Friday, July 3, 2009

Machu Picchu ... above the Sacred Valley ...

Woke up this morning excited to board the Orient Express train! Its a 3-hour plus train ride to reach the town of Aguas Calientes, which is at the foot of Machu Picchu.

Train looks spanking new, I believe the service is only a few years old.

The observatory car at the end of the train is my favorite, spent most of my time there, watching the mountains, rivers and small towns past by as we sped along the Sacred Valley. Scenery is of course one-and-only, I am tired of using words like beautiful, wonderful, amazing ... they seem incapable of what I want to express.

Meals are gourmet, china used is first rate (not like my corning ware set at home :P). But the service is the thing that makes the entire ride super enjoyable. Nothing is too much for them. The table next to us let the crew know of their meal restriction last minute, and they still manage to whip up what looks tasty on the train!

Dining car ...

Lounge/Bar car with live music ...

Arrived in the town of Aguas Calientes! Machu Picchu is about 6km (3.5 miles) up above this town. This is the closest access to the sacred Incan ruins, and the congregation point of trekkers as well. Lots of restaurants, hotels, internet cafe, shopping around here. Every trekker stay in this town after their hike enroute to the ruins.

One can walked up steps from town to the ruins (about 1.5 - 2 hours) or take the 15 minute bus ride up. As part of our package, we will be staying at the 31-room Sanctuary Lodge, another Orient Express property. An eco-lodge, it is the ONLY hotel located adjacent to the ruins, otherwise you have to stay in the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot. No matter hor amazing I know the ruins is going to be, don't think we will be back anytime soon, so we paid for the enviable priviledge of lounging on a grassy terrace overlooking the ruins and bragging rights for life :P But really, the highlight of staying here is to wake up in the wee morning to watch the sunrise at the ruins!!

We had an English-speaking guide take us to explore the ruins. He was great and very informative, the whole explorattion is definitely more meaningful when you understand the history between the Inca tribe and the Spanish invadors. Oh , one thing! The sun seems much much stronger at altitude, think I suffered from heat stroke after the 3-hour ruins hike in the afternoon.

This is taken near the entrance of the ruins.

And then you turn a corner and viola! Everyone will always remember the unforgetable moment on their first sight of Machu Picchu.

The large stones are amazing and very well preserved after all these years ...

There is only ONE entrance to the entire ruins (below), this is their security feature in ancient times :)

Ok, remember I told you I got heat stroke? Yup, look at my face :( After the afternoon exploration, I feel like I am having a high fever (maybe I was) ... went stright back to the room to try and sleep it off ...

Ok, woke up at 5:30am to get ready to go into the ruins. Luckily, think I manage to sleep off the fever ... Machu Picchu opens at 6am, luckily, its 20 steps from the hotel :) so you get in before the loads of tour buses land.

See the sun peeking out? Sunrise on Machu Picchu is not the type of sunrise you see at the ocean/beach, watching it come up from the horizon. It is already day break, but the sun does not come up from the mountain to shine down on the ruins till about 7am, and that's what people wait excitedly too see.

Ha ha ha, look who's taking a break. His excuse is he has not had breakfast ... whatever ... we were trying to walk to a high point on the trail ... we turned back after 1/3 of the way ... are you surprised?? :P

Funny story, we actually jump down on one of the terraces and slept there, and read a book for an hour. After some time, there's this security guard keep blowing his whistle loudly and pointing at us, shouting for us to "get off" ... uh, guess we were on their restricted area ... with so many tourists a year, they have to keep a lookout for 'punks' I guess :P They are doing their damnest to preserve the authenticity of the ruins and keeping with the UNESCO World Heritage standard.

Ok, this is my "cheek turned red" moment. I saw this animal walking by in the ruins, was so excited I shouted "look, sheep, goat!!" ... this family turned around and the kid said "that is a llama" ... uh ok, I usually read up on the places I travel to before going, but this last-minute trip I just came here with no time to read up ... I feel so ignorant, and was definitely embarressing.
Llama (Lama glama) is a South American camelid, widely used as a pack animal by the Incas and other natives of the Andes mountains. They are sacred to the Incas.