Today we had yet another early start, but we knew this was going to be well worth it. One of the new seven wonders of the world was going to be visited.
We were in breakfast before 5am and our coach to the train station left on time at 5.40am. However, a couple of miles into our journey we discovered that the youngest member of our party had left her passport in her case which had been placed in storage at the hotel. The passport was needed for the train and Machu Picchu. Much to her embarrassment we retraced our route, collected the rogue document and again set off to the station, with fingers crossed.
Boarding the train went without a hitch and we all found our seats and settled down for the three and a half hour journey. Drinks and snacks were served at intervals throughout. For the first half hour, little could be seen of the surrounding countryside due to thick mist, but eventually the sun burned through and revealed that we were following the course of a river through towering canyons and steep-sided valleys. We were cheating by taking the most comfortable method of following the Inca Trail, which I believe takes around four days to complete. We occasionally saw hardy trekkers plodding on narrow tracks, often at a giddy height way above our snaking train. It was another lovely day and the temperature was rising into the 30’s. I did not envy them their task today.
We were making our way to Aguas Calientas, the location for the final jump to Machu Picchu by bus. Our little train was full to bursting, all agog at the sights passing our windows. We stopped briefly to observe and take photos of one of the more stranger sights you could possibly hope to see. A settlement, seemingly strapped to the side of a vertical mountain, with the only method of reaching them I guess is by rope?
For the last two hours of our expedition we somehow, found our way through gap after gap between monstrous, towering lumps of rock often fringed with little more than grass clinging on with strong roots, no chance of trees getting a foothold here. Confusing side valleys and canyons sprang randomly along our route and these we could see also divided into what must be the largest maze on Earth. How did the Incas find their way, let alone the Spanish and later the American explorer who discovered this iconic site? Amazing!!!!
We pulled into our destination, a bustling little town of around 5000 local inhabitants. There is no road into this place, just the train line and everything has to come along it, including the tourist buses that we were later to take us up to the archaeological site. We were met by our guide at the exit of the station and he led us to our hotel El Mapi. We were not here to check in, just to drop off our overnight bags (if we wished too). We then followed crocodile fashion through the maze of narrow streets thronged with other eager Inca fans to our waiting bus just off the tiny central square.
The bus takes around 30 minutes to wind its precarious way up through thick rainforest track to Machu Picchu. Upon disembarking we had a necessary loo stop. The heat was fearsome, so I took the opportunity to change into shorts and T-shirt.
Following our guide we entered the complex. Words for once will not suffice, you have to experience Machu Picchu, I shall leave my description to the photographs that will appear in the blog when I return home. We were privileged to have wandered the same paths and buildings that the ancient Incas with their marvellous ingenuity and skills created.
Returning to Aguas Calientes we had a buffet lunch before checking into the hotel. The heat of the day had got to Sue, so I left her sleeping in our room while I explored part of this small town. I returned in time for our evening meal. Joining the rest of our party in the restaurant we had a fine meal before returning to the room and discovering the atrocity that our radical Muslim friends were creating in London. Small minds, small people, no loss to the world. Their legacy won’t last the 500 years, filling the future inhabitants of the planet with awe as do the Inca.
The following morning we breakfasted at 8.00am (we were spoiled!). The day was ours, or at least until 3.20pm when we had to catch the train back to Cusco. We spent the morning visiting a museum of photos, cleverly paired photos of Machu Picchui had been paced around the walls, one photo taken in 1912 (when first discovered) next to one taken in 2014. Fascinating, we studied and discussed each and everyone, lost in fresh memories of the place.
Next, we scoured the various markets and shops for presents, often coming across other members of our party doing likewise and stopping to chat and idle away a few moments in the sun in this glorious place.
Shopping completed we returned to the hotel and checked out before spending some time in the bar for thirst quenching refreshments. We went shopping again, not for items to take home, but to hunt down guinea pig. Locating our prey we sat down ready to do battle in a nearby restaurant. Sue opted for a rear guard action and settled for corn soup, I was left alone to tackle this Peruvian delicacy. Its appearance on the plate is not for the faint hearted, the upturned snout and protruding teeth are a big indication that it was not enjoying the encounter. However, spread-eagled on my plate with two large balls of saffron potato and a mixture of onion and peppers as backup, it did exude a certain amount of Inca authenticity and I was up for that.
It tastes like chicken, though to eat it, a knife and fork are useless, you have to pull it apart and that was no mean task. These Peruvian guinea pigs are built to last. Thankfully the mocking head had been sliced off, and I placed this strategically at the far end of my plate facing Sue while I dismembered and savoured my lunch. I enjoyed it, but it is going to be a once only. We kept some of the body parts and placed them in a plastic bag to feed some lucky dog later in the day.
After scurrying to the station we did indeed catch our train that afternoon. The return journey was much the same as before but it ended in darkness at 7.05pm. The coach was waiting and transported us back to the Jose Antonio hotel in Cusco. After check-in and unpacking (we are here for a few days and can afford the luxury of putting clothes in drawers) I took a short walk and a lucky golden Labrador received the remains of my lunch. I wonder if he knew what he was eating?