Christy and I were up early on Tuesday.  Neither of us felt anywhere close to 100% healthy, but today was our last chance to get to Machu Picchu.  We rolled out to the hotel lobby and had a quick breakfast.  We checked out and waited there for our cab.


A bit of confusion ensued.  Another couple was also waiting there for a cab.  A few minutes later, a cab arrived, and the hotel clerk told us it was ours.  We helped the driver stash our backpacks and we were on our way to the train station.  However, we quickly realized that he didn’t have our Machu Picchu tickets.  Our travel agent had told us that the driver would have them, but he had no idea what we were talking about.


When we got to the end of the alley, there was another cab waiting to head up.  At that point I began to wonder if we weren’t in the wrong cab.


We arrived at the railroad station a few minutes later.  After a brief visit to the ATM we boarded a van bound for Ollantaytambo. 


Last spring a massive flood wiped out the railroad tracks in several places between Cuzco and Agua Calientes.  The only practical way in and out of Agua Calientes is by train, or by foot.  Thousands of travelers were stranded in Agua Calientes before eventually being rescued by helicopters.  Since the disaster, the railroad has worked feverishly to reopen the line.  Luckily for us, the critical part of the railroad through the canyon upstream of Agua Calientes had been repaired.  Unfortunately, one section of tracks closer to Cuzco was still impassable.  As a result, we had to travel most of the way to Agua Calientes by bus.


The van took us all the way to Ollantaytambo and beyond.  The last 20 minutes of the drive were down a bumpy one-lane dirt road.  The ride was particularly uncomfortable for someone with distressed intestines.  The good news is that there was a train waiting for us when we arrived at the station.  We boarded immediately and took our seats.  Before we departed I visited the facilities, which were first rate!


The train ride was quite scenic, even though our seats were facing backwards.  Early on we passed the starting point for the Inca Trail.  It was a little depressing seeing a group of excited backpackers starting up the path. 


Christy nodded off shortly after we started down the canyon.  Along the way I had a great view of massive boulders and monster rapids in the river below.  I enjoyed the occasional glimpse of a distant glacier spilling down from the high peaks beyond the gorge.  We passed several minor Inca ruins, and I even saw an impressive waterfall.  We also passed lots of local people walking upstream along the railroad tracks.  I could be wrong, but I suspect that many of them were porters and guides on their way back from another expedition on the Inca Trail.  It seems pretty weak that they aren’t provided with transportation, but then the walk back from Agua Calientes is probably nothing to them. 


We arrived in Agua Calientes around 1pm.  The town looked pretty much the way I expected.  Those expectations were based on the warnings I’d read in my guidebooks.  The town is at the base of an incredible canyon, surrounded by neck-craning peaks.  The sheer walls of the gorge are draped in jungle vegetation.  Unfortunately, the town itself doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards of its surroundings.  In fact, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Agua Calientes a town at all.  Actually, the town is really just a chaotic jumble of hotels, shops, and restaurants, and they seem to be all piled on top of one another like they can’t get out of their own way.  In other words, it looked a lot like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, just without the ocean.


Having said that, it really wasn’t THAT bad.  Of course, it helps to have low expectations.


A representative from the Hostal Pachacutec met us at the train station.  This was nice, but she didn’t have our Machu Picchu tickets, either.  She led us on foot (there aren’t really any other options) to the hotel.  The walk was uphill the whole way, and it quickly became clear that neither of us was in tip top condition.  Apparently a little bit of food poisoning is all it takes to ruin months of training.


We checked in and found a message waiting for us from our travel agent.  Apparently our guide would meet us at the hotel at 7 with our tickets.  Relieved, we headed up to our room to stash our packs.  The room was decent, but the bathroom was a bit odd, as accessing the shower required hurdling the toilet.  I guess that’s one way to save on the hot water bill.


We went out in search of lunch.  There were dozens of restaurants to choose from, and most of them had salespeople out in the streets looking to drum up business.  We found our way to Chez Maggy and had decent Mexican food.  Afterwards, we explored the town.  That only took a few minutes, and it was still mid-afternoon.  We weren’t planning to head up to Machu Picchu until the next morning.  What to do?


During my trip planning I’d stumbled across a website with a vague description of a pair of hikes originating in Agua Calientes.  One involved a fairly short but steep climb up Putacusi Mountain.  That hike promised views of Machu Picchu from the opposite side of the canyon.  It sounded like a tough hike though, and Christy wasn’t up for it.  I decided to save it for Thursday morning, before we headed back to Cuzco.  The other hike involved walking down the railroad tracks a couple of miles to a hidden valley with a couple of waterfalls.  This sounded like the perfect warm up for our big day to come.


We followed the railroad tracks out of town, high above the roaring river.  Before long, we reached the trailhead for Putacusi Mountain.  The trail, which is actually an ancient stone stairway, was blocked with fallen logs.  There was a sign posted, and even with my limited grasp of Spanish I could tell that the trail was closed due to safety hazards.  So much for Thursday’s plans.


We continued down the tracks.  A few minutes later we curved around the side of the mountain and approached an impressive tunnel carved straight through a sheer cliff.  The tunnel wasn’t very long, but I still hesitated.  There wasn’t much room on either side of the tracks in there.  Things would get a little uncomfortable if a train came while we were passing through.


We didn’t see any other options, so we headed in.  We walked quickly, into the heart of the mountain, despite the growing darkness.  We reached the far side quickly and continued our walk.  A few minutes later we reached a second tunnel.  This one was similar, and we hurried through.  Luckily, we didn’t see a train until later that afternoon.


We reached another train station – Machu Picchu station – a few minutes later.  This station was deserted.  In fact, the only thing around was a massive pile of garbage in bright pink bags stacked next to a siding.  I shudder to think where all that trash came from.  I’d like to think that it wasn’t from Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, but it probably was.  The Inca Trail is actually closed every February for an annual cleanup.


Due to the cost and difficulties associated with backpacking the Inca Trail, a number of alternative treks have become popular.  Many of these are advertised as “alternate” routes to Machu Picchu.  However, this description is a bit misleading.  The true Inca Trail is the only route that directly accesses Machu Picchu.  The alternative treks actually end in Agua Calientes.  From there, hikers can walk or take a bus up to Machu Picchu just like everyone else.  As we walked the railroad tracks, we passed a bunch of backpackers nearing the end of the Salkantay trek.  The trail portion of the Salkantay trek ends downstream from Agua Calientes at a hydro-electric power plant.  From there, hikers walk to Agua Calientes along the railroad tracks.  The hikers we passed all looked like they were ready to get to town! 


Shortly beyond the Machu Picchu station we passed a side trail to a botanical garden.  It was getting too late in the day to stop, but I made a note of it, as we needed something to do on Thursday morning.


Beyond the botanical garden we passed through a wild canyon echoing with the roar of the river below.  At times the railroad tracks clung to a narrow precipice at the base of mammoth cliffs.  At other points it wandered deep into the jungle, surrounded by alien but lovely vegetation.  All the while our eyes drifted upwards, towards Machu Picchu.  On a couple of occasions I thought I spotted what may have been ruins perched high up on the lip of the gorge.


We reached a single house a bit later.  There was a sign for the Mandor gardens and waterfalls here.  We checked inside and met a friendly local woman that understood English about as well as we spoke Spanish.  Despite our communication difficulties we eventually realized that we had to pay 10 Soles (about $3) each to visit the gardens.  We paid the fee, and the woman opened the gate for us.  As we walked, she seemed to be very excited about the garden’s flowers.


She headed back to the house while we strolled through a wonderland of exotic plants.  I couldn’t really identify anything except Calla Lilies, but it didn’t matter.  The garden was lovely.  Near the upper end of the gardens we passed the first of two waterfalls.  This one was high, but on a small stream.  It wasn’t very exciting, but it’s probably more impressive during the rainy season.  The second waterfall is on the main creek.  Even though it’s much smaller, it’s quite nice.  The second waterfall and the gardens were definitely worth the walk from town and the small fee.


It was getting late, so we didn’t linger long.  We walked back out through the gardens and waited at the gate for our host to let us out.  When she approached, I announced that “las flores es bueno”!  This translates roughly to “the flowers is good”.  Eloquent, huh?  Christy wasn’t very impressed, but at least the woman seemed to understand what I was trying to communicate.

We made a quick hike back due to the late hour.  It was almost dark when we reached the Machu Picchu station.  From there, we walked down steps to access the road connecting Agua Calientes with Machu Picchu.  I thought that walking the rest of the way on the road would be safer than going through the tunnels again.  I was partially correct, as a train passed by shortly after we reached the road.  On the other hand, we were nearly run down by a bus hauling a load of tourists down from Machu Picchu.


Back in town we stopped at Govinda, a vegetarian restaurant, for dinner.  After a quick, decent meal we hurried back to the hotel to meet our guide.  He was waiting for us, but he didn’t have our tickets.  Groan.  He said he’d get them for us and promised to be back by 9:30.  We spent the next few hours hanging out.  He finally returned at 10pm, tickets in hand.  The day was saved! 


Aside from the tickets, he also provided us with all kinds of useful information.  We told him that we wanted to climb Wayna Picchu, which is the mountain behind the ruins in all of the famous photos of Machu Picchu.  The regulations for climbing Wayna Picchu are almost as cumbersome as trekking the Inca Trail.  By the time our guide finished explaining everything, I was convinced that Wayna Picchu would be the most challenging mountain I’d ever climbed.  That’s not because of the distance, or the elevation gain, or the altitude, or the trail conditions.  Rather, it was simply due to all the hoops we’d have to jump through to be allowed up there.


Officials only allow 400 hikers per day on Wayna Picchu.  200 are allowed up at 7am, and the remainder go at 10am.  However, all of the tickets for Wayna Picchu are given out when the Machu Picchu gates open at 6am.  They go fast, so we knew we had to be there at 6 to be sure of getting a permit.  There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes.  The first requires a 1 – 1 1/2 hour hike up a steep trail (actually mostly steps) from the bottom of the canyon (a 1500’ climb).  The other option is to take the bus.  The buses start leaving Agua Calientes at 5:30. 


Christy was still weak from her illness and wasn’t real keen on hiking up.  I’m sure she could’ve made it, but she probably wouldn’t have had much energy left for Wayna Picchu and exploring Machu Picchu.  To be sure of getting a permit, we needed to be on one of the first buses the next morning.  Our guide told us that the line would start forming before 4am!


This seemed pretty extreme, but we were still grumpy about missing out on trekking the Inca Trail.  We were determined to salvage our visit to Machu Picchu.  Missing out on Wayna Picchu simply was unacceptable.  We concluded our business and headed to our room, setting our alarm for 3:30.






“I’m having an MRI next week to find out if I’m claustrophobic.”

-       Steven Wright



We were up at 3:30 the next morning, and in the hotel lobby a few minutes later.  That’s when things started going downhill.  The front door was locked, and there was no apparent way to open it.  The only emergency exit would’ve required throwing a large object through a window.  We eventually tracked down an employee, but she couldn’t find the key.  After a few minutes of this, she summoned what must’ve been the maintenance man from somewhere in the back.  He shuffled around for a few minutes before reappearing with a huge butcher knife.  This was not encouraging.


I was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic at this point.  I mean, what would happen if there was a fire?


All attempts to escape the hotel were thwarted.  Finally somebody arrived FROM OUTSIDE and unlocked the door.  How is it possible that the only person with a key wasn’t even in the building?  I nearly trampled him I was so ready to get out of there.


Overall, the Hostal Pachacutec was decent.  I would give it 3 stars, except I have to subtract a ˝ star for the lack of emergency exits and a ˝ star for having to crawl over the toilet to get into the shower issue.  Actually, 2 stars might be generous.  Let’s make it 1 and ˝.


We walked a few blocks down to the bus station.  We arrived a few minutes before 4am and found about 10 people in line.  Good deal.  We sat down on the sidewalk in the late night chill and waited.  As we sat, we watched as more and more people arrived.  By 5 am the line wrapped around the block.  There’s no telling how far it extended.  At this point I began to feel like I was back in the 80’s waiting to buy concert tickets.  I had my fingers crossed that we’d get front row seats!


The later arrivals were shocked by the line.  Apparently they didn’t have a guide tell them to get in line by 4am.  A few walked up to the front of the line before they seemed to realize that there WAS a line.  Hey buddy, nothing to see here.  Move on, no cutsies.


We saw quite a few others pass by on their way to the trail up to Machu Picchu.  Part of me wished I was joining them.  Hiking up sounded a lot more appealing than sitting there on the sidewalk in the chilly pre-dawn air.  The good news was that we knew we were on the first bus outta there.


We left town at 5:30 and made the long ride up steep switchbacks.  The road was narrow, and I was almost glad it was too dark to see just how close we were to the edge of the cliff!  We arrived a few minutes before 6 and found a big line already forming in front of the main entrance.  This was startling.  Apparently lots of folks had walked up from Agua Calientes.  There is also a hotel adjacent to the ruins.  Guests at that hotel have only a short stroll over to the gates.


Despite the crowd, we were definitely well within the first 400 people.  We got in line, and a few minutes later an employee came by with two stamps in his hand.  He asked each person there, “7 or 10?”  We had to start at 7am, as our guided tour of Machu Picchu was scheduled to start at 10:30.


The gates eventually opened, and we all began slowly shuffling forward.  I hummed the theme to “It’s a Small World” under my breath until Christy elbowed me in the ribs.  Finally we passed through the gates and into Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas.  Machu Picchu is world-famous, and for good reason.  There are many theories surrounding the purpose of Machu Picchu.  One of the most prevalent is that it was an estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti.  It was built in the 15th century, but was abandoned about a hundred years later following the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.  However, the conquistadors never discovered Machu Picchu.  Because of this, The Lost City avoided the destruction that the invaders wrought at most other important Inca sites in South America.  As a result, the site remains relatively intact to this day (the negative impacts of tourism aside).


The Lost City wasn’t truly “lost”, in that sense that the locals knew about it.  But the outside world knew nothing of it until it was “discovered” by the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.  Bingham spent several years conducting excavations at the site.  Still, it remained relatively obscure until modern times.  In 1983 UNESCO declared it a world heritage site.  In recent years it has become one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world.


The day had begun to brighten, but heavy fog limited our view to the immediate surroundings.  This wasn’t all bad though.  At each turn, massive stonework emerged from the gloom.  Walking through Machu Picchu at dawn was eerie, but fascinating.  Ancient stone towers crumbled around us as we wandered through narrow, twisting passages.


I used a map of the ruins to lead us towards Wayna Picchu.  Before long, we arrived at a small meadow at the foot of an ancient temple.  There were llamas grazing here, and I didn’t let the lack of a tripod or adequate light stop me from attempting some photographs.  After that brief diversion we pressed on, eager to summit the mountain that forms Machu Picchu’s famous backdrop.


We passed the Ceremonial Rock and arrived at the Wayna Picchu control station at 6:40.  There we joined the growing herd of hikers waiting to start up the mountain.  I have a couple of regrets from our day at Machu Picchu.  One is that we didn’t take more time exploring the ruins first thing that morning.  The ruins were far more exhilarating then, before the sun came up and the hordes arrived.  Instead, we spent 30 minutes hanging out.  The guards didn’t let anyone through the gate until right at 7.  Even then, everyone passing through had to sign a register.  We decided to let the young ones go first, knowing we’d be moving slowly thanks to our illnesses.  Because of this, it was every bit of 7:15 before we finally got on the trail.


The climb to Wayna Picchu started out downhill.  A brief climb past a minor peak led to another descent.  This seemed like an odd way to climb a mountain, but I shouldn’t have worried.  After that second descent into a gap, it was all uphill.  We began the climb of Wayna Picchu proper, working our way up switchbacks and ancient stone stairways.  The climb was steep, but not unreasonable.  Several stretches had cables bolted to the mountainside for added safety, but they really weren’t necessary.  This hike has a reputation for being hazardous, but for the most part I found it to be perfectly safe.  The only exception was the steep, slippery descent from the summit, but that was still to come.


The climb was a grind, and we took a lot of short breaks on our ascent.  This was humbling, as other hikers galloped past us.  Still, we had a long day ahead of us, and we needed to pace ourselves.  Luckily, the fog began to slowly break up as we climbed.  At each switchback more of the surrounding mountains came into view.  The sea of fog ebbed and flowed, revealing a sheer canyon wall at one moment, and obscuring a rugged peak the next.  These teasing views gave us plenty of excuses to take our time as we worked our way up the mountain.


On our way up we passed a junction with the loop trail that leads to the Temple of the Moon.  That trail starts at the summit and returns to this point by a separate route that passes a couple of additional ruins.  Because our guided tour was scheduled for 10:30, we didn’t have time to add this to our hike.  Missing out on it was my other major regret of the day.  In hindsight, I would trade the guided tour for the Temple of the Moon without hesitation.


We resumed the climb, which became steeper towards the top.  A bit below the summit we reached some ruins, which were being excavated during our visit.  Now the breaking fog was revealing more distant peaks, as well as the deep crevice of the canyon below.  Now each step seemed to bring a more breathtaking view.  If we had arrived later in the day, we would’ve seen Machu Picchu in all its glory as soon as we arrived.  This way was far more dramatic.  It was as if nature was performing a strip tease, leading ever onwards.


We climbed again, and passed through a natural tunnel in the rocks.  A quick scramble up a ladder brought us to the base of the summit.  From there, we scrambled up boulders to the top of the peak.  The experience was amazing despite the crowds.  What would normally be a 360 degree view was limited by a wall of fog.  Still, the show went on.  The clouds obscuring the ruins below slowly began to scatter.  Finally, Machu Picchu emerged from the murk.  The revelation was breathtaking.  I’ve seen many photos of the Lost City, but none of them compared with this.


We relaxed on the summit for a while.  Wayna Picchu was a very difficult place to leave.  We’d overcome a lot of hurdles to get there.  Still, the rest of Machu Picchu beckoned.  We didn’t want to miss out on our guided tour.  Christy headed down first, knowing that I’d catch up to her.  I loitered for another 15 minutes or so, unable to pull myself away.  I waited until the last possible moment before following. 


I hurried down, at least until I reached the top of the first staircase.  The stairs were extremely steep, almost like a ladder.  Each step was barely wide enough for my foot and coated in the slickest mud I’ve ever experienced.  Ironically, there wasn’t a single safety cable along this stretch of trail!  I worked my way down cautiously.  By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was concerned about reaching the main gate by 10:30.  I went into overdrive, weaving my way through hikers and tourists descending at a more rational pace. 


I passed Christy in the gap at the base of the peak.  I continued my frantic pace though, as I wanted to check out the short side trail to a minor sub-peak below Wayna Picchu.  I reached the side path after climbing out of the gap and hurried out to the end.  From there, I was treated to a fine view of the ruins in one direction and Wayna Picchu in the other.  I enjoyed that for about 60 seconds before dashing back to the main trail to chase down Christy once again.  I dodged hordes of hikers in the 10am group heading up the mountain before I found her at the Control Station.  We walked back through the ruins at a more leisurely pace, and returned to the main gate at 10:25.  This gave us a chance to use the bathroom, which cost 1 Sol.  We also took the opportunity to store a backpack full of warm clothing for another 5 soles.  By the time we accomplished all of that, it was time to join our tour.


We eventually found our group amid the hordes of tourists mingling near the entrance.  There we discovered that our English-speaking guide was a no-show.  Our group, which was probably too big to begin with, was merged with another.  Once that got straightened out we departed, eager to see the sights of Machu Picchu.


Our herd moved out at the same time as a half a dozen others.  Everyone headed in the same direction, too, as the guided tours all seem to follow the same itinerary.  We drifted along in the crowd, trying to keep an eye on where our guide was.  We rubbed elbows with fellow travelers, but not in a good way.  We did our best to keep from getting trampled as we plodded along.  As we walked, we were subjected to more foreign languages than I’d ever heard before.  In essence, our guide tour of The Lost City had all of the charm of wandering around the Miami airport.  And to think, we could’ve been enjoying The Temple of Moon more or less by ourselves.


The tour started with a climb up to The Watch House.  The Watch House is a three-sided building overlooking the city and the Inca Trail, which was the original route to Machu Picchu.  From there, we enjoyed the classic postcard view of the ruins and Wayna Picchu.  Then we headed over to the Main Gate and entered the city proper.  We passed above the terraced agricultural sector and visited the Sun Temple, the Temple of Three Windows, an astronomical observatory, and The Sacred Rock.  We then wandered through the residential section, which includes a series of homes with thatched roofs and Inca Baths. 


I wish I could provide more details about the content of the tour.  Unfortunately, I missed a lot of it due to the size of our group.  One highlight of the tour was seeing “Jacob” from the TV show lost:


I’m not sure what he was doing at Machu Picchu, but frankly, it makes me a little nervous. 


Our tour finished up around 1pm.  We headed out to the main gate to use the restroom and have a light lunch (food is not allowed inside the ruins).  Afterwards, Christy was worn out, but we still had a few hours at our disposal.  Christy had a nap in a sunny meadow while I made my best effort to see the rest of Machu Picchu.


I considered hiking up Machupicchu Mountain, but that is a longer hike that would’ve taken the rest of the afternoon.  Our guide from the previous evening had discouraged it, too.  Instead, I decided to hike part of the Inca Trail.  I had missed out on hiking into Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail, but there wasn’t anything to stop me from going the other direction.  I climbed back up to The Watch House and passed a pair of llamas grazing in a meadow.  After a few obligatory photos I followed the Inca Trail on a gradual climb towards a pass on the flank of Machupicchu Mountain. 


The trail exhibited remarkable construction, consisting of precisely placed stonework.  As I hiked, I enjoyed frequent views back the way I came.  The ruins of Machu Picchu unfolded below me, while Wayna Picchu towered beyond.  Although the day had been mostly cloudy, the sun took this opportunity to break through.  A single broad sunbeam illuminated the ruins, making them glow in the surrounding gloom.  It was a magical moment, but brief.  Before long the clouds closed back in.  Minutes later, thunder echoed off the surrounding peaks.  I thought a storm was brewing, but the storm passed without further excitement.


I picked up the pace and continued up to Intipunku, the Sun Gate.  There were a few other hikers here and along the trail, but overall this hike provided a welcome respite from the crowds.  I lingered at the Sun Gate for a few minutes enjoying the views.  However, I knew that if I hustled I’d have enough time to squeeze in one last hike.  I hurried back down the Inca Trail, eager to visit the Inca Bridge before our day ended.


I passed the llama meadow and contoured around the flank of Machupicchu Mountain.  I picked up the trail to the Inca Bridge, which is one of several original routes in and out of Machu Picchu.  This one is largely obsolete these days though, as the Inca Bridge is no longer passable.  The trail is a stone causeway built into the side of a massive cliff, and the bridge is merely a handful of logs spanning a deep chasm.  It looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but you can’t get close to it.  A tourist fell off the bridge several years ago, and the authorities closed the trail leading up to it.  This was a little disappointing, as the steep, mossy path clinging to the cliff on the far side looked fascinating.  To be honest though, I wouldn’t have mustered up the courage to cross that bridge if it had been open.  It looked terrifying.


I spent a few minutes there before heading back.  On my return I took in more views down the canyon.  Unfortunately there is massive hydroelectric power plant there.  The view of it really clashed with my surroundings.  More interesting was running into several llamas heading up the trail towards the bridge.  This was a bit awkward, as the trail is narrow.  I got out of their way, but they were still close enough to touch.  Thankfully they didn’t spit at me as they passed by.  As they headed up the trail, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly where they were going.


I reached a grassy hillside overlooking the ruins and Wayna Picchu.  I relaxed there for a few minutes to enjoy that classic view one last time.  Then I headed down to the main gate, where Christy was waiting for me.  Machu Picchu closes at 5, but we headed out at 4:30 as we didn’t want to miss out on the last buses heading down the mountain.  Christy had enjoyed her relaxing afternoon, but I was glad I had explored as much as I had.  It was nice to get away from the crowds for a couple of hours.  Overall, the hikes to the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge were some of the biggest highlights of an eventful day.  In fact, they were overshadowed only by Wayna Picchu, which was one of the biggest highlights of the whole trip.


The bus ride down was $7 each, which was rather pricey considering we only traveled about 2 miles.  Christy definitely wasn’t interested in walking down though, and I didn’t blame her.  Back in Agua Calientes I walked up to the Hostal Pachacutec and picked up our luggage.  Unfortunately we’d been forced to book separate hotel rooms, as our original hotel was full when we tried to add a second night on short notice.  I dragged everything down to the El Presidente and met Christy there.  This was a nicer hotel, and we were given a great room overlooking the river.  We opened all the windows and slept great that night listening to the constant roar of the whitewater below.


After checking in we took showers (which didn’t require climbing over the toilet to get to).  Then we headed out for a celebratory dinner.  We each had an actual appetite for the first time in nearly a week and wanted to take advantage of it.  We headed over to Chez Maggie and got a table on the sidewalk.  We had just ordered pizza and beer when we saw Jeff, Nicky, Luz, and Bonnie coming our way.  They had just returned from Machu Picchu also, though we hadn’t seen them up there during the day.  They joined us for a dinner, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening with them.


Enjoying our first cerveza in a couple of weeks inspired me to write a song.  I call it “The Gringo Anthem”.  It’s sung to the tune of “Exodus” by Bob Marley.  It goes like this:



Donde es el Bano?”


In the original song, you replace “Exodus” with “Cerveza” and “Movement of the people” with “Donde es el Bano?”


Ok, so it needs a little work.


I’m glad we finally got to see Machu Picchu, but I’m not sure if I’d do it again.  Christy already wants to return to Peru to have another shot at the Inca Trail.  For me though, I’m just not sure it’s worth the cost and the hassle.  If I do go back, I’ll definitely want to hike Wayna Picchu again.  Next time though, I’m skipping the guided tour and spending the whole day on the peak!






“That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.


A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!


Sometimes you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff, when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house. It's the second version of your stuff. And you're gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu and you open up your suitcase and you put away all your stuff. "Here's a place here, put a little bit of stuff there, put some stuff here, put some stuff--you put your stuff there, I'll put some stuff--here's another place for stuff, look at this, I'll put some stuff here..." And even though you're far away from home, you start to get used to it, you start to feel okay, because after all, you do have some of your stuff with you. That's when your friend calls up from Maui, and says, "Hey, why don'tchya come over to Maui for the weekend and spend a couple of nights over here."

Oh, no! Now what do I pack? Right, you've gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The third version of your house. Just enough stuff to take to Maui for a coupla days. You get over to Maui--I mean you're really getting extended now, when you think about it. You got stuff ALL the way back on the mainland, you got stuff on another island, you got stuff on this island. I mean, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain. You get over to your friend's house on Maui and he gives you a little place to sleep, a little bed right next to his windowsill or something.  You put your stuff up there. You got your Visine, you got your nail clippers, and you put everything up. It takes about an hour and a half, but after a while you finally feel okay, say, "All right, I got my nail clippers, I must be okay." That's when your friend says, "Aaaaay, I think tonight we'll go over the other side of the island, visit a pal of mine and maybe stay over."

Aww, no. NOW what do you pack? Right--you gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The fourth version of your house. Only the stuff you know you're gonna need. Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubbers and change. Well, only the stuff you HOPE you're gonna need.”


-       George Carlin



We overslept the next morning.  It’s likely that two pitchers of beer was a bit too much for people with challenged digestive systems.  Our tardiness caused us to miss out on the free hotel breakfast.  We still had appetites though, and thought we might find something better in town.  We checked out, but stored most of our luggage at the hotel, as our train wasn’t scheduled to depart until that afternoon.  Then we roamed town in search of an IHOP.  We didn’t find one.  In fact, we had trouble finding a restaurant with a breakfast menu.  I guess the restaurants in Agua Calientes don’t really focus on breakfast since most people eat at their hotels, or leave early in the morning for the ruins.


We finally found a place and scoped out the menu.  Ultimately we ordered an omelet, hashbrowns, and chocolate pancakes to share.  It turns out that there was a bit of miscommunication with what we were trying to order.  The omelet was what we expected.  However, the hashbrowns turned out to be a big plate of French fries, and the chocolate pancakes ended up being a giant chocolate cake.  Hey mom, are you getting this?  We ate chocolate cake for breakfast!


After breakfast Christy went shopping while I took a walk.  I headed back down the railroad tracks towards Mandor, but stopped at the gardens a short distance beyond town.  There I paid about $3 for a guided tour. 


My guide didn’t speak much English.  In fact, one of the few words he knew was “orchid”.  The gardens had 15-20 native orchids blooming.  During the rainy season there are many more in bloom.  The flowers I saw ranged from bizarre to beautiful, but everything was fascinating.  According to the pamphlet I picked up, they have something there that is very similar to a Yellow Ladyslipper.  Unfortunately it was out of season and not blooming.


I headed back to town and met Christy.  Then we headed up to Agua Calientes’ namesake hot springs.  We paid about $3 to get in, plus a bit of change to rent a locker to store some of our stuff.  With that accomplished, we headed down to the pools.  The hot springs are developed, meaning that bathing there is similar to hanging out in a heated swimming pool.  We found an appealing spot and eased in.  The view from there of the cloud forest around us was great, and the horrid plague of flies we’d walked through on the way in had disappeared   The Bob Marley on the stereo was pleasant, and easily qualified as the most enjoyable music of the trip.  Despite this, I couldn’t seem to relax.  After a few minutes, I realized why.  My stuff was scattered across most of the western hemisphere.


At that point, the only item in my direct possession was the shorts I was wearing.  My watch, glasses, locker key, and towel were nearby, on one of the pool chairs.  Some of my valuables, including my camera and wallet, were stashed in the locker.  Meanwhile, my backpack, boots, and some clothing were in storage back at the El Presidente.  Most of the rest of the luggage we’d brought to Peru was back at the hotel in Cuzco.  Except for the duffel bag full of food and camping gear that was in storage at the South American Explorers Clubhouse in Lima.  Otherwise, the rest of our worldly possessions were allegedly back at our house in North Carolina (except for those items that the dog had eaten or the house sitter had stolen while we were gone).  


So, I was feeling pretty strung out.  Kind of like a dog that had buried so many bones he could no longer remember where all of them were.


I was actually relieved when we left.  We walked back down to town and had a simple lunch at Govinda.  Then we returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage.  From there, we walked back to the train station, where we ran into the Brown’s again.  They were on their way back to Cuzco as well.


We had a pleasant train ride back to Ollantaytambo.  We met some fellow travelers, including a woman from New Zealand and a couple from Boston.  The couple from Boston had just completed the Inca Trail, which they described as “hard”.  In a truly bizarre coincidence, we discovered that the guy from Boston had created several of the sculptures that grace the campus of Appalachian State University, my alma mater.


We disembarked in Ollantaytambo and found a guide waiting with a sign with our name.  He led us to a bus that took us back to Cuzco.  Once in Cuzco we returned to the Hostal Pension Alemana.  Later that night,, we met the Browns for a final dinner at Pachapapa, on the Plaza de Armas.  This meal was the best we had in Cuzco.  Of course, the fact that we actually had something of an appetite must’ve made the food taste better.


We went to bed shortly after dinner, as we had another early flight the next morning.  On Friday we’d fly back to Lima, where we would spend the afternoon.  That evening, we’d take an overnight bus to Huaraz.  That city would be our base of operations for the remainder of our trip.  Huaraz is located in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in Peru and one of the highest in the world (in fact, it’s second only to the Himalayas).  After 2 weeks in Peru, we were ready for the mountains!

Continue reading about our trip as travel to Huaraz and hike and backpack in the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash.

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Please remember to Leave No Trace!