Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Road to Machu Picchu: Down the Mountain

May 3rd 2015 - Woke up with a spring in my step - rested and acclimated to the elevation. Expectations were not high for this day - most of it to be spent on transit, via collectivo and train down 3,000 ft to Aguas Calientes. Other than spectacular views, there were no big plans. After breakfast, we checked out and left most of our baggage at the hostel - we were staying again tomorrow night.

Will's Photos: Top Left: Arms display at Plaza d'Armas per usual, Top Right: Neighborhoods of Cusco
Bottom: Searching for the Collectivo terminal
On the collectivo, we were joined by Peruvians - taking advantage of cheap fares throughout the Sacred Valley. It took 30 minutes for the van to weave through the Cusco traffic and into the countryside where we were treated with picturesque views. The collectivo stopped at a couple of small villages to drop off and pick up passengers before finally reaching Ollantaytambo.

More of Will's Photos - Collectivo ride through the Peruvian countryside
First things first - we needed to establish the location of the train station and confirm our times. We found ourselves with a few hours to spare so we began to explore the town square and its narrow alleys.

Top Left: Through the alleys. Top Right & Bottom: Will's shots from the city
A tour bus lumbered into town and we decided to follow, surely it was headed to an attraction. The bus stopped in front of the terraced fortifications - but had a fee. We were debating whether or not to pay when a local suggested hiking up to the granaries instead. He said it was free, so off we went.

Moderately challenging climb to the granary.

The three of us agreed it would serve as a good warm up for tomorrow's Huayna Picchu climb. Turned out to be so much more for me. It was free hiking - we walked towards the granary, found a path and climbed up. It was peaceful up there - devoid of tourists plus breathtaking views of the valley. The hike itself was somewhat challenging, there were spots where I felt vulnerable. Plus, we were carrying all our packs and /large bottled waters. No place to store them in town. But it was well worth it.

Middle left:: Will's photos climbing up.
Our trio temporarily split to explore different levels of the granary, the only period of solitude on the trip thus far. It felt somewhat spiritual, to have climbed that high and gazing into the village below while being thousands of miles from home. Our trio remained up there for about 30 minutes, exploring the ruins.

Top Left: Misty found a good spot to herself. Top Right: Exploring the granary
Bottom: Nervously watched this Dad blaze up the trail carrying his child.
As the group returned to town, we ran into the other three guys having lunch - they had just arrived. We joined and had.. hamburgers and beers. The restaurant was tourist friendly and another American chatted us up. He had been living in Peru for months - and took keen interest in the indigenous peoples of the area.  

Cusquenas and lunch with a view
Prior to boarding the train, we explored more of Ollantaytambo and browsed through makeshift shacks, looking for presents for those at home. Eventually, we boarded for Aguas Calientes. Luckily for the other group, they were staying here for the night. I was a bit jealous of them, Ollantaytambo was among the top highlights of the entire South America trip.

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