Peru 2012:
Day 2 - Macchu Picchu


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Peru 2012: [Day 1 - Chinchero/Maras/Moray] [Day 2 - Macchu Pichu] [Day 3 - Cusco]

Friday, November 23, 2012: We slept well and awoke to another beautiful sunny day.
We went downstairs to have the delicious Hotel Monasterio buffet breakfast, ...
... and enjoyed it in the sunny courtyard, where we were serenaded by a guitar player.
The day before, we had reserved a round-trip taxi ride to the town of Poroy, and our driver was waiting for us in the lot in front of the hotel even though we were early.
Tom's GPS topped off at 12,400 feet as we drove up the hill toward Poroy.
Here's the view looking back toward Cusco.
Even this high up, the community of Cusco continues to grow.
Cuyeria -- we knew that the word for guinea pig is cuy, so we guessed that this is a sign for a restaurant that specializes in guinea pigs. The Internet confirms that we were right.
It's ridiculous how great our luck with weather is. On the day that we'd be taking a train to Machu Picchu, the snow-capped Andes were fully visible.
We passed the precariously-perched gas station we had visited the day before on our tour.
When we reached the train station, we got a photo of our driver's car just in case our driver didn't come back later, but it turns out that Washington, our driver, was more concerned about us not coming back later since we didn't have physical tickets for our train trip. No problem -- we checked in and picked up our tickets, and Washington was relieved for us and told us he'd see us when we returned later that evening.
Here's the spacious waiting room at the Poroy train station, where several different trains depart daily for Machu Picchu.
There's a cafe at one end. The room is really pretty, ...
... but the real beauty is the Hiram Bingham train waiting just outside.
As passengers arrived, a local music-and-dance group greeted us with a performance.
When boarding began, we were treated to champagne flutes filled with juice or mimosas.
We opted for mimosas. We were the first couple checked in, ...
... and we were escorted to our preassigned seats in Car A.
Our tickets were numbered 2 and 3 because we booked five months in advance, ...
... and we think that is how we got lucky enough ...
... to have a table to ourselves.
While the train was still empty, we took a quick tour. Here is one of the two identical bar cars. There is also a second dining car and an observation car.
With a half hour left before departure, we strolled around the platform for a bit. The performers had moved from the station entrance to the train platform to continue the morning's entertainment.
We checked out the mighty engine at the front of the train, ...
... then we watched this adorable Peruvian girl lead her lambs across the railroad tracks.
We swapped photo-taking favors with another couple.
At departure time, we settled in for a morning of luxurious train travel on the Orient Express' Hiram Bingham.
It was a very relaxing way to enjoy the morning.
The table across from us remained empty until we reached Ollantaytambo, so we had views out of both sides of the train.
Our train guide made announcements in both Spanish and English.
The scenery started off with lots of farmland ...
... cows, ...
... donkeys, ....
... and pigs.
We headed to the empty observation car at the back of the train where we had the open end of the train all to ourselves, except for the four-person band. We toasted to our vacation with two complimentary Coke Zeros, ...
... and enjoyed the warm weather and fresh air.
We returned to our table in time for a brunch course of pastries and cups of delicious coca tea. The train's sound system played Peruvian cover versions of familiar 70s and 80s music.
The train's route descends slowly over many miles, dropping into steeper and steeper valleys.
All along the path, small farms are tucked into any available space.
We passed through a variety of climates, each with their own dominant plantlife. Most of the cactus plants we saw were in bloom. We also saw tall stalks of aloe plants, dubbed "Peruvian asparagus" for their resemblance to very large asparagus stalks.
We spent a little time in one of the lounge cars.
The waiter brought us bowls of toasted corn and fava beans as snacks to go with our next round of Coke Zeros.
The large picture windows afforded great views of the Urubamba River right below us.
We followed the river the entire way. It widened significantly when we reached Ollantaytambo.
The train came to a halt as we arrived in Ollantaytambo shortly after we passed the smaller Patakancha River, ...
... and we waited onboard as the rest of the train filled up with additional passengers.
Vendors were standing by to sell their wares to the tourists at the train station.
From here, the surrounding hills were turning into mountains as we continued to descend.
With all passengers on board, it was time to start serving brunch at a leisurely pace.
The first course was Wayllabamba's trout, fava beans, Andean mint, and airampo (cactus) emulsion. It was quite delicious.
Ollantaytambo is where most hikers begin hiking the Inca Trail. Our guide pointed out some of the highlights of the trail, such as these Inca granaries across the river.
At some points, the trail came right up to the river's edge and sometimes we spotted hikers.
Here, the trail is further back but this is one of the interesting sets of terraces that the trail visits.
Our next brunch course was lamb cannelloni, spring greens, elderberry, and potato pesto. It was also very delicious.
The landscape turned more tropical, with bromeliads scattered all over the rock walls and tucked into trees.
Our dessert course was rich chocolate with pineapple, tarragon strawberry coulis, Maras salt and lavender.
Even the train's tiny restrooms were beautifully tiled and appointed.
We were served a small selection of Peruvian goodies for dessert. Overall, everything was very delicious.
As we neared the town of Aguas Calientes (recently renamed Machu Picchu Town), the warmer climate was especially evident with large groves of banana trees.
We arrived at the Aguas Calientes train station, ...
... and were welcomed to a comfortable private waiting room for Hiram Bingham passengers and offered a refreshing glass of juice as we waited for our group to depart.
We walked from the train station through a small market, across the river, and down a street to meet our waiting bus.
Our guide was Carlos, and he was responsible for a small group of English-speaking guests.
We crossed the river again, ...
... then began the 20-minute drive up the mountain using a series of switchbacks. It got a little nerve-wracking when we encountered a bus going the other way, but it wasn't nearly as scary as we expected.
At the top, we parked in front of the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at Machu Picchu. Most of the people in our group wanted to tour the site on their own, so Carlos told them where and when to meet at the end of the day.
We were left with a family of three, and waited for what seemed like forever as the dad asked the hotel to store the gigantic bag of stuff he had brought.
Desperate to get our pictures in case the sun disappeared later, our guide finally trusted us to go on without them and meet at the lookout point. We stopped to take a photo looking down at the town and river below us.
We took the staircase on the left as we were instructed, and began the arduous hike to the lookout. Even though we had descended to 8,000 feet, we were still way up there and had to stop to rest many times on the steep hike up.
We reached the overlook, huffing and puffing, ...
... and it was completely worth it. There was amazing Machu Picchu shining in the sun.
This photo gives some idea of how high this ancient city is compared to the river in the valley below.
Across the valley on the other side of the river is a recently-discovered wall that archaeologists are just starting to research.
Here's a cool red plant living happily among the terraces.
From the overlook, we headed down toward the main part of the site.
This stone entrance marks the official end of the Inca Trail.
Looking back from here, we can see the various overlooks and part of the Inca Trail in the far left distance, but we'll have better photos of that later on in our story.
Carlos took us to another great photo location for a rest, a photo op, and a little discussion about Machu Picchu.
In the far distance, we zoomed in on the peak of Huayna Picchu. Limited numbers of hikers are allowed to climb it each day, and are rewarded with great views and access to some additional archaeological sites.
Although we had great weather overhead, dark clouds hovered over some of the surrounding peaks. Several times, we heard deep thunder rumbling across the valley toward us. It was surreal.
We encountered a garden displaying native plants, each with a label identifying them. Debbie was in gardener heaven. There were numerous orchids and other tropical plants.
We continued on our tour, and at one point, our tour guide told us that there would be a test at the end. That was mistake number one. A little later, the six-year-old girl in our group asked, "Will this be on the test?" and we all started laughing. That was mistake number two. She realized that it was cute and mentioned "the test" every three minutes for the next two hours. We are not exaggerating.
Numerous llamas live on the grounds of Machu Picchu, and at this place, there were several llamas wandering among the tourists.
This couple decided to have some bananas as a snack, and they had the llamas' undivided attention.
While the other tourists watched the llama/banana hijinks, we got a photo of the main attraction here: the Three Windows Temple.
During a llama scuffle over the banana peels, one of the peels got dropped, so our guide picked it up and fed a llama, providing us with a nice photo op.
This wall is starting to collapse slightly, but is still remarkably intact.
The top of this rock represents the outline of the Southern Cross constellation, complete with the little divet on the top right that denotes the fifth, fainter star in the constellation.
This was the view looking down into the valley on the other side of Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliente. The same river flows on the other side, having wrapped around the mountains on which Machu Picchu sits.
Here's the Intihuatana stone, which is a solar calendar. It's one of the most famous things to see at Machu Picchu.
Time and energy levels did not permit us to continue to the left, so we just looked at it instead, ...
... and headed across the large plain in the center of the site.
We were passed by this group of identically-dressed schoolchildren, just one of many, many groups of Peruvian students we saw who were visiting Peru's historic sites as part of government-sponsored, multi-day school field trips.
Several structures were simply built around the existing rock, which had to be a nice time-saver for the builders.
This display represents earth, water, and sky, if our memories are correct. The water reflects the image of the sky.
Carlos described how the room might have looked when Machu Picchu was still inhabited.
Look! It's a rabbit! If we've learned anything from Monty Python films, it's that you don't trust a rabbit hiding in a cave.
More scenery.
As our guide told us about the Temple of the Condor, Sophie waited impatiently to ask if the latest information would be on the test. Again. Carlos valiantly powered through his talk.
Here's the head of the condor. Its wings are represented in the massive stone behind it in the previous photo.
Notches on the corner rocks must have been used for some sort of structural support.
Sophie followed Carlos through this narrow passageway. At this point, her parents just let her shadow him and stayed behind us, so he was turning into a glorified babysitter, poor guy.
This is the view looking back up toward the entrance -- so many terraces.
Looking a little further toward the left, and zooming way in, we could see the last leg of the Inca Trail. The notch on the left is the Temple of the Sun, which is the point on the trail where hikers get their first look at Machu Picchu. From there, it is a triumphant walk downhill to the site and the end of the trail.
This is another view of the room that was just built on top of the giant boulder. We want a room like that in our house.
At another lookout point, Carlos told us some interesting facts, but Debbie was distracted by the endless stream of teenagers being photographed behind him. Every teenage boy struck an angry gangster pose, softening only slightly when posing with his girl.
This impossible-to-photograph wonder is a series of carved waterways that leads water from a natural spring high up in the mountainside down the hill so it is easily accessible.
This throne-like set of steps is at the entrance to the Royal Tomb, directly underneath the Temple of the Sun.
This wall of the Palace of the Princess is an architectural wonder. Stones on each side of the wall are slightly slanted toward the center and so perfectly fitted together that the wall needs no other reinforcement to be incredibly strong.
Another rabbit. You just know he has big, bitey teeth. Actually, this is a vizcacha, considered a rodent and a pest on the grounds. The tail makes him look more like a squirrel, although the face and ears are more rabbit-like, if rabbits were terrifying, soul-stealing creatures. Debbie had a several minute staring contest with this one.
This view, looking back down the side of the mountain, shows a section of the site that has remained unrestored so visitors can have an idea of how it looked when first encountered by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, prior to restoration.
Our tour was winding down and we started heading toward the entrance.
Looking down, we could see the switchbacks on the road up the mountain.
Our tour ended and we returned to the Sanctuary Lodge. Some train guests would be spending the night here, but we hadn't chosen to do that, and we were pleased with our decision, because we felt like we had spent enough time at Machu Picchu and were ready to go.
But first, our trip included a full afternoon tea buffet in the Lodge's restaurant.
There were tiny sandwiches and scones and pastries and desserts, and of course, tea. We were famished and ate many tiny sandwiches.
We had a little spare time after our tea, so we sat outside for a while, saying "no" to the postcard vendors, and got this photo of the restaurant exterior.
Back on the bus we went, with a mission of getting a shot of the staircases that link one section of road to the one below it, serving as a major shortcut for anyone who chooses to hike up or down the route. We saw a few crazy people actually doing it.
We got back to town as the sun was setting on the peaks far above us, ...
... so it was getting a little dark in the market by the train station, which did not have any electric lighting. We had a little time before the train departed, so we purchased some socks, a tiny llama magnet, a headband with tiny dolls on it, and a fresh slice of banana cake, sliced right off the round cake to order.
Just inside the train's waiting area, the staff gave each of us a cool wash cloth to refresh ourselves.
Inside, the train's resident band was pumping out some evening funk for our enjoyment.
The Hiram Bingham waited to bring us back to Poroy in comfort. We were happy to have our same table for the ride back, even though many of the other passengers had changed.
The observation car was now at the front of the train, so it was no longer open for open-air viewing. Since it would be dark soon, this wasn't really a problem.
A tray of pisco sours stood by, ready to be passed out to the returning guests.
We raised our glasses and toasted to Machu Picchu. The pisco sours tasted very much like margaritas, and although they were delicious, we were wary of alcohol after a day in the sun at high altitude.
We headed to one of the bar cars and had the first of two Coke Zeros, along with corn and fava bean snacks again. A waiter passed through with appetizers of meatballs made with some sort of meat and quinoa in a dipping sauce.
We had missed a photo of this dam on our way in, so we were glad it was still just light enough for a photo on our return journey.
When we returned to our table, our pisco sours were gone, so we had another round of Coke Zeros with our dinner.
This was our amuse bouche -- but we don't remember what it was and it wasn't printed on the menu. It was the first of several dinner disappointments.
Neither of us could finish this greasy appetizer, described as duck ham with eucalyptus leaves essence, corn jam, and crispy chili skin.
This leek and potato soup was a big hit with us. It was made with purple kiwicha (a seed grain), olive oil, and lemon balm.
Debbie had the beef tenderloin, with confited root, Quillabamba peanuts, white grape and myrtle tartar. It wasn't bad but the steak was very small.
Tom had the Pumahuanca grilled trout with Maras salt crust, quinua duo, in a sachatomate meunière sauce. It was tasty.
Dessert was an apple custard parfait, with carrots and cocoa nibs and a mandarin and ginger reduction. It was not terribly delicious, but the sauce was good.
Finally, we had some not very delicious petits fors. The meal was a little disappointing, but only because we didn't particularly enjoy the flavors involved.
We arrived into the station a half hour late, but our driver, Washington, was waiting there as agreed. The standard arrangement was that we would pay him the full amount (90 soles) at the end of the return trip, and it worked out very well.
Back at the hotel, the monastery artwork welcomed us home. We had learned the previous day that local artists painted angel wings in bright macaw colors hundreds of years ago, because they understood angels to have very beautiful wings, so they must look like the gorgeous wings of a macaw. It makes the painting style very distinctive to the region.

Cristo Blanco looked down from his hill onto the hotel courtyard as we called it a night.

Day 3 >


Peru 2012: [Day 1 - Chinchero/Maras/Moray] [Day 2 - Macchu Pichu] [Day 3 - Cusco]

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