Vague plans for visiting Machu Picchu floating around, we headed for the market the next morning to pick up some random cleaning stuff for the bike chains. We decided to try to get to Agua Caliente (the village below Machu Picchu) that evening in order to get an early start (6am) at the site the next day and avoid the mid-morning tourist crush – a very good plan. An opportunistic tourist rep booked us a “bus” (read ‘ubiquitous shed of a Toyota Corolla’) to a halfway point (Ollantaytambo) to cut down on the astronomical train ticket cost – “Can you come back at 2pm?” – “Yes” – “Actually could you come back in half an hour, you’ll get there much earlier?” – “Yes” – “Actually, how about back here in twenty minutes?” – a mad scramble for cameras and spare batteries and we were in a taxi driven by The Human Altimeter – “This is so-and-so village, 3450m” – “That’s Lake Whatsit, 3700m”. One quick robbery later (see below) and we were on the train to Agua Caliente…means “hot water” in Spanish, most ironic as that commodity was conspicuous by absence at the hotel that evening.
Now…Machu Picchu. The short version is that it’s utterly incredible but a tad expensive.
The long version…well, it’s below.
It’s still utterly incredible. Neither of us had seen anything remotely like it – it’s superb. Climbing the highest mountain we could see provided gobsmacking views out across the “lost city” and the soaring mountains that surround it – and no tourists, who arrived in brash swarms at about 10.30, just as we were smugly leaving the site, cameras red-hot and amazed by the relics of a civilisation that could construct such a fantastic city. Makes our efforts of Milton Keynes look pretty lacking.
The only slight downside to the visit – which is wholly recommended and a definte must-see – was the extortionate and convoluted system for getting there. Designed to extract the absolute maximum from the tourists – which is fair enough, seeing as they’re contributing to erosion and so on – the entire charade is both annoying and expensive. It is possible to get from Cusco to Agua Caliente wholly by train – but that will cost $100 ONE WAY for the privilege. Getting a $30 taxi (between two) to the halfway point (any further isn’t possible) reduces the one-way ticket cost to only – ‘ONLY!’ – $30 per person. Then there’s the $6 ONE WAY bus fare from Agua C to the entrance AND the $24 per person admission fee. Total cost to us – $250 for two. That’s ridiculous – but the fact that we’d still recommend going should say something. Probably better to do the 3/4 day Inca Trail trek that includes admission for $125 – but we’re too lazy to walk and they won’t let motorbikes on the trail 🙁
Leaving Agua Caliente, we rendevouzed with our taxi driver again (holding a sign for “Sr Matt and Will” – brilliant!) at the train station. The drive home was rapid and dark…forest fires redly digesting the hillsides as they blazed above us…a monster burger at the Norton Rats’ Tavern prepared us for bed, completely exhausted.
In the next couple of days we leave for Lake Titicaca and Bolivia…it’ll be nice to escape the tourist trap of Cusco at last…bring on the Salt Plains and ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Road’.