Despite my travel-day jitters, all my flights went just fine, so I landed in Lima, Peru and met up with my friend Emily at the airport just as planned. We only spent about six hours total in Lima, most of them either asleep or filled with giddiness, so I have only this picture of Lima as proof we were there, which I took on the way back to the airport the following morning. We boarded another flight and headed to Cusco, where we stayed for two days getting acclimated to the high altitude (thanks, in part to the magical coca de mate tea). We also, as I wrote before, naively embarked on hike from hell #1 (pictured below), where I claimed my first victory of the trip against RA.
Then, it was off to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. We had decided not to hike the Inca trail when we originally planned the trip and instead took the train. (I may be fierce, but I'm not masochistic). Only thing was, in order to get the train, we had to first hire a taxi to take us to another town, Ollantaytambo, which was about an hour and a half away, where we would then board the train to Aguas Calientes. (In New York, you could never just hire a taxi off the street to take you to a city an hour and a half away, but in Cusco, this is apparently no big thing. Good to know).
Once we finally arrived in Aguas Calientes, we marched ourselves up to the hot baths directly and enjoyed some cocktails while gazing up at the beautiful mountains all around us. The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to head up to Machu Picchu only to discover that it was pouring down rain. As in cats and dogs rain. Hmmmm.
Now, the city-gal in me may not always dress appropriately in bad weather, but intrepid-traveler me had come prepared. I slithered (ok, stretched, pulled and strategically maneuvered) into my lovely spandex long underwear (I will spare you the actual picture), waterproof/sunproof hiking pants, waterproof parka (with hood) and waterproof hiking shoes, wolfed down some breakfast, and then Em and I joined a couple of hundred other crazy intrepid-travelers already gathered to catch the first few buses up to Machu Picchu. It was 5am.
*Note to those who want to see the sunrise at Machu Picchu: We had intended to get up there in time to see the sunrise and have our magical moment, but unless you manage to get on the very first bus, which means getting in line at about 4.30am, or maybe even earlier, you won't get on the first bus, which means you won't make it up in time. Don't worry-the place has so much magic oozing out of it that you are pretty much guaranteed a moment of true awe, sunrise or not.
By the time we waited in line and got onto a bus, it was approaching 6am and the sun was just beginning to come up. I have to say there was something pretty incredible about starting at the bottom of the mountain in near total darkness, unable to see anything around you, and then having everything around slowly revealed as we traveled up the winding road to the very top. Talk about enlightenment.
It was breathtaking. There was fog everywhere, the kind that moves quickly and completely covers you, only to be shed moments later, uncovering one of the most magnificent sights I've ever seen. The weather may have made things a little uncomfortable, but seeing Machu Picchu shrouded in that mystical fog created a sense of amazement and mystery. I was spellbound.
We spent the morning taking a guided tour of the old Inca site, which I would highly recommend so that you actually know what you are looking at. The tour took about two and a half hours all in all, and was well worth it. By the time it finished, the sun had risen higher and burned off most of the fog. Em and I decided not to tempt fate and hike Wayna Picchu, the big mountain that stands behind Machu Picchu. Given all the fog and mud, it seemed a pretty formidable hike to begin with, and after hearing from our guide that people have literally died on it, it didn't feel like something we needed to do to have a complete Machu Picchu experience. Instead, we climbed up higher to some of the terraces that overlook the main site, then hiked a good hour around the back of a mountain to see an Inca Bridge.
After all of this, we were pretty knackered, so we sat down on one of the terraces and tried to soak it all in. Nothing as big and tremendous as Machu Picchu can ever really be captured by a lens. Part of the beauty and amazement came from seeing this magical place tucked away and surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks as far as the eye could see, and that can never be fit into a photograph. Nonetheless, I tried:
We spent a good six or so hours at Machu Picchu before taking the winding bus-o-death back down the mountain (zero guard rails, but plenty of confrontations with other buses on a road the width of my studio apartment in Manhattan. 'nough said.) to Aguas Calientes. We had a leisurely lunch before packing up and taking the train/taxi back to Cusco, where the next part of our trip was about to begin.
Next up: 9 hour bus rides, Lake Titicaca, floating islands made of reeds, and Innocensia and the hike from hell #2 (and number 3).
PS: Wondering where the RA is in this post? That would be NOWHERE, because it wasn't really a factor at all while I was at Machu Picchu! Other than a few toe tantrums (which are normal) and me being cautious about my energy levels, it didn't play a part, and it certainly didn't stop me from doing anything that day that I wanted to do.
Me vs RA on the trip of a lifetime score count: 2 and 0