We wake at 4:40, eat, and march to the Machu Picchu bus stand.
We round the corner to find several hundred people in the bus line already! Crap! There are many buses though, and they are leaving and returning rapidly. In about 1/2 hour we are on a bus.
We will miss the sunrise, but it's really cloudy, so it wouldn't have been all that dramatic anyway. A 20 minute ride puts us at the gate to Machu Picchu. We hike in, and despite the bus lines it doesn't seem that crowded. It's a big place, and it's incredible. One of our goals here was to hike to Huanah Picchu, a small ruin on a mountaintop overlooking Machu Picchu, and we are reminded by a sign that only 400 people per day are allowed on the hike, so we breeze thru Machu Picchu to get into the Huanah Picchu line. Terry sits this one out - she has an old ankle injury from a car accident, and it's a long, steep hike - she stays down at Machu Picchu and reads a book. The hike to Huanah Picchu takes us
about an hour. Despite the fact
that the Incas were shorter than us, they built their steps REALLY TALL. We have to stop and huff and puff periodically. Once on top, we find a beautiful little ruin, with terraces, houses (apparently of royalty) and an incredible overhead view of Machu Picchu.
We toodle around here for a bit, take some photos, and head down. Then we make a thorough self-guided tour of Machu Picchu. Next up, we hike out to the Inca Drawbridge, a relatively mellow 1/2 hr hike. Back in the day you could go across the bridge, but a turista fell to her death in years past, so now it's gated off. We head back to Machu Picchu, and Mom and Terry split off to catch a bus back to town. Allison & I start to hike out the Inca Trail, with plans to go as far as the next ruin, Wynah Wynah. We barely get started though, when we run into some folks that, based on their gear, are clearly off the trail. Allison asks them how their Inca Trail experience has been, and they say great, except that they did their 3rd AND 4th days of hiking in one day, today, because of the train strike tomorrow. WHAT? TRAIN STIKE? Yep. Apparently the rail system is striking tomorrow, as a show of support for the people in the Bagua region. We are supposed to leave and head back to Cusco tomorrow, and the only way out of Aguas Calientes is by train. The next morning we fly out of Cusco to Puerto Maldonado for the Amazon portion of our trip, so it has become imperative that we reach Cusco tonight. So begins Transportation Adventure #2.
Allison & I do a 180, and catch Terry & Mom before they've reached the bus stand back to town. There are a number of alterations that will have to be made in our plan, which was to take the train back to Ollantaytambo, and take a taxi back to Cusco. The only train with seats available runs at 9:20 PM. Allison & I wait for about an hour in the train line, not sure if we'll get on, but we do. The next order of business is to get a car from Ollantaytambo to Cusco. This has to happen tonight, because of the possibility that the roads will also be blocked tomorrow. We call the hostel where we stayed in Ollantaytambo, and she says she'll have a cab waiting at the train station for us. The final puzzle piece is lodging. Our hotel for tomorrow night fortunately has rooms tonight as well, so it seems we are set. We will of course be abandoning rooms that we've paid for in Aguas Calientes tonight, but none of us are really sorry to be leaving this town early.
We get all of our stuff packed and head to dinner at a really nice place. Eventually a family that we'd been chatting with on the train on the way in sits at a table beside us. We ask when they're leaving, and they say tomorrow. We inform them that no, they won't. Two of them hop up and run to the train station. They return a while later with tickets for tonight. Apparently Peru Rail is turning away new fares, but still giving seats to folks that had tickets for tomorrow.
The train ride has sort of a hurricane party feel - like we're all escaping. One person on the train talks of having to cross a bridge between Puno and Cusco that had been burned. We wonder if it is our bridge. When we arrive at Ollantaytambo the crowd literally runs from the train to try to get cabs. Our driver has a sign with our name, and soon we are on the road. It is very late, and I alternate between snoozing with my head hanging and jerking awake in time to see us pass with very little room. Sort of a dreamy hell-ride. Finally we arrive at our new hotel back in Cusco. Allison & I have to climb what seems like a billion stone steps to get to our room. We are tired of stone steps at high altitude.