Day 7: Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu day! Since we are in Peru and the hotel is called Explora: Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley, we figured we should probably go. We had an early start (5:30 wake up call — this is vacation?) and got ready for the day. When we walked to breakfast, we found that it was actually raining. This is the dry season — though the end of it — and the last time it rained in this area was April. We were told there were thunderstorms in Machu Picchu, so we prepared for wet weather.
After breakfast, we met with Chio and the two other travelers who would be going to Machu Picchu today. Chio briefed us about the route and travel plan, though she was not actually joining us. An Explora driver took us to the train station in Ollantaytambo and made sure we were in the right place to get on the train. We then took the Vistadome PeruRail to the last stop, Aguas Calientes, were we met with our guide for the day. When we got off the train, we realized there was no station — we were just immediately on the street/tracks and walking past shops.
When we met Fatima, our guide, she took us to the bus stop where a long line was already forming. We got in line with the other people who were scheduled to enter Machu Picchu at 11:00 and waited until it was our turn. The bus ride was a fun 20 minute ride up switchbacks on a narrow, unpaved road to the entrance. When we arrived, we saw that there are 4 routes to chose from, and we picked the “high and long” route.
Fatima lead us through the site, explaining the significance of what we were seeing along the way. Because we took the high route, we were able to get an overhead view. Ancient Incas and adventurous hikers would enter at this point from the Sun Gate — the original main entrance to Machu Picchu.
The Inca leaders chose this spot for multiple reasons, including its proximity to the jungle. They wanted to rule the land in the jungle, but they were not prepared for the climate, predators, or crafty jungle warriors shooting them from the trees. They decided to build here. The terraces on the east side were designed for farming, whereas the terraces on the western side were primarily for structural support, greenhouses, and sunset barbecues (probably).
In the Temple of the Sun, an astronomy lab was in the process of being built. It used the windows of the buildings to measure the sun for the solstice and equinox. They originally were building a lab that was redesigned before it was complete, so they just built right on top of the first structure.
There was a very strict class system in Machu Picchu. The upper class and religious leaders had nice houses with perfectly formed stones, nice courtyards, and spoke a second language. The lower class was not allowed to learn the second language and their houses were made of any stone that would stack.
There are 14 llamas that live in Machu Picchu that walk around freely. There used to be 16 of them, but 2 died of old age. There also just happens to be 14 Incan kings (not counting the Spanish appointed “king”). Coincidence??
After 3 hours exploring, learning, and taking pictures before hopping on the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We made it back in great time as the bus was probably going faster than the train.
We walked through a market to Inca Terra, a very nice hotel and restaurant, for a 3-course lunch. Three of the items we ordered we also made during the cooking class in Lima: pisco sour, pollo de causa, and lomo salta. They did a pretty good job too. The restaurant is near the original train station that was taken out by mudslides in 2010. Which is why all the trains now arrive in the middle of the main street lower on the hillside.
After lunch we walked back thru the market to the train station. Fatima helped set us on our way when our train was called, and after walking down to the temporary “train station”, we made it onboard.
We were lucky with the rain. It started raining while we were in the restaurant, but pretty much stopped by the time we went to the train. We were expecting a quiet train ride back, but were surprised with a display of traditional dances and fashion show of various alpaca wool garments for sale, giving Jo some new ideas for souvenirs.
After arriving back in Ollantaytambo, our Explora driver picked us up and we made it back to the hotel at 7:30. We tried a new drink – a Matacuy sour. Matacuy means guinea pig killer and there is a dog’s face on the bottle, but it was a delicious drink. Good news… we were gifted a bottle of Matacuy so we can have more back home.
Tomorrow we go back to Ollyantayambo for an uphill hike to view the surrounding area. We don’t even need to leave until 8am!