Starting at the hotel at six, jumping on a bus that wound its way down the highway from Cusco to Ollantaytonbo a town forty eight kms from the newly named town of Machu Picchu Town, formerly Aguas Caliente (the Hot Springs). The highway was two lane but not full of traffic the only way to slow us down was to enter the many rural towns that the highway connected and suffer the curse of the dreaded "topes" - speed bumps higher than mountains. The geography of this part of the trip was rural flatland, very intensely farmed. But the small portions of cultivation must have made the way of life very inefficient to a modern farmer accustomed to large field and few hedgerows.
The sights that impressed us were the many small transit three wheeled taxicabs and the way the local houses were predominently adobe brick. In the towns it appeared to be the practice that one would make the bricks out of the earth that was carved from the hillside to create the building lot. In any case it was impressive to see modern looking houses made from mud.
Arriving at Ollantaytombo we changed to the train. Waiting about thirty minutes gave us the chance to see the contrasts between rural countryside and a small urban centre. The same vendors swarmed us on the platforms trying to sell us hats, bags and anything they thought that we would need on the mountain. We swore off the mosquito repellent, thinking we would take our chances and eschewed the purchase of hats even though we probably would need them; turned out we did , my head is still burned. Boarding the train five minutes late we left the station ten minutes later, after all what is time - this is South America. Then began a most amazing journey along the banks of the Urubombo river. This river had carved enough space through the mountains to allow a track to be built. The riverbank on one side and the vertical mountainside the other, not much room for any of the components.
Ninety minutes of spectacular views brought us into Machu Picchu Town, a one horse town entirely dependent on the tourist trade. Along the lot line of the train station was the largest artisans market we have seen in a long time. The prices being very good, half of that of Mexico, there was much buying going on. These people were bimonetary, taking US dollars and giving change in Peruvian Soles automatically. While waiting for the train, we had two hours to kill, we dropped into a bar in the Municipal Square. The national drink is a concoction called "Pisco Sour". Doreen ordered one, I'm a beerman, tasting like a vodka and bitter lemon one would get in the "auld country" we were assured that the hidden liquor, distilled from green grapes would creep up on you just like a night of drinking tequila does. We only had one!
But this post was supposed to be about the wonder of the world but one cannot do justice to the day unless you set the context of how one gets there. After leaving the train the ubiquitous tour guide, ours was called Carlos, picked up the gathered travellers and walked down the hill to the waiting buses. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture only sells twentyfive hundred admission tickets each day so the traffic is well regulated and controlled. The buses take off up the mountain on a one lane road with many hairpin bends and we arrive at what appears to be chaos. Tour guides trying to assemble the pack, unescorted travellers buying tickets and all of us trying to get into line at the admission turnstiles. Once through and following Carlos's instructions - "Go through snd meet me at the top, we all looked for his orange flag. How many times have we ridiculed the gangs of tourists, in foreign places, who obediently follow the leader; well today it was our turn.
Up the first steps, the first of thousands, we met to be given further instructions, after being pointed in the right direction - "Meet me at the top of the stairs." Well! steps by the hundred taking us up a few hundred metres was just the start. Us oldsters did have to stop a few times, we told ourselves it was to allow the people coming down to get through, but our bodies knew better. At the top we were treated to history lesson about the Incas and where the site fitted in. It was abandoned by the one hundred and fifty families because the Fifteenth Inca (the last one to exist) needed all the help he could get to fight the Spanish. It was discovered by an American history professor, called Hiram Brigham, who was looking for the "Lost City of the Incas". He found it in 1911 and until 1913 he chopped it out of the jungle. But he did remove, to America, priceless artifacts.
How can we describe the process, that lasted two and a half hours, of being awed and pained physically - climbing what appeared to be thousands of staircases does wonders for the heart and the sights inspired the soul. We managed to finish (what other choice did we have) but instead of just coming away as we normally would have done by snorting, "Just another pile of old ruins and rocks" we sat and congratulated ourselves for finishing the tour and not being underwhelmed. In fact because of the site, its location and the atmosphere of visiting a modern wonder of the world one felt truely awed.