Days 198 to 199: Lost And Found

Day 198. I was going to get up early to climb Machu Picchu but after mulling the idea over and giving it serious consideration I figured I seriously couldn’t be bothered. Eventually I headed to the bus stop to buy a ticket which would get me to the main entrance of the Lost City which was still 700m above me. Irritatingly they would only sell me a return ticket which really annoyed me as I planned on walking back down, that and the ticket was really expensive, practically half the price of my overnight bus journey to Cuzco. The dusty road S’ed its way up the mountain side with the view of the valley and mountain range becoming more impressive with each turn. Eventually I reached the top and paid the entrance fee but was very careful not to walk straight to the ruins. I’ve been told by many backpackers who’ve done the Inca trail that the first view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate was amazing. Someone also mentioned that between the Sun Gate and the ruins there was a small footpath heading up to a small hill which gave an equally inspiring view looking down on both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, the small iconic rocky escarpment which lies behind.

With this in mind I headed up a steep pathway which was amazingly tiring even though the altitude was much less than that in Cuzco. Eventually after a little over an hour, a length of time caused by having to stop every few hundred yards to get a breath, I arrived at a small peak equidistant from the ruins and the moon gate and about 2,850 meters above sea level. After walking over the peak a little I doubled back on myself and headed back over the brow. Although this was a bit artificial and I’m sure I didn’t have the same feeling you get after taking the strenuous four day hike, but to be fair I was knackered, the view was amazing. Shiver up the back kind of amazing. I don’t think that if I’d just walked into the site from the entrance that the feeling would have been quite the same so was glad I made the extra effort. I was however slightly regretting not doing the trek here. The amazing feeling doesn’t just come from the sight of the ruins, it’s also the setting. I guess you can only really appreciate this by being there as pictures never give you the full vista and sensations. Four hundred meters below me I could see the whole of Machu Picchu sat amongst the lush green mountains and deep valleys, I was even higher than Huayna Picchu. It did seem smaller than I thought but I was quite a distance from it and the surroundings are monumental!

I couldn’t believe it, with pleasure comes pain! Just as I was about to take a picture I discovered that my camera that had broken in Nepal and was sabotaged in New Zealand was not working again. For the last few days the film has not been winding on. Opening the back and looking at the mechanism I discovered that some parts had rusted, I can only assume that when I got drenched by the water cannon in Santiago my camera had also got soaked. I’ve only taken a couple of pictures of Cuzco with my small ‘emergency’ camera and have no chance of taking others as I’ve bought a ticket to arrive late into Cuzco tomorrow and leave early the next day to Puno. I managed to fix the mechanism without exposing the film to daylight just in case there are any pictures on it, luckily my rucksack is black and acts like a little potable darkroom.

Completely knackered and a little demoralised I headed back down to the ruins. After having a good look around at what is an amazing site and taking in the atmosphere I decided to head up Huayna Picchu the lozenge shaped outcrop behind the Lost City which is as visually famous as the ruins themselves. However this was a big mistake as at this point I’d only eaten one meal in the last thirty six hours and had nothing at all in the last twenty four due to closed restaurants and me being a lazy bugger this morning so not having time to eat. As such I had little energy reserves left which combined with exhaustion from my rush at altitude up the earlier hill meant I was asking for trouble. I signed the book to say I would be on the mountain and headed off. At times the path up Huayna Picchu is nothing more than a ledge cut into the sheer cliff face of the rocky outcrop dropping straight down to the valley below. This was the last thing I needed being low on energy reserves as I had to concentrate on where I was putting my feet and my balance on the narrow, rocky, and at times slippy paths. I was really starting to feel the exhaustion and the thin air and at what seemed like every fifty paces I had to stop to get my energy back. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life but was determined to do it although I was starting to feel quite sick and was developing a bad headache, I knew I had to be careful. I forced myself towards the top and just as I thought I’d got there the path disappeared into a very tight fitting cave. Knackered, I contorted my aching body into this space which was too small for me to wear my little rucksack.

When I popped out of the other side and climbed a little further, there it was, one hour after setting off I was at the peak, practically dead, but I was at the peak! The view didn’t disappoint and I was glad I had made the effort as I’m sure I will not go there again. Maybe the view seemed better for all the effort but I was amazed at the distance it was back to the hill I’d climbed this morning. For forty minutes I just sat there looking trying not to think of the journey back down. Walking down was quite easy although the small sections of uphill appeared all the worse for this. I had one slight scare on the way down. Outside a temple building two blokes were stood with very large machetes and I wondered what to do as in my state I could hardly run off back up the hill! Luckily as they came towards me they said hello and then started to cut the vegetation which was growing on the path, good, workers and not murderers.

Back at the ruins there was a lot more left to discover, although I did this at a much reduced pace. Llama and alpaca roam the place, used as lawnmowers to keep the grass short. A beautiful irrigation channel which fed a series of water troughs had a bright green humming bird hovering over the water whose feathers seemed to sparkle in the sun light, wings flapping so fast I could barely see them. I’ve never seen a humming bird in the flesh before and am amazed at how small they are and how still they can keep themselves. I had to leave at this point as I started to feel extremely unwell and thought I’d better loose altitude as quickly as possible, I’d been as high as 2850 metres and luckily Aguas Calientes was only 1700 meters, well over half a mile lower. I was now glad the ticket office had forced me to buy a return ticket as I could hardly walk, maybe they knew.

As the bus wound its way back down a small child in traditional Inca dress kept running down the steep path meeting the bus at each bend in the road. He could keep up as the path headed straight down. He would stand and wait then shout bye at each bend using a really bizarre hand gesture which could be mistaken for the term ‘wanker’ in the UK. He was obviously doing it for money and at the bottom some on the bus gave him some as they thought it funny, I declined as I wasn’t giving money to a kid who was basically saying “Goodbye wankers!” Back at the hotel after trying to get some sugary water in me I started to feel really ill, chronic stomach ache and diarrhoea quickly followed. I figure that I’ve pushed myself too hard at altitude on too little food, never again! This is self induced altitude sickness and completely my fault trying to rush on an empty stomach. After going to the toilet more times than I ever want to think about, I took an Imodium tablet and feeling a little better I headed out to a restaurant as I really needed to eat something. I’ve just had a huge meal covered in loads of salt and lots of sugary drinks. It’s amazing how quickly the body can recover if you give it what it wants. I felt better within minutes and now it’s as if there’d never been a problem, I’m really glad I decided to stop the extra night though, I could not have made the journey back, not leaking as much as I was earlier!

Day 199. After packing up I walked to the bridge crossing the river at the foot of Machu Picchu. I sat on a large boulder at the edge of the river with the ruins of the lost city above me and started to read my a few pages from my diary which appears to be becoming a book of mad stories rather than an account of my travels. I dawdled and spent a very long lunch in a restaurant in town where I tried to figure out what the music was called that I keep hearing as I quite like it and hear it everywhere I go in South America. Mid afternoon I got the train back to Cuzco where I met a nice South African couple and shared our travelling stories. Back in Cuzco I booked back into my previous hotel and walked into town. A girl from a shop shouted “senorita” to me to grab my attention and quite frankly it did, she soon realised her mistake and knew she was not going to get any business out of me. There must be some really funny looking women in this town for her to make that kind of mistake. After stuffing my face again I headed to an internet cafe to tell people my whereabouts but was more shocked to hear that George Harrison had died, never knew he was ill. I decided to return to the hotel soon after this as suddenly in town a number of riot police had started to fill the main square, I’ve been drenched by water cannon once and I figured I’m not going to let it happen again.

Day 197: In Hot Water

Day 197. I woke up at 6am to make sure I got to the train station on time. I decided to take the train to Aguas Calientes because with my time constraints sadly I can’t afford to do the four or two day hike to the Lost City. I want to spend the extra two days I’ve saved visiting Lake Titicaca, a place I originally thought I’d have to miss. Security on the train was paramount with all of the doors locked tight before departure and guards with guns on each carriage. Even with this, the journey has to be one of the world’s most impressive train journeys with the train slowly making its way up the steep hills overlooking Cuzco. The hills are so steep that the track cannot snake its way up but is set up in a way that the train has to reverse backwards and forwards on tracks and signals which zigzag up the mountain side until the summit is reached. The entire cross-section of Peruvian people waved at us as the train waited to reverse. The view from the ridge overlooking Cuzco is really impressive with the town far below. High up on the plane although it was quite cold everything was lush with vegetation covered mountains in the distance, farmers out in the fields, Peruvian women walking about with their cute little hats on which have to be seen to be believed, all miniature versions of trilbies and bowler hats. It puts me in mind of the laurel and Hardy films where the large headed Hardy would wear the pin headed laurels hat. If it were not for the two Brazilian blokes sat across from me nicking my leg room and the driver who constantly blew his horn the journey would have been perfect, annoying buggers. After zigzagging back down from the plane the scenery started to become more familiar to that I remember from my children’s encyclopaedia with beautiful forest covered rocky mountains projecting miles high.

After almost five hours we arrived in Aguas Calientes or if you want to use the English, I arrived in Hot Water! It was drizzling with really low cloud so I’ve decided to stop for a couple of nights to make sure I get to visit the ruins on a clear day. On arriving a nice group of girls met the passengers to try to get us to go to their parents’ hotels so I chose the prettiest girl and went with her. I see this as Darwinian evolution as she and her family would do well and so would have pretty children and the line would keep on going. Thus ugly girls would do bad business and so the hotels would do poorly and they would have to move on. This ensures that Aguas Calientes will be full of pretty girls for backpackers for the foreseeable future. I’m only thinking of future generations of backpackers! Had a little walk around town but I haven’t been able to eat at all today, I left the hotel too late and all the restaurants had closed, I’m starving!

Days 195 to 196: Buy This, It’s A Rip Off!

Day 195. I woke up quite early partly as the extreme cornering of the coach had meant that my head was being bashed against the window on one side and a massive collection of Tupperware on the seat on the other. I think there was someone still sat under it as I could just about make out a pair of legs. The scenery outside had changed, the hills now had some vegetation on top and the whole place looked a lot more green. We arrived at Cuzco at 8am but instead of the stewardess saying I hope you enjoy your stay in Cuzco she said “Don’t leave the station by foot as you will be mugged, only leave by taxi.” After last night I thought I should at least make the effort so read what my guide says about this place which is basically, “If you are in Cuzco don’t travel around or visit the local tourist sights outside of town alone.” Great, I’m backpacking alone so what hope do I have! But at this point I don’t care, I’m so happy that I’ve made the journey here from Santiago in two days, in fact less as I actually had an hour to spare, very Phileas Fog!

I got a taxi who overcharged me by the equivalent of thirty pence which surprisingly has really irritated me but at least I’ve managed to find a nice hotel which has rooms situated around a central courtyard which is typical for this part of the world. I had a little lie-down before heading out for a quick look around town. Cuzco has taken me by complete by surprise, I’d thought that it would be a shabby little rundown place like the towns I’ve passed on the way up here but the centre is beautiful. Yeah there are slums around the outskirts but the people look happier here than in the other towns. The main square is beautiful with its European design and galleried buildings, Spanish looking churches and cathedral all set in front of hills towering above. One of the hills overlooking the town has the words, “Viva el Peru” scraped into its barren rocky surface. Other hills seemed to have messages on them which look like rallying cries. Every piece of this living jigsaw adds to the charm of the place. I suppose the markings on the hillsides are the modern version of the Nazca Lines which I bypassed on the way up from Tacna but to be honest hadn’t even given them a second thought as I’ve been told that the only way to see them is from the air and I don’t have the money to fly.

I’ve noticed that even though it’s taken a couple of days to get here my body hasn’t adjusted to the altitude. Although only a little over two miles above sea level this is affecting me slightly making me take an involuntary deep breath every now and again, this is a really weird feeling. I did want to go to the Inca museum but as I got to the door I decided to turn back due to their ageist policy. They wouldn’t give me a student ticket as I’m over twenty five, why should I pay double for being older! Then again to be fair although I’ve got a student card I’m not actually a student anymore so I was being a bit cheeky trying to use it. After dinner I thought I’d come back to the hotel to catch up on some much needed sleep as the last two days have been very tiring. Switching my radio on I heard that King Gyanendra of Nepal has declared a state of emergency. A BBC guy said that Nepal is on the verge of descending into civil war and that hundreds of people have been killed. This is shocking as it’s a wonderful place but what’s more shocking is that the couple next door are having sex, the bastards.

Day 196. I wandered aimlessly around Cuzco for most of the day. I initially wanted to go on a trip around Cuzco to see the Inca ruins but due to being very lazy I missed all of the trips and didn’t want to risk going alone, disappointing really so just looked at the Inca ruins in town. Back in the main square I sat on a kerbside out of the sun just to catch my breath and relax a while. However, within what seemed like two seconds at least ten kids surrounded me trying to sell me stuff or trying to get me into their restaurants. But I quite enjoyed this as I’ve learnt that you can always have a laugh with kids selling stuff, adults take bartering very seriously. I used the attention I was getting to get them to teach me a bit of Spanish while in return I taught them a little English, or at least the little I know. They taught me some interesting words but I can’t really say that I’ll be repeating all of them particularly as they told me that a traditional greeting in Peru was to say, “Soy un polla!” So I thought I’d get my own back as I have no intention of walking up to people in Cuzco and saying “I am a cock!” So I taught them the phase “This is a rip off” telling them that it was another way of saying “This is really good.”

After taking lunch in a restaurant which overlooked the square where I could see the kids trying to use their new bit of English, I headed off to the San Pedro Train station to book a ticket to Macchu Picchu for tomorrow. There was a young American girl acting as a tourist guide inside the booking office. Sadly she turned out to be an American ‘know it all girl’ who you seem to come across all too often when you’re backpacking. If I’d been somewhere she’d have been there first and if she hadn’t, then it wasn’t worth visiting and I was stupid for going as there was nothing interesting to do! After booking my ticket I made an excuse as to why I couldn’t meet up for drinks that evening and went off to post some postcards. On the way back I made the mistake in thinking that I’d take a shortcut and ended up in quite a rundown area of town which had poorly constructed buildings with roofs partially made from blue and white plastic bags. I got some really strange looks from people here but I suppose I shouldn’t have been there really.