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Machu Picchu

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Monday, December 05, 2011 – Day 15 – Machu Picchu, Peru

Today promises to be the highlight of the whole trip. Rocio and Felix arrive at 5:50AM to transfer us to the Poroy train station, a few kilometers outside the city. Cusco has a train station dedicated to Machu Picchu, but the residents in the area had it closed down because of noise problems from the train running up a series of switchbacks to climb out of Cusco. I can sympathize with their concerns. Of course the city now fills up with all the tourist buses and taxis heading to Poroy station, but at least they are quieter than the train, although they cause much more pollution.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Train running through the valley below

The PeruRail Vistadome train leaves Poroy station at 6:40AM, traveling through the agricultural valley of the Rio Cachimayo through several small towns. Once it passes through the town of Huarocondo, it starts to descend down the steep valley carved by the Rio Huarocondo. We are served a very nice continental breakfast snack, including good Peruvian coffee or soft drinks. At the half way mark down this valley, the train carefully negotiates a switchback built on the steep sides of the valley before traveling down to the junction of the Rio Huarocondo and the Rio Urubamba. We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the train soon arrives at Ollantaytambo station, where it makes its only stop for five minutes.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Peruvians pose for us

We arrive at Aguas Calientes on time at 10AM. This small community is jammed in a narrow valley where the only road is to Machu Picchu. Our guide Grimaldo meets us in the train station, and we then take a transfer bus to Machu Picchu. The bus climbs to the top of the hill on a gravel road with many switchbacks, some 800 metres above the valley below. We soon catch our first glimpses of Machu Picchu – it’s hard to describe using words or photos. It is a wonderful feat of engineering if you consider it has survived virtually intact for centuries through countless tropical rainstorms, hot sun, fierce winds, and yes…the onslaught of tourists.

John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial

We spend two hours walking the site, learning all the fascinating concepts, which Grimaldo so skilfully conveys to us. I would not want to see Machu Picchu without a guide, at least for a first visit. I can see where it would be wonderful to just go up there to sit and soak up the ambience of this sacred place on my next visit, which would require staying in a hotel in Aguas Calientes for several nights. We see the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows in the Sacred District. We also see a sundial, which still has perfect alignment with the cardinal directions.

There is a single hotel right at the entrance to Machu Picchu, where we have a nice buffet lunch after our walking tour of the site. I expect the rates to stay there would be very high. There are several hotel and hostels in Aguas Calientes, which no doubt offer less expensive options. We take the bus to the bottom then board the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes back to Poroy Station near Cusco. As the train makes its way back, the crew put on a fashion show and dragon dance. Of course they then come down the isle to sell the alpaca clothing they modelled.

Our trusty driver Felix and tour coordinator Rocio are waiting at the Poroy train station to transfer us back to Cusco and the hotel. By then it is 8PM, so we decide to skip dinner and go to bed since it was such a full day.

Machu Picchu
47 photos
Machupicchu-Cusco sign on train coach
Machupicchu-Cusco sign on train coach
Boarding the train
Boarding the train
Cows, farmers and crops
Cows, farmers and crops
People and horse looking at the passing train
People and horse looking at the passing train
Breakfast snack & Inca Kola
Breakfast snack & Inca Kola
In-coach service
In-coach service
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
Rail yard at Jajpunco
Rail yard at Jajpunco
Old Aztec entrance to Ollantaytambo
Old Aztec entrance to Ollantaytambo
Hikers on the start of the steep Inca Trail
Hikers on the start of the steep Inca Trail
Peru Rail engine
Peru Rail engine
Machu Picchu train in station
Machu Picchu train in station
Looking upstream
Looking upstream
Train running through the valley below
Train running through the valley below
Intipunku, Sun Gate Ruins - last campsite on Incan Trail
Intipunku, Sun Gate Ruins – last campsite on Incan Trail
Joe  at Machu Picchu - I was there
Joe at Machu Picchu – I was there
Switchback road up the mountain to Machu Picchu
Switchback road up the mountain to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu wide angle
Machu Picchu wide angle
Temple of the Moon - Huayna Picchu
Temple of the Moon – Huayna Picchu
Residential area and Temple of the Sun
Residential area and Temple of the Sun
Terraces below Lookout
Terraces below Lookout
Incan tombs
Incan tombs
Temple of the Sun from downhill perspective
Temple of the Sun from downhill perspective
Our guide Grimaldo explains how some entrances could be locked
Our guide Grimaldo explains how some entrances could be locked
Precisely fitted Incan stone wall
Precisely fitted Incan stone wall
Sacred fountain
Sacred fountain
Main Plaza and Incan houses with Temple of the Moon behind
Main Plaza and Incan houses with Temple of the Moon behind
Residential area
Residential area
Grimaldo explaining to John & Wendy McDonald how Incan houses were constructed
Grimaldo explaining to John & Wendy McDonald how Incan houses were constructed
Andean viscacha resting in a niche in a stone wall
Andean viscacha resting in a niche in a stone wall
Temple of the Sun
Temple of the Sun
Residential section & Temple of the Moon
Residential section & Temple of the Moon
Incan wall showing protrusions for lifting them in place
Incan wall showing protrusions for lifting them in place
Agricultural terraces and quarry area
Agricultural terraces and quarry area
Incan sundial
Incan sundial
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Mourning Peruvian couple visiting the site
Mourning Peruvian couple visiting the site
Classic photo of Machu Picchu showing the agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Classic photo of Machu Picchu showing the agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Wide angle photo of Machu Picchu showing more agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Wide angle photo of Machu Picchu showing more agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Cusquena - Peruvian beer
Cusquena – Peruvian beer
Lion dancer
Lion dancer
Crew modeling clothes
Crew modeling clothes
Snowy moutain peaks in the Cordillera Urubamba
Snowy moutain peaks in the Cordillera Urubamba
Gibbous Moon from the train
Gibbous Moon from the train
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Sacred Valley of the Incas

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Sunday, December 04, 2011 – Day 14 – Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour, Peru

I am up ahead of our wakeup call at 6AM, and go down to the buffet breakfast included with the hotel rate. It is wonderful to have some Peruvian coffee and a nicely prepared omelette before our day begins. Felix is our driver and Boris is our guide for the day. They pick us up at 8AM for our full day tour of the Sacred Valley. Grain and corn were cultivated for the Inka, his family and the upper class in this valley. Original Inca agricultural terraces are still being used today, and are visible everywhere we drive through this valley.

Wendy mentions to Boris she is interested in textiles, so he decides to reverse the order of the tour, taking us to Chinchero for our first stop this morning. The Peruvian women at Expo Andina serve us cocoa tea and then put on a very amusing and informative textile demonstration (see banner photo above). Afterward, they have their wares for sale. We end up buying quite a few items, since they are original, locally made, and reasonably priced.

Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce

We also visit the local Sunday market in Chinchero since it is close by. It’s a very interesting market, where some people are trading produce rather than paying cash. There is a lunch area, fresh spices, produce of all kinds, flowers, a shoe repair, including sandals for sale made from recycled tires, and cooking pottery is also being sold. The varieties of corn and potatoes available in this market are nothing short of amazing. There is also a large area dedicated to souvenirs made for tourists. I think we are their only tourists this morning, because we are pestered pretty well!

Incan terraces on the front of the fortress at Ollantaytambo
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress at Ollantaytambo

Next stop is Urubamba, the community where the Peru Rail train joins the Urubamba River and the Sacred Valley on its way to Machu Picchu. We get a super workout at our next stop at Ollantaytambo, an Incan town and temple fortress – we climb to the top! The granite stones used for this fortress were moved by human muscle from a quarry on the side of a mountain, located across the river . Boris offers to take us into an Incan house, but we decline since we are so exhausted after scaling the fortress.

We drive to our lunch stop at the Sonesta Posada Yucay, a resort and a hotel. They offer a very a nice buffet of traditional Peruvian food. I really appreciate having some coffee to start with. After savouring the coffee, I go back to tackle the buffet, which consists of virtually all Peruvian food. Yucay is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is a fertile and verdant valley, and still produces maize as it did for the Incas so many centuries ago. We drive by a soccer game being played with sheep on the field, which nobody seems to notice or care about.

Sacks of potatoes at the Pisac Market
Sacks of potatoes at the Pisac Market

Pisac Market is our last stop before returning to Cusco. We all assure Boris we can do without visiting this market, and would appreciate an early return to the hotel so we can rest. However, he talks us into a quick visit, since it is on our way back to Cusco. The market is huge, and there are many interesting things for sale, but we buy nothing and leave after 15 minutes. We see more Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley, as we return to Cusco.

We go to La Pizza Carlo again for dinner this evening and order the loaded pizza. Perhaps we are not very adventurous, but we are exhausted from the day’s activities and just want to go to bed to get lots of rest for tomorrow – the big day when we go to Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley
54 photos
Wood stacked for cooking fires
Wood stacked for cooking fires
Planted fields
Planted fields
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Packing goods home in a wheelbarrow from the Sunday market
Packing goods home in a wheelbarrow from the Sunday market
Outside of Expo Andina textile demo
Outside of Expo Andina textile demo
Blessings on a roof top
Blessings on a roof top
Guinea pigs being raised for food
Guinea pigs being raised for food
Peruvian wall hangings & other textiles
Peruvian wall hangings & other textiles
Demonstrating how soap is made from a plant
Demonstrating how soap is made from a plant
Textile colouring made from various plants
Textile colouring made from various plants
Red dye made from a cactus blossom
Red dye made from a cactus blossom
Demonstrating red and yellow dyeing
Demonstrating red and yellow dyeing
Balls of various coloured wools
Balls of various coloured wools
Handmade leather bags with fabric designs
Handmade leather bags with fabric designs
Trading produce
Trading produce
Fresh spices
Fresh spices
Cherries & peppers
Cherries & peppers
Bread buns
Bread buns
The lunch area
The lunch area
Tourist wares for sale
Tourist wares for sale
Cooking pots for sale
Cooking pots for sale
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer in corn field
Farmer in corn field
Cows and corn fields
Cows and corn fields
Terraced hills along the Sacred Valley
Terraced hills along the Sacred Valley
Inca terraces along the river
Inca terraces along the river
Incan sidewalks, water aqueducts, and stonework
Incan sidewalks, water aqueducts, and stonework
Main entrance terraces
Main entrance terraces
Steps beside the main entrance terraces
Steps beside the main entrance terraces
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
View of Ollantaytambo from part way up the terraces
View of Ollantaytambo from part way up the terraces
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Incan stone wall
Incan stone wall
Terraces near the top of the fortress
Terraces near the top of the fortress
Incan stone wall and terraces
Incan stone wall and terraces
Joe on the top of the fortress with Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley below
Joe on the top of the fortress with Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley below
Our guide Boris Boret explaining how the stone slabs were made and moved
Our guide Boris Boret explaining how the stone slabs were made and moved
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress
Wendy and Boris decending
Wendy and Boris decending
Wendy and Boris decending with agricultural valley and Ollantaytambo below
Wendy and Boris decending with agricultural valley and Ollantaytambo below
John descending a long series of steps
John descending a long series of steps
Plaza and fortress
Plaza and fortress
Ceremonial fountain
Ceremonial fountain
Peruvian handicraft masks being sold by the entrance
Peruvian handicraft masks being sold by the entrance
Ollantaytambo town plaza
Ollantaytambo town plaza
Restaurant entrance
Restaurant entrance
Tourist souvenirs & little girl dressed for tourist photo ops
Tourist souvenirs & little girl dressed for tourist photo ops
Sacks of potatoes
Sacks of potatoes
Fruit stand
Fruit stand
Piscac street with Incan terraced hills behind
Piscac street with Incan terraced hills behind
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Inca terraces on the hills above  the Rio Pahuaycoc valley
Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley