114. Climbing the Inca Trail Part II: Machu Picchu

I felt it necessary to devote an entire post to our Machu Picchu experience.

On the last night, our group had to decide how we wanted the next day to unfold. After dinner we had a group meeting that revolved around whether or not we wanted to see the sun rise at the Sun Gate. Of course we all wanted to see it. Raul threw out two options:

1) We leave very early in the morning, 3:00am, and get in line at the checkpoint. Once we’re through we absolutely BOOK IT to the Sun Gate and watch the sun rise. If we choose this option, we may encounter larger crowds in Machu Picchu because it gets busy very early. Or,

2) We can get to the Sun Gate, wait for all of our trekkers and move directly to Machu Picchu and avoid the large crowds during our guided tour.

At this point in the night we were all absolutely exhausted. We had spent 3 days trekking. We were getting sick of each other. We knew we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near a full night’s sleep. So, an argument broke out and somehow I found myself at the centre of it. My position was that we take the second option. I argued that, given the pace with which we had proceeded on the trail the past 3 days, there was no way that we would make it in time for the sunrise. I argued that we should reach the Sun Gate, grab some photos, regroup and head straight to MP to have our guided tour. Somehow or other people interpreted my argument to mean we shouldn’t even bother to try to see the sun rise. And, I sat in our dinner tent getting yelled at by almost half our trekkers. It was horrible. I broke down in tears and went to bed. I literally threw up my hands in an attempt at conciliation but I think the damage was already done. At this point, I had no idea what we had decided on. And I didn’t fucking care.

On the fourth day we were finally going to reach Machu Picchu, and so at 3:00am we woke up and packed our things. We had “Viva El Peru” cake (really?!) for breakfast and headed for the first checkpoint into the ancient ruins. The second – and I mean the second – we entered through the checkpoint, we took off like speeding bullets. It was important to hike as fast as absolutely possible in order to make the sunrise at the Sun Gate. From the outset I knew this wasn’t possible, but I was determined to be the first group at the Sun Gate to enjoy the majestic views in peace and quiet. We moved incredibly quickly and I managed to remain directly behind Raul the entire time with the entire group behind us. I think I was so enraged by the previous night’s events that I was determined to get to the Sun Gate in time for the sunrise and prove to the group that I wasn’t arguing against it at all. I was correct in my assumption though: We missed the sunrise by about 20 minutes. Despite that, I was literally unstoppable on this last stretch of the hike.

And then there were the Gringo Killers. The absolute last step before hitting the Sun Gate is the most difficult. You must climb about 20ft of steps that are essentially as straight as a wall. You must use your entire body to hoist yourself up. All limbs are required for this climb. Everything in my body burned by the time I reached the top. I was red in the face, sweaty and wheezing. But, once you’re there – that’s it! To me, this was probably the most amazing part of the day. It was better than Machu Picchu itself. Our entire group eventually made it and we sat and stared down at a cloud of mist. We couldn’t actually see MP at first, but the cloud dissipated literally out of nowhere and the ancient ruins of MP just appeared.

Honestly, it was fucking spectacular. Go to MP right now. Just stop what you are doing and go book a trip to MP. I’ll wait.

Mountain Mist

Mountain Mist

Burial ground of an Incan Princess

Burial ground of an Incan Princess

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Almost there!

Almost there!

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Classic MP shot

Classic MP shot

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Water damage has caused some of the ruins to sink.

Water damage has caused some of the ruins to sink.

 

The thing I find funny about Bucket Lists is that often I put down an item and when I get to cross it off, the item itself is very rarely my favourite memory. Getting to MP felt phenomenal. I had never worked so damn hard for anything in my life as I did for this (at least physically). I was so proud and I loved that feeling that I always get when I’m in a place that has history literally oozing out of its walls. But it’s the most forgettable part of my trip. And perhaps this is why:

Let’s back track a bit shall we? We hired our porters to handle our bags while we hiked the trek. On the last day, they went from camp down to Aguas Calientes – the famous hot springs town at the foot of the mountain atop which MP sits. Also, we had cake for breakfast. Also, it’s M-fucking-P and like a gazillion people are there each day.

Okay, so, after our guided tour through MP we were given some free time. We had to meet at Aguas Calientes at 2pm sharp to collect our bags and get our train tickets from Raul so we could get back to Cuzco. When our tour ended it was approximately 12 noon. So, given that we hadn’t had anything remotely substantial to eat we headed directly for the food stands at the opposite side of MP. After eating – which took quite a while because of the lunch rush – P & I had exactly 30 minutes to check out MP for ourselves. We had hiked 4 days to get here and we had barely enough time to really enjoy MP at all. It was also crazy busy and so moving around quickly or trying to get to any popular place was a bit difficult. We did manage to see a bit more of the ruins before we had to head out. This was hugely disappointing to P & I. We paid our bus fair and hopped on our bus to Aguas Calientes. The ride down the mountain by bus was absolutely terrifying: you are traveling down the side of a mountain on a single-lane road that zigzags so sharply that bus drivers cannot see if there is another bus coming around the bend. And, as I already experienced – Peruvian drivers do not slow down for anything. It was full speed ahead down the side of the mountain and the bus would come to a screeching halt any time there was an approaching bus. Yikes.

Batshit Crazy single lane road for buses to travel to and from MP

Batshit Crazy single lane road for buses to travel to and from MP

P & I met up with Raul and the rest of the group at the designated restaurant and Raul treated the group to a Pisco Sour. I did not think that alcohol would sit right with me so I opted for water. At this point, Raul handed out everybody’s train tickets – but our train didn’t leave until 9pm that evening. We were not prepared for this (it was only 4pm) and had absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do for 5 hours. We also had our huge backpacks with us now and that further complicated things. We asked Raul if there was a possibility to change train tickets to the train leaving at 5pm and in the most rude and insensitive way he told P “you got what I gave you. There is only one company that gives out train tickets and they fill up every train. There will be no more spots available on the 5pm train.” P is a very savvy traveler and decided to walk across the street to the actual train station to see for himself.

Yes, of course there were extra seats available, he was told. After reporting this back to Raul, and having a brief conversation where Raul refused to believe P, Raul finally said, “Fine. I don’t believe you I want to come over to the train station because you are lying to me.”

Off they went. I decided to stay at the restaurant where I – in another one of my most proud moments – sat in a corner by a window and bawled my eyes out. I was exhausted, I was disappointed, I felt like my admission money to MP was wasted, and I was frustrated that we couldn’t get on the 5pm train like we were told. When they returned, P was angrier than I’ve ever seen him (This is saying a lot – he is seriously the most level headed, calm and rational person I’ve EVER met.) He told me what had happened:

  • No, we couldn’t switch our tickets to the 5pm train because the company requires 24-hour notice to do so.
  • Raul had a huge grin on his face the entire time they were in the train station and this infuriated P.
  • Finally, Raul had insulted me. That was the straw for P. According to Raul, I am a “spoiled North American girl who expects everything” and I “did nothing but complain the entire trek.”

YES I am a spoiled North American (by all standards) however as an avid traveler, as somebody who considers themselves to be culturally sensitive, to be extremely grateful for any chance to experience new things, and as somebody who was more sick than she’s ever been – I have to respectfully disagree.

Readers, by all accounts, I’m sure you are saying to yourselves, “She is telling the story to make herself look good” or “There must be some truth to what Raul was saying.”

Maybe I am and maybe there was.

But, let me be completely honest with you: I did not utter a single word of complaint the entire trip. Not one. At least not to Raul & the other trekkers. Yes, in our tent I complained about the shit that was smeared all over the washroom walls, I complained about how I felt faint a lot of the time, I complained about the fact that the porters cooked too much vegetarian food and I felt bad that I couldn’t eat it all. Raul never heard one word of this.

In swooped our knight in shining armor: H. P & I literally had no place to go and H was staying in a swanky hotel in Aguas Calientes for the evening. H offered up his room to us for the remainder of the afternoon so we could rest up, shower if we wanted to, and just have a place to unwind. My God – H – if you’re reading this: we couldn’t have been more grateful to you. P & I sat in the hotel room and cried a lot. And then once we had cried so much that there weren’t any more tears we began to laugh at our horrible misfortune. It was honestly the most bizarre thing to be so upset that you just begin laugh hysterically with your partner in a deliciously beautiful hotel room in a foreign land (with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End on television in the background). We managed to compose ourselves and after a final goodbye to our saviour H, we left Aguas Calientes on our 9-fucking-pm train.

Oh but we weren’t done with Raul just yet. Stay tuned to hear about the absolutely impossible travel woes that we encountered trying to get back to Canada.

Keep Wandering,

W

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One thought on “114. Climbing the Inca Trail Part II: Machu Picchu

  1. Pingback: 114. Climbing the Inca Trail Part II: Machu Picchu | Wanderlust: Tales From a Bucket List

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