As much as I usually hate getting up at the crack of dawn, this particular dawn didn’t really feel like much of a chore at all. In fact I leapt out of bed as soon as my alarm went off. The simple explanation that will undo that puzzled expression I’ve no doubt just etched upon your coupon is that this early rise was a necessity, it was finally time to visit Machu Picchu.
The trip to the site itself was straight-forward, if not spectacular. A queue of buses lined the street, masses of tourists piling in, as if the inside of these buses presented a vast vacuum. I was soon sucked into one such bus myself and before long we had set off up a steep dirt road that led to the everyone’s prized destination. The zigged-zagged route to the top soon began to slowly unravel a magnificent view, with every turn I could see other nearby mountains sink lower as we rose higher just that tiny bit more. There were several mountains jabbing the sky, as we moved onwards they too slowly moved, with the closest seemingly rocking back and forth the most, like a giant stirring in it’s sleep. Before long though this mountain finally gave up it’s windy road and the entrance appeared. Tour guides darted backwards and forth, each with their own script, memorised and ready at hand. Each with their own list of reasons why you should choose them. I ignored them as I approached the entrance. Steps leading up to a set of turnstiles was all that lay in my way. As I drew closer however, I began to notice that everybody around me had their passports out. Passports? Nobody mentioned the need for passports, and mine was safely stashed away in my hotel. Shit!!!
I fumbled through my pockets amidst a small panic. I knew if I didn’t get in it was another bus journey back down the mountain then another ticket to get back up. Not only did I not want to queue again or pay for another bus ticket, the whole point of getting up here before the sun was so that I could actually see the blasted thing rise over Machu Picchu. A probable once in a lifetime event. For once I hoped the queue would be slow, give me time to form a plan, to rehearse my Spanish so that I could explain that our tour guide had completely and utterly failed to even hint that the ticket was to accompany a flaming passport! But the queue moved swiftly, continuously, the way that queues never, ever, do. “What the heck do I have? Aha!” Out one pocket came a glimmer of hope, a small rectangular piece of plastic I had bought as a joke. My (fake) Bolivian national ID card. Complete with picture and fake fingerprint. “Och this should do” Well only one way to find out.
Ticket Lady: “Hola”
TL: “Billete por favor”
TL “Y su pasaporte?”
Me: (Nervously handing over my fake ID) “Es esta bien?”
TL: (now chirpy) “Si, oh, Boliviano? Gracias!” (Hands back my ticket and fake ID)
Me: (As cool as you like by this point) “Si, yo soy Boliviano y Escoces” (Why are you mentioning that you’re Scottish? Just shut up Stephen and get through the bloody turnstile you halfwit!)
TL: (Just smiles)
Me: “Gracias” (Go go go!)
Aaaaand, we’re in.
Earlier in the month I had considered what it would be like to lay eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time. I figured it would be similar if not exactly the same to my experience when I first saw the Great Pyramids. Well It was a little bit of both to be honest. Firstly, allow me to explain. Before I first saw the Pyramids, I expected nothing except for familiarity. I mean yes I knew I’d be both excited and impressed, but with something so famous you almost know exactly what it looks like before you are anywhere near it. In that aspect, both the Pyramids and Machu Picchu were exactly the same.
What made them differ from each other, was that with the Pyramids, that all too familiar view isn’t to be seen until you get close, and believe me those things are visible from a fair distance! They just kinda pop up out of nowhere as you make your way through the hussle and bussle of Cairo. With Machu Picchu however, everything is instantly familiar. You step through the entrance, climb some steps, look back over your shoulder and there it is. That view that you have seen not a thousand times, be it a profile picture on Facebook or simply that generic picture that crops up when you google ‘Machu Picchu’.
And as familiar as it instantly was, it was still all so breathtaking. For unlike the photos you see posted everywhere, this was a proper view. With all the surrounding mountains, that unbelievably massive drop down either side, and the slow rising of sun that was just beginning to peek over the tip of the mountain tops to the far east. Shit, where’s my camera!
As I climbed to the vantage point where ‘that’ picture of Machu Picchu is always taken from, I could see a long line of people already waiting patiently in the cool shade. Every single one with their cameras at the ready. I had made good time. A few pockets of space still existed overlooking the entire site and the sun, although now peeking over the distance mountains, had not yet smashed it’s bright powerful rays onto Machu Picchu itself. I took up point and began to wait. The line of tourists could be described as nothing but a global melting pot, name any continent, (well except Antarctica obviously) and somebody was there. Almost all races and languages were accounted for, everyone as excited as the other, all waiting for this special event that had collectively dragged us all out our beds at five in the morning. And then it happened, the best sunrise I’d seen in years!
The sun had now begun its daily scorching, spewing its rays down upon us whilst Machu Picchu began to fill up with excited tourists. I watched them for a moment, they were like ants invading a picnic, scurrying from one picture to the next. Camera in hand I decided to join the buffet. Every step I took seemed to open up new views, another opportunity to better the picture I had taken only half a minute earlier. I tried my best to enjoy everything that was on offer without the aid of my lens. Some tourists were snappy happy, seemingly wandering wherever there camera pointed them, almost oblivious to where they were. They’ll have the pictures sure, but if they would only pause a beat and look around themselves, they’d perhaps have the memories too.
After several hours of wandering around, inspecting every nook and cranny I could find, I decided it was time to climb Machu Picchu Mountain, or Montana Machu Picchu if we’re going to say it correctly. Having climbed a mountain in Cochabamba and then Copacabana, and having paid for the privilege, this was one mountain I wasn’t going to let pass by. Oh how I regretted that decision!
Barely half way up and I was exhausted. The steps were steep and relentless. There was no path, no let up from the climb, only steps, steps and then more bloody steps. After nearly an hour the summit was barely visible. The view only got better, but this was costing me all the energy I could muster. Halfway and I collapsed on a rock, there was no turning back. I wasn’t about to give up, but my legs were turning into jelly and the sun was now high in the sky as it approached midday. By now every individual step was a chore, the pace had slowed to a robotic march, broken up by small breaks which were fast increasing in their regularity. I wondered if the top would ever be reach, could ever be reached, it was just never-ending. But eventually, after nearly two hours of steps, I managed it. Quite easily the biggest thing I had ever climbed up had finally been conquered, and it had damn near killed me in doing so. Is that all you’ve got Peru? Is that all you’ve got?!!!
The climb down wasn’t much easier, By this point I had almost completely lost the use of my legs. Every step down was followed by me near falling over myself. My knees buckled continuously as I laboured heavily back to the base. Barely able to move, I dragged myself towards the exit where the restaurant, and the only source of food was. The prices were a total rip off but by this point I hadn’t eaten in hours. The climb had destroyed me and the day was now spent. An oversized Machu Picchu burger and then the bus back to town. I couldn’t face any more.
The ride provided another glorious view as we descended. I was glad to be heading back to my hotel, it had been quite a day but the travelling wasn’t over. In a few short hours I was to be at the train station for what would be my journey back to Ollantaytambo. It was time to stop heading west and turn back east, back towards Bolivia, back towards Potosi. It had been incredible to get to Machu Picchu, but there was still a few adventures left before I could call it a day. One thing was for sure however, from that day forth I swore I would never climb another mountain again.
Well, until next time…