After our first day mountain climbing, the mad rush for the bus down to Aguas Calientes, and my intense but silent fury at our tour guide, Freddy, I was about done with the day. Of course, it was only about 6:30… so I trucked onwards and tried to put on a good face (which is really difficult when I’m around people who know me well; they get to see me at my most horrid, lucky them). I was furious that our tour guide was basic SUCK but trying to hold in from yelling at him because honestly, he seemed like a nice enough guy, just a horrible guide with a terrible sense of time; he didn’t manage his time well and this was stressful to me. His explanations of things were more like lectures than fun tidbits as most other tour guides I’ve had will make things, and he repeated himself about 3-5 times each time he lectured us on the Incans, which increased the lectures from 5-10 minutes to interminable amounts of time, leading to further mismanagement of time. It was awful. I also was trying to keep from yelling at him because we still had a full day to go with him, and I didn’t think it a good idea to rely on someone after I laid into them about how much they suck at their job.
We reached Aguas Calientes without much further excitement, where HB had booked us into a different hostel than SAS (our tour company) offered with the 2day hike. When booking the entire trip, HB’d researched the hostel SAS offered, and read such HORRID things about them that she decided we should upgrade for a few bucks extra and stay in a place nearby that StB had found sufficient, which turned out to be a short walk up a steep hill (with me cursing the entire time). The four of us headed over there with plans to meet back up for dinner with our tour group, since dinner was included in our tour price – except it was held at the hostel we’d opted out of staying at (the sign is above – that’s the name).
After what really was the best shower of my life – the hike up Machu Picchu had been sweaty, dirty, and uncomfortably humid for me – we trooped back down the hill and sat down. Soup was served quickly to us, a simple cream of vegetable, which was tasty enough. As we sat there, though, we saw someone filling buffet trays and putting them into a steam table nearby. I forgot to take a picture of the tables, but this is what I took:
A little bit of everything. Boiled to death veggies (the weird green/grey pile between the 9 and 10 position on the plate), lomo saltado (a beef stew type of dish that we’d had before, but this had chunks of tofu? or hard cheese? in it), rolled up chicken breast stuffed with red peppers, rice with peas and carrots mixed in, raw/peeled tomatoes, cucumbers, and boiled carrots, and this weird spaghetti that had giant chunks of cheese in it that didn’t want to melt.
It was unanimously agreed by HB, HBBF, BF and I that this was hands down the worst meal of our entire trip. The stuff was basically inedible, and the only reason I felt compelled to even eat half of it was the realization that at this hour it was dark, I was in an unfamiliar town, and I was not going to be able to eat a full, real meal until who knew when? So I pushed on and ate probably the most in my group, a decision I did not regret later.
After dinner, Freddy took about 20 minutes to tell us we needed to be awake and ready by 3:30 am. No, 3:45. No, 4. No, 3:30. He changed his mind so many times, I would have stood up and punched him in the face had he not been holding our return tickets; I was so put off by this constant changing.
Why did we have to wake up early? This is for anyone and everyone who is considering going to Machu Picchu: each day, they allow x number of people to climb Machu Picchu, because the trail is rapidly deteriorating from tourism and too many people tromping around up there. And each day, they allow the first 400 people to walk through the entrance of Machu Picchu to opt in for a ticket that allows them to also climb Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu (I saw it spelled both ways while up there). But you have to be there super, super early in order to get the special ticket that allows that extra climbing. The view from there is amazing, and affords you 360 degree views of the area if you choose to climb to the very tippy top. There are some minor ruins up there as well, but the point is really the view. Anyone I know who has climbed Huayna Picchu has said that you must go, so I am doing the same and telling you that you have to go.
Freddy told us we needed to wake up super early to be in the first group through the gates. We were up and he seemed unconcerned when we told him there was already a line forming at 3:30 (the first bus is at 5:30). He told the others who had stayed in the hostel we’d eaten dinner in to finish their breakfast, it was OK. Then we got on line and he panicked. He told us that we would be on the 6th or 7th bus and we might not get the tickets; there were already 200 people on the line ahead of us, and this might create a problem.
If you know anything about me, you’ll know this is where I had to keep walking away from him so I wouldn’t flip out in his face. HBBF, who in some respects is awfully similar to me – we both knew we’d both be extremely angry if we didn’t get this ticket – told me that “there’s still a chance we might get a ticket, so there’s no reason to get upset right now. I’ll be upset when we don’t get the ticket, but for now, I’m just going to wait.” His method makes sense and I’m trying to adopt this into my life, to stop wasting those minutes angry and upset before I know the full outcome, but it’ll take time. In any case, after a lot of walking away and agitated mumbling, and finally boarding the 6th bus to climb the mountain to the entrance, then a run to the line for the entrance… we scored the tickets we wanted, and all was fine. I relaxed marginally. Phew. All was not lost. (You see, I woke up at 3. If I’m going to wake up at 3, I better damn well get what I wanted to get for waking up that freakin’ early on vacation.)
Side note: there are two entrance times for the special ticket that allow you to begin climbing at either 7am or at 10am. Freddy told us 10am was better, though I thought 7am might be nice to get up there, see the sun rising over Machu Picchu, get some great pics, then climb back down to enjoy Machu Picchu. His reasoning, however, is solid: once you’ve got the ticket around 5:30am, you can wander around and enjoy Machu Picchu while it’s still relatively empty (not to say it was empty, no, not at all, but it’s true that by 10am, there will be a lot more people), and you can enjoy the climb up to Wayna Picchu knowing that you’ve already explored Machu Picchu a bit.
We entered Machu Picchu and were greeted by this sight. Breathtaking, isn’t it? However, you might note that the sun wasn’t quite up yet, so it was really COLD. I stood there in long-ish pants, jumping up and down, eager and ready to explore the ruins. “Don’t worry,” Freddy said. “You will have time to explore the ruins, but first let me tell you a little about the history.”
Friends, as I’ve mentioned, he repeated himself constantly. I don’t find it unimportant that only 7% of 15 million Incans survived after the Spanish invaded/conquered. I don’t find this uninteresting. However, I do find it uninteresting and unimportant to hear this horrifying fact over 100 times in the course of one day of hiking and over 15 times in 30 minute lecture. As we stood there, freezing silently, desperately wishing to enter the ruins and explore, he lectured us. Again. If you look at all the pictures I took during this time and their timestamps, he had us stand there for an hour. A whole hour that could have been better spent walking and talking about what we were looking at, no? (If you can’t tell, I am still pretty upset about Freddy and how he mismanaged our time.) He promised that we would have plenty of time to walk around Machu Picchu and explore, take pictures, etc., before it was time to climb Wayna Picchu.
The first rays of sun start to cut through and shine onto Wayna Picchu. Oh yes, that is Wayna Picchu. Don’t worry, there are more pictures of the mountain coming up. I even gave it a nickname. Freddy was still talking here, but I’d already lost interest and wandered away to take pictures. He actually shushed a couple of us who were whispering a little bit at this time. Then he re-started his entire lecture because he “lost his place” and concentration. Umm…
This photograph is my desktop wallpaper now. I love the light starting to shaft over Machu Picchu, lighting the top of Wayna Picchu. You just know that in all its glory, Machu Picchu will steal your heart.
I captured a photo of the BF staring over the mountainside. I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I love the imagery in this photo; it looks like he’s watching the sun strike Wayna Picchu. Or maybe he’s thinking about what an amazing girlfriend he has, since she basically dragged him on this trip… 😉
After the hour long lecture by Freddy, he led us… about five feet before launching into another mind numbingly boring and repetitive speech. I really don’t know what he was saying. I took more pictures of the mountain I would conquer before lunch this day.
After he’d moved us another 15 feet, I plopped down and tore open my bag (that BF actually carried, as you can see in that picture a couple back) and took this out. BF had gone to some store a few days earlier and picked this up for me, knowing my penchant for caramel, and I’d slipped it in there for a snack. I was starving, as I hadn’t eaten breakfast when we woke up, because it was way too early for breakfast.
A wing? lug? nut-shaped chocolate was within.
Unfortunately, the caramel was scant, and the chocolate was hard, uninteresting, over-sweet. I ate this and quietly moved onto the sandwiches that had been packed for me, but in my hungry state, I skipped taking photos of the ham/cheese sandwiches and just ate them quickly, still ignoring Freddy.
Freddy continued talking about a rock – and here I am a little sorry I didn’t listen, because I overheard other guides talking about it later and it actually sounded pretty interesting, but he was just grating on my nerves so badly at this point I wandered away to look at the llamas scattered around Machu Picchu. Though the area shown in the above photo is cordoned off, the llamas are basically free to roam the estate (the rope is more so humans don’t walk into their grazing area, I suppose). As I stood there, taking photos and laughing with BF, I saw some wander back into the roped-off area, and mused out loud to him, “How do they make sure the alpacas don’t all wander elsewhere?”
As if on cue, the entire bunch of them turned in unison and charged out of the area towards the stairs upon which BF stood. He was pretty confused and I was trying to take a picture of this strange phenomena.
What are they doing???
Of course, they rushed right past him, so we both relaxed and just laughed that they all decided in one go – with no verbal/oral communication whatsoever – to turn and leave. They walked up those stairs and to the left, where our group was, wandered through the group and then walked off to various places where other people pet them (ewww) and took photos with them. HB caught a photo of the biggest one just spreading his legs and peeing like a race horse (hawww). Ick.
I noticed a black llama in the distance and had to take a (bad) photograph of it because we were told they were rare the day before. I thought by rare, that meant I wouldn’t see one, but there he was.
At this point, I’d wandered off with another member of the group who had befriended BF – the other smoker in the group. We climbed to the top of the Sun Temple and looked out over Machu Picchu, just enjoying how quiet it was this early in the day. I took a few more photos – on the left is Huayna Picchu, overlooking the start of the grounds of Machu Picchu. I never did get a chance to explore those ruins; Freddy promised he’d talk briefly and we’d explore all of Machu Picchu, but he lied.
By the time Freddy was done talking, we had about 30 minutes before it was time to climb Huayna Picchu. He basically left this time for us to either explore Machu Picchu, or climb Huayna Picchu. Since the vast majority of our group intended to climb Huayna Picchu (save two women, of whom I was very jealous as we climbed), this was outrageously ridiculous on his part. Nearly our entire group didn’t have time to explore Machu Picchu since we were busy climbing Huayna Picchu. My irritation increased further when Freddy revealed he would not be climbing Huayna Picchu with us. So… why do I have a guide? I can climb a mountain alone again? Riiight… (Admittedly, I later realized there was no need for him to climb with us, really, but I just didn’t like how he revealed this at the last possible second; the entire time, he’d acted as though he would climb with us.)
Within minutes, I’d already fallen behind – the bright blue up ahead is BF and some of the other members of the group. BF and the other smoker in the group both led the way, along with the youngest member (I think she was 21). For a short while, I was with HB, but I told her to go ahead because I wanted to work on my own schedule.
Though I have way fewer pictures of the climb up Huayna Picchu than Machu Picchu, I feel the need to take a moment to tell you about the climb. There are no pictures because the route was not scenic. It was not sloping with some rough spots, and with wider (not that wide, just wider than the rest) areas to stop for a moment to catch your breath or take pictures of yourself looking murderous. It was stairs.
The Incans sure love their stairs.
I don’t know how small their feet were, but I have big feet. I don’t know how tall they were, but I’m not a short girl. These stairs were hard to climb; shallow yet steep. There were steel cable guides/’hand rails’ for parts of it, but much of it, I was bent over double trying to scramble up the side of a mountain. My hands were filthy by the end of it, but at that point, I just wanted to get where I was going and be done with it. The way up is the way down, as people pass you – or try to – and you’re clinging on for dear life. I wanted to quit so many times, but seeing people coming down – especially this one lady who could not have been less than 300 lbs. – really pushed me forward. I asked those who spoke English if it was worth it, and not once did anyone say “no” – it was always enthusiastic nodding and “YES” with a lot of encouragement, which was nice. I can’t even explain to you how miserable I was climbing this “stupid f*cking mountain” – my nickname for it after a while – how terribly hot and uncomfortable and angry I was to be climbing, the whole time thinking, “The view better be freakin’ worth it, or someone is going to die.” I took my time, and still had trouble breathing. My fear of heights was acute for the portions that I could just glance over and know that a wrong step would send me careening down the mountainside. Hell, I slipped a few times, but my deathgrip on the steel cable handrail prevented me from going more than a few feet down.
At some point, I began pushing myself to the top by thinking to myself, “Everyone thinks you will quit. No one thinks you can do this. SHOW THEM THEY SHOULD F* OFF” and other assorted things. I talked crap (internally) to myself: “You want to quit? Lil b*tch. You’ll never live this down if you quit. You’ll always regret this. Come on. Just a little bit more. Or quit. You still have to get down the mountain, idiot. Might as well keep going.”
See the two people waving? BF and HBBF. At this point, I thought, oh my, I’m almost there! and rushed my way to where they were. And to my intense annoyance, BF took off nearly as soon as I’d gotten to that plateau (he made sure I was OK, then kept climbing). Apparently, “almost there” really wasn’t almost there at all. This was just the end of the mountain climbing. Next was climbing ruins at the top of the mountain. Which included a staircase that literally was off the mountain; the other stairs were against the mountainside, and this was… off the mountain. It ended and if you took that last step, you basically stepped into mid-air and plunged off the mountain. Going up, I was petrified. I wasn’t sure how I’d go down those – no steel cable handrail here.
When I finally got through that, I had to walk around some ruins and then – oh, the capper to my day – I had to crawl through a small cave. People, are you reading this? Crawl. Through. A. Cave. Have I mentioned that I am also claustrophobic? People were behind me, people were ahead of me, and though I wanted to wait until it was clear ahead, the hardcore German climbers behind me were getting impatient. So I crawled through and realized the woman in front of me was refusing to move. Had I free use of my hands and less fear paralyzing me, I would have punched her in the back of the head. As it was, I yelled “MOVE” and she thankfully moved out of the way, giving me a dirty look as I exited the tiny tunnel. (You can’t pass people inside. It was literally stoop over as far as you can cuz I’m tall, and then make your way carefully through this uneven tunnel – BF smacked his head and his backpack actually caught on the roof of it going through – and if someone stops in front of you, you’re screwed. They’re the cork in the wine bottle, and you want out.)
And a moment before this last pic was snapped, I was still climbing these jagged rocks at the very, very top of the mountain. I saw BF and tried to scramble over to him, but he stopped me and told me that it would be easier to go around because the straight line actually required jumping – JUMPING! at the top of a mountain! – over a large crevasse to get to his rock. So I climbed back down partway, then carefully walked around and clung to the side of a few rocks. I was trying to climb the rocks, but as I stood there, looking and trying to figure out where to put my feet so I could scale it, a ginormous bug walked in front of me (it looked like an ant but one of the really big ones, twice that size, with wings). There were two girls at the top kind of staring at me, and me, frustrated, angry, about ready to throw in the towel so close to the top of the mountain, reached down and… took off my shoe… slammed it down on the bug… and yelled “I DON’T CARE ANYMORE” before scaling the rock. They both stared at me, wide-eyed, but I really could not give a damn at that moment.
I was at the top.
Of course, as I reached the spot where BF stood, proudly watching me at the top of a freakin’ mountain, I glanced down and noticed a ladder from the level below. Without thinking, I yelled “WHERE THE F* WERE THOSE STAIRS WHEN I NEEDED THEM?” and was hushed by him. Boo. Sorry, tourists! (who all looked over and certainly thought “that spoiled American girl!” – hmph! – was I disturbing you? 😛
Here I am, at the top, pretending not to be sooo grumpy. Part of why I did it was because of BF’s unspoken doubts that he now voiced: “I didn’t think you would do it.” Well, I DID. So NYAH!!! (Yes, part of the reason I did it was to show him! and show him I did.)
After a short rest enjoying the view, we decided it was time to head down. We were hungry and smarter people than us had brought food to the top (the hardcore German hikers, for example). It was time to leave. This time, I insisted BF stick with me, since I didn’t want to fall and be left for dead. Here’s a shot of me just as we’re about to climb down – see Machu Picchu in the background?
Though I thought the climb down would be harder – picking carefully and trying not to fall – it actually went pretty quickly. Perhaps because I had BF with me or perhaps because it was just all in my head earlier (uh, no), but we found ourselves laughing and chatting easily on the way down. Because we both have an evil sense of humor, as other people would pass us on the way up, he would say loudly to me, “Oh man, I can’t believe we climbed up there only to find out the top is CLOSED” and people would turn their heads sharply but never asked us. We told one guy he was 2 hours from the top when he was only 5 minutes away, ha. Also, full disclosure: even though I make it sound like a journey and a half (it really was) – it was just over an hour of climbing stairs. That doesn’t sound like a long time, right? Well, try climbing horrible stairs for an hour, then we’ll talk. Add the fact that you’re on the side of a mountain…
The above photo is of the beginning of the trek. You can see how steep it is.
That’s the entire mountain. I climbed that. I conquered Huayna Picchu! (which means “young mountain” – Machu Picchu means “old mountain”)
As BF and I made our way to the entrance of Machu Picchu, we saw this chinchilla. Can you find him?
And as BF has tried to do many, many times over the years every time we’ve been in a location this would be possible… he finally caught a lizard and named him Arnie. Hello Arnie! He released him a few minutes later (voluntarily).
BF didn’t want to wait for lunch, so he purchased some small items at the cafe that resides near the entrance to Machu Picchu. It was not cheap by Peruvian standards. Here is the passion fruit Gatorade that HBBF informed us is not available in the US. I tried a sip – I detest Gatorade but this one was actually not bad. I wouldn’t drink it unless BF bought one, then I might take a sip as I did here, but it was the best out of all the Gatorades I’ve tried.
A sad looking ham and cheese sandwich from the same cafe, but it sated us for the time being, until we returned to… the same place we’d eaten dinner the night before. Boo.
HB, HBBF, BF and I thought we’d just eat a little bit and then go elsewhere for food, so everyone ate very little. Except me because I still wanted to try everything. The lentils were tasty – I think I like lentils a lot – yellow rice was ok, the beef was weird, the veggies overboiled again… and that white gloppy stuff, I thought was fruit salad/ambrosia but was potato salad or something. It was not good. The guacamole was good but too little, and no chips – just fried tubes of dough. Oh well. There was also a chicken dish – bottom right of the plate, the thing covered in brown sauce – that appeared to be last night’s chicken, just drowned in a weird sweet brown gravy. Yuck.
The saving grace was dessert, which was brought out in two big trays that you just helped yourself. Two trays of jello, topped with a foamy substance that was the same color (mixed with white). I had cherry Jello with this really good custard on top. HB and HBBF chose the green, which I’d thought was lime but turned out to be melon! I’ve never seen melon Jello but I didn’t want to go get more, so I didn’t try it. They both liked the Jello more than the topping. BF and I both chose red and both really liked the topping… which, when asked, turned out to be Peruvian flan. Very airy, slightly creamy, and totally delicious. This is something I will be trying to recreate at home, yum!
Overall, the entire two day Inca trail was great, though incredibly tough at times. Just being there was amazing, and walking through incredibly pristine ruins dating back to 1100… just mind boggling. I highly recommend anyone who can afford the time, the money and the physical exertion to go see Machu Picchu before they need to shut down due to rapid deterioration from the excess tourism… It truly is amazing. Just don’t have Freddy from SAS be your guide.
PS Climbing Huayna Picchu was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in my entire life, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy Machu Picchu. It feels stupid to say “Well I did it but the view was only alright” but… well, there you have it. It was great to climb it, but I didn’t think the view was so amazing (or that much better than the other views I’d already gotten from climbing the other parts of the trail) that it is a must-climb for everyone. Take that into consideration.