So from Cusco it was ashort taxi to the train station for the morning departure to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountains and ridges that are home to the Macchu Picchu ruins.
We could only book a return train that brought us half way back down to Cusco, so that was a small bridge we would have to cross in the evening - but we figured a lot of people must have to deal with these transport shortfalls at an internationally renowned tourist destination so we were just focused on getting up to the ruins.
The train is probably the slowest form of transport we have taken this year - I think the dying Chinese tuk-tuk driver with the dying Chinese tuk-tuk, sputtering through the rain and smog in Xian was capable of greater speeds........but it was very scenic!
We had considered staying at Aguas Calientes but without a guide book we were relying on the internet and there didn't seem to be a reassuring number of accommodation options available. As it turned out, we could have stayed for at least one night and had a really good time there - we would recommend it to others, as long as you still have a couple of nights in Cusco to enjoy that city.
At Aguas Calientes you get tickets for entry to the ruins and a bus ticket to get you up there. The buses are fairly new 30 seaters which is reassuring as you take in the terrain that you are about to ascend. The road looks pretty crazy on google maps.
For me this was the part of the journey I wasn't looking forward to. Winding, dirt, mountain roads in an area of landslides, with multiple buses going up and down all day without (as we would discover) any safety measures such as blind spot mirrors, timing controls or radio communication. I think we passed 13 or 14 buses coming down as we went up!!
But was it worth it?? Oh, Yeah!!!!!
The girls liked the views, thought the Alpacas were cool and thought the ruins were magical - but they couldn't shake a feeling of vertigo. For me, I didn't notice the heights (at least not as much as on the bus!) and thought that this was probably the highlight of the year.
It is not just the work that went in to the buildings and terracing to create agricultural fields, the location or the scenery. Standing at Macchu Picchu and imagining a community that accessed it along the Inca Trail, worked the fields daily within feet of hundred foot drop-offs and thousand foot cliffs and experienced weather as dramtic as the scenery - it is truly awe inspiring. It is not as grand or as old as Angkor Wat and it doesn't have the enduring charm of the old European cities..........but it is such an adventurous destination with continuing mystery surrounding it's history and purpose.
Towards the end of the afternoon I went and explored the original trail as far as the Inca Bridge. There are a couple of pictures below that sum up just how perilous the journey to Macchu Picchu used to be. The Inca Bridge was a section of cliffside path that was completed through the bridging of a span of about 6 metres with two tree trunks. As a defence the trunks could be dislodged into the valley below, leaving a vertical drop to be traversed across the cliffside rockface.
There are only a few places that we have been lucky enough to see this year that I have really thought "I want to come back soon" - Macchu Picchu was definitely one such place.