Getting to Machu Picchu
Train from Ollantaytambo
At 5 am we were up, packing and getting ready to catch the 6 am train from Ollantaytambo to Aguascalientes. After scarfing down some breakfast, we walked to the train making it with only minutes to spare (classic Paulsen family arrival). On the train I introduced everyone to yerba mate and we snaked through the valleys watching the vegetation become more jungly with every turn.
Bus from Aguascalientes
A short hour and a half later we made it to Aguascalientes. The plan was to quickly check into our hostal, Varoyak Bed & Breakfast, get bus tickets to Machu Picchu and get into the park. Everything was going smoothly, checking in, getting tickets, about to board the bus when a lady checking the tickets informed us that the extra hike of Waynapicchu (the tall mountain in the back of all the famous Machu Picchu pictures) we had purchased with our ticket started at 8 am, and as it was 8:30 am we were not going to be able to do it. Pretty bummed out we all boarded the bus and tried to just focus on the positive incredible fact that we were about to see Machu Picchu.
The bus wound its way up, switch back after switch back until 20 minutes later we were getting off at the entrance to Machu Picchu. About as many tour guides as tourists were standing outside the gates trying to convince everyone to hire a guide for a couple hours. After our successful afternoon with Ron, we were convinced a small guided tour was the way to go, and we met a kind tour guide named Irene. However before purchasing anything I wanted to see if there was going to be any possibility that we could hike Waynapicchu even though we were late. Irene shook her head sadly when she looked at our tickets with the times, but took us up to the lady checking tickets at the front. She called administration and before I knew it I was in an office explaining to a man that the reason we were late this morning was because we were unable to catch a train the night before and got here the earliest we could this morning. Nodding he asked to see the train tickets. Immediately I started sweating, I had taken out all the papers from my bag that morning… unless… I had wrote the address of our hostel on one of them and I didn’t remember taking it out of my bag. Frantically I searched and ta-da! my ticket! After looking at it he nodded, stamped our Machu Picchu tickets, and let us know that we were going to be able to be part of the second Waynapicchu hike at 10:40 am.
We were unable to believe our stroke of luck! We were going to get to hike Waynapicchu! Thanking Irene profusely we left her at the front gate, promising to come back afterwards and hire her for a tour. We followed signs to the Waynapicchu entrance, taking in not only the incredible ruins, but also the breathtaking scenery. Machu Picchu is located in one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen, absolutely stunning.
Making it to the Waynapicchu entrance I went up to the man working and once again explained our situation. He shook his head and I started to get nervous, quickly I offered him to see my train ticket. Immediately upon seeing the train ticket he added us to the list and once again we counted our lucky stars as we headed into Waynapicchu.
With our only instructions to be back by 2 pm, we set off on our hike, which turned out to be hiking straight up stairs on the side of the mountain for 45 minutes. It was beautiful, but halfway thru we were all panting, with sweat streaming down the sides of our faces. It was hard to remember to keep turning out and looking down on Machu Picchu, we gained altitude so quickly.
The top was exactly how you imagine the top of a steep mountain to be; a bunch of rocks that precariously jut out over ridiculous cliff edges. It was easy to understand why they limit the number of people who can hike at one time. After taking loads of pictures and almost giving my mom multiple heart attacks, we started descending finding a wonderful terrace with a spectacular view to eat our lunch. The sandwiches from our great little bakery the night before were as good as we could have imagined, and the cookies were even better!!
After making back down Waynapicchu mountain we decided to head back to the entrance of Machu Picchu hopefully to find Irene and get a nice 2 and a half hour afternoon tour.
Guided Tour of Machu Picchu
Unfortunately Irene was nowhere to be seen, however after replenishing our never ending thirst we found another Peruvian guy to give us an english tour. The tour was super interesting and factual, but definitely lacked the enthusiasm, excitement, and entertainment that Ron provided at Ollantaytambo.
Machu Picchu was started and ‘finished’ in 30 years… 30 YEARS. The size and impressiveness of the buildings, stonework, and location made that number quite unbelievable, especially when you think about how long it takes to build an overpass on an interstate in the United States. Apparently every 3 months they would bring in 3,000 new people to work on the city, replenishing the workers before they got burnt out and lazy. Our guide took us all over the city and gave an idea of what life might have actually been like here when it was a functional city.
The Infamous View of Machu Picchu
After our tour we decided our last view of Machu Picchu would be the most famous one from above you always see in pictures, from the guard house. After climbing lots of stairs (mind you we were exhausted from Waynapicchu) we were rewarded with that spectacular familiar view. The feeling of seeing something you have looked at in pictures your entire life and trying to fully appreciate that you are seeing it with your own two eyes is quite hard. I just stood there and kept repeating in my head, “I am looking at Machu Picchu, the Machu Picchu. I am looking at MACHU PICCHU.”
Night out in Aguascalientes
A short trip down the mountain and a shower later we were relaxing in our hostel, Varoyac Bed & Breakfast, drinking wine and reminiscing about the fabulous day we had. With no rush to eat we discussed finances, practiced dancing figure 8’s with our hips and looked at old awkward photos, the wonderful evening with my family I had been looking forward to for the past 5 months.
After lots of research for hopes of eating at the perfect restaurant we ended up choosing the first one around the corner from our hostel when they told us they would give us 25% off the whole menu (only later did I wonder if maybe they were showing a menu with prices 25% more than the regular menu… haha). Feeling adventurous I ordered guinea pig, yes guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy.
For one of the first times I had a very hard time stomaching and eating (I barely touched it) what I ordered. The fact that it was slow roasted guinea pig that was served with all major distinguishing parts (head, little claws) made it a whole lot less easy. After a couple bites I felt queasy and a little disgusted with myself knowing that if had been served in a soup or pasta, cut up into tiny pieces, I would have probably not had a hard time at all. Anyways for the rest of my time in Peru I was struck with guilt and a small stomach ache every time I saw a guinea pig stuffed animal, they’re so cute!!
Llama and alpaca I can handle and enjoy, guinea pig… never again!