|MONDAY JULY 3rd
At 7.30 a.m. after an early breakfast we started to walk along the railway tracks towards Machu Picchu station. The tracks followed the Urubamba Valley and the twenty minute walk through beautiful scenery was delightful.
From Machu Picchu station we took a bus for the hair-raising ascent along hairpin bends up the steep cliffs. After leaving the bus we walked along a short path and saw Machu Picchu spread before us. "A jewel in the mist". What an appropriate description!
Machu Picchu was "discovered" in 1911, although the local Indians had known of its existence for centuries. This extraordinary city from ancient Peru is located on a delicate rock shelf that hangs over the Urubamba canyon at an altitude of 8000 feet above sea level. It was built around 1420 A.D. and it is figured today that the Lost City of the Incas contained 216 homes and more than 100 series of stairs,
After exploring the different sectors, agricultural, urban, royal, sacred, industrial intellectual and so on, and the main buildings including the Palace of Princes and the Royal Tomb etc. we made our way to Huaynapicchu, the peak which overlooks the whole scene.
There is an Inca track traversing the narrow ridge from Machu Picchu to Huaynapicchu. It is a steep, rugged and sometimes frightening climb to the top, as the sheer mountainside falls away more than a thousand feet to the river. Still unaccustomed to the altitude it was necessary to rest every few yards. And oh! My poor aching legs.
After one hour of climbing the sense of satisfaction and the view from the top made it well worth the effort.
The descent was less exerting physically, but painful for aching calf muscles and after that the climb to the top of the terraces of the agricultural sector was almost more than I could manage, but again the different viewpoint once there made it well worth the effort
The bus ride down the hairpin bends was even more hair-raising than the ascent due to the speed with which the bus took the turns. I think most people had their eyes closed!
Safely down we discovered that the four o'clock local train would contain a "Pullman car", in which seats could be reserved. We bought our tickets and waited. The scene when the train arrived was only slightly better than yesterday. There were people all over the tracks, and a lot of pushing and shoving to get on. The Pullman car was just as old and decrepit as the rest of the train, but we found our reserved seats and settled down for the five hour ride to Cuzco.
The journey was made more enjoyable by the company we had in the Pullman car, a young Australian lady with unkempt hair and grubby jeans, and her American boyfriend, together with their "charges". This remarkable young couple had opened an orphanage in Cuzco just over a year ago and had "adopted" some thirty former street children. With very little funding, they were providing these fortunate children not just with a home, but also and basic education and a chance in life. This had been a rare treat for them, a day out, and a chance to marvel at the wonders of Macchu Pichu. I felt very humbled in their company.
Eventually the lights of the city came into view. We could make out the brightly lit cathedral in the Plaza de Annas, way down in the valley to our right. We seemed to go past, stopped, and reversed some two or three miles. Then we would go forward two or three miles, then reverse again. At first, we could not figure out what was happening, until we realised that we were lower down the hillside, and the cathedral was now much closer. It took about thirty minutes to zig-zag down the steep hillside and enter Cuzco, but it was an ingenious idea, and I discovered later that railway buffs everywhere know of this stretch of track. It is considered one of the world's greatest feats of railway engineering.