Thursday, January 10, 2013

Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu train reminded me of trains in alaska, it was even painted blue and yellow like they were. Trains like this have always delivered me to far off places full of the sights and sounds of imagination and wonder. This one was no different. We rumbled through a river canyon with snowy peaks towering above visible through the windows in the ceiling of the train. The river was a mess with giant rapids that made the water look like foamy chocolate milk. It made me long for my kayak, although it would take some serious balls to drop into that maelstrom! We passed by the start of the Inca trail. Some people got off to begin their 4 day trek to the ancient city there. We stayed on the train until its termination in Aguas Calientes. The train station spit us out in a market full of trinkets and blankets and everything you could imagine with shots of Machu Picchu on them. I think the market was designed to get you lost. I couldn't see the sky and the tunnels twisted and turned until I felt like I was in a maze designed to trap the tourist until all my money was gone, at which time the exit sign would be illuminated. I found my way out and started the, border crossing like, activities of getting on the bus to take me to the top of the hill. First we located the bus stop. Lots of officials waiting to take your ticket but none of them selling one. They pointed us in the direction of the ticket booth up the hill from the stop. We found it and it was closed. So we went back to the stop and asked again. He assured us we were in the right place so we went back and sure enough it was open this time with a line of people waiting to get their bus tickets. Ticket in hand we went back to the stop and he asked us for our Machu Picchu ticket. We had figured that they would be available for purchase at the entrance, silly us. He pointed us back up the hill and said that they were at the city center. We went through more shops and restaurants all directing us into their business until finally we came to a central plaza, which had a small door in the corner where we would join another queue for the next ticket. Two tickets in hand we finally boarded the bus. The road was a dirt corkscrew and the bus driver could have driven it with his eyes closed. There was a bus every ten minutes filled with tourists from all over the world. The buses raced up and down the hill on the one lane road that was nothing but switchbacks, passing each other inches apart with no guardrails as hikers who opted to walk up from town fought for their place on the road. The entrance gate was filled with trekkers from the inca trail that were identifiable by the backpackers uniform and bus riders who all carried heavy cameras just waiting for a shot at the stone city. We made our way in, guided by the flow of people until we crested a hill with a view that I had seen so many times in pictures, only now it was real and I was there. After a few minutes soaking it up we decided to explore the site. We walked up the first trail we could find only to be greeted with more ticket takers and the news that we needed to make reservations weeks in advance and pay more money to see this part of Machu Picchu. We asked what else was restricted in this way and found out that the other large mountain behind the city that you always see in pictures is also regulated in this way. We were able to find one part of the city that we could access without additional tickets and more money though. It was the Inca bridge. It was a pretty cool bridge constructed against the side of a sheer cliff so that the people could make their way out of the city. A marvel of ancient engineering for sure! We made our way through the city paths and marveled at what it must have been like to live in this place so long ago. I couldn't help but think about the fact that everything around us had been "reconstructed". I think I would rather that they left it the way that they had found it so that I could have seen it in its ancient form instead. Maybe do one building here or there to help our imaginations, but to do the whole city made it feel to new and fake to me. One small piece was left in ruins and I think I enjoyed that the most. I don't know why but it felt like a Disneyland world and not as grand as it would have been had it been left alone like the colosseum in rome or other things like that. We finished with what we were allowed to see quite a bit earlier than we had planned and our train home didn't leave until 5 pm so we set out to find something to eat. We had been wondering what guinea pig would be like so we gave it a shot along with some alpaca to boot! The guinea pig was not much more than skin and bone and it will be a one time thing. The alpaca was just like a pork chop. We passed the time at a happy hour in a restaurant by the river drinking cuba libres. The train finally departed the station and we had a good time with some Czech guys that sat across from us, talking about travel and life in our respective countries over a bottle of Pisco. Back at the hotel we got some sleep in anticipation of hitting the road the next day for the highest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.

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