Much ado about Machu Pichu

12 o’clock noon. Magic hour! “Honey, should I start setting up the tripod?”

Machu Pichu has been done to death but you can’t really get out of visiting the Valle Sagrado without putting that feather in your cap. So thus, there we were. But, like everything else it had to be done the hard and cheap way as they don’t let just anyone into the independent adventurer and defier of all odds club these days.

There’s really a bunch of ways to get to Machu Pichu. You can take the train, walk the Inca Trail, or take one of several tours that all the different agencies around Cuzco tout. Some of the tours are kind of weird and mix up trains, busses, downhill bicycling, and hiking to get to the lost city of the ancient ones. It all boils down to the fact that Machu Pichu is just a giant clusterfuck of tourists and this might be sacrilige to say but if you don’t have a deepseated or genuine interest in the intricacies of the site itself and prefer to avoid the tourist hordes then Machu Pichu is totally and completely skippable. Most of the other sites mentioned previously are just as impressive and meaningful and require a lot less logistics and soles to get to.

Getting to Machu Pichu the top secret cheap way involves continuing on along the road after Ollantaytambo via vintage Honda motorbike instead of taking the tourist train. After crossing the Abra Malaga pass and reaching Santa Maria, take the death road to the left, skirting cliffs, vertiginous drop-offs, and knee-deep water crossings until you get to the town of Santa Theresa. From Santa Theresa it is a 6 hour walk to the base of Machu Pichu first along a dirt road and then along the rail-road tracks. Note that you can’t buy your ticket at the entrance to the site, although tickets can be purchased in the touristic ghetto of Aguas Calientes (now named Machu Pichu Pueblo), a half-hour walk away. Tickets are around $45. You can now take a $17 5-minute bus ride to the ruins or walk up. Walking up to the top will take a body somewhere around one hour. Bring everything that you might need with you into Aguas Calientes or the site itself as prices are similar to Woodstock 2 levels.

Once you’re at the site itself, forget about all the hassle that it took to get there as it is indeed an amazing place and meant to be enjoyed, especially after 7 hours of walking in stinky boots. The tour groups always cluster together and follow the man with the flag and are easy to avoid and so it is not that hard to be alone at the site, but you have to keep moving. Even so, getting caught in the crowd makes for superb people watching and even makes a body wistful of the days spent roaming America. Cinnamon bun babies, baby. More American accents are heard at Machu Pichu than anywhere else in Latin America these days and truly old, old people with midwestern accents laboriously climb and descend tricky stone ramparts hundreds of steps long all the while going painfully, infuriatingly slow in a last ditch effort to see the site of their dreams and cram it all in before the end. Nothing for a body to do but exchange knowing looks and dissaproving head nods with the tour guides.

Barb from Illinois as she breathlessly, shamelessly tries to navigate a six inch stone step, one of several hundred, while clawing at the arm of her native guide: Julio please! I can’t see depth very well! I can’t see depth very well! I dont wan’t to fall! Please! Don’t let me fall! Where is the next step!? Gahhh!

Travel Tip: Get your kicks in while you still can as it’s best to spend your golden days drinking beer and staring at the sun.

But look, despite all that the site still manages to retain an air of mystery. Legend has it that Machu Pichu was an abandoned and forgotten city at the time of the conquest, and it was never really finished at that. So who built it, why, and when? It was never touched by the Spaniards so everything was left just as it was when whoever made it decided to stop making it. For this reason alone it is worth a glance, but it’s not that different from the other sites and well, with all this sun worship, human sacrifice, and carving of megalithic blocks going on it is pretty obvious that the ancient ones were into some heavy shit back then.

Black magic type stuff, dog.

A little bird told me that the human sacrifice thing still goes on out around Puno by Lake Titicaca. Why, I asked the little bird? Because it works! it chirped. Geez, dejame paz bird. Get away!

Surprising to note is that the elevation at Machu Pichu is only around 1500m, which is about half of what most of the other sites are, making for a hot and subtropical climate. The jungle is not too far away!

Done and done…

¿Encuentrame en La Paz, porfis?

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4 responses to “Much ado about Machu Pichu

  1. Thank you for this honest, truthful, yet still inspiring portrait of Machu Pichu as a travel destination. I can now rest easy knowing it’s ok to skip this wonder of the earth if I want:)

  2. Look, someone’s gotta take a hardnosed looked at these things. And what better boy than me, what better time than now?

  3. nice story … I was lucky many years ago to find the place less crowded…
    can you not see my posts ? in bolivia yet ?

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