The Sacred Valley of the Incas
This was already a very new experience for us as we left with very little luggage, only a backpack with the most basic things for one night sleep and two days. On the way we stopped in several places, amongst them, Pisaq, which is famous for its grand balconies that have both a purpose for agriculture and land protection. There the village was on the top of a hill and blended very much into the mountains so from far away you could not see that it was a village. The Inca´s were clever and did not use the best land for houses, but they always used the best land for agriculture. In Pisaq we also saw a whole mountainside that was a graveyard, with holes in the mountain, where the dead were put in with their head facing east so they could witness the sunrise.
We then came to Ollantaytambo, where we visited the famous Fortress and Citadel. These where built to guard the entrance to the valley. Everything we looked at felt impressive, the walls, the size of the rocks that had been moved to this place and the share workmanship that was clearly involved. Here we saw buildings high up in the hills, which the Inca´s used as food storage, built so the wind would cool the food – kind of their refrigerators. Besides these buildings, high up on a mountainside, there was a carved face. The nose apparently fell off a few years ago, but one can´t stop to wonder how on earth this was possible to create in those days.
In the mountains above Ollantaytambo, forest fires had been threatening the nature for some time (we did not know if it was days or weeks). We could see the fires and smoke from our bus and in Ollantaytambo a small group of firemen were resting and receiving some recognition at the same time we were there.
Every time we stopped, there were women and children selling souvenirs, most of them really beautifully hand crafted items. It was hard to say no, but we had already bought our share of very nice things to bring home and had to remember that our suitcases only had limited space.
We enjoyed this excursion, here we split from the group tour we were on as they headed back to Cusco and we were headed in the direction of Machu Picchu. We had lunch and for some of us that turned out to be the best food we had the entire Peru trip. We were getting pretty desperate for some decent food as the restaurants we first entered looked very sloppy and far from clean. We ended up in the third restaurant and had great fun with both a German waitress and some German guests. We learned more about how it was to really live in the area and from what we heard, we do not know many people that would actually be willing to settle for that kind of extremely basic living standards just for the experience.
Soon it was time for our train to Aguas Calientes. It was a pleasant train ride, almost 2 hours, and we arrived in dark and rain. Our hotel was a fairly modest one but good for the purpose. Here we met a lady that advised us to take the bus no later than 6.00 next morning to be early enough for the sunrise. With that plan we went to sleep.
It was yet another short night sleeps in Machu Picchu pueblo (Aguas Calientes) before we were up and at breakfast. Pretty simple setup at the hotel, with a few more guests clearly on the same plans as us. It was also a bit funny to have one of the hotel staff watch over the breakfast table. Probably to make sure that we wouldn´t take too much with us.
Only a short moment later, we were on the bus stop ready to go. It was a little lively and one bus after another was filled with excited tourists and then rolled away. The guess was they had 50 buses going up and down the windy road with visitors all day. This journey took 20 minutes and we lifted quickly from 2.000 to 2.400 meters at the entrance to Machu Picchu. We were ready to see it and we were absolutely excited.
The clock was almost 6.30 and we felt that it was soon going to be sunrise. It was already bright, but the sun was still hiding behind the mountaintops. We hurried through the gates, showing our valuable entrance tickets and then we were there – inside the world famous Machu Picchu.
We walked along the tracks that were leading us towards the main area. But then Kristjan decided that we should quickly head upwards a trail that came up in front of us. There were many tourists heading the same way or further into the main area. The excitement was growing and someone in our group said we needed to hurry to be at a good viewing point for the sunrise. A few more minutes and then we came onto one of those balconies and the view was truly astonishing. We were ready for the sun to show now. It was almost like – let the show begin and then it happened.
The next 20-30 minutes just happened and we were like small actors in a master show of nature. The sun came up over the mountaintops and we could see those clear sunrays run over the view we had over the whole of Machu Picchu – just like a picture being painted in front of our eyes. It was magical, but it was just the beginning of much more. After a little while the heat from the sun was starting to warm up the land and the mystical fog started rising. First like a soft scarf and then suddenly it was covering sizeable part of the Huayna Picchu, the best know mountain in the background of all pictures showing Machu Picchu. This magical act of nature kept on going in front of our eyes for some time. We just stood there and enjoyed. There were even some tears as we hugged each other and it was just a truly happy moment. We had probably seen the best of Machu Picchu as it can be seen. At least we realized later in the day, when some groups arrived around lunch time, that this was not just about the scenery – it was even more about the misty and magical nature that we had experienced.
It almost felt like we could just leave now. We had really seen and lived the magic, but it was just still early morning. We found our guide, a short local lady from Aguas Calientes. So for the next 2 hours we walked through the main area of the ruins and listened to her stories. Furthermore, we also listened to many questions from Kristjan and her answers to most of them. It was almost like she was a bit relieved when we departed. Those 2 hours were certainly valuable for us to learn more about the culture and habits of the Incas. We were surprised that there had only been about 600 people in this paradise, but many had come through for their work purposes.
Then we decided to take a walk up to the Sun Gate. This formal end of the Inca trail, when trailers would reap the reward and finally see into Machu Picchu, towers 2.800 meters in the air and gives a great view over the area. We really felt that this spot gave us the best overview and we also sat down here to take in the view. We then followed a recommendation and walked about 10 minutes down the Inca trail itself and came to a viewing point that was quite impressive to see.
Time was really flying and when we called it a day, we had already been 8 hours in Machu Picchu. This will always be one of the most magical experiences – perhaps this will be THE magical experience in our lives. Anyhow, it was a pretty tired bunch that was on the bus down the hill and then popped into the train to Ollataytambo. And were we happy to see our driver with our nametag, so we knew the travel plan was working out. We would see our hotel beds in less than 2 hours. And we had forgotten all the negatives of our Cusco hotel when we returned.