6:30 am wake up call. We both felt refreshed after a decent nights sleep.
Andrew was a bit rough around the edges, but he claimed the cocoa tea was great for the hangover. He had a great night out, but to his disappointment, didn't get lucky. Oh well.
The tour guide for the next leg of the trip greeted us at reception. Her name was Shirley, as in Shirley Temple. So named because her mother loved Shirley Temple. It's true!
We went to the train station where we boarded a luxurious tourist train to Machu Picchu Town, also known as Aguas Calientes. There is a separate, cheaper train for the locals. The journey took 4 hours and we soaked in all the sights on the way. The train itself had to go up a mountain. In order to do this, it had to reverse and then go forward in a zig zag pattern. Interesting...
By the time we arrived it was sweltering! We were very excited to have found summer again after having been through winter in 3 countries! Checked into the hotel, changed into shorts, had a quick lunch and then we were off again.
Shirley took us on a 2 hour hike along the train tracks, through a farm and finally to a waterfall. She pointed out all of the local flora and fauna to us along the way, so it was more of a nature hike mixed with a bit of trivia about the area.
We returned just before dark, had a drink at a local bar and made plans for dinner. L decided that he had to sample the regional dish called cuy. Cuy is guinea pig. And you can have it baked, fried or grilled. It is the most expensive dish on the menu at 45 pesos ($!5 USD) and you have to order it in advance so they have time to prepare it. We stopped by Shirley's favorite local place and made the arrangements to return there later that night.
On arrival at the restaurant we were serenaded by a Peruvian band playing the Macarena. Small children danced in front of them and shyly stepped in once or twice to beat the drums. It was the perfect segue to the moment when the food arrived. Forget what the rest of us ordered, it was all about the cuy. It came out - whole body on a huge plate, teeth jutting out of its open mouth. Quite a sight. It was served with noodles, salad and some sort of fried pepper cake. Didn't take L long to dig in. And he actually liked it - though admitted later that it had too many small bones. I tasted a very small bite it but didn't care for it much. Don't think it will be something that will appear on our dinner table in the future.
We turned in early as we had a very early start the next day.
This was the day we had been waiting for since day one of our trip - Machu Pichu. Both L and I had learned about Machu Picchu in school many moons ago and have always wanted to visit it. Never thought I'd see the day when it would actually happen.
If you are not familiar with Machu Picchu, it is is an ancient city built high in the mountains by the Incas in the early 15th century. We were told the best time to visit this awesome spectacle is for sunrise. So we got on the first bus up there at 5:45 am.
We had to climb up a steep, winding path before reaching the entrance. All I can say when we arrived at the point that overlooks all of Machu Picchu we were all speechless. Pictures don't do the place justice. It was amazing to see the former "city," now in ruins but built entirely by hand out of stone. We were there close to an hour before sunrise. Shirley took us to the Temple of the Sun for sunrise. This was where they could tell the time of year and time of day depending on how the sunlight came through the windows. Was definitely awe-inspiring.
Within this massive city built into the mountain are several different levels that look like giant steps. One one side they were used for agriculture. On the other side they were used to prevent erosion. We also saw the sites of the baths, prisons and temples. The place is one huge maze. You zig zag through huge open spaces then walk up and down huge stairs to get to the next attraction. Hard to believe they let tourists wander freely through something so precious.
There is a big mountain behind Mach Picchu called Huayna Pichu, which we were told we should climb to get the best arial view. The climb takes about an hour. We were already tired from exploring most of the morning. That, combined with seeing the steep, narrow steps with no railing or safety ropes to help you climb was enough to end that idea. Instead we climbed the shorter peak next to it. A 20 min hike and not nearly as dangerous. Even that was difficult, though. I don't think we would have lasted through the longer one. The view was still stunning from where we climbed and we rested there for about 30 mins just looking in awe...
We finished our tour by 11:00 and got on the bus to go back down the mountain. As the bus navigated around one hairpin turn, we saw a little boy dressed in a Peruvian pancho waving frantically and yelling something at the bus. We think he was saying goodbye to the tourists and was quite entertaining. Next hairpin turn, he shows up again and does the same thing, Bless him, he showed up at every turn we completed and basically raced the bus all the way down the mountain. When we reached the bottom, he ran in front of the bus waving to welcome us back to the town. He then got on the bus, said, "ADIOS!!!!¨and MUCHOS GRACIAS!!!!" and then asked for tips. We were more than happy to give him all the pocket change we had. He deserved it!
All in all a perfect day. We got on the afternoon train back to Cuzco and could not stop talking about how amazing that experience was.
You may be wondering why we didn't do the Inca Trail, probably the most famous hike in the world. I wanted to do it, but
a. we didn't have the extra 4 days it would take to complete the hike
b. it was winter and we couldn't foresee undertaking this adventure in the cold
c. it involes hiking. not L's favorite hobby as you know...
We did talk to some girls who had done the trail who admitted it was the hardest thing they had ever done in their lives but also the best. And they were 19. I think we could have done it, but we would probably have died trying. Well, there's always next time, right Sue???