Machu Picchu is a magical place. And it’s quite expensive as well. From the town of Cusco it’s a $70 train ride to the mountain of Machu Picchu. I opted to forgo the train and try to find the legendary site myself. The word on the street was that it took 3 hours to hike into Picchu.
The street could not have been more wrong...
I started out on the train tracks near the outskirts of Ollantaytumbo. Dodging the local police, I made a run for the tracks and after a few minutes I found myself amidst a roaring river, misty mountains and an endless train track. With me I had my tripod, 3 cameras, snacks and some agua. The first few hours were quite peaceful. I couldn’t complain about the scenery and the weather was perfect. A few clouds lingered up high in the mountains and the sun popped out to say hey once in a while. Occasionally I’d come across a farm complete with crops and llamas.
After the 5th hour I started to become concerned. The sun was setting and Machu Picchu was nowhere in sight. In fact, nothing was in sight... no more farms, no fellow trackwalkers, and no end to the cold steel train tracks. Darkness came and I was still pushing forward with my tiny headlamp. Dodging pitfalls and random bustling trains, I thought to myself, ¨Damn, I’m screwed.... I’ve got to find a cave or something... maybe Machu will be around the corner...¨
After an hour of walking in the dark I came upon a burning light in the void. Upon closer inspection, I found a man shuffling about. The light illuminated a small snack shop selling soda, water and energy bars. I asked the man, ¨Cuantos mas kilometros para Machu Picchu?” He furrowed his brow and told me it was another 10-hour walk to get there. I was floored! After walking for 6 hours, the prospect of hiking through the cold, wet night was crazy.
I asked him if he had any extra space he could lend me for the night. He was quick to reply and I was invited into the kitchen to meet his 4 daughters and wife, Maria. She cooked me up some rice, eggs and fries and gave me some coco tea to calm my nerves. afterwards, he slid three long uneven benches together and made a makeshift bed for me. He ran up the hill to fetch a mattress and three warm blankets. I spent the night in their kitchen and slept better than I had in weeks.
The next morning I was up at 6 am and thanking my hosts for the warm night’s rest. As I was leaving, I finally asked for the man’s name. He said his name was Fortunado. I did a double take, but it seems that fate and destiny brought me to this man’s doorstep.
The next 10 hours of hiking was scenic and exhausting. I thought I would never make it there. My boots that I had repaired back in Ica began to fall apart again.
I finally made it to Machu Picchu and made my ascent. The mountain was covered in a thick fog of clouds when I arrived. I couldn’t see anything so I just walked West for a bit and found myself a nice dead end. I decided to sit down and chill with some grazing llamas and have a snack. After my second banana the clouds opened up and the whole city of Machu Picchu revealed itself right in front of me and my llama friends!
I spent the rest of the day running around the city, taking pictures and avoiding tourists. On my way back I took the train. That so called 3-hour hike turned into a 16-hour odyssey. All in all, it was the best February 29th I’ve had in a long time.