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.