Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is he finally going to write about Machu Picchu? I think he's drunk.

Who said I was drunk?! Well, I am having fun, and I am on vacation - NOT unemployed, and only technically homeless.

Onwards! We walked into Aguas Calientes, dirty and broken like homeless chumps, and were greeting by money-grubbing British salivating over our foreign currency and souls. Just kidding!

We entered Aguas Calientes with our heads held high, and proceeded to navigate the byzantine labyrinth that is the "system" of entry to MP. Our day and a half in the jungle had only gotten us past the first level, and now we had navigate the buses and the entry tickets. The bus tickets and the entry tickets are sold in different offices on opposite sides of town, and operated by different (British?) entities, though 99% of people who go need both. (The other 1% try to subvert the system by hiking up, but who would possibly be so foolish?!) If you want to go to MP, you will need your passport, and $40 US a head. The buses will set you back another $20 a person. These numbers added up to the most expensive day since we paid for our trip across the Darien gap - and we hadn't yet found a guide. Great!

One of the $20 views on the way up
We got to the top, and we found Marco, our professional guide who could speak Quechua, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Korean and Japanese. Eat your heart out, Benjamin Franklin! We spent the afternoon touring the ruins, and, luckily for me, it made the whole ordeal worth it - Jill no longer wanted to kill me. Here are some highlights!

Geological formations held special significance for Incans; note the shape of the temple and that of the mountain behind...

Does our new camera have a "rainbow" setting? Nope, it was rainy.

This formation originally slightly resembled the two wings and head of a condor, sacred bird of the Incas. There are tool marks proving that they carved it to resemble one even more closely.

We both enjoyed the fact that it was a bit rainy; the clouds made the place that much more secluded and mysterious.
World famous Incan stonework.
Marco showed us the ins and outs of Machu Picchu, and we had a great time looking around with him. Paying his $30 fee was more than worth it, as his personal connection to the place and unique insights made the experience far greater than what it would have been otherwise. He grew up six hours further into the jungle, and said that he and his friends had found many other unexcavated Incan ruins in the area. He pointed to the ridge across the valley, and said that he and three friends had once hiked two days to the top where they discovered an Incan road, two meters wide and a meter tall of stone, like a miniature Great Wall of China extending as far as they could go in either direction. The jungle holds more Incan ruins than could ever be excavated, and every time you look around you see a rock wall poking out of a jungle mountainside.

Machu Picchu was intended to be the greatest holy city in the Incan empire, but was abandoned after only 150 years of work. Many of the buildings are unfinished, and Marco pointed out partially worked stones left where they were when the city was abandoned. The threat of the Spanish conquest cleared the city out, but because even most Incans didn't know about Machu Picchu, the Spanish never found it. With Marco's guidance we got a good sense of what Machu Picchu was and what remains, but we are left wondering what it could have been...

Machu Picchu, the back way

More Stella, more stories. I'm writing this from the safety and comfort of Mendoza, Argentina; and if I had written about our time in Bolivia you would understand the "safety and comfort" part. My bad, those will be along shortly! Anyway we got to Cusco after two wonderful days, and all of the snow-capped mountains and alapaca herds in the world had nothing on what happened next. If you're sensitive to cuteness, please avert your eyes. Here we go!


CUTENESS OVERLOAD!!!!  If I had known this was all it took, we could have pocketed the 40K and gone to the Abilene Free Fair. Live and learn.
Welcome to Cusco! 

We arrived in Cusco late in the day, and found a decent place to crash. The next day we were out for a walk in the square, and happened upon two worn-down looking motorcycle travelers - our friends Andy and Cass rode right past us as we walked. We guided them to the "Grand Hotel Machu Picchu" and they got settled in. by then it was 2:30, so we headed to the Irish Pub and started drinking. We found out about an Indian restaurant, so we headed straight there from the pub. Andy and Cass decided to take on the spicy curry challenge, and after we had all eaten our fill we walked around town for a while.
Us, Cusco, and a certificate for eating spicy Indian food in Peru
We did things that were very similar to that for the next few days, and then found out that we could save some money on getting to Machu Picchu if we rode our motorcycle 150 miles into the jungle. A very vague map of hiking trails confirmed the existence of a "road" of some description. Of course, to me, this sounded like a fabulous idea.

A bit of background - the whole MP (Machu Picchu from here on, b/c I'm cool. "b/c" means "because," btw. "btw" means "by the way") SO, the whole MP thing is a carefully orchestrated fleecing, from the outrageously expensive train tickets, all the way to the outrageously expensive bus tickets and entry tickets. Rumor has it that the British own the whole thing, and I believe that because I want to.

 BTW, Americans should get in free because everyone who saw it before Hiram Bingham thought it was a bunch of rocks on top of a mountain! It was of course, just that, but it took an American to explain how to exploit it properly. The cash has been rolling in ever since!

But I digress. We wanted to cheat the system and get in for bottom dollar, because, as Americans, that is our right everywhere in the world. Riding the British-owned train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, riding the British-owned busses to the site, and paying some British park guards (disguised as Peruvians, cheeky buggers!) would have run the average couple around $450. We figured that we could save around $300 by skipping the train from Cusco and riding the bike to a hydroelectric plant six hours out into the jungle and hiking along railroad tracks for the last 10 miles to MP. Obviously a rock solid plan.

After riding over a 14,000 foot pass and getting frozen and hailed on, we were only four hours from our goal! Due to Jill's frozen hands there are no pictures of this. It was terrible, and I felt quite stupid for suggesting it, and knew it would take more than a few lambs wearing hats to make up for this ego-driven logistical folly. Thankfully we went down hill for the next three hours and arrived in a tiny town an hour from the hydroelectric plant.

This, unfortunately, WAS the right way.
 It was quite basic, but it was getting dark, and it was as close as we could get on day one of my three day "shortcut." We heard that we could catch a train from the hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of MP - which would save us the ten mile hike. We arrived at the plant at 7:00AM sharp, as instructed, to find that all of the track-side shops were closing up. The train left at 6:40. This is how things work.

 With two local dogs by our sides, and an increasingly dissatisfied look on Jill's face, we started down the tracks like two muddy, trainless train jumpers. The hike was really nice, and despite not really feeling tops we had a good time and saw some things we wouldn't have otherwise.

Ancient Incan farming terraces nearly lost to the jungle, but structrally perfect - in the middle of NOWHERE.

Another photo of upper right portion of the above photo, showing the terraces continuing under the trees. A bit tingle-y to see when you think you're alone in the virgin jungle. Maybe someone, someday will find the train tracks we were walking on and think the same thing...
Around a corner in the tracks we found Machu Picchu. The sounds of the jungle combined with the lack of signs and fanfare made it feel more like a discovery than if we had first seen it coming around a corner on a tourist bus.

A see-through butterfly along the tracks
Along the way we saw beautiful birds, flowers, insects and more lost Incan ruins than I can count. Around 11 we walked into Aguas Calientes, and by noon we were at Machu Picchu.

The road to Machu Picchu

This post is sponsored by $2.50 Liters of Stella Artois. Enjoy!
Ok, this is Ty, and the last time we left off we were in know what I mean. Anyway, after my flight we headed straight out of Nasca (possibly dizzily weaving around a bit) and headed for Cusco. Nasca is around 1500ft elevation, and Cusco is around 11,000, so we had a bit of climbing to do in the 600 miles in between. Just outside of town we started ascending, and though the road was narrow and winding, the pavement was good. We drove past the world's tallest sand dune (according to someone) and it looked like this:
According to someone, this is quite high, and I'm inclined to agree.

We were on this road, so I didn't have time to be too impressed.
We knew we were headed up to 11,000 feet, so we were pretty confused when we hit 15,000 feet!
Hmmm.... 14,500 feet and counting...
Things leveled off around 15,000 feet, and we both breathed a very short, shallow, weazy sigh of relief.
The "Alta Plana" or "high plain"
We rode all day, and rarely dipped below 12,000 feet, not to mention the traffic...
The traffic was chaotic, but luckily it was also patchy.

And usually sparse.
After a full day on the bike we looked at the map and saw that we were around 1/3 of the way to Cusco, and our only possible stop before dark was a tiny village called Puquio, which sounded and looked a lot like "poquito" - or "little" in Spanish. We rolled into to town to find that the tourism industry had yet to discover this jewel. It was probably all the dust. We did find the only hotel in town, and it had parking, so we settled in and took in the sights.
It wasn't scenic, but it was a perfectly nice town.
Early the next morning around 10am we were off again. The road headed up again, and went back and forth so many times that we could still see the town when we had driven 18 miles up the mountain! We drove all day again, alternating between huge expanses of grass and mountain passes. The two days of riding between Nasca and Cusco would be worth the trip by themselves, and are the longest stretch of consistently pleasant and scenic riding we've ever done - and one of the few stretches I would go back and do again. A few more photos before we get to Cusco...

I promised you Machu Picchu, and we didn't even get to Cusco! Oh well, there's enough Stella and wine to get us through a couple more...hold on!