Machu Picchu was obviously not the sole purpose of this trip but it was the destination that was to be reached at any cost. Ever since I saw the first documentary on the TV when I was about 9 years old, about the history and discovery of Machu Picchu, I knew when I was older I would make it there. Now, I was on that journey and was not going to let any moment slip past me.
Day 2: Natural baths in the mountains nearing Machu Picchu
In Cusco, Peru, prior to the trip, we spent a full day walking around and getting information on the pricing of the trek up to Machu Picchu, but more importantly, the itinerary and what each trip entailed. We had spoken to an English couple, an American guy, and a Canadian girl who, at seperate times, had done the 5 day Inca Trek. The general consensus was that the experience was obviously incredible, but after digging a little more, the 5 day trek of getting to Machu Picchu, was a bit much. The girl from England said, "unless you are really, really into hiking and trekking, its 5 days of walking ... you can only be excited by the views so often when you are that tired." That just solidified the idea that Olli and I already had, which was the 3 day trek. Across from the Plaza de las Armas in Cusco, and on the corner of Avenida del Sol and Mantas, there is a travel company on the 2nd floor that we deemed the best price, most information and the most trustworthy company and people we had come across. A couple hundred dollars later, we had our whole trip organized and the itinerary shown to us. Pick up from our hostel, mountain biking and the natural baths the first day, zip lining the 2nd (optional $20 extra) ending with a couple hour walk into the town below Machu Picchu, known as Aguas Calientes.
After booking our trip, including the Huayna Picchu tickets ($12 extra), we descended to the bottom floor and stepped into the gym for a quick workout, grabbed some snacks for the voyage (not all food is included) and went back to pack up.
Mountain biking on Machu Picchu tour
On time pick up the next morning in a normal white van was a reassuring start. You then spend the next hour or so zipping around to other hostels to pick up other Machu Picchu goers and the bikes. You then start your ascent out of Cusco, and the constant climb, literally, into the clouds. Winding roads with steady drops are something that becomes a constant on this trip, but after this first couple hours or driving, we stopped to stretch our legs and get a bite to eat. The next pull off was the beginning of the excitement! We got out, grabbed the helmets and shin pads, and got situated with our bikes! Now when they say "mountain biking" its not what you think. Its not trails, or ladder bridges or even dirt, its literally biking down a switch back road from the top of the mountain pass. Nevertheless, a good amount of fun! Olli and I sped as fast as possible, overtaking each other and even some cars at some points, and the guide just gave us the name of the town to stop for lunch and we all regrouped there.
The Death Road on the 1st day of Machu Picchu trek
As the late afternoon approaches, and you end your mountain biking, you file back into the vans for a "drive" to the town where you stay for the night.
Be prepared for what comes next.
Like in my zip line blog entry from Ecuador I am not shy on admitting my fear of heights and this put it to the test. You cross over the shallow part of a thick, river to start your climb up the gravel road. The higher you climb, your heart rate follows. Uneven ground, thinning and thickening road width, no barriers coupled with the increase in altitude and passing other cars coming the other way, I was starting to question this choice of tour. It got to the point where, because of the glass, you could not position your head to see the edge of the cliff as it was inches from the side wall of the vans tire. After a good 30 minutes of contemplating if I could get out and walk it and keep my dignity, the road started to widen and we started to descend closer to the river. My breathing started to relax, heart rate started to slow down and I started to relax, but I will always remember that I was not over reacting when I looked at Olli, who is tough as nails, and saw his relieved, nervous smile.
We set our bags down in our rooms, grabbed a bite to eat in the tiny town, and enjoyed the well earned relaxation in the natural hot spring baths. Day 1 in the books, and Day 2 with zip lines and the walk to Aguas Calientes in our minds we passed out for an early rise the next morning.