|The trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu was a real adventure over a short 2 day period. I'm going to try and convey this in as short an entry as possible. Started out on different flights between Lima and Cusco than my friend and her daughter because of the cost difference. This wound up being kind of stressful even though it all worked out in the end. I really had no idea what kind of hotel we would be getting in Cusco. All I knew was that it was called Mister Inkas and from the pictures, website and youtube videos, it looked like a decent 3 star place. And that it was a little far from the plaza centro. But for 2 nights, all you should really need is a place to lay your head, shower and grab a breakfast right? I got to Cusco about 2 hours late because of a delay with Taca Airlines, and the taxi driver that picked me up from the hotel wanted more money since he had to wait longer. As soon as we pulled up to the front door I thought "Oh my God..." my heart sank.
Most of the businesses were secondhand auto parts stores with hand painted signs, an Alcoholics Anonymous business, old tires and trash in the streets...extremely seedy...iron bars covered the entryways of every business along the street, and when you see that, it's definitely not a good sign. The taxi driver stopped in the median in the middle and wanted me to pay right there. All of a sudden I was surrounded by about 5 guys that wanted to change my American dollars into soles. I figure in hindsight now that they were probably his buddies. I remember asking him in the car if this was a secure neighborhood and he paused for a really long time before he finally said, "Well sometimes it is...but it's okay for you." Uh huh.
My friend came out of nowhere and chewed out the taxi driver for not taking me inside to pay him, and for not helping me with my bags. We arrived at the clerks desk and they wanted a copy of my passport. I asked for a security box and they said I didn't need one. The desk clerk was really creepy to me. Didn't seem to want to answer any of our direct questions. We checked out the room and it was tiny. The beds seemed okay, but it was the bathroom that really made me angry. You could not avoid the smell of sewer gas as soon as you opened the door and I told my friend that was it for me...I wanted to go somewhere else. Besides, we were 3 women in this part of town and you can't go out and about to eat dinner and do anything in a neighborhood like that.
So we decided to get a cab to the centro, grab a bite, and see what else we could find. She left me near the cathedral with her daughter and then took off to find us a new hotel. Xime and I went through the monastery, did a little window shopping, took photos and went to a pizzeria. About 2 hours later Zhayra met up with us and told us the tale of finding us a new hotel a few blocks away. She had gone back to Mister Inkas and demanded a refund but they didn't want to give her the money back. She argued with them for probably 30 minutes about their poor service, misrepresentation on the internet, etc. and the quality of the rooms. But all was okay in the end. We wound up at Apu Huascaran, which was a very nice property and she managed to get us a good rate.
So we did some bargain hunting from there after dinner. Zhayra is the best person to go shopping with for good deals. She knows how to work the vendors to get good deals. She always likes to pretend interest in something, and then asks for the price and as soon as they tell her, she says hey I'm not a tourist...I live in Peru what kind of crap are you giving me? I can find this down the street for less...look at this...it's not made good...you are trying to rip ppl off....HAHA it's quite entertaining. She'll walk away if they don't come down...and then they will say well okay we can give you this price and then she just goes from there...until she gets it to where it's reasonable. In reality it's not bad prices to begin with but she won't ever pay their asking price. I was able to get a cool hat and some hand tooled leather diary style books, along with some handmade small rugs for next to nothing over the 2 days we were there. The only time I really felt uncomfortable, aside from the Mister Inkas incident, was when a small boy was following me around eyeing my camera. He knew he wasn't going to be able to separate it from me, so he tried lots of intimidation tactics, like swinging a bag of stuff in my face and saying, "Tienes miedo? Tienes miedo?" I told him in Spanish to get away from me, that I would get the police if he did not leave, and he challenged me by saying bad things about my mother. So I started to walk away from him, and when I turned around he disappeared into the darkness. It's sad to know that poverty is so prevalent, but these people obviously succeed in robbing tourists otherwise they wouldn't be so bold.
As far as altitude goes, I had some issues. The first day was dizziness and I was a little winded. The second day, the trip to Machu, we had to get up at 4am. I woke up with severe dizziness. But after I had a little breakfast I felt better, Had to get to the train station by 6am to take a 2 hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo, where we met the Vistadome PeruRail train. During the wet months it is not possible to take the train out of Poroy, closest to Cusco, so the bus trip makes the day a lot longer. When we got to Ollantaytambo it was a real circus. People everywhere...I had to watch my step on the cobblestone streets so as not to twist my ankle, guard my purse, camera and backpack while keeping up with Zhayra. That woman has enough energy to power a small city. Several people were crowded under an awning to avoid getting wet in the rain, mere inches from the tracks.
Finally we got on board the Vistadome train and were on our way by about 9am or so. They fed us a light snack while we enjoyed the scenery. The train trip itself is really nice...the vistas are awesome and I got some good pictures and video. Met some nice Argentinians as well.
Once you get to Machu Picchu Pueblo, you have to haul ass down a long hill to get to another bus station where they take you 20 minutes up a zigzag road to the Citadel. One lane, no guardrails and straight down...it was kinda fun actually but you're climbing in the bus at such an angle that you better hold onto your stuff unless you want it to go tumbling down the middle of the aisle. I lost a bottle of water that way. You can see the Lost City from the bus once you get about halfway up. Very impressive. Then you get off the bus and hike a few more yards up some more stairs to get to the gate. You better have your ticket bought in advance too, because they won't sell it to you there upon arrival. The limit is 2000 people a day. I think the reason for this is the infrastructure they have in place. They can't handle any more than that with the amount of buses going up and down the hills, and the train capacity, buses from Ollantaytambo etc.
We spent about 2 hours exploring the mountain. It really was more mystical than I imagined, especially when the clouds formed off in the distance and hung over like a blanket mist. It kind of felt like being on a different planet, or on the Holideck of the USS Enterprise. It really was that ethereal. I got a picture of a man meditating. The alpacas roam freely around you, just grazing and making little noises at you when you take their pictures. I wanted to go to the very top to get some good photos from that vantage point, but it just wasn't possible. I was dizzy, the air was thin, and I figured at this point it just wasn't worth risking my health for a photo opp. I also had a bad sunburn from the previous week I was still nursing, and by this time it was blistering and peeling.
We ate lunch at the $900 a night Machu Picchu lodge, just steps from the gate. Reallly just a buffet lunch, not much to write home about, but better than trying to find food elsewhere when you are so rushed. Then we did the return in the reverse. It was probably 9pm or so when we got back to the hotel in Cusco. We had a light dinner and crashed out pretty quickly upon getting back. At 5am I woke up with a terrible migraine, something I was trying SO hard to avoid since I am so prone to them. At least I didn't have any nausea this time. But it took until I got back to Lima that afternoon for it to finally be gone.
It was an awesome adventure, however if I ever go again, I will definitely spend more time in Cusco to acclimate. Cusco is a wonderful city with so many photographic opportunities. Just don't venture out of the center of town. Everything you could possibly need is right there. And take your time. We were way too rushed. It's possible to do the trip in 2 days but not recommended.