Some photos in the post, but see Google for all.
At last the triple rest day is here! It’s the only time in 4 1/2 months where we have three full days off the bike. Bike Dreams organized an optional trip to Machu Picchu which most signed up for. So at 9am on the 18th, we piled into a pair of mini-buses and headed back on the route we had ridden to Cusco the day before. After about 20km we turned off toward the Sacred Valley. It took almost 2 hours to get to the little town of Ollantaytambo. There’s a very famous archaeological site and we exited the bus excited to see. But the entrance fee of S130 turned everyone off. We all either walked up the free but not so impressive site across the valley, or spent the couple of hours we had checking out the cafes and restaurants. The town appears to be 100% tourist-oriented. The proportion of gringos here is even more than in Cusco. After milkshakes, we walked around town a little, then shared a pizza for lunch.
In the afternoon we walked about 1km down to the train station. The Peru Rail Machu Picchu train picked us up, all reserved seating including snacks and drinks. The Vista Cruiser windows were great since the valley we cruised through is steeper and as deep as Yosemite. It has vertical granite walls too. The ride was beautiful, about 90 minutes and then we arrived in Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu Village. This town is also purely tourist-oriented but it’s not a bad thing for us. The options you have for eating and drinking are infinitely more than in normal parts of Peru. If you only came to places like Lima, Cusco and here you would have a strange view of Peru I think. Six of us had dinner at an upscale Craft Beer restaurant, then went to the 7pm Machu Picchu briefing about the next day. Basically we all had 7am tickets so could enter any time after that. Our guides had two groups planned for 7am and one for 11am, so you could sleep in or hike more beforehand if you wanted. We had a round of Pisco Sours courtesy of John, then went to bed kind of early with the alarm set for 4:45 since we had decided to hike rather than take the bus up.
Breakfast was excellent, right at 5am. We ate fast then started hiking around 5:15 when it was just barely starting to get light. You hike down the river for maybe 2km, then show passport and ticket at the control office and head up the hiking trail. It climbs steeply, up 400m to the upper entrance into Machu Picchu itself. They say 90-120 minutes but we took 30 minutes for the climb due to bike fitness. It was humid though and my shirt was soaked at the top. Andrew set a perfect pace and we passed a ton of people. We had 45 minutes to wait for our guides and the people who rode the bus, which was nice for shirt drying.
Finally we got to go in – the crowds are daunting but if you expect it like we did, it’s not as disappointing. If you are expecting some kind of magical pristine experience you should not come. Peru has done a great job managing the huge demand but it’s done by having a ton of very restrictive rules so this is not for everyone. The Machu Picchu ruins were about what I expected having seen a million pictures from friends and others. But the setting is amazing and makes the whole experience better. The vertical relief is immense and the area around Machu Picchu is just incredible. The valleys are so deep, the peaks so high and steep and the whole place is just so improbable. As Andrew said, “They could’ve picked an easier building site.” We took a million photos and walked through one of the prescribed one-way only routes. The max group size is 15 so we were split between guides and ours explained lots, but it’s almost better to tune it out and just appreciate being there.
It is possible to (briefly) see things by yourself and take photos without hordes of people in them, but it’s not easy. At the end of the tour, the guide leaves and you can explore a little bit more – the Condor Temple etc, we actually needed a 20 minute rest from walking around so slowly. It’s surprisingly strenuous. Way harder than hiking up the trail at full speed. We strolled down and at the entrance checked to see if it was possible to catch a bus – we had been warned the line can be 30-90 minutes and we knew we could hike down in less than that. But it was still before 11 so the line was small and we headed down the super steep switchbacks on the rough dirt road and were soon back in town. I couldn’t help thinking they should hire the Austrians to build a teleferique.
Our train back didn’t leave until after 4pm so we had a nice drink of juice, then a look around parts of the town we hadn’t seen the day before and a fancy lunch at a great organic restaurant that happened to have fancy craft beer of course. The number of places advertising Vegetarian food out numbered the total I had seen in over a month in Peru by a factor of a hundred. After more walking around and seeing a weird, large, hairless dog, we ended up at different craft beer restaurant for another round. Then ice cream down by our hotel and then it was time to head for the train. It was a pleasant ride again, with a funny fashion show by the train staff, with Alpaca shawls and scarves etc that they modeled for sale. At 6:30 we were back in Ollantaytambo and were dropped off at our hotel in Cusco around 8:30. Martin, Andrew and I took Wim out for a drink at our favorite bar (Cholo’s) – boy is that Inti Puntu IPA great! Even though we had been up since 4:45, Andrew and I stayed up reading until midnight then settled in for sleep.
In the morning, it was amazing. We hadn’t ridden the previous two days and today was another rest day! We had a lazy breakfast and then Andrew worked on his bike while I joined a few others and went on a 2 hour walking tour of Cusco. We saw a bunch of Inca stone work, some old Spanish aqueducts etc and even got to see the famous 12-sided stone.
At the end for S5 we could take a mini bus up to the Christ Statue on the hill. It was a nice view from up there, then I came down for lunch.
Tom, Andrew and I ate in a Quinoa restaurant across the street. Then I worked on my bike – replaced the chain and cleaned it all up. It was still shifting great but that chain has over 3100km on it and since I brought three spares, it was time to replace. Amazingly the tires are still in top shape.
At 4pm, we had a “Pisco Sour” party, organized by Wim. We all contributed some money and we had 3 liters of home made Pisco Sour, lots of snacks and other drinks. It was also a birthday party for both John (65 today) and Wijnand so we had a couple of big delicious cakes. It was also a going away party for Niek, Elke, Wim, California Chris and unfortunately for Kees who has to go back to Holland for medical reasons. And it was a welcome party for Greg, Michael, Bianca and Raymon who have joined us for the next couple of sections to Salta. It was a great success, very fun. It went on through dinner when we ordered a few pizzas. It so felt like a Sunday night although it’s Friday – we have to go to work tomorrow.