Cusco is full of them. Banners, posters and lightly bright comercials., all of them offering various trips to Machu Picchu. There are people on the streats, offering as well trips, inviting you to their tourism agency to sit down for “the Machu talk” as we nickenamed it. But, once you start investigating you realize that in fact there aren’t so many options. At least not for the budget minded traveler. And this is because all the Macchu Picchu “universe” is a well greased, excelent functioning tourism machine. From the site admistion fee (a modic US$ 50 per person per day) to accomodation near the site, how to get to the entrance, and even how one can get close to Machu Picchu, everything is well thought of and is working like a clock. A “clock” though that costs a lot.
And I was mentioning, “getting to the site”. The idea is the following: Machu Picchu is on top of a mountain. In order to start the climb on that mountain you need first (obviously) to get somehow to the buttom of the mountain. There there is a single village Aguas Calientes, and to get to it, one has to take a train or… walk. There is no road and no other way. This should be interesting! So we are in Cusco and we have to make a decision. Well the decision is rather straightforward: we would really like to go to Machu Picchu. But you see, when it time to big spendings, after 6 mounths on the road, no decision is straightforward anymore. Not even the good coffee is not making it easier…
And the initial inquieries didn’t helped much. A 4-5 days Inca Trail trip (only ~US$1000 for 2) or a train ride (~US$200 plus all the costs with site entry and additionals), or maybe a 7 hours minibus ride, cheapest of the offerings (yet not really cheap) but somehow speding so much time in the bus, driven by a Peruvian driver didn’t appealed to us that much.
We toss the options back and forward and then we just think, why wouldn’t we skip all the tours, take our bike and ride it as close as possible to Machu Picchu (a village called Sata Teresa) and then make our way on our own to the top. Yeah, let’s do that.
But in order not to start “head first”, we ask around on AdvRider people who took the same route and also talk to Alex, owner of a bike rental in Cusco, figuring that he will know the road conditions. He tells us that we will have around 20 kilometers of tarmac, over a 4300 mountain pass and then around 30 kilometers of dirt roads in “OK condition”.
The road is 240 kilometers long out of which the last 30-40 are dirt. But the views until there are spectacular and full of Inca ruins.
When we asked about the weather Alex told us: “you are in rainy season, the question is not IF it will rain you, but how much and how heavy”. Mrrr, not the best of perspectives but indeed… 50 kilometers under way and we need to stop to put our rain gear. Here we go!
And this is happening just as we are approaching a mountain pass, at 4300 meters.
Normally when I am on tarmac I am not worried about rain. I just slow down and mind my way.
But the thing is… the fog is playing with us as well and there are parts where the tarmac just ends. So you get visibility like this:
And the road can get like this:
And there is something else: when you climb to above 4000 meters, you have to wonder if what you see on the tarmac is just water or there is maybe ice? I don’t have a thermometer and I do not know the temperature but it is getting cold. Really cold.
We get to the top of the pass but unfortunately we cannot see too much because of the clouds. We do see a sign that makes us feel good. It’s not because we did a big thing but because we know that this means we will start descending. Unfortunately we are still in the clouds.
And when the sun does come out, we feel like in a fairy tale:
The road descents about 4000 meters taking us into a… tropical climate, just to start the climb again, on the dirt this time.
Come on, just a little bit more to Santa Teresa. We are slowing down, following the road going up slowly. The river to our left is getting lower and lower. Way too low.
As it rains a lot during the summer (rainy season) all the rivers are bigger than expected. And there are not too many bridges, you have to cross through the water.
Ah, actually we did find a bridge. Notice there are no shoulders or railways and the only option to cross if you are on two wheels is to go “straight” on one of the wooden boards for cars, there are some boards missing in the middle.
Let’s just call it an…. interesting experience and all I could think of while crossing the bridge was that I will have to cross it back again… Scenery is impressive but there is no time for that either. The motorcycle is too heavy for this type of road. But that’s all we have so we have to deal with it.
We get to Santa Teresa and quickly looking for a place to park our bike. By total chance we end up in the same place that our friends from AdvRider.com were last year. So we are ready for the last leg until Aguas Calients, which can be done either by train or… walking. We manage to sync with the train’s schedule and catch it.
In Aguas Calientes we meet Phill who was 1 day ahead of us and was already coming down from Machu Picchu. He took the train tours to here and we congratulate him for his choice. It must be a very pretty ride. He wishes us good luck the next day and we are sure we will be meeting somewhere down the road again.
It’s early morning… and I mean very early! At 5 AM we are up and after a quick breakfast we head out for the buses that take the turists up to Machu Picchu. Although we are quite early the queue is already huge.
There are people waking up very early just to make sure they get up there while there are still few people in the ruins. We end up in the tenth or eleventh bus but still, when we enter the ruins we manage to get “that classic picture”.
Classic! But what a classic! This is one of the most impressive places I’ve seen in my life. The sun is also helping a lot as it shines from behind the clouds just in time.
Yes, Machu Picchu is a place worth seeing. One of the few I could say it “shines” above all the touristy propaganda.
We look around and we can’t get enough. Seeing is nice but hearing stories about this place would be even better. At the gates there are guids that offer their services. We try to get one but again (maybe because we are foreigners) we get a very “incredible” price. Hmm… that’s not going to work.
So… instead we approach an organized group and we ask if we can join in and share the costs to +2. They are very nice, say yes and the guide agrees as well so we join the group.
Things seem to arrange themselves quite nicely. Here we are, in Machu Picchu, reaching it on our own and then having a guide and a fun group to visit the site with.
After the guided tour is over we remain behind, findin a nice secluded place where we can have lunch.
Then we have a last look before descending into Aguas Calientes. The place is by now quite full of tourists but somehow, we still have with us the images from the early morning, when you could walk at your heart content through the empty ancient streets.
One could spend here days, entire days and still have things to discover. But this is true for a lot of places where we’ve been in the last six months. We are happy with the little time we had there, and most grateful that we had this opportunity. I wonder where the road will take us next?