I feel ancient reminiscing about this trip. I studied abroad in Argentina in 2012 (FOUR years ago!) and I was considering travel around South America when I arrived, but I thought Peru was “too far” from Mendoza, where I was living with my host family. “Too far…” -_- The year before I flew to India on my own, but I had wealthy friends with drivers who escorted us to tourist destinations. I think I was nervous to go off on my own on a new continent.
But after a week in Chile during Easter break, I bit the bullet and planned my trip to Peru. I purposely booked a room (18 person dorm room! Oh the things you do to save money as a student….) at a party hostel so that I would make friends. Note: Granted yes, I did meet VERY cool travellers, but there were also awkward individuals who waltzed in at night drunk etc.
I can’t recall that much about the flight except it was Mendoza –> Santiago –> Lima –> Cusco, both ways! The higher and higher we flew to Cusco, it was a bit harder to breathe. As a naive 21 year old at the time, I went nuts on the mini bottles of Malbec they served on the flight, and got drunk very fast (the altitude certainly expedited the process!). When we disembarked the plane to head to immigration, the boy standing behind me in the queue asked, “Are you drunk??!” The nerve. But yes, I was drunk. And it was miraculous that I held on to the immigration card they gave me, because if you lose it, you gotta pay to leave Peru!
Cusco is a cool city. Everything is on an incline so I did jam 5 cups of “altitude sickness” tea down my throat the minute I returned to the hostel, since I got out of breath very easily, but it’s all just so…picturesque. During the day there are vendors who speak every language to advertise their products. At night there are club promoters who chase after you and stick flyers in your hand for free drinks. Ha. I took a free day tour around Cusco and signed up for a cooking class afterwards. Yes, the guinea pig was chewy and the Pisco sour was delicious.
After a few days in Cusco, I arranged a bus to pick me up to get me to Aguas Calientes via train. The train was clean and the views were beautiful. Although I’m not rolling in dough now, if I were to go to Aguas Calientes tomorrow, I probably would’ve settled for a hotel. When I got off the train I was bombarded with promises of clean hostels and I was so tired that I settled for the first one. I did negotiate for a towel and soap before I got there though (um yes). For the record, it was clean, just small!
I woke up SUPER early and walked to the base of the mountain (to climb the famous Machu Picchu!) to hand over my ticket. Here is when I made one of the biggest, dumbest mistakes of my travel history. When I bought my Machu Picchu tickets online, I neglected to confirm that the payment went through (you know how it is with online payments sometimes). I could’ve sworn that the payment was cleared on my end, so in all the excitement I assumed I was cleared and somehow DID NOT see that ON THE TICKET, it said payment was not accepted! Gah. Miraculously, I was able to run to the office 30 minutes down the road, skip the line, and pay for an entrance ticket. I can’t imagine how mad I would’ve been at myself if I was denied entry after travelling all that way to see Machu Picchu! Note: Get an ISIC card. The tickets were a lot cheaper since I had the card.
The way up was equally exhausting as the way down. Beautiful views, but my legs were aching by the time I was at the top and I had to hang out on the grass and close my eyes for a bit. OF COURSE I forgot my hat and I got very tanned afterwards (TOP OF A HILL- DIRECT SUNLIGHT- d’oh!). After getting 5 minutes of rest, I walked around and even followed a tour closely for a few minutes- the tours are conducted in every language you can think of. Note: SUNTAN LOTION. PROPER HAT. REAL WALKING SHOES. I was such a noob to this hiking thing.
I asked a tourist to take a picture of me with an alpaca (they’re mean), and since that went well, I asked for a jumping picture. Three seconds later I was told (more like scolded) not to jump by a guard. Apparently there were deaths. EEEK.
I am still marveling at how Machu Picchu was even built. Yes, there are tales of how Incans consumed drugs that aided their construction but even so, just….wow. There is also something ridiculously rewarding about getting to take a picture at the place you’ve been reading about in history books for years and years. I never thought I would actually come visit, and I feel so lucky I was able to do it.
The ticket I bought online originally permitted me to hike Huyana Picchu, which is even higher than the original mound. Honestly I was so tired from waking up early, the drama of securing a ticket, and hiking, that I was more than content exploring what I was given permission to do.
Machu Picchu is sinking gradually year by year! Go if you can!