My journey started from the town of Aguas Calientes, a small tourist enclave that I reached via the train from Poroy, which is about a twenty to thirty minute taxi ride from Cusco. Many people like to hike the Inca trail through the Sacred Valley to arrive at Machu Picchu, but given my time constraints and the option to sit on a beautiful train watching the scenery go by while sipping a strong latte, I decided on the Vistadome Train. For approximately US$70, you can sit in a train that is only one car in length, with windows everywhere [including the roof] and comfortably wind through the valleys from the Cusco area to Aguas Calientes. If you are lucky [like I was], you will get seat A1 – this is the very front of the train just behind a huge glass window. The experience in this seat makes you feel like you are watching a film.
After having spent the day in Aguas Calientes, I was ready to get up early the next morning for the journey to Machu Picchu. The thirty or so minute bus ride to the site from Aguas Calientes is an experience like one might find on the program “World’s Most Dangerous Roads” or something like that. The bus hugs the mountain adjacent to the steep drops on a muddy, unpaved road that winds like a snake up the mountain. Most of the forty or so people on the bus are unaware of the inherent danger, as everyone is high with the anticipation of seeing one of the most iconic sites on Earth.
The first bus leaves Aguas Calientes at 5:30am, but my travel buddy and I thought that given the fact that there would most likely be cloud cover that early, we would spare ourselves a few dark circles and get the 6:30am bus. Our hotel, which overlooked the nearby river, began serving breakfast at 4:30am to accommodate the early morning travelers.
After the bus ride, we arrived at the site and walked in. There was so much cloud cover that it lent an air of mystery to the site. We knew that what everyone [including us] wanted to do was get to the “Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock” from which we could take in the iconic view of Machu Picchu and take the iconic pics that we have seen all of our lives. We decided that since it was still cloudy, we would visit other parts of the site, and leave the iconic view for a later hour when the clouds burned away.
In the interim, we visited the rest of the site, including the large Sacred Plaza, flanked by the House of the High Priest, the Principal Temple, the Residential Sector and the Industrial Sector. The site is amazing. Machu Picchu was known only to locals through the mid-nineteenth century until a few German explorers looted the site. The Spanish colonial overlords were not aware of the site, nor was anyone else that historians know of. It wasn’t until 1911 when locals guided American historian Hiram Bingham to the site that it was truly revealed to the western world. When he reached the site, it was overgrown with vegetation, but years of careful mapping and restoring have made this UNESCO site what it is today – one of the most impressive archaeological sites on the planet.
Around 8:00am the cloud cover began to burn off and the full splendor of the site revealed itself. Ruins beautiful in their decay lined the mountain plateau and were surrounded by lush green mountain peaks that rose around the site, like sentinels protecting it from the modern world. We made our way up the hundreds of ancient steps to the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock. We looked out upon the iconic view of Machu Picchu and were breathless [both from the climb and the view].
If you are looking for one place on Earth that will inspire you, Machu Picchu is your site. This is surely one to check off of life’s “to do” list.
It is from this amazing site, full of human cultural significance and historical value, that I am blogging now.