August 4, 2007
Choquequirao-Machu Picchu Trek Day 7
There are two options for getting back to Cusco from Machu Picchu. You can either take the really expensive train, which takes two hours, or walk two hours to the hydroelectric plant and take a series of three buses, which costs much less but takes all day. After walking the last six days, I didn't have the ambition to do the latter option, so I went with the former, along with everyone else I was traveling with. The train station opened at 4:00 AM, so we got up at 3:30 to buy our tickets. However, the line was already so huge at the station that we would have to wait several hours, and by then, the trains for this afternoon would probably be sold out. We decided to start walking to Machu Picchu instead.
It took close to an hour of walking uphill on a path that cut off the switchbacks that the buses used, but we still made it to the top before first light. Unfortunately, by the time we entered the site, the first buses had already arrived and a fair amount of tourists were inside.
You're probably wondering why I went to Machu Picchu again. True, I was there at the beginning of my trip, but that was nearly two years ago, and the site was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, which means that tourism there will likely increase exponentially in the next few years. Besides, the Choquequirao trek I had just done took me to within a stone's throw of Machu Picchu, so I figured why not go again?
My second visit to Machu Picchu was every bit as good as my first. I spent hours walking around the huge city, and hours more sitting around, taking in the site, and reflecting on my journey. Yes, there were hordes of tourists everywhere, but it was easy to look past them and enjoy one of the great wonders of the world. After spending eight hours at the Lost City of the Incas, I took the long walk back down to Augas Calientes.
Chantelle and I still weren't sure how to get back to Cusco, so we stood in the long line at the train station to look for tickets. Behind me were an American couple with a huge problem: The train they purchased tickets for left from the other train station in Aguas Calientes, and nobody told them when they bought their tickets. How could there be two train stations in such a little town, and more importantly, how could the ticket salesmen not tell them that their train was leaving from a totally different location? The girl was hysterical to the point of having a nervous breakdown, and it was easy to see why: The trains often were sold out days in advance, trapping tourists in Aguas Calientes. We happened to get lucky as there were still a couple seats available on the 8:30 train to Ollantaytambo tonight.
I spent a few hours in Aguas Calientes this afternoon and realized that it's a terrible place. It was designed just for the tourists, so everything costs at least double what it should. There are statues and buildings that attempt to look authentically Incan, but fail miserably. There are tons of souvenir shops, but their merchandise looks like it was mass-produced in a factory. The people there have little to do with their ancient roots. Simply put, the entire town is gaudy. I was very happy to have a train ticket out of there.
Chantelle and I boarded our train and immediately fell asleep. My ticket said the train was going to Ollantaytambo, but it stopped short in Urubamba, a blatant lie. The train ride lasted one hour and cost $40, making it number one on my list of biggest ripoffs in South America. Yet for people wanting to visit Machu Picchu, it's virtually their only option. And the worst part is that PeruRail, which runs the trains, is owned by a Chilean company, so Peru doesn't even get to see the massive amount of money it generates. What a horrible thing to do to the tourists and Peruvians alike!
Despite the expensive ride home, the trek was an amazing experience. I got to see one of the least-known, yet most important sites of the Inca Empire, several deep gorges created by the mighty rivers of the region, the massive Vilcabamba mountain range, a beautiful section of cloud forest, an amazing hot spring, and of course Machu Picchu. It was very physically challenging, yet one of the best treks I have done in South America.
The photo album for this entry is here.