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Here it comes: Machu Picchu!

One of the world's best ruins, if not the best one, in all its magical glory

For the MP beginners: the reason why Machu Picchu was never discovered and destroyed by the Spaniards is because it’s in middle of nowhere, in place extremely difficult to get to. Even today, in 2015, there is no road to Machu Picchu. You need to get to small tourist town Aguas Caliente, aka Machu Picchu Village and from there you can climb for 2 hours up to Machu Picchu or take a 30 minute shuttle bus. This must be one the world’s shorted isolated roads – 5 km from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and that’s it. Another road that doesn’t lead to Rome. But how to get to Aguas Calientes? There are 2 ways how to get there. One: take one of the world’s most expensive train – from 150 to 700 USD for some 40kms – which will comfortably take you from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes in 3 hours , or two: get a minivan, driving through hellish Andean valleys for dusty 7 hours to “Hydroelectrica” and then walk from there for 2-3 hours to Aguas Calientes. Minivan is much cheaper, but the long ride obviously means that you have to kill a day and sleep in Aguas Calientes, which as I’ve always heard is extremely ugly place. But sleeping in Aguas Calientes gives you chance to go to Machu Picchu very early in the morning next day, which is great, because the masses arrive by the train and they get to Machu Picchu not before 10:00am. We opted for the minivan. The ride was horrible. Our brains were all shook up, our asses sore. It was relief to get to Hydroelectrica. Then we had to walk those 2-3 hours through tropical vegetation to Aguas Calientes, which would be bit more comfortable if you didn’t have to walk along a railroad track, walking mostly on railtrack’s ballast stones. But somewhere in the middle of the walk I looked up, saw something suspicious, used the binoculars and yes, I was right – for the first time I was looking at pieces of Machu Picchu high up in the mountain above us.

I don’t know if it improved in last few years, but Aguas Calientes is definitely not horrible. It even looks bit upscale, with loads of nice restaurants and has terrific thermal baths. Who said it sucks?

Here comes another the dilemma: walk to Machu Picchu or take a bus? The bus is really overpriced (everything in Cuzco – Machu Picchu area is, the money just flies here) and it kind of sucks to take a shuttle bus to Machu Picchu, plus the queues for the early buses are extreme. But the people who had walked to Machu Picchu whom we talked to, were mostly cursing their decision. The hike is very exhausting, as it climbs up and up and by the time you get to Machu Picchu you are so tired that you cannot really enjoy the place. So we’ve heard. Based on this we decided to take the bus and boy we were so glad we did! Yes, the queues were insane. To take the first but at 5:30 we arrived to the bus stop at 4:30 but it was way too late. 200m queue had already been formed. Luckily, the first morning buses went one by one immediately, so we still managed to be at the gate of Machu Picchu before it’s opening time at around 6:30. Us and maybe 300 people, and half of them were sweaty, half-dead people who decided to walk instead of taking the bus. We were really glad we didn’t have the same great idea.

The gate opened. It was foggy and cloudy with visibility of just few meters. For a moment we thought that we are fucked and we would not actually see Machu Picchu. But luckily it was just morning fog that started to disappear with first rays of the sun. As we were walking towards the first view point mountaintops started appearing through holes in the clouds. I started to realize how magnificent place this would be. And then we made it to the view point and there it was. Magical, dreamy, impossible, solidifying from the clouds and mist, appearing and disappearing piece by piece, completely breathtaking! The lost city of the Incas, the legendary Machu Picchu!

While in Huanchaco I’ve heard some people saying that Machu Picchu is a bit “underwhelming”. That once you had seen the photos it’s not really surprising, that you would be under-impressed.
WHAT? Complete bullshit! Never trust anyone who tells you that Machu Picchu is not as amazing as you would expect.
I was ready for that under-impression. I thought I knew what they meant. I had the same feeling with Taj Mahal. While it is amazing, it really looks just like a photo, and is so detached from the reality of India, and so touristy, that I never really liked it. But this is not the case of Macho Picchu. It’s not just about the citadel. It is just as much about the scenery - high up in those sharp, breathtaking jagged mountains. Even if there were no ruins at all, the place would be still mind blowing. And the best of all was the way it mystically appeared from that morning mist. And because it was just after the gate had opened, there were no tourists there at all, so it looked intact, just as if we were the first people to spot it. Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time was one of the best exeperience I’ve had. Then, as the clouds were disappearing and tourists were coming, yes, the places did not look so magical anymore. But that first glimpse of Lost City will forever stay in my memory. So if you ever venture to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend you to sleep in Aguas Calientes so that you can be at the Machu Picchu right when in opens. After few hours of exploration we walked down (surely easier down then up) and walked back to Hydroelectrica to catch the bus to Cuzco.

Wow! Once again: WHAT A PLACE! I’ve seen only two other places so amazing: Angkor Wat and Easter Island. Unlike my other two favorites Machu Picchu has no great art to display. In reality it’s just bunch of well carved stones neatly stocked upon each other, but the scenery and the spirit of the place are beyond description… Highly recommended item for everyone's bucket list :-)

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak