3.20 AM – Alarm clock sounds and five adventurers stir from a minimal slumber. Bronwyn, Rachel, Joe, Robin and the Brazilianaire get up and in a surge of solidarity, head out into the cold of night. With a fetching orange beanie and this season’s trend of jeans tucked into large woolen socks, the Brazilianaire trudges onwards, $2 flashlight in hand (Thanks Dad!)
Breathing comes hard and fast with the altitude squeezing the lungs of the five adventurers, but after an hour and a half of persistence, the climb is over and the group face a brief wait until the park is opened.
The Brazilianire, having had a dose of bad bus stop food the day before, eats a bite of energy bar and empties his stomach out onto the nearby road. He remembers thankfully that he has TicTacs and removes the odour in seconds. This was Machu Picchu. One of the worlds great wonders. Nothing could spoil this day…
Sunlight rushed in over the valley and began to reveal more detail of these Incan ruins. Finding a secluded rock a little off the general path, I sat down to take in the sight and contemplate life. After that it was a further climb up to Waynupicchu up the sinister stairs of death, through the tunnel of dusty doom, and on to the peak of peril. The view is something completely indescribable, but the feeling of descending is rather fear-filled. The stairs are so thin without handrails and you are literally walking alongside a considerable drop. Many people were having panic attacks on the way down and rightfully so.
Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail is apparently sinking at the rate of 1 cm per month due to the tourist traffic. The Peruvian government may need to take further steps to reduce the numbers of tourists making it harder to get into Machu Picchu. If you have the chance to go to Machu Picchu in the next few years, grab it! But don’t forget to plan your trip well. To walk the Inca Trail, you will need to book 3 months in advance during the peak season.
To get to Machu Picchu there are some cheaper alternatives than just catching the train from Cuzco to Agua Calientes. Firstly, you will need to go to the train station in Cuzco to buy the return train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes (about $40 USD). The ticket needs to be bought a day before you plan to go to Agua Calientes. On the day of your travel catch two local buses Cuzco – Urubamba and then Urabamba – Ollantaytambo. These cost almost $2 US in total
Another cheap alternative is to walk the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes as apparently this is possible.
Get up at around 4 am to climb up to Machu Picchu in time to enter the park when it opens. You will need a flashlight and some spare batteries.
Cuzco – its cobbled streets are lined with children bearing hand-crafted finger puppets for you to buy. Its restaurants are filled with sizzling alpaca steaks and cute but roasted guinea pig fillets. And every building in Cuzco flies a rainbow flag with pride.
But it’s not gay pride, its the pride of the Incas! The Cuzco people have proven to be more open minded than the gay community when it comes to their rainbow flag. Whereas the gay community instantly excluded the offsetting light blue tone, the Cuzco people opened their arms in acceptance of our pale coloured friend and allowed a seventh stripe to deck their flag.*
This also helps the local light blue wool industry and has proven to be a sound business move for Cuzco. So next time you see a parade of rainbows, don’t jump to conclusions… it may be the Incans.
*Colour information confirmed by Newtown retail worker who decorates her shop each year for Mardi Gras… Thanks Bronny!
The CUZCO visitor ticket gets you into a number of the ruins and museums around the area (but not including Machu Pichu!). The discount rates for students are VERY attractive, so either invest in a fake or bring your own from home so that you can still afford to eat on your travels…
Bronny also recommends waiting around at night near the main plaza for lots of free drink coupons at each of the clubs.
You can negotiate the price of your meal. In Gringo alley, hear what the different restaurant operators have to offer and then make them a deal. You can get up to 50% discounts at times or have desserts and entrees thrown in for free!
After driving myself crazy in Santiago, I decided that my foot had gotten better to continue my travels, so it was on to Lima, Peru. Talk about an intimidating arrival! Picture coming through customs and out through the small door to be faced with a wall of hundreds of faces all staring in your direction, name boards in hand waiting for someone just like you.
Ever been waiting for a taxi for a while in Sydney? This is IMPOSSIBLE in Lima. Just about one in every seven cars in Lima is a taxi. Apparently you can just go and buy a taxi sign at the local hardware, so anyone can be a driver! The best part is you get to set the price and bargain a taxi driver down. He says 10, you say 6. He says 7, you start to show a slight interest but then begin looking down the street for the next taxi. He hesitatingly says 6 and you’re in the cab and on your way!
The foot didn’t get all that much better, so it was back to the doctors for a different opinion. I had to stay in the same suburb of Lima for another two long weeks.
Funniest things I encountered in Lima:
– The waitress who takes your order and then rushes to the neighbouring restaurant to return with your meal…
– The taxi driver who pulls up outside your cafe midway through your meal and asks if you needed a taxi…
– The tourist restaurant street where as you’re walking down the strip, a feisty young waitress jumps in front of your path and asks you if you’re having the fish or the pasta…
– The street hawker of increasing evils. He asks you if you want tattoos, then pirated dvd’s, then girls, then marijuana, then cocaine. Talk about an investment portfolio!
When arriving in Lima, if you don’t have a lot of luggage, go out the front door of the airport terminal and turn right and head out onto the main street. You can pick up taxis there that are three times cheaper than inside the terminal. A typical fare to Miraflores can cost between 20-30 Soles and you are expected to negotiate your price. But be wary – there are LOTS of taxi hustlers.