Machu Picchu: Trial by Fire (and mosquitos)

My day began with an “oh shit” at 5:55 AM, at which point I was awake, which was good, but seemed not have gotten up at my alarm going off at 5:15, which was bad in terms of getting to the station in time for the train to Machu Picchu.

I ended up getting out the door in 10 minutes, so I actually departed only 5 minutes later than I intended to, but considerably more flustered. Amazingly, I made it out with everything I really needed. Except sunscreen, on which more later. Some frantic searching for a taxi and a brief ride later I was at San Pedro station at roughly the planned 6:30 to line up for the 6:55 ride. The sene there was a little chaotic, some eople were in line to buy tickets and some had tickets and were in line to get on the train, except both groups were in one line and noone knew where to go.

I did end up on the train though, next to a lesbian osteopath from Vancouver, so all was well. What could not be well with a seatmate like that. Theres roughly a four hair train ride to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of the mountains that hold Machu Picchu. Incredible scenery along much of the way, narrow mountain passes, rushing rivers, that kind of thing. When we finally descended (to an elevation of 6500 feet, which, although high, is way down from Cusco) the landscape was whats known as “cloud forest”, the very lush neo-tropical rainforest feed by the precipitation on the eastern side of the Andes).

Aguas Calientes itself was suprisingly confusing to navigate considering how small it is and that its only purpose in life is to send people to Machu Picchu. Some sweating and panic later I finally found my way to the bus that rumbles up the mountain to Machu Picchu via a series of narrow switchbacks. The stone peaks swathed in green and mist on te top glimpsed along the way served to mellow me out a little. Getting there did the rest.

I wondered how it would hold up, being such a fmailiar image in a lot of ways, but Machu Picchu is extremely impressive in person. And much grander than the pictures convey. As you negotiate the maze of stone walls and buildings, you truly appreciate how big it is and what monumental effort it must have been to construct it there on the side of a mountain. It was a gorgeous sunny day too, with big blue skies streching to mist-capped mountains in the distance.

Therein lay something of a problem given my lack of sunscreen. I tried sticking to the shade at first, only to discover something that I have not seen adequately advertised- Machu Picchu is thick with mosquitos. Every time I got in the shade they{d descend. I think I got 15 bites on my left arm. Fewer on my right, maybe they were thrown off by its constant camera wielding. So back into the firty sun sans sunscreen.

Mosquitos and suburn to one side, I wandered around the area for an hour and a half and loved it. It truly lives up to the hype. And on the train on the way back the porters put on a fashion show of fine alpaca clothing accompanied by the sounds of Abba and the Pet Shop Boys. Thats a whole attraction in its own right!

Tomorrow Im going to seel out and take a guided tour around Cusco and some of the outlying ruins. So far Ive done everything in this trip by myself, and while I appreciate what Ive learned about my resources and the ways that things work themselves out, I think its time to sit my ass on a bus and have someone else show me around for a change!

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