Having left Arequipa, Dylan and I were Cusco-bound on an Excluciva "premium" coach. The coach was decent but didn't quite hit the Cruz de la Sur-standard but was cheaper so we settled.
The first three days we spent in Cusco mainly consisted of drinking and relaxing post-Colca Canyon and pre-Machu Picchu. Once we arrived at the bus station we decided to walk to the Plaza de Aramas in the centre of town to get familiar with the area before heading to our third and final Wild Rover.
Once checked in, we had to compare prices of various different Machu Picchu treks. We opted for the Jungle Trek at the hostel as it had more of what we preferred rather than solely trekking for 4 days. For three days and two nights we got all meals, transport, rafting, cycling and entry into Machu Pichu and Machi Picchu Mounfain; all for $240. After we had this sorted to start on the 23rd, we chilled out and did a little exploring and booked our outward-bound bus for next week. Callan, whom we had met on the bus from Copa to Arequipa, was also in town, which added to a better day/night. We ate at El Todos Pollos, and although it sounds like something out of Breaking Bad, the roast chicken sandwich we had was perfect. We met some of Callan's friends he had made elsewhere too. The first night was really good and we (mainly me) paid for it the next day.
On the second day the weather sucked and was reminiscent of the UK. As a result, we stayed in for most of it and played ping pong, eating at the hostel. My credit card was playing up but thought it may have been because of the withdrawl of dollars the day before (as opposed to Peruvian soles). The night wasn't too heavy either.
On the third day, we actually left the hostel. We were told to go to a cafe called Jack's as we had heard good things about the food. They weren't wrong. I opted for carrot cake with ice cream and a latte. Dylan went for an avocado and chicken sandwich. Both were epic. My credit card was still not right so had to ring Halifax. I was flagged randomly for no real reason, which in itself is frustrating and expensive! The rest of the day was relaxed ready for tomorrow - the start of the Jungle Trek!
23/05/2014 - 25/05/2014
Day 1 - Jungle Trek (Machu Picchu)
We had to be up at 6:30am ready for a 7am departure. I've managed to wake up with a temperamental stomach, which is unbelievably typical. We've had 3 days of dossing and the one time I'm away from a toilet, it happens to be on a tour! After waiting around for other people from various hostels/hotels, we set off and stop around an hour later for some breakfast. Needless to say I pass and opt for a Powerade and a banana. Neither helped. Two hours and many winding roads later we arrive at the top of a mountain nearly 5km up. This is the starting point of our downhill (but Tarmac) mountain biking. The rain was pouring hard, in fact so hard that cycling at any sort of speed felt like you were being slapped repeatedly in the face. Despite wearing Goretex boots and a jacket, I'm totally soaked. The rain drenched my socks, which then went inside my shoes. Despite the heavy downpour, we pushed on and as we descended the rain eases off. We are met half way through the 64km ride by a car accident. In Peru (and most of SA), people just overtake on blind corners and think it's fine. In this case, it wasn't. Anyway, we plough on and get to the bottom still wet, but it's bearable. We then have a quick bite to eat for lunch and a visit or two to the toilets! Post-lunch we all head to the hostel the guys on the 4-day trek are staying. As we're doing the 3-day "trek", we miss a day's walking. Fine by us. We then get called up to start our rafting. Dylan and I go with the American newlyweds in our group, John and Jen. The rapids were decent and we had a lot of fun, despite knowing someone had died on the same session a month ago (sorry mum!). I managed (hopefully) to get some good GoPro footage as they had a helmet that I could clip it into. At 6pm after the rafting, Dylan and I thought we were getting a bus to Santa Teresa, our first night's accommodation, but turned out being some random taxi. A local old lady stuck loads of bags of what seemed like clothes in the boot. As two other locals were already in the 4-seater taxi and the boot was full, we assumed she wasn't coming. She was. She stuffed herself in under all of the bags - she must have been 75+, haha. An hour or so later we arrive at our hostel, which was standard but good enough. After dinner I wanted to go to bed as I still felt bad from my stomach.
After a bit of a sleepless night due to obvious reasons, we had a bit to breakfast. There was an option to zip line but we didn't want to do it - mainly because there's a better one in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Now we had to walk 3 hours to Hydroelectrica but the guide, Jimmy, advised against it as it was apparently boring. To be honest I felt so bad and restless, so we just paid 15 soles and got the bus with the zip liners' upon their return. We then had lunch and headed off on a 3-hour flat walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes (where we'd start the hike to Machu Picchu the next day). The walk was pleasant and not particularly challenging, which was welcome. We managed to see the old Inca ruins of Machu Picchu en route and Machu Pichu Mountain before reaching our hostel. We got there in time for the 2nd half of the Champions League final! Tonight's accommodation was much better and it came with hot water. After dinner we were given our train ticket for the next day and our Machu Picchu entrance ticket. By this point I had popped 5 or 6 Immodium's as I couldn't be bothered to mess around. They worked, thankfully. We were in bed early (9pm) as tomorrow we're up at 4am.
Up stupidly early today. I'm feeling better though. We left the hostel armed with one bag between us, 2 Snickers, 4 bananas and a 2.5L bottle of water. We meet the other lads in our group but disperse once passed the park entrance. It's pitch black but using our trusty iPhone's for torches up the 2000 step hike to reach the official entrance of Machu Picchu. Jimmy meets us here and we go through together before the huge crowds of people. Jimmy gives us a little tour of the site, which was nice.
Machu Picchu is now considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and it's easy to see why. It's one of the most incredible sites I've ever seen. It's not like the ruins we saw at Isla del Sol. Here you can imagine how people lived as the agricultural and urban zones are so clear cut. Admittedly there has been some renovations to preserve the areas but it's still amazing. The skill of the Inca's are truly mesmerising. They could cut granite so well that each piece could have over 10 joins made from one rock and they'd fit perfectly - without cement or mortar. Machu Picchu was originally built for 500 people, mainly royals, taking nearly 100 years to complete and was finished in 1438. However, around 100 years later it was abandoned due to the threat of the more powerful Spanish and their inquisition. Although built strategically at the top of a mountain, it wasn't enough. Of course no real reason for leaving is known. The Spanish never even found it as if they had, they would have most likely destroyed it. Instead they were led into the jungle. Hiram Bingham, an American, found the site in 1911, but took the majority of the artifacts back to Yale. Only recently (2011?) have Yale agreed with the Peruvian government to return them.
Even writing this now I still can't believe how immense the place was. You see it on TV and in pictures all the time so never expect much from it. Just the scale and beauty on top of a mountain takes your breath away. Having explored a bit of the main site, Dylan and I left to seek out the Inca Bridge, a bridge that was built into the mountain face to gain access. This blows my mind as much as the main site. Just the skill to make it. God knows how many people died trying to complete it.
We then sought to get to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain, a huge lookout point (and total bitch) over the entire area, which seemed to keep going! It took an hour and a half but the views were worth it.
After many more pictures and returning to enquire on the main sections of Machu Picchu, Dylan and I headed back down to Aguas Calientes. We ate and tried to speed up our 5 hour wait for the 9:30pm train back to Ollantatambo where we'd then get a two-hour bus back to Cusco. We were going to have a night out but we got back at nearly 2am and crashed.
We've woken up to Callan in our faces moaning at us to get up. It's been 6 days since we've had a burger so headed to trusty McDonalds! Then we had a 25 soles (£5.50) hour-long massage. The rest of the day was chilled. The night was a bit of a let down but we did win the quiz, which may have been won using Shazam and Google. Free shot and t-shirt. As this was our 3rd Wild Rover (including La Paz and Arequipa), I was given an additional "survival" t-shirt. In bed early as no one was really up for it.
After going back to Jack's for breakfast with Callan we spent the day chilling as we have a 4pm bus to Huacachina, our next stop. We now leave Callan but will meet up with him yet again in Bogota, Colombia on Sunday! I've also just found out my friend who I met in Auckland, NZ, two years ago, Sush, is going to meet me in San Jose, Costa Rica and will complete Central America with me. As I'm writing this now, Dylan is sound asleep on the bus as usual (it's 8:45pm) and I'm listening to the Rolling Stones taking in all of the awesome moments of the past week. Shit, life is good.