Day 8: our second day at Machu Picchu
We had this morning to ourselves, with no tour guides or anything scheduled, other than catching the train back to Cusco around 3pm. This meant we had to be checked out of the hotel and taken the bus down to Aguas Calientes prior to that. Our initial plan had been to get up first thing in the morning, so that we could be among the first people in the site (before the groups of tourists arrived). However, we had just about had our fill of getting up in the wee hours, so we decided to try to catch up on our rest and sleep in in the morning.
We also were thinking about climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu, the nearby mountain that has a great view of the ruins at Machu Picchu. Judging from the guidebooks we thought that we would be able to get up the mountain and back in time to catch our train. The guide book said that it was a very steep climb that would take 90 minutes or so one way. However, neither one of us was feeling in top form at that point, so we were strongly considering abandoning that plan. We decided to hike over to where the Huayna Picchu climb started (at the far side of the Machu Picchu ruins) before we made our final decision.
We found out that the guide books (and our tour company) were outdated about the ticket prices. While our previous day's admission had been pre-paid, today's was not. Evidently the caretakers of the site had just recently canceled the prior policy of selling a second day's admission at 50% off (with valid ticket stub), so we had to pay full price ($20 U.S.) to gain admission today. We didn't mind that much, though, because it was well worth it.
During the hike over to the opposite side, we took a route through an area that we had not seen yet, at the far western side of the site. The areas that we went through included The Prison, The Mortars, The Industrial Group, and the Residential Sector.
From the newly restored buildings in the foreground, looking back past the terraces to the beginning of the site.
I believe this is a photo of the group of structures known as the Industrial Group (center background).
Here I am sitting on one huge rock, that was being carved in a number of right-angled platforms. (Someone said it had a special purpose, and referred to it as an Incan throne.) You could tell that the work was not yet finished on this stone. Machu Picchu was obviously abandoned before it was finished, and archeologists are still unsure as to the reasons for its existance and its downfall.
At the opposite end of the site (the northern end) is this rock, known as the Sacred Rock. It stands just a few dozen feet away from the guard shack for the path to Huayna Picchu. This rock is 12-15 feet high, and is carved as a silhouette of the mountains behind it (though the background mountains are currently covered in clouds). The rock is supposed to contain energy that you can feel or receive, if you know how to open yourself up to it. I tried the recommended method of standing on the pedestal (with my forehead and fingertips on the rock) for a few minutes, but I did not notice anything really different. Maybe I just needed to relax more.....
After climbing in, out, and through the various buildings on the western side, we finally reached the other end of the site, and sat down on the pedestal of the Sacred Rock to rest. Reevaluating the remaining time and our remaining energy reserves, we decided against climbing Huayna Picchu. We felt that we could have done it, but that it would have have been a big drain on us, possibly having adverse effects on the next part of the trip. We felt like we had seen pretty much everything that we wanted to see of Machu Picchu at that point (at least what we could realistically see that day), so we headed back towards the entrance, stopping to visit the last few places that we had missed along the way. By leaving a little early we could take in a leisurely lunch in Agua Calientes, and have time to visit the numerous souvenir vendors there as well.
One last look at Machu Picchu, using the panoramic camera again.
We checked out of the hotel, and took our two overnight bags to the waiting bus out front. Buses leave every so often during the day, and our timing was just right as we boarded just before they left. On the winding trip down the mountain we experienced the local phenomenon of the "goodbye boy" - a local Quechua boy dressed in traditional Inca clothes, who waved goodbye to us and shouted some unknown Quechua words at us. It was kinda like "goodbye, come back again soon!", I guess. After going down to the next bend in the road, there he was again, waving and yelling the same phrases. As we kept going down the mountain we would see him waiting for us at the next turn again and again. People on the bus were speculating whether he was identical triplets or whatever, but it was soon obvious that the boy was running straight down the old footpath down the mountain (which was slightly quicker than the bus could drive the zig-zag road), and waiting for the bus to drive by. Once or twice he barely made it in time. Near the bottom he appeared again, and was let on the bus by the driver. When he came on board he proceeded to yell his expressions again, just in case we didn't remember him. He was sweating and slightly winded from all the running, and deserved the numerous tips that the tourists gave him when he went down the bus aisle with his donation bag. I gave him a spare digital watch that I had brought just for such an occasion (one that I had gotten for free and never would have used anyway).
Once let off the bus we had to go through the gauntlet of vendors booth, who all tried to get us to buy their shirts or other items. We shopped around, buying shirts and gifts for friends and relatives back home. When our lists were complete and our patience exhausted, we set out for the train station, hoping to find a place to eat along the way. We repeatedly asked the locals for directions to the train station, but somehow ended up going the wrong way, and ended up wandering through the residential part of town where the tourists never go. We finally found a young women who said that she would take us to the train station, so we followed her back to near where we started, and got to where the gate to the station was. The gate was locked, which was momentarily frustrating, until the station guard heard us and unlocked the gate for us.
We went into the station with an hour or so to spare, but after checking out the questionable food at the snack bar we decided to skip lunch. We were too tired to hike back into town to find a restaurant, and I made do with my old standby, a PowerBar. The rest of the day was uneventful as we took the train back to Cusco, arriving after dark. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than going back out into town, since we had had our fill of walking for awhile.