Tag Archives: Macchu Picchu

52. Macchu Picchu II; Agua Caliente back to Cusco

52. Macchu Picchu, then from Agua Caliente back to Cusco 18 Sept.

I awaken early again, and find better weather and a longer line awaiting me outside.    I’m alone this time: neither Ragna nor Selma felt like getting up early this morning; and as I left the room, Ragna  and I quarreled.   So I’m very alone.

Again I drink a coffee in line, this time making casual conversation with strangers. 

Again the bus winds up the switchbacks, under the gaze of those extraordinary mountains shrouded in mist. 

Again too it’s a rush through the beautiful grounds to the line for Huayna Picchu. As we enter, and I pass the sharp, uphill left that would take me to where I spent so much of yesterday, the place tugs at my heart.  I’d like to see how things look from there so early on a fine morning; and it would be quieter, contemplative. Still, I rush along with the others.  Walking fast, but shooting too, sometimes without quite stopping.

The line today is much longer than the previous day’s line.   I feel foolish, standing in it.   It looks like the start of the Boston Marathon.  I may wait in line, wasting the best early-morning photographic light, only to make a sweaty climb with hundreds of people around me — a great view of some other hiker’s fat ass above me, and 25-year-olds racing past me like deer, as I once ran up and down the trails in Nepal.   I am not even sure there aren’t 400 people in front of me already.   I may not even get in!   When a young couple standing with me gets talking about this, and he remarks that they were on the 22nd bus, I do the math: for just this reason, I counted the seats on the bus: 29, 28 of them occupied on my particular bus.  Multiply 22 by 28 or 29, and . . . I’m outta there!

I feel lighter the moment I leave the line, realizing I just want to wander back up to the wonderful place I spent the previous afternoon, and see how Macchu Picchu looks from there in the morning light. 

I work my way back up there, enjoying plenty of other fine views on the way.

Macchu Picchu is indeed beautiful from there, in the morning light.










I walk back a bit and into a nearby field and find myself alone with several llamas.  They are grazing, and chewing some kind of berries or leaves off the trees, and seem perfectly content for me to stand among them.  One works his way along the berries until he is nearly chewing on my elbow.

Photographically, it may or may not turn out; but it feels extraordinary to be standing among these llamas, in this place, at dawn.  I feel privileged.  I feel as if I’ve been holding my breath the whole time, so as not to disturb anything.   Everything else — the morning quarrel with Ragna — pales. 

































People come.  One woman steps into the middle of this tableau, apparently unaware of the llama, and stands there hollering “Gordo!”   Even her, the llamas don’t mind.  She bellows, “Gordo!”  a few more times, and eventually goes away. 

I go back where I was, and sit awhile.  Mostly my mind is blank.  Meditative.  When thoughts of problems sidle into my mind, the spellbinding view banishes them.

I leave.  I do not want to; and yet, I’m ready to.  The moment has been so fine that I am sated, and ready to return to “the real world.”  Perhaps I have a sense already that I will need what this moment has given me.

sm-08-1488-top-of-wayman-picchuWhat I have not said, but must, is that when Ragna came to bed last night she was angry with me.   When I awakened early to return to Macchu Picchu, she was angry with me.  I wanted to get back out here, and didn’t pay much attention to her, and spoke sharply to her in return.   We are two people who have loved each other but have often made each other miserable — despite my best efforts and probably hers too — and are wearing out.   We have had these sorts of quarrels — over what, I often don’t know – too many times over too many years.   She’s a wonderful, charming, charismatic woman, but each of us has long wondered how much longer we can stay together.

sm-08-1490-llamasWhen I leave, I start down a set of stone steps and glance up, and see that I have a new view of two grazing llamas.  They’re grazing on a grassy platform at about eye level, so I have a worm’s eye view of them, just as the morning sun burns through the sm-08-1504-llamasclouds.   






When sm-08-1515-hut-and-peak1I leave, I walk quickly, still enjoying my solitude and the splendid surroundings.






Return to Cusco:

I run into Ragna and Selma in a cafe as I enter Agua Caliente.   Ragna is not speaking to me any more than necessary.   We rush to make the next train to Ollatatambo.   On it, Ragna and Selma sit far away from me.  

We recover the car, and drive back to Cusco a different and quicker way, making no stops.   It’s pretty country, but grey and rainy.  The mood in the car is darker.  Back in Cusco, we again get a double room and a single: but this time Ragna and Selma are in the double, somewhat to the confusion of the folks working at the hotel.

Travel Notes:

We stayed at the Hotel Bromeliad in Agua Caliente.  It’s one of the cheaper options.  It’s basic, but clean.
In Cusco, we’re again at the Q’orichaska.   I recommend it.  (See first Cusco post for more details, and the hostal’s address and phone number.)


Other Points:

1. Obviously for photography, or simply for enjoying or studying the place, the tours that get you to Macchu Picchu for a couple of hours in the middle of the day just don’t cut it. Flattest light, most people wandering around, fewest llamas, very little time, etc. Agua Caliente boasts a range of places to stay, though they’re over-priced by Peru standards generally.
2. If you want to go up Huayna Picchu, line up early – or perhaps try the afternoon, hoping the ranks of climbers will have thinned out by then.
3. Although guidebooks and a sign at the entrance tell you that you can’t take your backpack in, or carry walking sticks in, I saw no semblance of an effort to enforce either rule, or the prohibition against food and drink.
4. Making a sharp left and climbing as soon as you can after entering the place [or following the signs for the Inca Bridge for awhile] will take you up to the observation point I describe in the text and much enjoyed. For photographers, going up there first might be rewarding. [Note that the trail to the Inca Bridge was closed when we were there, which meant you couldn’t go too far by following that trail.]
5. Consider taking a good sun hat as well as sunblock, insect repellent, and bottled water. Simple raingear may also be needed.

51. Macchu Picchu I

51. Macchu Picchu   17 Sept.+


We awaken in darkness and dress. It sounds almost like rain outside. When we get to the front door, it is raining. A steady rain that doesn’t keep us from crossing the Plaza and walking the short distance to where the buses leave from – only to find what could be a couple of hundred people already on line. We join the line, at probably about 5:15 or 5:20 a.m. There are no restaurants open, but several women ply the line with doughnuts and coffee and tea, and a store sells water-bottles and snacks. I drink a coffee.

Just as the first buses open their doors and the line starts to move, I realize we need another ticket – we have our entry tickets for Macchu Picchu, but those don’t include this bus – and rush across to buy three, then dash back.

The ride up is a lovely one. What early light there is shows us tall, steep peaks hugged by clouds, and we make our way up the side of one of them, on a dirt road with many switchbacks and dramatic views, though the light doesn’t invite photography.

Once there, with everyone else we rush through toward Huayna Picchu. I try to ask Ragna and Selma whether that is in fact what they want to do, but Ragna’s a bit annoyed with me, so I don’t try. We end up in a line to enter Huayna Picchu, which only 400 people may do at a time. When I’m finally able to explain that this line is just for that – for a climb Ragna isn’t likely to want to attempt anyway – we get out of line and wander back through the ruins.

Without a guide, we aren’t always certain exactly what we’re seeing, but we wander through the ruins anyway. Mist and frequent rain hamper our exploration and our photography, but even in the rain – perhaps somehow particularly in the rain – it’s an impressive place. Haunting. We are mostly alone, sometimes unable to see much of the view, wandering among structures built half a millennium ago with huge stones on a perch that would be dramatic even without the structures.  Mists cloak the sharp peaks, and linger in the valleys.



I am thinking again about the abilities of early cultures to find extraordinary spots and build there. Ganden comes to mind, in Tibet.

But we are also damp, and a bit cold.



sm-08-9989-llama sm-08-0293-macchu-picchu-clearingsm-08-0090-the-view-down

By afternoon, we make it to a wonderful spot. To reach it, one turns left [uphill] very soon after entering the ruins. Passing a hut on a prominent spot, continue upward and to the right of the hut, and out along the face of the hillside, overlooking the main part of the ruins. (It is the first part of the way to the Inka Bridge, the trail to which is closed for repairs during our visit. I can hear a couple of guys working in there somewhere, and occasionally confused hikers show up and ask me how to get to the Inka Bridge, and I have to explain that they can’t.)

We reach it only after wandering a while to the left of the hut and visiting with a bunch of llamas hanging out in the mist.









Once we are there, though, it is an exceptional place. The weather is drier now, but not sunny. We sit for a long time looking down at Macchu Picchu, then go for lunch, which is available just outside the entrance. After lunch Ragna and Selma go back to the village to rest, saying they’ll probably come back later, and I tell them I’ll likely be either down here getting coffee or up at the spot we’d sat in for awhile.


I return alone. At first no one else is sm-08-0457-atsuko1up there except one pretty young Japanese woman. I walk past her and out to the end, and find the same comfortable perch on a big rock, and settle in. I feel a strange lassitude: I am where I want to be, with a marvelous view in front of me. I do not feel like moving.

I watch the clouds drift in and out of the splendor of Macchu Picchu. I meditate a little. I write a little. I shoot an occasional photograph, without moving from my perch.

Others come and go. Three or four llamas have come out along the narrow terraces just below me, grazing quietly, oblivious to both the man-made and the natural beauty across the valley.


sm-08-0316-atsukosm-08-0426-atsukoThrough it all the Japanese girl in the green sweatshirt sits, watching.  I feel a certain kinship with her.   Though young, she simply sits, watching (as I do), and does not shoot photographs, or join friends in some other part of the ruins, or go for coffee, she just sits, watching. Perhaps she finds the place beautiful, perhaps she is thinking about a love affair gone wrong, but the stillness in her impresses me. It impresses me all sm-08-0530-japanese-girls-photographing-macchu-picchusm-08-0546-japanese-girls-photographing-themselvesthe more when, having moved from my perch to the grass to nap a bit, I am awakened by a Japanese tour group with a Japanese-speaking guide, and watch with amusement as a couple of young girls in the group photograph each other, sm-08-0538-japanese-girls-jumping-macchu-picchujump high in the air while someone else photographs them, and otherwise bounce around.  The quiet one –Atsuko — still does not move.  





I photograph her. I photograph a French youth visiting with the llamas then sitting with a friend over near Atsuko. I gab briefly with a family from Holland we’d met here during the morning, who’ve now worked their way back up here. 

Mostly, though, I just sit watching. When Ragna and Selma return, they are laughing because they’d been so sure they’d find me still here.  I’m amazed that I haven’t moved for so many hours.











They sit awhile with me, then want to explore, and I do too, so we wander around for what’s left of the day. sm-08-0702-selma-and-ragna-in-mpsm-08-0794-below-macchu-picchusm-08-0727-macchu-picchu







































 This time we have supper in a smaller place on the same side of the Plaza. The maitre d’ is a Dutch kid who’s lived years in Peru, including months here, and talks a lot, including advising me that nearby St. Theresa is a risky but promising investment. He speaks a lot of languages and is charming, and is there mostly to attract people to the restaurant. It’s the kind of town where each restaurant has someone out shilling for customers, and a European-looking guy speaking German or Dutch or English snags a little more attention or inspires a little more confidence, I suppose. In fact, the food kind of sucks. (And the cook, when we see him, looks like the sort of fellow a cartoonist might draw as the cook in a questionable diner.  Maybe the counterman in the old Dagwood comic strip — if that guy had grown long hair and a bushy beard.  After finding a hair in the food, we crack up when we see this guy emerge from the kitchen for a smoke.)  After supper I retire early, leaving Ragna and Selma to enjoy another drink.

Travel Notes:


We stayed at the Hostal Bromeliad — see previous post for discussion.


Other Points:

1. Obviously for photography, or simply for enjoying or studying the place, the tours that get you to Macchu Picchu for a couple of hours in the middle of the day just don’t cut it. Flattest light, most people wandering around, fewest llamas, very little time, etc. Agua Caliente boasts a range of places to stay, though they’re over-priced by Peru standards generally.
2. If you want to go up Wayman Picchu, line up early – or perhaps try the afternoon, in the hopes that the ranks of climbers will have thinned out by then.
3. Although guidebooks and a sign at the entrance tell you that you can’t take your backpack in, or carry walking sticks in, I saw no semblance of an effort to enforce either rule, or the prohibition against food and drink.
4. Making a sharp left and climbing as soon as you enter the place [or following the signs for the Inca Bridge for awhile] will take you up to the observation point I describe in the text and much enjoyed. For photographers, going up there first might be rewarding. [Note that the trail to the Inca Bridge was closed when we were there, which meant you couldn’t go too far by following that trail.]

5. Consider taking: a good sun hat, as well as sunblock; insect repellent; and bottled water. Simple raingear may also be needed.

50. Cusco to Aqua Caliente

50. Cusco to Agua Caliente

We drive out through the Sacred Valley to Ollatatambo. 

sm-08-9521-pigs-in-the-cocheraFirst we must walk down to the cochera and awaken the proprietor, in order to ransom El Bandito, the quatro por quatro [visible up there in the background of the photo to the left].   Selma sm-08-9523-selma-photographing-pigdoes so [in photo at right].   Eventually we pay him, then go back up to the Hostal Qorichaska to pick up Ragna. 

sm-08-9539-near-pisacsm-08-9533-near-pisacThe drive begins with the same long, slow climb up from Cusco, and the road to Pisac.    [These two pictures and the one below left show the view down toward Pisac. ]

sm-08-9537-near-pisacPisac today, a market day but not a Sunday, is somewhat different.  The market takes up a smaller proportion of the town’s streets, and in the Plaza de Armas most of the market stalls aimed solely at locals aren’t there.   sm-08-9546-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9549-pisac-marketToday’s market quite obviously exists because this is one of the days on which tour-buses appear in Pisac during the morning.  It’s less crowded, and not half so interesting sm-08-9550-pisac-vendorsm-08-9553-pisac-market-food-vendorphotographically.  We stop long enough to have a quick walk around the Plaza and stop at an ATM.   The vendors look lonely.  At least one of the little old ladies is making a little money by having pictures sm-08-9555-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9561-victor-and-little-old-ladytaken of her.    We drive back up into the hills toward the ruins at Pisac, which are just a few km.  up a steep mountain road. 

The ruins must command a magnificent view; but there are an obscene number of tour-buses parked by the side of the narrow road for several hundred meters.   We consider parking and walking in, and would do if the place weren’t so crowded; but instead we drive back out to the main road, knowing that among the things we don’t yet know is where we’re going to stay in Agua Caliente.

sm-08-9570-near-pisacThe Sacred Valley is a pleasant drive.   It would be pleasant to spend a few days here.   There are ruins and small villages and nice countryside.   We don’t have the time to explore it as it deserves.   

At Ollatatambo we drive down toward the train, only to learn that there is no provision for parking a private vehicle at the bottom of the hill near the train station.   The traffic cop points me to a certain driveway blocked by a big sheet of metal, and tells  me to bang on it, but no one responds.   I do find a nice-looking hotel on one side of the street, and a small restaurant and hostal on the other.   Being a budget traveler, I try the smaller one, where our request to park the car for a few days, and pay for it, is so unusual that the young lady in charge has to phone the owner.  He consents.   We park the car as far into the corner of the very small parking lot as possible, then start the hike down toward the train.  

If you need to know, it is possible to buy some food and coffee and use a clean toilet at the little train station.   The train is just two cars long, at least in this season, and very clean — and nearly empty.   Peruvian music plays during the 35-minute ride along a river at the bottom of a tall, narrow canyon.  The uniformed attendants serve a snack-box, although not a very helpful one if you don’t eat meat. 

sm-08-9585sm-08-9588-view-from-trainThe view is beautiful, although photography is difficult.   The train moves at a moderate speed past river, forest, occasional farms, and a few other buildings, all dwarfed by the high peaks on both sides of us most of the way.

Suddenly we are there.  

Our exit from the train is a confused rush through a maze of market stalls from within which we haven’t a clue which direction the main part of town is in or whether we’re meant to be going uphill or downhill or sideways.    We’re also carrying a bunch of stuff.   I’m trying to glance at the Lonely Planet guide-book, call budget hostals, and walk at the same time, unable to hear because of the noise all around me.   I also don’t yet know where I’m going, so at least I stop walking for a moment and ask.   It takes several calls to locate an affordable hotel with a vacancy, and the vacancy turns out to be an extremely crowded three-bed room with its own small bathroom.   Hostal Bromeliad.

We find the place, check in, and shower, then wander out to explore Agua Caliente and get something to eat. 

Opinions vary concerning Agua Caliente.   It’s an odd place, because the main purpose of its existence is for everyone to hurry from it to somewhere else.   It’s dedicated to tourism, but because of a combination of factors — the fame and beauty of the place, the rugged mountains, and the availability both of luxury tour-buses and difficult treks — the tourists run the gamut from the very wealthy, some of whom can even afford to spend a reported $1,000 per night to stay in a hotel just outside the gate of Macchu Picchu, to the poor but determined, some of whom camp out then walk up the incredibly steep and tall mountainside to Macchu Picchu.

The evening has an odd feel to it, somewhat festive.  Maybe that is because there are so many places to eat and drink, all of them with

La Plaza

La Plaza de Armas

balconies overlooking streets or the small Plaza de Armas, and most of them with shills out front announcing that one particular restaurant has the others beat all hollow.   Maybe it is because we are excited by the imminence of our visit to Macchu Picchu.  Maybe it is because everyone is either anticipating a morning visit to Macchu Picchu or celebrating a day spent at Macchu Picchu (or the end of a trek).   Maybe it’s because at the restaurant we choose [the one to the left of the three fronting on the opposite side of the Plaza from the Bromeliad], the food is slow in coming but the Pisco sours are not.  Soon I’m on my third, feeling a general benevolence toward my companions and all the people crossing the Plaza or taking each other’s pictures by the statues there, as the local folks wander in and out of the church across the Plaza.   



Ragna & Selma

Ragna & Selma

The music is loud and the air is clean.  I laugh a lot, take ridiculous pictures of Selma and Ragna at the table, and fall silent a lot too, just thinking.

sm-08-9654-ac-plaza-de-armassm-08-9657I do wander down into the Plaza for a moment to play with the camera, long after dark.   Eventually, when the food comes, it tastes wonderful, perhaps because it is and perhaps because I am hungry and perhaps because I am working on my fourth Pisco sour.

We turn in early because the train for Macchu Picchu leaves at 5:30 in the morning, and the line starts forming about an hour before that.

Travel Notes:


We stayed in the Hostal Bromeliad, which was adquate and relatively inexpensive.

Agua Caliente boasts a quite varied set of accommodations in various price ranges.  Still, I’d recommend booking ahead of time, even if you usually don’t do that, because (1) it’s the sort of destination place it is, without much through-traffic for locals, values are different, and you’ll pay more for a particular sort of room here than you usually would elsewhere in Peru, and (2) arriving there in the afternoon was a real zoo.  Agua Caliente was crowded, and probably is crowded at all seasons; the lobby of the Bromeliad was a madhouse, with all sorts of folks begging for accommodations, and I was glad I’d at least managed to call from near the train station to book our room [and even so got just a three-bed room, with the right to switch to two rooms the second night]; and because it’s a small village that sees many tourists, you could find the budget places full and end up paying a lot more than you want to.   As anyone reading this blog knows, we rarely booked ahead, preferring to arrive and form our own impression of the hotels and their surroundings.   I wouldn’t try that again in Agua Caliente.


The place we supped in was good, although service was slow.  The place next door was not as good — and I’d guess some of the better restaurants aren’t on the Plaza.  There are plenty of restaurants to choose among in Agua Caliente, all within a couple of blocks.    The two we ate in faced the plaza.  Looking across the plaza from the church, the one we ate in the first night would be the one on the far left among the three or four establishments on the opposite side.


Be sure to buy your ticket for Macchu Picchu.  If you arrive in Agua Caliente without one, go immediately to the ______ and buy one, if you plan to go to Macchu Picchu early in the morning.  Note that you will also need a bus ticket, but you can purchase that early in the morning, as your partner waits in line.

I mention “early morning” often for at least three reasons: (1) Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people, and since most folks capable of it would like to make that climb, they’re in line early, and you might miss it if you snooze; (2) since most of the early birds are headed for Huayna Picchu, the early morning is a great time for you to experience Macchu Picchu in relative solitude — and you won’t have to spend quite so long in Photoshop zapping the human forms in your pictures; and (3) as a photographer, I like the better light of early morning or very late afternoon.    In addition, since some big tours give their cattle just a couple of hours in Macchu Picchu in the middle of the day, either early morning or late afternoon means a quieter and more enjoyable experience of the place.

To maximize enjoyment of the early morning, make a sharp left turn uphill at pretty much your first opportunity, about 100 yards after passing through the gates where you show your ticket.

For the truly budget-minded, there’s a “back-packer special” train from Cusco that’s much cheaper than foreigners pay otherwise.  The authorities don’t exactly advertise it, but it’s there.

I’m not sure that if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have left the car in Cusco and taken a tour bus.  (That’s assuming you don’t hike in on the Inka Trail, which Ragna wouldn’t have considered.)  Mostly I prefer to drive.   This particular route I might have been better off riding, getting let off near the various ruins, seeing what the experts thought I should see, and not having to figure out where to park.   Maybe.   In a perfect world I’d have done that, and then returned a few days later to explore the area by car on my own.