timing. The way she said it. We were crying laughing.
After the Vic-tour we had the rest of the time to check things out on our own. How much time? 11 hours. It was only 11 in the morning and our train ticket was for 10pm.
So we took our time. First we needed a picture of us all up in Machu Picchu. A security guard helped us out with that.
We climbed higher into the city and found a good vantage point of the whole area. I decided this would be a good spot for ‘The Picture’. I’d brought a special and powerful shirt, passed on to me by a Spiritual Guru named Braden after Paisley Saturday at last year’s Coachella. I quickly switch shirts. Nice. Things are getting doucheier. What else is in my bag? A scarf, yes. Very euro. And a buff. That should do it. I was already wearing way too many bracelets. My goal was to look totally ridiculous in the typical Machu Picchu shot. Mission accomplished.
Drisdelle took the pic and MacKay refused to be involved. Probably not his style. Do they make camo paisley? New mission: find or invent camo paisley.
After the glamour shoot we walked up above the city to the Inca bridge. This was a laid stone walkway along the cliff face with great views of the valley below. The elevation had us breathing way harder than usual. There weren’t many people along the bridge, which was nice.
Still 10 hours to spare, might as well hike it up to the Inca Sun Gate and see what that’s all about. We start the slow incline up away from the site. MacKay pipes up from behind us, “Hey boys, I’m not gonna make’r”. Whaa?? “Got no juice in the tank”. Fair enough. Still not fully recovered from his Cuenca sickness he decides to find a comfy spot on a terrace and rest some time away.
Drisdelle and I hit the trail and it’s a slow, steady climb up uneven stone at elevation with the midday sun and a gaudy paisley shirt. Huffing and sweating our way along. It’s a pretty decent walk, easily doable for any hungover person in remotely good shape.
Not too far into things a guide on his way down the trail calls for everyone to clear the path. There’s a snake on the trail. Everyone pauses and gives it since breathing room. “What is it?” chimes in an American girl from the back row. “A viper”, replies the guide. “What does that mean?”. It’s a poisonous viper, sweety, stay back and don’t ruin your day. We let the viper slither past and continue along.
About halfway between the Machu Picchu site and the Sun Gate we come across some kind of temple, or maybe just a lookout over the river. Several stone pillars and a building foundation. There are a handful of groups stopped there for a rest. A few Euros have their feet slung over the edge and are having a halfway joint. There’s a fairly good view of the site from there. Drisdelle and I take it in and mosey on.
A bit more sweating and trudging and we’re there at the Sun Gate. Kurt Russell is giving autographs to some misled fans. There’s an amazing view back towards Machu Picchu. A smattering of other hikers are strewn about the stone structure which is a construct of 3 to 4 levels of terraced stonework and some pillars. We find a bare spot and dangle our legs off looking down towards Machu Picchu. Unpack some snacks and chew some energy for the hike back. Great vista, we hang for a while and then book it back down at triple the pace.
Back in Picchutown we find MacKay post-nap and mid sunburn on a terrace near the trail. Having taken in the sights and smells we decide to head back down to Aguas Calientes and kill some time there. The sun had burnt off some of the earlier haze however, and Machu Picchu was now beaming brilliantly so we took a second to get ‘The Shot’.
Get in line for the buses and spot a hiking trail back to town. Why not? We’ve got tons of time. It’s a medium steep set of Inca blocks through jungle vegetation and fluttering, colorful butterflies.
Partway down we hear a guy playing pan flute at one of the rest spots. As we walk up he stops and asks if we want Postcards. No gracias. “Do you have bus ticket? I’ll trade for those.” Sure, we’re just gonna throw them out anyways. He gives each of us a set of 6 Postcards consisting of ‘The Shot’, llamas, and cute kids. He speaks Gringlish very well and tells us to check out the hot springs with a beer when we get down to Aguas Caliente. “Chicas, Chicas, Chicas”. Will do.
We stop at a café at the bottom of the trail and across a bridge for a well earned beer. Rest the leggies. Some Swiss Frenchies come in a bit later and set up at the table next to us. Some Irish girls they’d met earlier join up with them too and the little shop is alive with stories and beers.
Finish a couple of brewskies and we’re back on our feet hoofing it along the river back into town. The vegetation and the rocks make for a pretty walk. We spot a pizza joint and go in. WiFi, we bust out the lappy for some impromptu blogging. Drisdelle drops more on the ceviche tally. We go for pizza. Our pizza is taking forever. They rip up some boxes and put them in the stone fire oven. Drisdelle’s dish comes out. Still waiting, we see the girl break up a wooden crate and throw it in. Haha pizza’s ready 2 minutes later. Not bad actually. Never had cardboard fired pizza before.
Wrestling comes on the TV. MacKay and Drisdelle are pumped. Not so secret wrestling fans it seems. Some pretty boy named Tyler Breeze fights a hippie and wins. This dude in a ‘Stay hyped’ shirt isn’t too happy about it. Rivalry. Intense stuff.
We finish up and get back to the main part of town. Past the train station and up the hill and things got pretty nice. Still touristy. Still getting harassed by every restaurant worker. Swanky swank restaurants. It’s a cool little uphill strip. We find some artsy Postcards in a neat little art gallery. (They’re coming don’t worry.)
MacKay decides it’s time for a massage. An Incan massage, of course. Whatever that means. Drisdelle and i hit the best seats in town. 2 lounge chairs on the strip we’d eyed up on our first pass. Went back down and they had just come available again. Yesssssh! We yank out the cards and launch back into the Crazy Eight Countdown tournament. We also tally up several varieties of Pisco sours. While we’re sitting there a kid flies by on a wheelbarrow.
Into game two and the Swiss Frenchies are coming up the hill with the funner of the Irish girls. “Hey, quit following us around” we yell out at them, “Ha, is it good?”, “we’re just having sours”, “well you’ve got great seats”, “it’s the real reason we’re here.”
MacKay comes back, running down the hill, “Hey you got 50 Perubucks?”. Ya, hand him one. “Such bullshit, man. Their machine doesn’t work, ATM is busted, (big stack o shit)”. Well that’s a stressful way to end a massage. Shitty. Fortunately, some happy road dogs swing by for a pet, another kid flies down the hill on a wheelbarrow, and MacKay is all smiles again.
Drisdelle and I finish up some more countdown and it’s back to the train station. Swiss Frenchies and Irish girl are going too. “You’re following us now, eh?” Haha, ya. Tit for tat.
On the train our seats suck but the back seats are open. Hoping no one comes so we can have more space to continue the epic eights countdown. We make our move. Worst that can happen is we’re kicked back to our seats.
Drisdelle and I are half cut on sours. We train walk to get more drinks. Nada. Coca tea? Yeeeah. Massive tally going there.
Chalk up a couple more victories and it’s nap time. Super long day. Gotta take a train leak first. Wobble walk to the train baño. Man this thing is cruising. The train is barreling downhill at top speed, rattling itself apart. The baño is minuscule and I’m bouncing off the walls laughing to myself at even attempting this maneuver. But I’ve got 3 gallons of Pisco sours to unload so, seat up, let’s do this. It’s like a game. One hand on the ceiling to counter my sour instability and the random jostling of the train. Nothing but net.
Back to my seat and everyone is crashed out hard from mega tour days. Not sure how they’re sleeping through the crazy shake rattle and train, but I sit down and zoonf. Out.
5 minutes later we’re off into the cold night again. A girl named Miranda is holding a sheet with names. James × 3? Yep. Let’s go. She holds the paper above her head and 30 sleepy gringo moths follow it like a flame between busses and down the street past the crumbly buildings. “We’re walking back to Cusco?”. Moth chuckles. Everyone piles in and assumes nap positions.
Bumpy ride back to Cusco, we get to the main square around 2. That was a 23 hour trip. Damn. Extreme tourismo. Sleepwalk back to Pariwana, try not to wake dorm mates, set alarm for 6 and aim for a few hours shuteye before the bus tour to Puno tomorr.. today.