We arrived in Aguas Calientes (the city below the ruins) yesterday afternoon. In order to avoid the expensive, comfortable, 3-hour train ride, we took a 9-dollar, 6-hour bus ride and two colectivos (shared taxis) to a hydroelectric plant, and then walked 2.5 hours on train tracks into town. Saved us about 30 dollars each, and the bus ride was fastastic, riding along sheer cliffs through beautiful valleys. No pictures, though, because pictures from buses always suck.
It's 5:30, and I'm at the top. I find David and we take a seat on the entrance stairs. 30 minutes before opening time, and there's already as many tourists waiting. 5:45, and the first busloads arrive. 10 minutes later, there are at least 200 people waiting, and we begin to wonder whether it was worth it. But then something amazing happens. The guards tell everybody to form a line, and we stand up to realize that nobody else had taken a seat on the stairs. A couple minutes later, the line is fully formed, and we are miraculously, incredulously, at the head of it.
And so we wandered into Macchu Picchu alone, the only sounds our footsteps and occasional words. Temples and terraces arose and fell out of the morning fog as we stolled on by, experiencing not the detail-obsessed, scrutinized city of a guided tour, but an unassuming, humble pueblo that passed no judgement, nor required any grand significance. It was what it was, and nothing less.
However, although we were keeping ahead of the other tourists through our naturally fast walking, we soon realized that we weren't, in face, the only visitors. At first we saw two dogs, chasing eachother through the ruins. Then something resembling a squirrel, some hummingbirds, and even a snail, crawling lazily up some ancient Incan stonework. And it was the animals that gave me a true glimpse of the ruins at their most normal, as the city they once were. Because dogs and birds don't know that they're living in a wonder of the ancient world - to them it's a city like any other. They go to the bathroom, try to procreate, and hope for scraps of food from these curious ape-like creatures with cameras around their necks. And, while I enjoyed Macchu Picchu for the wonder that it is, it seemed much more real when I viewed it from a more pedestrian angle. For this reason, the animals were one of the coolest parts of the ruins - and one of the most photogenic. I have more pictures, but here's 3 from the day:
A squirrel-like thing in a traditional Inca-shaped window.
Our companions strolling casually along a terrace.
Well, I had to get at least one picture of myself, didn't I?
Next time, the adventurous ride from Aguas Calientes to the first village of our proposed trek.
P.S. For those reading these in real time, note that they are several days behind. We are now in Huaraz, in the northern andes.