“Seek and see all the marvels around you. You will get tired of looking at yourself alone,
and that fatigue will make you deaf and blind to everything else.”
― Carlos Castaneda (a Peruvian writer, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge)
Peru has always been on the list of countries I want to visit if I visit South America, mainly because I want to go to Machu Picchu. Almost a decade ago when I visited Ankor Wat, Cambodia in 2008, I was at awe with the ancient civilization when a traveller I’ve met on the road shared with me that I must soon visit Machu Picchu too. I got interested so when I Googled about it, I just can’t stop dreaming of going there since then.
I booked this Peru trip alongside my trips to other South America countries and to Antarctica, it was February and it’s the best time to go to these other countries because it’s summer but I did not know that it was NOT a good time for Peru because it’s rainy season there. When I found out about it, I still include Peru because I don’t want to miss it especially Machu Picchu for this trip so I pushed it through despite of bad weather warnings.
I wasn’t keen to travel solo in Peru, but this will be the part of my trip that I will no longer be with my Travbuddies (whom I came with in Antarctica, Argentina, and Chile) so I invited a LOT of my friends but unfortunately none of them was free to come with me. It came as a surprise because I thought it will be easy to invite anyone to Machu Picchu especially when I’ve done tons of research already for them – like where and when to buy tickets for Machu Picchu, where to stay, how to beat altitude sickness, etc, etc.
I even booked my hotel rooms in twin rooms because I was certain I won’t be alone. So I panicked a bit because if I only knew I will be travelling alone, I will not DIY my plans, I’d rather join a group tour for convenience and safety purposes. But it was too late already to change my plans as I booked my entrance, bus, train tickets, and my hotel rooms.
Amazingly, it wasn’t difficult to travel solo at all! Machu Picchu is a popular destination now so it is very accessible and you will meet a lot of fellow solo travellers too along the way. I never felt unsafe and I enjoyed every moment of it because I’m travelling at my own pace. Peruvians are very friendly :)
I flew to Cuzco from Santiago Chile, Cuzco is the closest international airport going to Machu Picchu. And through online reasearch, I found out that Cuzco has higher altitude than Machu Picchu and it’s susceptible with altitude sickness for most people. I know I have motion sickness, so in order for me to avoid altitude sickness too, I need to acclimatised slowly. I planned to stop by this cute little town in Sacred Valley in between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, at Ollantaytambo.
From Cuzco airport, I took an airport taxi to Paradero Pavitos where I planned to take a collectivo van to Ollantaytambo because it’s the most convenient option apart from hiring a taxi (expensive for Peru’s standard) or bus (you need to stop at Urubamba to transfer to another bus to Ollantaytambo). I got a carpool instead of the collectivo van actually, so we were just 4 people then the car left quite soon.
I was lucky too because when we arrived Urubamba, all my fellow passengers got off. At first, I felt uncomfortable being the only passenger with the driver, but eventually I felt that there’s nothing to be scared of. But of course, when we get to Ollantaytambo, the driver asked for more cash from me (I think 20 Soles more) because he said I was just alone, like as if it’s my fault, lol!
Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas)
Ollantaytambo is a very cute little town along a scenic paved road. It is usually part of the Sacred Valley tour from Cuzco. It’s too quaint it still looks like during the Inca times as this is where the Incas settled when the Spanish conquered Cuzco. I’m always fascinated with cobblestoned streets so I am in love with this town, plus the people are still wearing their indigenous clothing.
This is the starting point btw of those doing the 3-4day hike to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, in which I did not do because apart from I only have a week to spend in Peru, well, I am not so fit to do that :P
My hostel, La Casa del Abuelo is just few steps from the Archeological Site of Ollantaytambo, I can see the ruins from the door of our hostel and when I arrived at around afternoon, I can see a lot of tourists climbing it despite the rain. I just rested in my room that afternoon, had a hot shower, and went out just about to have my early dinner.
I walked few steps to the plaza to find a restaurant and have my very first Peruvian food. I had a LOT of Ceviche and Pisco Sour, a lot because it’s sooo good! I had too much that for the first time during this trip, I had a bad tummy! Not a good thing when there is a series of hiking for me in the next days >.<
The next day, it was a better weather, sunny and not so cold. I had to drink some coca tea even if I am not feeling any altitude sickness because of my bad tummy >.< I am just glad that the Diamox or the medicine to prevent altitude sickness worked for me. I took 2 pills before my flight to Peru and 1 pill every night.
After breakfast, I went to the Archeological Site Ruins, however the ticket they sell is a package to see 3 ruins sites and I only have time for 1, so one guide approached me and told me I can just go to Pinkullyuna, it’s a hill where you can still see ruins of the storehouses that is overlooking the town, and facing the Archeological Site too, all for FREE!
Sounds like a better deal for me however I am alone and it is not advisable to go alone, so the guide offered his services and said he can also take me to some private houses that are still dating back the Incan times. I forgot how much I paid, it’s a bit expensive but a lot less than when I buy the 3-ruins package ticket.
We visited one Incan house and I was surprised to see lots of Guinea Pigs roaming around their kitchen! I wanted to run back the door because I HATE RODENTS! They are not cute even Stuart Little is not cute!!! But I don’t want to offend them, then I took a photo. They mistook and thought I love it! So they offered me to have dinner with them and they will cook this for me! OMG hahaha! Glad I have a valid reason to say I am already leaving in the afternoon.
After visiting some houses, we hiked the Pinkullyna hill. It wasn’t a difficult hike but I felt the shortness of my breath and I feel tired quite soon, I thought how could I be so unfit like this where I already did couple of hikes few days ago in Antarctica and in Patagonia, then I realised it’s the high altitude doing this to me!
So I slowed down a bit, resting from time to time and also I was wearing a skirt! I was not prepared to do some hiking that day so I didn’t know! :P Hiking back down is a lot easier so I regained my energy nonetheless. We ended our stroll at the town’s wet market where we had some fruit juice from my guide’s sister’s store.
After I checked-out from my hostel, I decided to have lunch near the train station so I’m a bit relaxed, this is also where I will leave my backpack for a night because apparently, my train, Inca Rail, does not allow huge backpacks/luggages. So with only daypack with me, I boarded my train which is as small as a 2-bus only, Inca Rail is smaller then Peru Rail. The scenic view along the way is beautiful too that my plan to sleep didn’t happen!
Aguas Caliente (Machu Picchu Town)
Aguas Caliente is the gateway or point of entry to Machu Picchu. It is the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu valley and where I will take the first bus going to Machu Picchu to catch the sunrise. My hostel, Hostal Sun Palace, is just opposite the train and bus station so it was perfect! I had a twin bedroom again but since it was sunny that day, I didn’t really stay much inside my bedroom.
I went out and stroll around this tiny town. It wasn’t as quaint as Ollantaytambo and it’s very touristy so I did not spend so much time going around too. I tried going to the hot spring but judging from the photos posted at the ticket booth, I feel like it’s just like public swimming pools with lots of people. So I did not go in anymore.
Since I have nothing left to do, I decided to have early dinner to sleep early too as I will be getting up around 4:30am to catch the first bus. I’ve asked our receptionist to recommend a good restaurant and they told me to go to Mapacho, the newest restaurant in town. Since it’s still early I got a seat by the river. I ordered Alapaca, a local animal that looks like a camel, but taste like beef also, I paired it with their own brewed ale, Cumbres. It was scrummy! :)
The next morning, to my dismay, it started to rain, like hard rain :(
I got up feeling worried because I know I will not see any sunrise and it will be more difficult to climb Huayna Picchu. After a quick breakfast prepared by my hostel that early, I still made it to the bus station at 5am but the queue was very long already! I wonder if these people queued already the night before! I was not so bothered because I knew I won’t be seeing sunrise anyway.
When I got to Machu Picchu, I thought I can explore it by myself. But because of the rain, it was impossible because it’s too foggy to read signs and besides I am keen to know a little bit of history of course. So at last minute, I joined an English speaking tour group, I was worried they cannot squeeze me in, but of course in Peru, if you can pay, anything is possible, kidding.
At our group, one of the friendly guys I met is Rolando, I thought initially he is Peruvian because he shared something about being Peruvian (I think it was about not starting on-time or something). We were chatting for a couple of minutes already when I decided to move my passport from my jacket inside my bag because of the rain.
Then the moment he saw my passport, he excitedly asked me – “Are you Pinay ba!? I’m Pinoy ‘teh!” Hahaha! What are the odds?! We are both solo travellers and living outside the Philippines now. He is now based in Nairobi working in UNICEF for children with disabilities. We were both so happy to meet each other because finally…someone can take picture of ourselves, hahaha!
But we ended up not taking much pictures of each other because it was very foggy and you can really barely see anything in the background, it’s just our faces, lol!. Apart from the fog, the thick crowd of tourists (in raincoats and umbrellas!) in every corner was the downside of getting a good shot, huge bummer.
Anyway, we were just happy that despite of not having a good photo, the fact that we are finally in Machu Picchu is enough experience for a good story to tell. Besides, pictures don’t even begin to do it justice anyway even if perhaps the weather is good. It is still much better to not only see it but experience it. It’s magical and breathtaking.
The tour guide was informative enough, however I understand the rush on his side because he doesn’t want to get wet from the rain. So it ended quite quickly that I feel I want to go around and know more about it. It’s also sad that he didn’t even take us to the viewpoint where we can have the iconic Machu Picchu photo just because he said it was foggy anyway. I decided to just come up there before or after I climb Huayna Picchu.
Rolando and I parted ways after a quick snack outside the MP gate and also I still need to climb Huayna Picchu and he needs to continue his hike back to Aguas Calientes. We agreed to meet in Cuzco that night but it didn’t happen too because it was very late already, also I decided to climb Vinvicuna Rainbow Mountain the next day. Anyway, I have a strong feeling that we will still see each other again, if not in Nairobi or Dubai, somewhere else ;)
I was lucky enough to get one of the limited 400 tickets a day to climb Huayna Picchu. This is the iconic mountain at the background of every famous Machu Picchu photos you see around. As I head to the entrance gate to Huayna Picchu, I saw the couple I’ve met at the train from Ollantatambo, Tricia and Steffen!
At this point, the rain hasn’t stopped. I knew then that this climb will be twice difficult because the steep terrain will be wet and slippery. The raincoat we were wearing was also an obstacle in climbing steep steps because you tend to step on it too. Ah, it has been a long time since I last experience this kind of discomfort in climbing mountains! But the only good thing about this time is it’s only one-hour ascent and I am not carrying a 30-kilo backpack! So I can’t complain.
Tricia and Steffen, being young and fit, were fast to climb and I can’t cope up with their pace, but they are sweet enough to always wait for me. I told them I don’t want to slow them down so when we were are the steepest part already where you will need to hold on to cable wire supports already, I told them to go ahead and I will just meet them at the summit. Tricia gets tired quickly when she slows down so she was like a machine haha! Whereas, I get tired quickly (apart from the high altitude) when I know someone is waiting for me because I tend to speed up my pace. I want to take it slowly and enjoy the view (even if it’s foggy lol!).
As I reached the summit, the view was even more breathtaking, figuratively and literally too, lol! It has an altitude of 2,700m high.
However, the fog was so thick that when you take a photo, all you see is just a white background, we were also that high we were above the clouds. The chances you get to see the Machu Picchu below is just a matter of seconds when the fog or clouds move a bit. You just have to be quicker than the fog! So the 3 of us just sat there for a while waiting for our chance to see the Machu Picchu below. We went back down as soon as we got ourselves one decent photo, lol!
Going back is lot faster of course, but there are some parts that is still difficult to hold your stance to avoid slipping! Not the best way to go down soon :P When we reached back Machu Picchu, the crowd is a lot less like almost empty now! It’s a good chance to see the whole Machu Picchu and enjoy that magical feeling it gives you just by walking around its walls.
Despite the bad weather, my trip to Machu Picchu will still be one of my most unforgettable trips. It is not just my 5th from the Seven Wonders of the World that I visited, but it is also one of the few places I visited that made me feel tiny and unimportant in this world. It’s not being tiny and unimportant, it’s about the universe being big and too old that your accomplishments and worries are not holding as much weight as you thought it is.
It’s a very humbling experience to know that I am stepping on the grounds built by the Incan civilizations who refused to be conquered by the Western civilization (Spanish), that despite their lack in technology (writing, transport animals, iron and steel, etc.) they still managed to build one of the greatest civilization in human history (I can’t even leave my house without my phone!)
The bad weather on my trip to Peru made me realise that life is so much more than just focusing on myself or posting a good selfie photo with the places I’ve been to share with friends. None of these really matters to anyone actually. As what Steffen have told me, anyone can just go to internet and find a better photo than what you took/posted. What matters is that you were there and appreciate the simple things you learnt by going there.
In this social-media times, most of us tend to forget to see all the marvels around us because we focus more on ourselves. Let this not consume you and make you blind to everything else. Yes you are beautiful, but the world is more beautiful out there! Enjoy it ;)