Surprise! We all had to be up by 5:15am to pack our lunch, eat breakfast, and catch a bus to Machu Picchu by 6am. In the bus line I was standing with Kiley, a fellow lover of reggae music, and he pointed out that one of the Peruvian workers had a hat with the Rastafarian lion of Judah on it. Upon commenting on it and asking where he bought it (en Español, of course), we ended up telling him we were from the U.S. and were surprised and impressed when he responded by listing all of the states! He then told us how tourism to Machu Picchu has increased from 15 people/day in the ’70s to the 4000 to 6000 people that currently visit the park every day. With that staggering fact, we loaded the bus for the 20 minute ride up the mountain to the site. On the way, we realized how truly incredible a location we were in.
Unveiling of the Inca ruin
Machu Picchu is located on the East slope of the Andes in the cloud forests of the Amazon. Although we’d already visited this ecosystem on our trip, the unbelievably sharp cliff faces and tall peaks of the surrounding mountains were like we’d never seen before. Our group had hired a tour guide, Hector, to show us around the ruins. He first took us to a ledge to get the shot of Machu Picchu that you mentally picture when you think of it. Watching the clouds slowly reveal the city was magical and exciting. Hector also explained to us how the ‘Picchu’ in Machu Picchu is pronounced like ‘picture,’ something I had not known before.
Me and the group getting our Machu Picchu pictures in
Afterwards, Hector walked us through the city, giving us anthropological information. Apparently everything is way cooler if you visit on June 21st, the Winter Solstice. The tour finished at 11am and we had the rest of the day to wander and get back in town in time for dinner. Kiley and I met up with Luke to go to the two easily accessible hikes to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate which overlooks the ruin. Although the hikes weren’t long, hiking up the steep slopes at the 9,000 ft. altitude was very hard on my legs. The views were worth it though.
What most people don’t realize being at Machu Picchu looks like.
Also, a surprise to us all were the sandflies. We thought we were done with biting bugs after leaving Manu, but we should have never let our guard down. Lots of people in short sleeves got torn up–I’m glad I stuck with the long-sleeves long-pants protocol. I still got several bites that swelled up a lot, and even bites from flies that flew up my untucked pantlegs. Little buggers! I felt bad for all the unsuspecting tourists; at least we were used to it.
Alpacas on the trail to the Sun Gate
There was also the option to hike back down to Aguas Calientes from Machu Picchu which Kiley and I did as well, to the chagrin of my shaking calves. On the way we ran into Jen and Ursula who told us about this restaurant back in town that has the best fries. As we hiked back they sounded better and better so we had to stop and get some. The four of us sat and relaxed and ate fries for an hour then headed back to the hotel to shower before dinner.
They had planned a big dinner at a fancy pizza place–we had to give our pizza orders a couple days earlier. Before we got our food, a game of pictionary started up with me and Ashlyn vs. Kiley and Kyle M. It was probably the most fun game of pictionary I’ve ever played, with topics ranging from Amazonian animals to obscure sports to draw-other-people-in-our-group-using-only-accessories-that-represent-them. At the end of the meal I proposed that Luke make a toast. I had heard that the guys had taught him what a toast was and how to ‘cheers’ a few nights before and I thought this was a great opportunity for him to try it out. I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned that Luke is an international student from China and we took lots of opportunities to teach him American phrases and culture, learning Chinese (Mandarin) ones in return. Anyway, he made a really beautiful toast to the occasion and to all of us in the program. After that we all shouted out our own toasts to other things, like no more chiggers and sandflies [Cheers!].
That night, several people went out dancing but I was still very tired and went to bed, especially considering that we had to leave the hotel by 4:50am to catch our 5am train (remember what I said about 8am being late?). In the middle of the night, however, I was awoken by drumming and shouts coming from the school courtyard outside out window. I looked out to see maybe 20 people performing a synchronized routine while holding what looked like short sticks and shouting rhythmically. I looked at my watch at it read 12:02am. . . well that’s Peru for you.