Breathtaking... ...ly Expensive
05.09.2006 22 °C
Monday 04 - Wednesday 06 September
Shunning a further overnight trial-by-bus, we took a morning trip from Puno for the gradual descent into the bustling town of Cusco.
Arriving in the early afternoon on Monday you soon see just why Cusco is so bustling; the place is teeming with tourists eager to make the backpacker's pilgrimage along the famous Inca Trail to the even more famous Machu Picchu.
We were just happy to settle in to our digs here that first afternoon, stepping out in the evening for the customary beer and bite to eat.
Tuesday 05 September
Some time before embarking on our world-journey we'd dismissed the idea of trekking the Inca Trail; firstly, you need to book a place months in advance which would have dictated our itinerary somewhat, and secondly we'd heard from fellow travellers that the 'uniqueness' of the experience was becoming diminished by the sheer volumes of daily trekkers now following the trail.
But of course, you can't come to Cusco and not visit Machu Picchu; and we'd heard that the scenic train journey to the site was a worthwhile alternative to hiking there. Thus we made our way to the PeruRail office and forked over $105US each (ouch!) for the Vistadome (a glass-topped train affording better views) service leaving at 6am the following morning.
With Machu Picchu booked, we were free for the rest of the day to take in more sights of historic Cusco and to return to the Cross Keys - an English-style pub! - for a pint to console ourselves over our prematurely empty wallets...
Wednesday 06 September
We arrived at Cusco station early, supped a quick coffee and boarded the train. Perhaps the expense had been worthwhile; the Vistadome train was spacious,modern and comfortable, and - crucially - the large glass viewing windows were perfectly clean. The four-hour journey was terrific, an ever-changing panorama of mountain and jungle. And then we were stopping...but not at Machu Picchu. The last stop for the train is at a town called Agua Caliente. Here, we were dismayed to find that we now had to pay for entry to Machu Picchu, and also for a bus journey to get us there. Note to self: in future, research these things better.
A trip to the town's only ATM was required but -guess what?- a power failure had rendered it out of order. What now? With amazing presence of mind, Sharon found a money-changer and changed our emergency stash of US dollars.
After a perilous-looking, steep and zig-zagging bus ride up a mountainside we finally made it; Machu Picchu lay before and beneath us.
The steep and winding road to Machu Picchu
And was it worth the effort and expense? Well, see for yourself...