Monday, September 1, 2008

22 August 2008

Aguas Calientes ~

Last night was enjoyable despite rather unpleasant quarters. Following dinner, I was able to get everyone to go to the one happy hour in town. I felt it was the first time our guides bonded fully with the group. This enabled today to be a bunch of fun with the guides. Last night was also great for my Spanish. The native speakers all said I was very good—especially with my tenses—and our guide from Cuzco said I was developing a Peruvian accent. That definitely makes me happy considering a major reason I travel to South America is to practice my Spanish. Today was also great as I spent the entire morning walk either talking to the guide in Spanish or talking to Mauricio—the male Colombian—in Spanish.

As for the day’s itinerary, we decided to change it a bit, and I believe we are all happy we did so. The original plan was to walk all day and to finish in Aguas Calientes just at the end of the day. Instead, we decided to accelerate our trip to Aguas, allowing us to do some climbing in the afternoon. To do so, we took a bus a few miles down the road towards Aguas Calientes, saving us much time. We then joined up with a train track which runs to AC. We walked along the tracks for about three hours. At the time I didn’t realize it, but we were in fact circling around Machu Picchu Mountain. At one point, while crossing a bridge over the same river we’d been following for the past few days, our guide pointed out Machu Picchu. From our angle, you could only make one or two buildings. It was crazy to think we’d be climbing up that high (and higher) in the next 24 hours.

The walk was our easiest yet because we were going along railroad tracks, keeping the grade tolerable. Additionally, the scenery was so phenomenal. I had trouble accepting that it was real. The three hours passed quickly as I sucked on coffee beans growing along the trail while conversing in Spanish about the Simpsons and about my economic beliefs.

Ultimately, the train tracks led us right into the heart of the city of Aguas Calientes. The tracks go parallel to the river which forms the bottom point of the valley. The city then rises up the mountainsides on both sides of the river. Aguas Calientes is a purely tourist driven city. The city exists solely to serve the tourists going to Machu Picchu. This city has been practically doubling each year for the decade. Despite its beautiful backdrop, it is my least favorite city yet because of all the tourists. Everything costs multiple times more than in any other city, and everything is in English. More or less, this city isn’t Peruvian. It is operated by Peruvians trying to make the rich tourists feel like they are in the US or in Western Europe. It was so odd to come out of the woods after three days of hiking in the wilderness to see grey haired, obese senior citizens wearing fanny packs and Machu Picchu t-shirts. I suppose this is good for the local economy, but this is not real.

After checking into our hostel and having a light lunch, we headed out to climb to the top of the mountain Putu Cosi (Quechuan meaning happy mountain). This is one of the many mountains that surround Machu Picchu. From its summit which lies above and across the valley from the ruins, all the ruins could be looked down upon. What makes this mountain nice is that it is free to climb and is modestly difficult for the casual hiker, making it relatively quiet in comparison to the other attractions around Machu Picchu. Additionally, the summit provides what I believe is the best view of the lost Incan City.

The trail to the top was supposed to take 2 to 2.5 hours. I made the climb in about an hour. I have definitely climbed more rugged trails in the Andes,; however, this was quite steep and difficult to be open for any tourist to climb. The mountain was too steep to be climb without good gear, and for this reason, a series of ladders (some stretching multiple stories) were installed along the trail. Throughout the entire trail, I was passing people—many who eventually turned around before the summit—who I feared would have a heart attack. Never have I see a trail of this difficulty be attempted by such a myriad of people. Upon reaching the summit, the view was fantastic. On one side, you could look down at the city far below. ON the other side, you looked out on the entire Machu Picchu compound. The ruins looked absolutely beautiful nestled on a mountain top across the valley. It looked extraordinarily beautiful because it was late in the day and we were far enough away to not see the remaining tourists at the park. Even without the ruins, the view would have been spectacular. After about 30 minutes at the top, I enjoyed a very leisurely hike down which included plenty of pictures. Dinner that night was entirely Americanized while trying to be perceived as authentic. Come on Peru.

Photo Credits:

1. Movie on top of Putu Cosi, looking at Machu Picchu

2. View of train tracks which we hiked on during the day

3. View of Aguas Calientes from train tracks at night

4. View of Putu Cosi from bottom

5. View of Aguas Calientes from part way up Putu Cosi

6. Adam climbing in the one non-steep part of Putu Cosi

7. Traffic jam of people taking ladders up Putu Cosi. Most people turned around after seeing all of the ladders.

8. Me at the top of Putu Cosi with the non-Machu Picchu direction in the background.

9. Adam at the top of Putu Cosi with Machu Picchu above his left shoulder.

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