Machu Picchu, Peru

June 30, 2012

Dawn light was just coming through as we arrived at Machu Picchu. [Photograph by Andrew Rambaut]

‘Crap, we totally screwed up Machu Picchu.’

I was lazing on the bed post-breakfast at the Casa Andina Hotel in Cusco, Peru.

‘We should never have gone there at this age; we should have waited until we were old people, like eighty or something.’

Aaron was only half-listening, but I continued my explanation, ‘I mean, we’ve ruined travel for life now.  How is anything going to live up to Machu Picchu?  Where are you going to have such amazing ancient culture situated perfectly within such sweeping, lush mountain scenery?  We’ll be in the Himalayas and be like Sure these are awesome mountains, but where’s the cool Inca stuff?  Then we’ll be in Giza at the pyramids and be like Impressive, but kind of a boring, arid desert don’t you think?’

I paused.  ‘Aaron, this is where you say Martha, you’re thinking too much.’

He rolled in bed. “I think you had too much Coca tea.’

‘No, I just had a little.’  But altitude made caffeine and alcohol go straight to your head (Cusco was at 3,300 meters), and my head wouldn’t stop flittering: ‘Do you think Sean would like Machu Picchu?’

We concluded that every WUS would be blown away by Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is so famous and so hyped, you go in almost certain that there will be letdown.  For instance, the Great Wall of China was very cool, but so crawling with tourists and entire packs of schoolchildren that it kind of lost its allure.  

But I have no reservations about over-hyping Machu Picchu – it not possible to.  Pictures can’t convey the aura of the place; no adjective (‘majesty’, ‘grandeur’) does it justice.  No, I would not describe Machu Picchu as a life-changing experience.  There were lots of people there meditating and pursuing deep spiritual experiences.  The only small change for me is that there is now a drip of sadness I can’t shake, knowing that the amazing Inca civilization, so beautifully aligned with its natural environment, was crushed and dismembered and ultimately enslaved by a small band of Spanish thugs led by Pizarro in the 1500s, who eventually melted down all the golden statues of Sun Gods from the Inca temples and shipped it in gold bricks back to Spain.  To what end?  Pizarro was eventually murdered by his own men.

~                                    ~                                    ~

Team Fogarty: Aaron, me, Tany, Cecile, en route to Ollantaytambo [Photo by Andrew]

Martha’s Tips for Enjoying Machu Picchu

1. There is no shame in tours. Part of Machu Picchu’s charm is how remote and inaccessible it is and how tightly the Peruvians control the number of tourists per day. I’m a seasoned traveler but I was almost brought to my knees trying to make online reservations and all the bus and train bookings needed to get there. 

2. Get a window seat on the left side of the plane (not over the wing) from Lima to Cusco (sit on the right side of the plane flying back to Lima).  Peruvian Airlines is the cheaper option compared to LAN but we had no problems.

View of the Andes from our window [Photo by Aaron]


3. If the person who is not picking you up at the Cusco Airport is not there immediately, don’t panic, just wait there.  Most likely, as in our case, she mistakenly picked up a different person named ‘Marta’ from the flight and didn’t realize her mistake until she had brought the wrong Marta back to her home (we can’t imagine how that conversation went….).  But don’t worry, she’ll come back and rescue you and give you delicious fruits and tea at her home.

Tea at Malu’s home [Photo by Tany]


4. If Malu’s friendly neighbor Sam offers to drive you to Ollantaytambo for a modest sum, definitely do that instead of taking the bus, definitely take him up on that.  There are beautiful places to stop along the way.  It is a breathtaking drive through the mountains with many places to stop, including a neat little shop where we could watch women make yarn from alpaca.

A village on the road to Ollantaytambo [Photo by Andrew]

using all natural materials to dye the wool [Photo by Aaron]

5. Hit the restaurant in Ollantaytambo that is inside the train station

Peru Rail [Photo by Martha]

6.  See Machu Picchu at sunrise.

The dawn light coming over the mountains was not to be missed [Photo by Martha]

7. Do the hike up Huaynapicchu, but know what you’re getting into, as footing can be tricky and the climb very steep.  There were loads of tourists who clearly had not known what they were getting into and were vocally not enjoying themselves.

crawling through caves on the way up [Photo by Aaron]

8. Enjoy the view from the top

top of huaynapicchu [Photo by Tany]

lizard catching a sweet view [Photo by Aaron]


9. Climbing up is tough, but don’t underestimate the climb down

Tany begins to regret her life decisions [Photo by Martha]


10. Make friends with the alpacas

[Photo by Aaron]

11. Wear layers

Morning is frigid but afternoon brings the sun [Photo by Martha]

12. As the day wears on, sitting is the way to go.

 [Photo by Tany]

13.  Bring music for the train ride home, unless you like listening to the same jingle-jangly acoustic version of some Paul Simon song that is played EVERYWHERE in Cusco.

Noise-canceling headphones are key [Photo by Martha]

14.  There is so much more to this region than Machu Picchu. We’ll definitely be back to explore more of the beautiful region around Cusco, as we just got a quick taste this go round.

[Photo by Andrew]

15. Stock up on coca (but only in forms like coca chocolate that won’t be detected by the many drug-sniffing dogs in Peruvian airports)

At the Coca museum there were lots of options for takeaways [Photo by Aaron]

16. Travel with fun people 🙂

Team Fogarty! [Photo by accommodating stranger]


2 Responses to Machu Picchu

  1. Tany says:

    Everything Martha wrote here is true!!! I enjoyed Machu Picchu a lot although hiking up Huaynapicchu is not easy for me…..

  2. Wladimir says:

    awesome! The first picture deserves a cover of the National Geographic.
    Well, good to know that I better wait until I were old people – that still leaves me a couple of years for preparing the trip 😉

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