Sunday, October 14, 2012

South America Adventures - Part 7 (Machu Picchu)

Our final day of hiking!  I don't know if the prospects of watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu or having a warm real shower was more exciting.  Speaking of excitement, there was plenty overnight.  The camp site was again on some crop terraces, but since it was more mountainous (if you could imagine since we were in the Andes), there were some major cliff drop offs right outside our tents.  One mid-40's woman was making her way to the toilets (or designated holes in the ground) in the middle of the night stepped off the path and fell 15ft down a cliff into a tree.  She was actually extremely fortunate to land in a tree since the drop continued on for another 50ft or so.  The porters and guides rigged up a make-ship harness and pulled her back up to safety.  This all happened about three tents away, so I didn't get too much sleep.  Then again our wake up call was 3:30am, so we likely were not getting a full night's sleep anyway.
Our guide wanted to make sure we had a good place in line when the trail opened to secure a vantage viewing point at the Sun Gate.  We were in line by 4:15am...and waited, in the dark till 5:30am.  While waiting, we saw the woman who fell during the night being carried to the gate.  Yes carried...on the back of a Porter.  They were going to take her the easy way downhill to the road where all of the porters go with the tents.  From there she could take the bus up to Machu Picchu.  Being the ugly American tourist (yes Dana and I were mortified, all of our work the last few days showing American's are not stuck up demanding rule breakers went down the tubes), she insisted on hiking the last few miles with the group to get the full experience.  Of course she couldn't hike because she broke or severely sprained her ankle, so the Porters had to carry her between them throne style or tied to their backs like a ginormous baby.  Mind you these trails are treacherous and uphill, so she wasn't doing these guys any favors.
We arrived at the Sun Gate and watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu.  It is true, the sun strikes a particular point on the mountain top which is also the location of their sun temple.  In my head, I thought the sun rise would be under five minutes based on the hurry up attitude the guides had.  In reality, it lasted a lot longer, and the group eventually got bored and tried to urge on the sun.
We took the trail down (whoo-hoo downhill) to crop terraces just outside of the main entrance.  The guide let us chill out there for a couple of hours while the first batch of tourists filed in.  We had most of the day there, so he said we were not in any hurry (plus it would give time for the crowds to thin and let us catch a quick nap since we were up so early).  The view was spectacular, and we started to get punch drunk taking pictures with the llamas grazing there.  Side range llamas have fleas...all of us later had bug bites all over our arms and legs (Norbert's count was 102 bites on his legs alone).  The llamas were evidently so used to tourists that they were super tame.

We also took lots of "postcard" pictures; you know, the kind where the scenery is so unreal it looks like you are posing in front of a green screen or something.  Dana and I did the obligatory "jump" picture to add to the collection (I even got in a Machu Picchu...ah life checklist mark).
When we entered the historic site, you could distinguish those who hiked there and those who took the bus.  Yeah when your parents say the hiked to Machu Picchu, they lied because if they truly did, they would look like a group of exhausted, smelly, "I've been wearing the same clothes for four days now" people.  The road the bus takes up is quiet treacherous as it has to go practically up a vertical surface with dozens of hairpin switchbacks.

We walked past the woman with the busted ankle, and she was using two Porters as crutches.  Automatic groan, but we later found out the Porters were actually pretty psyched since most of the guys have NEVER visited Machu Picchu before.  Yeah they do a dozen or so group tours a year and always have to turn off on the final day to the bus road (where they hop on a bus to take them home for a week of rest).
We toured the temples of the sun and wind, and our guide demonstrated the acoustics in a meditation room.  We had the option to hike up a second mountain peak, but the thought of another serious uphill hike didn't go over well with the group.
I will surely get struck down, but the temple of the Condor kind of looked like a vagina...seriously it did!  There was a tiny cave behind it, and it was so narrow that the width of my shoulders barely passed through.
Besides tame llamas, the wildlife also had wild chinchillas.  The sneaky little guys were everywhere if you looked hard (because they blended in so well).  One we didn't notice until it was only 5ft from us, and only the sudden movement of dashing away revealed it.

After a few hours touring the site, most of the group elected to lay down and doze till our scheduled bus pick up (no more walking for us).  Norbert (the gay Puerto Rican) and I headed off to see the Inca Bridge (and old reconstructed suspension bridge).  The hike was a lot longer than advertised (about 45min) and the path was carved on the side of a cliff (again...these Incans and their damn lack of safety concerns).  Once we got there, we found the bridge entrance boarded up and the bridge taken down.  The popular story is that some tourist fell off so they closed it as a precaution.  Norbert and I were so pissed about our fruitless detour that we resorted to flipping the bird to the bridge.  Yeah we are totally mature.

Our reward at the end of the day (besides a warm hotel shower and real bed) was a train ride back to Cusco.  The ride is so scenic through mountains and along rivers, that the wall and ceiling is glass panels.  On the train ride, I found out one of the Irish girls was #7 in the family.  Apparently her parents were so ho hum about another kid, that they let the nurse name her on day 6 (the last day to legally name a baby) and she has the same middle name as her older sister.  This is the same girl that pounded two HUGE beers at dinner.  I joined the masses and got a burger and beer at our first meal back in civilization.  So worth it!

Again with the funny signs:  do not remove your head!

This llama totally knew how I felt.

More pictures of Machu Picchu