11 04 2010

There are certain times on this trip where I’ve surprised myself by finding out new things about myself that I never knew before. One of those is that, despite my previous sedentary lifestyle and my current debauched habits, I’m actually relatively fit. When I walked up Kilimanjaro last year, after visiting the gym for the first (and last at the moment) time ever for 2 weeks beforehand, I don’t think I could have imagined that 5 months later I’d be running around Machu Picchu.

We set off at 7am from the hostel with just the four of us (Declan, Alex, Jess and myself) – Ceire was feeling a bit blocked up and decided that she’d catch the bus up and meet us there later. Once again I led the group up the hill and, although I was a bit out-of-breath, I found it relatively easy. I felt quite invigorated when we got there – perhaps I had one of those endorphin rushes that you get after exercising or maybe it was just that I’d had a good night’s sleep. We made it up there in about an hour and a half, although we had to wait quite a while for Declan to catch us up at the main gate.

Whilst we waited for Ceire to get the bus up we went and got some drinks and were absolutely blown away by the astronomical prices. It was 13 soles (4.5US$) for a Coke which is absolute daylight robbery compared to the local norm. Ceire arrived a bit before 9 and we headed on in.

Although the first views of the ancient citadel would not compare with later ones – the angle is wrong and at that time in the morning the cloud still occasionally obscures the view – I remember being absolutely gob-smacked when I caught my first sight of the city. It is truly wondrous feeling finally seeing this 600 year-old monument that was hidden from the greater world for so long.

We headed on up the hill and, since we still had the whole day to explore the city, we actually headed away from it towards the sun gate and up the steep Montaña Machu. There were quite a few good views of the ruins with the mountain Huayna Pichu in the background as we went along. After a few waits for people to catch up, we heard Ceire shouting up the path to Jess that she was giving up and after waiting a few more moments to see if Jess would carry on or go back with Ceire, I decided to carry on up and see if there was anything worth seeing up the mountain. I left Declan and Alex on the trail and literally sprinted up the steps towards the top: a few moments later I regretted this sudden burst of energy when I got really out-of-breath; but I moderated my speed to a more sensible tempo and kept trudging up.

Views of Machu Picchu from Machu Mountain

Eventually I decided that there wasn’t going to be really much of interest up the mountain – there were no Inca ruins there and the path was moving further away from the ancient city – so I headed back down, having only gone three-quarters of the way up. This time I ran down like a mountain goat – skipping between the rocks – until I caught up with Alex and Declan. I then continued to run the rest of the way down the hill with Alex in tow until I got back to the main path. Declan took the more normal walking pace back down.

At the bottom we met up with the girls again and, after taking a few shots of us jumping in front of Machu Picchu, Alex and I decided that we’d head on over to Huayna Picchu and scale that mountain there. I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t get in – you were allegedly supposed to register before 7am to get a special ticket to go up there – but we had no problems whatsoever. Once again I was determined to set a cracking pace and we strode up the steep hill quite quickly. We got to the top in around 20 minutes (the sign at the gate had said an hour but I think that was round trip) and took a few great aerial shots of the ruins.

Ceire and Jess jumping in front of Machu Picchu

We started to head down and I saw a sign to the Big Cave towards the back of the path so we decided to carry on walking that way and do the whole circuit. The path down was often really steep and precarious – sometimes there were no steps and you were stepping over slippery tree roots, other times there were enormous wooden ladders that you had to climb down and one set of stairs leant away from the wall towards the precipice below; I was glad there was a rope to hang onto as well.

The caves when we got to them were quite disappointing – it scarcely seemed worthwhile – and then we began the long ascent back round. I assumed that the path quickly converged with the path where we’d originally headed off up to Huayna Picchu but it took forever to get there. The way was really steep – although it was probably no worse than Colca Canyon and at least the footing was better – and I thought it would never end. At one point we started going downhill again and I thought that was the hard bit over with but then we started on another incessant uphill stretch. By the time we finally reached the main gate again (2 hours total) we were both absolutely exhausted and just wanted to stretch out on the grass and sleep – unfortunately we couldn’t find any suitable spot so we just sat on a wall and listened to some of the tour guides talking about the ruins.

We then walked around the city itself, exploring the astronomical area amongst others. We met up with Jess and Ceire again – they’d been just wandering around the city itself (less hills); eavesdropping on the tour guides and they’d even managed to acquire a map. I decided that I had to go and visit the sun gate but Alex no longer had the energy for another ascent (albeit a mostly gentle upwards slope with few steps) so I went on my own.

I got to the top of the sun gate and wasn’t quite sure that I’d really reached it so I asked a tour guide “Is this it?” Unfortunately it was, although he did point out the end of the Inca Trail coming from Cusco. Apart from the hordes of people who would be crowding the Inca Trail I think it would be a much better way to see Machu Picchu for the first time coming down from the sun gate.

Having reached my destination I once again ran down the path, causing many other tourists to stare at me agog, until I reached the main gate. There I quickly grabbed another exorbitantly priced Coke – I needed the sugar and the liquid – and whilst I gulped it down I bumped into Declan and Alex again. I told them I was running back down and then I was off once more. On the way down, I caught up with the girls but I didn’t stop for long and ran past them hearing Jess shouting “Oh my God, where do you get the energy from?” To be honest I had absolutely no idea!

Having got back down to the village in 15 minutes flat, I then waited for another 15 minutes for the girls to catch up and we went to grab some lunch together. I had a pricey chimmichanga (30 soles) and washed it down with some much-needed (and more reasonably priced) water. We were thinking of going to the hot springs but eventually the idea of an afternoon nap was more appealing. Back at the hostel they’d finally put us all in the 4-bed dorm we’d originally booked but Declan was already sleeping in his original bed so he stayed put whilst I moved into the room with the girls.

I suppose I should give some background story on the whole Declan and Ceire story – Declan was Ceire’s boss about 3 years ago and although they only exchanged the occasional email, he decided that he’d join her on her South America trip. Somehow he got a notion in his head that this would be a whirlwind romantic encounter – although Ceire had never ever given any indication that she had the slightest interest in him that way – and he’d got very upset when Ceire hooked up with someone the other night. This, of course, led to lots of tension and since he spent most of his time sulking and rarely engaged in conversation with the rest of us it was a nice atmosphere!

After our nap we headed to one of the local restaurants which did an all day happy hour – although 4 small beers for 20 soles (they’re 6 each normally) isn’t exactly the bargain of the century. I got a cordon bleu de pollo which was really tasty, although again overpriced compared to Cusco, and had a good banter with the girls and occasionally with Alex. I think Declan barely spoke the whole time and eventually he threw some money down on the table and headed off. After we’d finished our last drinks we headed back to the hostel for the night.