I give you Machu Picchu, look below! Really something isn’t it?
Okay, some of you have actually been here and will spot a fake in a second. These are some ruins in a town of Ollantaytambo.
Most tourists go to Machu Picchu, located next to town of Aguas Calientes, by either bus or a train. In our usual style of winging it, we decided to drive as close to Aguas Calientes as possible and then figure out how to get to the town itself.
You see, the “normal” way would be to get a taxi from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, were you would catch a train right to Aguas Calientes. This would set you back a couple of hundred bucks. If you are a poor student, travelling the world, then you could take the bus to Hydroelectrica, town next to Aguas Calientes, and then walk to the city. This would be much cheaper, but takes more time and energy.
We didn’t know this at the time, but there is no “road” going to Aguas Calientes, obviously there is a way to get there, but its only by railroad. I think this is done to control access to the city, thus controlling prices and maybe to create a feeling of a nature preserve? Either way, if you have your own car, its going to be a pain in the butt getting there.
I guess, you already know what we decided to do – that’s right…we decided to drive to Hydroelectrica and then walk for 3 hours to the city.
Okay, both Cuzco and Machu Picchu are high up in the mountain region of Peru. So on the way you have to go through a mountain pass at 13-14’000 feet. And even though the car is barely moving up the hill, you get to see some really cool snow covered peaks.
After 3-4 hours on a nice paved road, just like you were expecting – the pavement ends and this amazing dirt road begins.
There is a bit of magic here, the above photo was taken on the way back from Machu Picchu.
Because on the way there, there is no way we could have taken such a nice picture. Why?
Well, we left Cuzco around midday and by the time we go to this place it was already getting dark, the clouds were gathering and lightning would for an instant illuminate the chasm next to us, making this much scarier than it really was.
I was tired and 15 miles of this kind of road seemed like an endless journey. But an hour later we safely arrived in town of Santa Theresa, where spent the night and set out for Machu Picchu at 5am in the morning.
Quick taxi ride and we are at Hydroelectrica. From here, there are two options of getting to Aguas Calientes – train ($25) or walk (2.5-3 hours).
We missed the train by 10 minutes…so poor Hyein, with her Chikungunya acting up, had to walk.
The walk itself is actually very nice, there is no elevation gain, you just walk along the train tracks.
The weather was cooperating, the temperature nice and cool and the air fresh.
We even had some time to take “artistic, cute” photos.
We didn’t really walk on the rails…that would require olympic kind of balance for 11 miles.
Just to give you sense of the walk. Pretty, green hills, river, forest…very enjoyable walk.
At first, Hyein was barely walking because of her joint pain. But halfway through she noticed that the faster she walks the less pain she has…
So, we ended up almost sprinting the last half – i really enjoyed that 🙂
Once in a while we did have to stop for a moment to catch our breath and take in the surroundings… thats when i would here the oh so familiar “sajin jooseyo :)!” (meaning, please take a photo).
I have to give immense credit to Hyein, for taking charge of documenting this whole trip. I know that without her, i would not have as many photos. Since she is always in charge of the camera, i kinda relax and don’t take initiative in taking photos. So, i have to be kindly reminded (“sajin jooseyo!”) once in a while to take some photos of her.
Oh…there is the train that we missed.
Finally made it to Aguas Calientes! By this point the “cooperating” weather decided to show her dark side and it started to rain. You are thinking: “No big deal, guys! You are already in the city, just go to the hotel and hang out there for the night.”
But, you see, there is a problem. Since we are the “always prepared” kind, we already bought tickets for Machu Picchu in Cuzco for this date. And there is NO WAY to change them. (side note: you can always buy the tickets in Aguas Calientes)
Shit…this was Hyein’s dream to see Machu Picchu. And now its raining. By this point our hearts were as gloomy as the nearby sky.
What the hell, we already have the tickets, lets just go and see it anyway. And if it continues raining we will stay another day and wait for the sun.
From Aguas Calientes, you could either hike up to Machu Picchu or just take a bus. Since it was raining, we decided to splurge on the bus.
Because of the rain, we were the only people going up and had the whole bus to ourselves.
View from the bus, as we were climbing up.
Little view point on the way to Machu Picchu.
Right after the entrance, these are the first structures you see.
“Okay, Ivan, enough with this foreword…GET TO THE POINT! Where are those pretty Instagram photos?”
After climbing, like a million steps…only a short walk up the hill, but due to altitude feels like Everest, you get to see the famous view of Machu Picchu.
The weather started to cooperate again, the rain stopped, but the clouds were still hanging around. At first, we considered ourselves extremely unlucky to be here during this weather. But as the day went on we realized just how special it is to be here during this time. You see, the rain has scared most people off and it felt like we were there “almost” by ourselves. Not that we don’t like other people, just don’t want to ruin this special place with crowds of them.
Matching hoodies – check. Pretty Machu Picchu photo – check!
I’m not sure what is prettier…the ancient ruins or this beauty in front of them. Cheesy, i know, but i get browny points for comments like this 🙂
Hyein’s favorite kind of shot – “i give to you Machu Picchu”.
I tried to do a head stand right here, but the security guy told us that it is not allowed.
“But we do it everywhere!”
“No…not here, because other people will see it and want to do the same thing.”
“fine, we’ll just stand there looking pretty.”
Climbing a bit higher and away from Machu Picchu you can see the “left” side and it’s terraces. This is on the way to the “Inca’s bridge”.
Walking to the bridge, you can look down and see the town of Hydroelectrica. This is where we walked from earlier in the morning. We didn’t know this at the time, but the whole time during our walk in the morning, we were directly underneath Machu Picchu. I remember looking up, but didn’t see anything up there.
The walk to the bridge only takes 10 minutes from “main” Machu Picchu. On the way there, the trail narrows to a single step by a large boulder. This is where I had a really “profound” realization.
Our friends who have traveled to Machu Picchu before, must have stepped in this exact location as well. We have visited the same places as some of our friends…but never before was i sure that we have stepped in the same exact location. Silly, I know, but to me that is somehow special. Greetings to you my fellow trail sharers – Sergei, Soviet, Muna, Jiny, Jungmi, Simon and Kuyngmi.
This is the drawbridge – a clever security system. By removing the wood plank, you effectively cutoff access to the other side of the road.
Hyein doing what she does best!
Hanging off the side of the Inca trail leading to the bridge.
“Yay, my dream came true! I’m finally here!” Hyein was really excited to visit this place. I didn’t realize how much it meant to her.
So, she saw in some korean tv show about Machu Picchu that there are supposed to be llamas here. During the first half of visit we did not see a single one and i thought that they just brought them in for the show.
Apparently, i was wrong.
Hyein was excited to get up close and pet them.
After taking all the pretty overview pictures and walking to the bridge, we decided to stroll throw the estate and check it out more closely. This involves walking down and around the city in a clockwise direction.
If i remember correctly, you used to be able to walk anywhere. Well, now you just follow a trail through the city, which just avoids walking on most of the grassy areas. You still get to see everything, just not allowed to walk on the main lawns.
Inca style polished stone construction. I’m not sure if this is restored, meaning picked up like a puzzle and put back together, or if this is new construction replicating the old style.
This is a praying rock…or something like that. We were told, that if you touch the stone with both hands, it will give you good energy.
So, naturally, I couldn’t resist a chance to charge up on some of that positive karma.
Ah, thats Huayna Picchu, a neighboring estate. Its the mountain you see in the background of the typical Machu Picchu photos. It also has ruins but it is only accessible to 400 people a day. Since we were late buying our tickets, the tickets for this place were all sold out. It seems like getting to the top of this place would require some hardcore climbing, but hidden in the growth is a simple walk that anyone even with a bad hip can do.
Admiring the neighboring Huayna Picchu, looking as studdly as possible can.
A view from one of the rooms on the “right side” of Machu Picchu. This room was probably not for the peasants, cuz the view is to die for.
Not sure if the room in which we are standing was designed to be like a patio or a balcony, but it has an amazing view and should be a balcony.
As the day went on, the clouds seemed to slowly get higher and higher. And soon enough disappeared to let the afternoon sun shine upon the ruins. Realizing our luck and our chance, we ran up as fast as we could to take some “sunny” photos.
On the way down, close to the exit, the llamas came out in full strength to greet the exiting tourists.
Their presence caused a traffic jam on the narrow stairs, with everyone trying to get a picture together with them. We were no exception.
I’m including a map of Machu Picchu, for posterity. The Inca bridge is in the top left corner, Huayna Picchu is on the very right tip. The “balcony” is on the bottom right tip.
With luck on our side, we finished the tour in the sun and no rain in sight.
Later in the trip we spoke with other people who visited Aguas Calientes and we were told the town feels fake and superficial. I agree with that statement only if you call any town next to a main attraction fake. Yes, it is there only to serve one purpose – house and feed the tourists. But since the only vehicles there are the tour buses and trains, and everything is built for pedestrians it has a great vibe. I walked around the town with a peculiar sense of familiarity. Like, i have been here before or some place like it.
There is a stream through the center of the town.
Cute little center plaza, gorgeous mountains in the background. Only when it got dark and cold, it hit me. This is just like a ski town. Deserted during the day, when everyone is on the slopes, and full of life at night. Even some of the hotels, looked like great ski lodges of US or Europe, just a bit smaller.
And just like after a long day of skiing, your legs hurt and you thirst for a cold one.
Yes, the town is “fake”, but at least they did a good job of making it pretty.
The food is outrageously expensive by Peruvian standards, but normal by ours. We ended up going to a “french” inspired restaurant.
Ordered a preset menu with a drink, salad, main course and desert.
Very fancy delivery of a simple green salad.
This is just a simple chicken breast, but the evening gown it put on that night was gorgeous. Some sort of sauce reduction (i know…very descriptive) with a perfectly grilled preparation. It was delicious.
Next day, we woke up at the crack of dawn to get to our 6:40am train. Really, didn’t want to miss it this time around.
Turns out it was just us and another couple who decided to get an early start for the day. A short, 20 minute, ride and we were back at Hydroelectrica. Taxi back to our car and on our way back to Cuzco.
Taking back the same crazy road. It looks scary, it feels a bit scary, but in reality a million cars and little tour vans go through here. I’m sure Peruvians dont even blink an eye when they encounter such a road.
On the way back to Cuzco – our usual routine when driving: listening to music or audiobook, AC set to 75F, fan set on #2, circulate inside air only, windows rolled up. Before i left, i spent a lot of tim insulating the car from outside noise. And it feels quite amazing, the city noise disappears completely when you close the door. The music sounds great, everything is great except for one thing – you can’t hear your own vehicle. That is NO motor noise, no wheel noise, no road noise, only the creaking of the wooden shelves that i built.
Well, the weather on the drive back was so nice, that for a change we decided to roll down the windows. Only to discover the loudest screeching in the world. I mean like a train trying to stop, kind of loud. I knew it was the brakes right away. The only problem was that we were still a hundred miles away from Cuzco. I knew that we would make it back safely, so i did what my mom taught me with her old “Oka” car – turn on the music as loud as you can and dont worry about it until you can fix it.
Back in Russia my mom’s first car was Oka – a little 2 cylinder, 2 door vehicle. It would constantly break down, make weird noises, the heater would all of a sudden break in the middle of Russian winter, basically everybody’s first car. So every time there was a new noise, my mom would turn on her favorite song at the time as loud as she can to drown out the noise. And when the stereo refused to work, she would sing herself at the top of her lungs. Trust me, i was there, right there in the passenger seat, watching and learning!
The above photo was take in Russia, when we visited in the summer of 2014.
Anyway, with some k-pop at max volume and rolled up windows we made it back to Cuzco and found a brake shop.
The front brakes were worn 85-90%, but with all the off-road driving the rotors were pretty chewed up and had to be resurfaced.
Checking the rear – OMG we chewed through the pads all the way to the metal backbone and then some. I’ve had cars for the past 13 years and have always had the pleasure of changing the brake pads myself. And NEVER, have i seen anything like it, especially not in the back. Needless to say we needed to resurface the rear rotors as well.
This puzzles me a little bit. Here is why. Before we left, i changed all the rotors and all the brake pads at the same time. So we set out with 100% in the front and 100% in the back. Usually, the front pads wear down twice as fast the rears. So every other time you change both of them. In our case, the rear wore down faster than the front.
I understand that we have driven a lot in the mountains and that the brakes would wear faster, but why the rear? Could it be because of all the extra weight in the back? Or could our rear calipers be sticking a little bit? Anyone with some knowledge on this…help me out. By this point we drove about 8500 miles. So any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
My final notes on Machu Picchu:
- You must visit this place
- It is touristy, but you must visit this place
- Getting here is tough, but you must visit this place
- It can be expensive, but you must visit this place
- All other excuses, refer to #1
And since this is the last post from Peru, ill sum up our time here:
After spending almost 3 weeks in Peru to simply put it – it is not like any other country. It has beautiful landscapes, mountains, sandy dunes, beautiful beaches, off-roading, great local produce. The historical attractions are also some of the best that i have ever seen. I feel like we have only scratched the surface of the tremendous culture. And the only other country, besides Mexico, that left me longing for. Peru is huge, i think you can easily spend 2 months here and not feel bored. Yes, i mentioned before that we were bored with the food, but i believe that is our own shortcoming and not the country’s. Peru is where we fell in love with cherimoya and continued our affair with pineapple tomatillo. Peruvians work like there is no tomorrow and were very welcoming to us.
Thank you, Peru!