We´d decided that we were too lazy to do the five day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu that we´d been considering before, especially given the miserable weather (it had been cold and rainy around Cusco and the Sacred Valley area since we´d arrived and snowing up on the trail we were considering) so we booked two nights accommodation in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the ruins, and took the train.
Aguas Calientes is described in the Lonely Liar as ´one of the ugliest towns in Peru´ which is definitely not the case – yes its a very touristy spot, but its also quite pleasant and its location at the bottom of a very steep and dramatic gorge was second to none. This was just another one of the countless ignorant statements this rag of a book spits out. I´d strongly advise anyone coming to this part of the world to buy a different guide book as this one is wrong more often than it´s right, something that most people you meet will attest to (everyone you meet has it anyway so its easily borrowed if you feel the need).
We´d booked our accommodation through a travel agency down the road from our hostel in Cusco so we were half expecting to be put up in very basic lodging for the two nights, but the guesthouse turned out to be a nice little place, despite its unfortunate name – Manco Inca. After we checked in, we made a dash for the Machu Picchu museum to catch it before it closed, but the electricity had been off in the town all day so it wasn´t open in the first place. Riona visited it alone the following day and said it was pretty boring so no harm done. We had an early start planned for the next day, so we went for a quick dinner off the main square with Matt and Cynthia from our hostel in Cusco and headed back for an early night. The next morning, we set off just after 4am for the ninety minute hike to the ruins, with our bananas and nuts in hand but minus any entrance tickets due to a bit of bad organising on the travel agents part. It turned out okay in the end, as you could buy them at a ticket office at the end of the trail, despite the Lonely Liar telling us that you couldn´t.
Machu Picchu opens its gates at six and I´d really recommend getting up early and being there for opening time because the ruins are at their most mysterious just after sunrise when the clouds are burning off, plus there aren´t as many people around. There´s another small set of ruins on a pinnacle about 400m above Machu Picchu called Wayna Picchu, apparently where the high priest and his biatches used to live. Because of the delicate condition of the trail, only four hundred people are allowed up it per day, so there´s a bit of a dash to the Wayna Picchu ticket office once the main Machu Picchu gates are open. The four of us managed to get tickets (it wasn´t that difficult really), but I was the only one who went up in the end and although the scenery was pretty impressive and it was nice to see a birds eye view of Machu Picchu below, I wouldn´t be too worried about missing it – your time would be better spent wandering around the main ruins while the clouds are lifting.
There´s apparently a lot of wildlife in the vicinity of Machu Picchu (including snakes and bears), but we didn´t see much until around lunchtime when we spotted a Chinchilla sunning himself on a rock. I was delighted to see this little creature as I nearly had one as a pet before deciding that a hamster would be the easier option, a decision that was unfortunate for the hamster who ended up getting smacked on the head and buried alive by the well-meaning Benjy :-)
After spending nearly seven hours wandering around, I decided I´d seen enough for one day and took the bus back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. We went for a snooze for a few hours to recharge the batteries and decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. The menu at Indio Feliz off Ave. Pachacutec was 44 Soles (about 11 euro), very expensive for Peru but worth every centivo! It was the best meal either of us had had in the country and ranked amongst the Argentinian steaks as the nicest food we´d ate in South America. It was nearly empty when we went in at around 7pm but was full to the rafters with a long queue outside it when we left, so go early or book in advance! With very full bellies, we had another early night as our return train to Cusco was due to leave at 5.30 the following morning. After another day or two sitting around the bar in the Loki hostel, we finally got our asses in gear and got on a night bus to Lima.