The first thing that instantly comes to mind when you get to the Cusco area is, “Wow, what a gay place.”
It turns out the Cusco flag is the exact same flag as the gay pride flag. I wonder if the gay community is comfortable with the Cusco people using it? It took me a couple of minutes to realize their separate meanings and was under the initial impression that the Cusco people were very progressive with their acceptance and “pride” in the gay culture.
Cusco is a hub of activity for many travelers making their way to Machu Picchu. We spent three days exploring the city at a slow pace as I managed to get sick just before leaving Arequipa. My left ear didn´t pop the entire 2000 meter / 6000 ft climb. By the time we got to Cusco it felt like I had a softball stuck in my ear. Sally managed to put up with my two-year old like complaining as I did my best to get out and about.
There are plenty of options when it comes to getting to the famous ruins. Everything from seven-day treks in the traditional Inca garments with an actual human sacrifice to tricycle/tightrope tours are available. Of course everyone has a different opinion on which one is the best and will give you the “best” Inca experience. Being the wild and crazy adventurers we are, we opted for the bus/train ride. A combination of budget, time, and enthusiasm made this choice an easy one.
We started our journey to Machu Picchu with a two-hour colectivo ride to Ollantaytambo. For those of you that are unfamiliar with concept of a colectivo, it is Spanish for “Any mode of transportation that has wheels, used as a taxi service, packed as tight as possible, then rushed to your destination as quickly as the vehicle will go (safety does not appear to be a concern)” I know, its crazy that one Spanish word can convey so much in English.
Once we arrived in Ollantaytambo we caught the Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes. Everyone seemed to have the same incompetent booking agent and not a single group/couple had seats together. After a five-minute game of ´Who Are You With?`Sally and I managed to grab two seats together.
Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes we quickly checked in and went to purchase our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu and bus tickets to the top of the mountain. There are two additional tickets available for the enthused traveler to catch a bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu. Wayna Picchu is available to the first 400 ticket holders and has some ruins along the way. There is also an option to climb Machu Picchu Mountain, which overlooks the entire ruins, including Wayna Picchu. There was really no decision for us to make. Without question we instantly knew we wanted the challenge of climbing the highest point available. The ability to say we accomplished it, the reward of the amazing view, the fact that the tickets to Wayna Picchu were all sold out and we had no choice. (back when we were researching our trip to Machu Picchu it was first come, first served for the Wayna Picchu hike but now you purchase your tickets in advance).
After all the ticket purchases were out-of-the-way we settled into one of the few hundred restaurants and enjoyed a couple “happy hour” drinks. The price is 4 for 1 or 5 for 1! Which really means, one drink either costs 20 soles or 25 soles. The price of the one drink fluctuating depending on how many “free drinks” you get with said purchase. Either way, it worked out to be pretty damn cheap for eight pisco sours and the place we happen to select made the best ones we`ve had yet and a pack of cards at each table so I could continue to whip Bret`s butt in rummy.
The next day we were out the door before sunrise making our way to the bus stop. The mass of people who herded their way to the que reminded us what the only problem with Machu Picchu was all the tourists. The talented bus drivers orchestrated an impressive game of chicken with the returning buses as we winded our way up the Hiram Bingham Highway.
When we finally reached the entrance I could barely contain myself. Visiting Machu Picchu has been a dream of mine since I can remember. Once we made it through the entrance I practically ran people over, dragging Bret behind me to make it to a point where I could see the ruins.
The first glance of the ruins took my breath away. It just didn`t seem real! After a few minutes of taking it all in, we made our way higher and found a good place to chill and watch the sun crest over the mountains and shine down on the ruins.
We enjoyed the view for a few minutes then decided that we had better get the Machu Picchu Mountain hike out-of-the-way before the heat set in and Bret`s motivation ran out. The steep climb up multiple stairs took us just under and hour and that hour of climbing was more than worth the effort. The views from the top were stunning! Bret and I agreed that we were happy with our “decision” to climb that mountain, despite a few stops along the way questioning just how much better the view could get and whether or not we should turn around and head back down.
After the descent we spent almost nine hours exploring the ruins in detail. We decided against a guide and wandered around on our own, going against the flow of all the other tour groups at our own pace. The whole time I was there it just didn`t seem real and I didn`t want the day to end. Bret finally dragged me out and firmly shut down my idea of walking the hour back to Aguas Calientes, instead getting the 15 minute bus-ride back down.
We picked up a few celebratory beers before making a quick change and heading up to the hot springs. Despite the questionably murky waters, we hopped in and chilled for a few minutes. It was a nice way to unwind after all the hiking.
On our way back to Cusco we decided to break up the journey and stayed overnight in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo. It is a small Inca village where many people start the Inca trail and also get the train up to Aguas Calientes. A few nice meals and a bottle of rum nicely capped off our time in the area. We were fortunate enough to catch a colectivo back to Cusco with a driver who had his ear to the street when it came to the latest in techno. We spent the next two hours bobbing our heads to Mr. Vain, Rhythm of The Night, and many other early 90`s dance hits with a Peruvian flair (Random noises and flutes put in, sometimes on beat).
Bret`s highlight by far during our visit to Machu Picchu. . .