Hiram Bingham and back to Cusco - Peru Instalment Six

I really have dragged out this 10-day Peruvian adventure into months of hanging on the edge, haven’t I? It’s a ploy to keep you interested. Is it working?

It’s very strange this whole blogosphere thing. You are having a one-sided, essentially silent conversation with trillions of people (okay, three people, Hi to VanessaM again).

I digress.

After mounting that swearword of a mountain and completing our stay at Inkaterra, we boarded the luxury train to return to Cusco. This time we had a table for two (last trip was a foursome) which would have been lovely and romantic had the effects of the husband’s evening explosions followed by a mountain hike not completely drained him of energy. As the kind and empathetic wife that I am, I was scoring his company out of 10. For that train trip, he managed a 2. Dozing, not eating the gourmet meal set in front of him (this is significant given this man has the nickname “Gourmet Nick”), not managing a Pisco Sour (free, included in the trip), barely standing as we watched the onboard band, unable to converse or even stare into his wife’s eyes. 

Me, staring lovingly out the window

Me, staring lovingly out the window

There was a rowdy English tour group on board that I couldn’t quite decide if they were exceptionally irritating, or if I was just jealous they were drunk and having so much fun.

I started to feel a little queasy myself as the train rocked through the night along the tracks back to Cusco. Disappointed we were unable to make the most of this luxury train experience, which we’d be unlikely to ever repeat, I tried downing a wine or two as Gourmet Nick dozed. Then I scrolled through photos on my phone, first of us climbing the Putukusi beast, then back through Machu Picchu. Eventually I was sliding into the dangerous territory of photos of the kids. That was the one time I really missed them. Playing videos of them talking and laughing was the colossal downfall - then the tears started.

A pep talk to myself about how this was the trip of a lifetime, how they were having a ball at home with the grandparents, and how it would be all over and back to groundhog day before I knew it, were enough to buoy the spirits. I was also interrupted by a guest we’d stayed with at one of the hotels, who had ignored us through every breakfast and dinner but somehow recognised us on the train.

He was from California. His face was pulled back tight and had a shiny appearance to it. His body belittled his face – an elderly walk mismatched his youthful surgery.

He stopped to chat – mostly about himself. Some Americans I’ve met in my travels intrigue me. When asked, “Where are you from?” they answer with the town and state they live in – “San Antonia, Texas” “Los Angeles, California”. I find this arrogant. They make an assumption that everyone should know that firstly, they are American, and secondly, that the rest of the world has studied all the states of America. I don’t answer “Melbourne”, I say “Australia”. If someone then goes on to ask where in the country specifically, I offer more details. I never hear a British person saying they’re from West Kensington, or a German saying they’re from Hesse.

Anyway, Mr California told me he’s a property developer who moves between LA and New York. He mostly plays golf and travels (and seems to have a lot of “work” done but don’t tell him I told you). Nice job if you can get it. I contemplated sucking up to him to see if I could someday come and visit him in New York but then realised I couldn’t stand spending more than ten minutes with him. That, and the fact it would be very rude to self-invite particularly when I’ve just bagged an entire race for being arrogant in their introductions.

We were collected at Cusco by the lovely Maria who drove us to our final hotel, the amazing Hotel Monasterio.

Hotel Monasterio Courtyard

Hotel Monasterio Courtyard

Kylie

Machu Picchu Here We Come! (Instalment Four)

We had a leisurely start to the morning at Rio Sagrado, taking in the final glorious sunrise over mountain range. Not to mention another buffet breakfast that contributed to the extra 5kg I’m sure I carried back – mostly around my middle. 

Our driver then drove us to the train station at Ollantaytambo ready to board the luxurious Hiram Bingham train bound for Machu Picchu! It was white-tablecloth service with views to die for. I was inexplicably obsessed with the fact we were on a train weaving through the mountains and our table had a lamp on it. For some reason, that lamp indicated we were in the lap of luxury. The delectable 3-course meal and wine to match confirmed the indulgent feeling. I admired the staff’s ability to manage glassware on a rocking vehicle!

A lamp on a train? Now that's luxury!

A lamp on a train? Now that's luxury!

The rear carriage of the train housed a bar, along with live musicians playing native and popular music. A ceiling of windows offered a view from every turn. It was a fascinating journey.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes – the base town where travellers to Machu Picchu embark and gather in confused hordes. Hotel staff met us at the train and took our baggage for us, while we queued for buses to take us to the pinnacle : Machu Picchu.

That bus ride was an extreme sport unto itself. I’ve lived in Manila, I’ve crossed the road in Bangkok, I’ve seen some precarious vehicles and driving in my time but that bus ride had me gripping the edge of my seat. A zigzag dirt road is the only way (bar hiking) to get to the top of the mountain. Everything’s sweet when there’s just one bus climbing up but as soon as an oncoming bus hurtling down the hill is presented, both vehicles move to the very edge of the road whilst still moving. I had more than one thought that perhaps we wouldn’t actually reach Machu Picchu after all…

We arrived and survived. The volume of people at the entrance of Machu Picchu astounded me. Perhaps it is because every photo I’ve ever seen of this epic place is serene and without a single head in it.

Photo of Machu Picchu anyone? The entrance to the sacred place.

Photo of Machu Picchu anyone? The entrance to the sacred place.

Unfortunately there was some confusion about our tickets and we were delayed by over an hour while they sorted it out. I ended up as “Kylie Orr – Male – Afghanistan” on the ticket but who cared? I was finally in! MP closes at 5pm each day and we were assigned a guide at 2.30pm. I was in a spin about coming all this way and only having two hours to explore and absorb. As it turned out, it was a blessing to have been delayed. The crowds had subsided, the light was perfect for photos and we were able to truly embrace the serenity of the magnificent surrounds.

I have never seen mountains as mammoth or architecture as amazing, for its time. It is an awe-inspiring space, made much more meaningful by the guides who explained so much about the buildings, the time, the agriculture and the spirituality. Photos don’t do it justice. It is a must-see on anyone’s bucket list – and my recommendation is to do it before you lose the use of your knees! Lots of walking, climbing narrow rock stairs and navigating uneven paths. 

Does it get any better than this? 

Does it get any better than this? 

Afternoon tea back at the bus stop hotel (otherwise known as Belmond Sanctuary Hotel), then we boarded a bus to take that scary ride back down the hill. By the way, feedback from others staying At the Sanctuary Hotel was that the location was undeniably awesome but the noise from sunset to sunrise of buses and tourists coming and going offset the premium location.

We stayed at the gorgeous Inkaterra…next instalment :)