Today was the day, we were to climb to one of the seven wonders of the world. We rose from our slumber at 2:30am and prepared for the bus which would take us to the train station in Ollantaytambo. As unlikely as this may sound, it turned out that it was in fact Colin McRae (the world renowned rally driver) who would be driving us to our destination. Speeds of up to 70mph on roads that really shouldn’t exceed 50mph, overtaking on corners and pulling so much G-force around bends that I was surprised none of the Peruvians slipped out of their seats and through the air vents. It was a thrill ride but maybe not what you are looking for at 3:30am after Joe has kept you up most of the night with his incessant snoring (that’s right Joe, I’m letting the world know). We did make it in one piece though and the train ride from the town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes was much more pleasurable. Taking the route directly through the mountains and dwarfing the carriage we sat in, it was quite a treat. The train had wide, stretching windows and even glass panels in the roof for a comprehensive view of the ridiculously tall formations of slated stone and greenery surrounding us. When we arrived, we weren’t really sure what we were doing. We knew we had a tour guide but had no idea how to find him and the only information I was given about him was that his name was Pedro. I didn’t expect it was going to be very easy to find a specific Pedro in a small South American town so we decided to set off on our own. We had been told that the trail itself would take around an hour and a half to two hours to complete and in our misguided naivety, we decided to attempt it in one hour. We soon found the start of the trail and were initially very shocked how little people were walking it considering the huge number of people who visit Machu Picchu daily. For the first half an hour we only saw three other people attempting the trek up the mountain; a Peruvian couple and a lone woman. The steps were steep, shockingly steep and at some points seemed unending. Our only respite was a few Peruvian traders who had set up shop under shelters at different points along the path. They would offer water and food for 5 Soles (around £1.20) but a place to rest was their most valuable commodity. Sitting under a large, self made leaf umbrella with a bottle of water and a banana, catching our breath and drowning ourselves in the silence of the mountain was wonderful. We thanked the fact that most were too lazy to take the walk as the silence was just for us and it was viscous. The path was consumed with a positive menagerie of wildlife. Butterflies of incandescent blues and oranges, lizards scurrying beneath our feet like small, scaly men late for work. We even had to dodge a few tropical looking spiders that had sprawled their webs across the route, the arrogant bastards. Although, surprisingly, the highlight of the animals on show happened to be an extremely friendly stray dog who ended up following us all the way back down the trail when we had finished our time at the top. She was a good dog and for people who know my hatred towards nearly every other dog on earth, it’s understood that I’m saying a lot.
At long last we climbed those final few steps to the top and we had reached the ancient citadel. It was slightly demoralising to see all of the fresh faced tourists, straight off the bus and looking at us with a sort of “What have you guys been doing? You look terrible” Sort of look. It caused a good few minutes of fantasising about the possibility of picking them up by their pristine Nike trainers and hauling them off the edge of the mountain but we soon got over that. For we had walked it, we had conquered the trail and they had got a bus. Stepping in to the city was as stunning as I could have imagined and much more. The city expanded far off into the distance which is something I had never really considered before arriving, just how big it was. The artistry and dedication could be felt in every stone. You could envision the luscious fields in the centre of the city being walked 600 years ago and sense the purpose for each structure as they once stood grand and towering. The city had been abandoned for 500 years but somehow there was still life in it. Not from the tourists or the maintenance but from the idiosyncratic beauty. There truly is nothing like it and that is why it will always remain alive. Joe and I walked the paths freely and felt quite relieved about being unencumbered by a tour guide, we were able to pick up bits from other tours around us anyway despite a few disgruntled looks because we hadn’t technically paid for it. The sun was shooting down and 8000ft in the air, the views of mountains and long cascading valleys were tremendous. I have never been to a more beautiful place and think I will struggle to find one to beat it. We had all but forgotten about the walk to get there as we sat on 600 year old stone walls and enjoyed our reality. We were still drenched in sweat like a couple of nice canned hotdogs swimming in their own brine though so I don’t think other people had forgotten. And so our time there had come to an end and we started the long walk back down to the bottom, legs trembling and dog following.
The day was almost over, we had conquered a wonder of the world and we were exhausted. All we desired was to sleep on the train back to Ollantaytambo and then resume sleeping on the bus to Cusco. Our plans were well and truly scuppered when we got to our train seats to find even more peculiar and somewhat obnoxious foreign creatures. Two hot blooded, eagle riding Americans. At first I mocked Joe because he really does not like our cross Atlantic cousins, finding them “loud, stupid and arrogant”. Having them merely talking opposite us was clearly giving him a lot of bother and that improved my experience vastly. That was until I happened to mention Aston Villa FC to Joe and Tim (the male American) locked me hard into conversation about the premiere league like an innocent suspect in Guantanamo Bay. Once the conversation had moved on (mainly because Tim wouldn’t let it die) we started to learn about their travelling exploits. They had been everywhere. Teachers by trade and currently writing a book about schools around the world, they had chosen to live a life of travelling to expand their knowledge. Paraguay, Angola, Egypt, Thailand, Morocco, Chile and even the bloody Sudan (to name a fraction of what they told us). There was no denying that I held a sizeable portion of respect for these two and their child like wonder about the world. They just wanted to see and to experience, seemingly not interested in money or a secure environment. It certainly isn’t easy to live with this philosophy so Tim if you are out there, well done to you and your zero inhibitions about taking flash photographs in a crowded carriage while people are trying to sleep. Next stop Puno. Joe was asked for his number by a waitress, do I hear wedding bells? Probably not.
You can read more about Loz’s travels on his personal blog: https://loztheblog.wordpress.com/