We got off the train in Aguas Calientes which is a really cute little town! We walked *all uphill* to the hotel and dropped off our stuff before heading out to the bus to Machu Picchu. After bathing in bug spray and lathering up on sunscreen we were ready to go. The buses were narrow and had to take quite a haul to get us up the mountain. I didn't take a single picture of the bus ride because as cliche as it sounds, I was truly overtaken by the views. It was so beautiful I just held my camera and stared. This is why I don't try to make a living out of this whole photography thing. And because I have no talent. We got to the top and it was another hike through Machu Picchu to the gates of Huayna Picchu, Machu's less famous big brother. Only 200 people a day get to climb Huayna and guess who got tickets? That's right, this girl.
Now, climbing a mountain is no easy feat. Although I also don't think there are a lot of people who think that it is but I did want to clarify that for the record. Walking up on the mountain really gives you that "in over my head" vibe but I was determined and as one of the lucky 200 there was no way I was going to wimp out. It was also going to take the place of all of that running I was missing (did I mention we walked an average of 7 miles per day?). You have to sign in before you go up so that they know if you die out there or are taken into a den and raised by pumas and you start off going down so it seems totally manageable. On another note, remember those backpacks I mentioned? And all that water? Yeah, we had that too. So the deceiving little mountain lead us to believe the climb wouldn't be so bad and more importantly, not too steep. The mountain lied. It took about 2 hours total to climb and it was work the whole way. Most of it has been fashioned into uneven and slightly slippery stairs with occasional ropes as makeshift railings so you don't go careening off the side. Notice I said occasional ropes. Most of the time was spent on the brink of disaster. I put on my marathon hat and took the slow and steady approach which worked well not that you could tell since I'm an excessive sweater. There were multiple "You're halfway/almost there!" remarks from people happily making their way down the mountain but somehow they were all wrong. Honestly, if the views weren't so breathtaking the climb would have been miserable. We were told to dress in layers and prepare for rain since Machu is on the edge of the rain forest and has rain at least once a day everyday. Nobody told us how incredibly sunny it would be early in the day so here we are, dressed in layers and overexerting ourselves attempting to climb a mountain with backpacks full of water. It was not fun. Yet somehow it was totally worth it for bragging rights alone not to mention the experience, pictures and views of mountains, mountains and more mountains.
An idea of how steep the climb was both ways
I'm happy to report my and the rest of the group's survival and we were able to sign back out to confirm our return to solid ground. I also made a few friends from Kansas. Apparently they do a lot of mountain climbing there...
Next was the return mini hike through Machu Picchu to the front gates where we would meet a tour guide and hike back through in a more organized fashion while learning a bit along the way. I sat and recovered and cursed my marathon training for not better preparing me to climb mountains because you know, that's the only reason people really do marathons anyway. After 20 minutes or so we were on our tour where I stopped and got the souvenir Machu Picchu passport stamp. I learned a lot of cool stuff about Machu and after a little bit we saw that afternoon rain we had been warned about but overall it was nothing we couldn't handle. Lord knows we were prepared.
I even took a little video so I and other people could possibly believe it was real life.
I can further understand why Machu Picchu is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and seriously think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. There's something magical yet peaceful about being there and touching your hand to the stones that make up the structures, stepping foot into the remains of sacred temples and seeing the relatively untouched surroundings. Our guide was so knowledgeable and personable that he made the tour even more enjoyable. He even invited some of us back to his place for some chicha morada (a typical Peruvian alcoholic drink made from purple corn). We had to respectfully decline :(
There are two more pieces to this story. One piece is good. The other piece is bad. We'll start with the bad. Aguas Calientes for those of you who don't know translates into Hot Water and is a town known for their naturally occurring hot springs. These are a big tourist trap as you can imagine so we all grabbed 10 soles and headed uphill of course to take a dip. Unfortunately, here's how I imagine hot springs:
And this is the reality:
And here is how I felt:
The water was muddy, the pools were crowded, the sulfur smell was suffocating and I'm pretty sure I caught MRSA...and the clap. It was so far outside of my comfort zone I didn't even speak the language. But as a trooper, I stepped into this lukewarm, community bathtub and squatted uncomfortably for nearly 20 minutes. After all, I did spend 10 soles. I'm sad to say the clothing from that cesspool is no longer with us even after multiple attempts at washing. It smelled fine but I knew it could pull itself across the floor by the amount of things living on it so I trashed it. All. And for that I am truly grateful. The only way this God awful experience could be worth it is if in a year or two I'm slightly radioactive with some really neat superpower. I'd rather not be glowing green with the power to grow my fingernails. That would be a pretty unsuper superpower.
Anyway, I also said there was good. Since I was shell shocked from my encounter, 2 of my buds took me out on the town for drinks and a Peruvian Bachelorette Party. Now of course I can't tell you what happened but I can give you some key words so you can paint your very own picture. Drinks. Colombia. French. Coca Sour. Machu Picchu (these two are drinks) and last but not least, Huacamole (Guacamole!) Oh what a night indeed.
The Machu Picchu