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Visiting Machu Picchu with Viventura and the Marketing Globetrotters.
It was an early start from the superb Casa Andina Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley) hotel in Urubamba, Peru. I say early, not because 7 AM was so unbearable, but because the previous evenings revelry and a few too many Pisco Sours brought sunrise and bedtime in too close proximity. Over the years I have learned that a nice breakfast buffet can fix many problems like that and a coffee and the hotel’s omelet bar perked me right up. I think maybe too there was a bit of adrenaline pushing me forward because this was going to be the day I fulfilled a dream. I was going to see Machu Picchu!
Prompt as always the transportation Viventura arranged was waiting to transfer us the short distance from Urubama to the train station in Ollantaytambo so we could catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway city just outside of the ruins.
Our train, PeruRail’s Vistadome service, utilizes some of the highest railway tracks in the world; it also passes through some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. The train cars, the specially designed Vistadomes had huge skylight windows that provided wide views of the soaring Andes above and the tumbling Urubamba River below, as we slowly climbed through the mountain canyons. Once we reached the apex of the range I was surprised to be moving down into an area that was getting progressively more tropical. The foliage was getting thicker and greener and the trees were getting more and more laden with layers of ancient bromeliads. Yngrid had gotten us seats on the left side of the train because she knew that was where the best views were. It was definitely nice to be traveling with a professional.
Enroute we were served some still much needed coffee and light snacks. The mood on the train was somewhat buoyant because everyone knew what waited at the end of the line. Even though I was totally psyched to see Machu Picchu, I was almost disappointed that the train journey was over when we pulled in Aguas Calientes. The day had just begun and the ride on the train itself was one of the grandest journeys I have ever seen.
Once you have arrived in Aguas Calientes it is still necessary to get on a bus up to the gates of the wonder. I sat next to our guide “Abraham”. He was an old hand at guiding through Peru, a fount of knowledge and, I guess not very surprising when you are a Peruvian named after a 19th Century American president, very quick with self deprecating humor and jokes about US politics. As the bus climbed the narrow switchback high up the mountain, his enthusiasm made me even more excited that I already was about getting to the ruins.
At the top we avoided the lines because Viventura had all of our reservations made and our tickets preprinted. We dropped our bags in the left luggage kiosk and, despite the high altitude, and even though skies were starting to threaten rain, we bounded up the stairs to the entrance.
From there it was down a trail with a wall commemorating the people and events that are a part of the history of Machu Picchu. Even though it was interesting to see and hear about the people in the pictures and mentioned on the plaques, I was totally distracted because I knew, right around the corner was the view I have been waiting most of my life to see. I hesitated a bit just before I walked into the amphitheater. What if this site didn’t meet expectations? What if it was too small or touristy? What if somehow it was too built up in my mind?
I need not have worried. I was so blown away by the initial sighting I think I audibly giggled. I could sense gasps from my fellow Marketing Globetrotter as we walked into the huge bowl that contained the ruins. We all just kind of looked at each other and muttered, “whoa”, as we looked across the expanse.
There have been volumes written about the history and folklore of Machu Picchu and its “discovery” by Hiram Bingham. Often romanticized as a swashbuckling archaeologist turns out Mr. Bingham was led to the site, after sitting with some locals for rest and refreshment, by an 11 year old boy, Pablito, on his way back from attending the Pan-American Scientific Congress in Santiago.
At the time the site was covered with jungle, except for some terraces that were being used by farmers as vegetable gardens but obviously too grand to comprehend. Another expedition was immediately arranged under the auspices of Yale University, but the full extent of the “Lost City of the Incas” wasn’t discovered until as late as 1964. Because the site had thankfully not been known to the Spanish conquistadores, they didn’t have a chance to loot it and we can see the remarkably preserved site today.
Located 2,430 meters (7,970 ft.) above sea level, Machu Picchu became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. The history is still being discovered, but it appears to have been built as a Royal Retreat by the Incas in the mid-15th Century although there is evidence they were building on and among some pre-existing structures.
We wandered around as a group with Abraham showing us many of the niches too large or too out of the way, for most tourists to see. The sky was getting more and more threatening when finally a giant thunderbolt struck and a deluge open up upon us near the Temple of the Condor. We were totally in the open and unprepared and found a bit of shelter under a meter wide arch located at the edge of a ten-meter drop-off. Abraham decided to brave the elements and get us some disposable rain ponchos so we could continue on.
While we waited for Abraham, I decided, instead of standing next to the drop-off, it would be a good idea to sit and dangle my feet over the edge. This worked really well until the rain became a small river that started flowing though my pants. Oh well. By the time Abraham was back, the rain started easing and we all thought it would be a good time to convince Mike to do a rap!
It was still a few hours before our train back and while everyone else decided to go back to Aguas Calientes for some hot chocolate I elected to wander around the ruins some more. The rains had driven off the bulk of the crowd and I had time to make some photos and reflect on what an amazing trip in had the privilege to be made a part of.
In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to take early retirement and pursue a life of adventure instead of comfort and possessions. His philosophy is, “Why sip life from a straw when you can drink it from a fire hose?” When he is not traveling, he lives in Southeast Asia. You can sign up for his newsletter here, visit his website at LifePart2.com or visit him on Facebook.