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Walking the sacred city

Jun 6th 2010
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My visit to Cusco—pretty much as anyone else’s—was aimed to the visit to the lost town of Machu Picchu. As stated in many guide books, this can be the highlight of a trip to Peru. For me it was more like a challenge, as it was hard to me to reach the place.

It all started with the whole Machu Picchu experience being extremely expensive, especially compared to Perú cost-of-life. I decided to go somewhere in between the ultra-cheap-hardcore-backpackers and the full-comfort-gringo-style: I went for the bus + bus + car + walking on my way up, and coming down by train + bus.

The first step was buying a train ticket for the return trip, as they got sold fast. That was easy and kinda cheap, I got a 31 $ ticket. But just the night before the trip I got sick—because of my habit of eating lots of street-food, I have it since India! So I had to go to the train station to have it changed for the next day: that costed me the 10 % plus other 15 $ because I could not find the same-class ticket. Still not that bad, though.

The second try went better: woke up at 5 am, then taxi to the bus terminal ((Well, the taxi driver did not know where it was and dropped me five blocks away, but a nice cholita managed to tell him the new location :-) )), a quick breakfast with egg-sandwich—eeew!—then hop in the bus. Here I met other six gringos who were going the same way. Our bus left 45 minutes left, but this is South America, after all!

We spent around three or more hours on a wooden-seat bus along incredibly rough roads, climbing more than 1000 m from Cusco. Then, in Santa María, we changed transport for a mini-van (called combi) for another hour and an half up to Santa Teresa, and from there we hired a car driver to the hidroeléctrica. We went all eight in the car. Here the road was even rougher, llama-suited, with huge rocks hitting the bottom of the car all of the time. I wonder if the driver on his way back was stopping to pick up the pieces of his car lost during the climbing!

You have to know that we were in a hurry because the last part of the trip was an unspecified-length ((Some agencies say up to five hours, the locals say one hour.)) walk along the railway, and we had to reach Aguas Calientes before sunset. We eventually reached the hidroeléctrica at 3:30 pm, still without eating. We bought some bread and water on the shops lined along the railway, and we started the walk. It was a beautiful one, in the middle of the forest, across rivers and breath-taking landscapes. We waited for the train to pass us by, and we arrived to the city in two and an half hours, a little while after the sunset. We had to use flash-lights for tunnel-crossing, but all went well.

The same is not true for the next day: the plan was climbing the mountain on top of which seats Machu Picchu early in the morning, and seeing the sunrise from there.

We met up at 4  outside the hostel, and we started the walk in the pitch-dark night. At 4:25 it started to rain, and it did not stop. After half an hour two from our group and me, soaking wet and constantly slipping in the muddy road, we decided to turn back and head for the bus stop. There the queue was astonishingly long, but the bus driver showed us a short-cut: the good old backshees! We gave money to him and he put us in front of the line. This is how things work here ((By the way, we went to the second position in the queue, because another group of tourists paid him before :-) )).

On the top it had just stopped raining, but the weather was foggy and cold. No sunrise today. The entrance to the sacred city of the Inca was really suggestive: we were walking in the mist, with the huge complex appearing little by little, dotted with llamas and other tourists. More photos are here.

Roughly 600 years have passed since the last Quechua walked these paths, but the place still has a mystical allure, one can still feel the magic and the sacred of this city, especially if you can manage to stay for a while away from the herds of loud tourists.



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