To Machu Picchu and Back Through the Strike

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

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A car on the train to Machu Picchu
Compared to other forms of transportation in Peru, it is amazingly expensive to visit Machu Picchu. The only official way there is on the train, that is if you don´t walk. There are various different classes of trains, with cheapest now costing $62 round trip, and yes for some bizarre reason they use US dollars to set the prices. The cheap train leaves from Ollantaytambo, which is only some 25 miles from Machu Picchu, which works out to more than $1 per mile per person, and it takes about 90 minutes for the ride. There is also your entry ticket to Machu Picchu, which if you are a student is only $20, about $40 otherwise.
The Grand Cavern, my shelter from the rain
This doesn´t actually include transportation from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu, to get there you can either hike up the stairs and cross the numerous switchbacks in the road or pay $12 round trip for the bus, which only takes 20 minutes to the top. $12 may not seem like a lot but when you it is a staggering amount for such a short trip, in comparison, a twelve hour bus ride in Peru typically costs you about 35 soles, or $12. The prices that they charge for Machu Picchu are really bordering on extortion.

Anyways, on the eve of the big planned strike, our train left as scheduled, albeit with about 20 police officers with riot gear standing by the locked gates separating the station from the road. The train arrived in Aguas Caliente at about 10pm and I was able to buy some food and water to bring into Machu Picchu as I had read how expensive everything is there.
The Temple of the Moon
Then it was up early the next morning to take the 5:30ish bus up to Machu Picchu. That was probably a mistake because in the rainy season the site is covered in fog that early in the morning and it is rather damp and cool. It was actaully fun walking around the ruins without being able to see very far, it was almost like discovering it for yourself. I made my way up and then down and around the site to the start of the trail to Wuaynapicchu, the mountain opposite and overlooking the site. The trail opens at 7am and has a limit of 400 visitors per day, which they check by having you sign in and out and assigning you a number which is written on your ticket. I took the trail the opposite way, visiting the Temple of the Moon and the Grand Cavern first because it was still so foggy out and there would be nothing to see from the top until later.
Looking down on Machu Picchu from Wuaynapicchu
On the way to the Grand Cavern it started to rain, softly at first and then harder and harder, luckily I wasn´t far from the cave and was able to take shelter there and wait for the rain to let up, probably like the Incas used to do centuries ago. The problem with doing the trail in reverse is that the pathway up to Wuaynapicchu isn´t marked and it appears like there are a few paths that might go there. After a few failed attempts I was able to find one with some relatively fresh footprints, and 30 minutes later I saw a sign telling me that I had made the right choice. The path went straight up a set of stone stairs for about an hour and there were two wooden latters and a steel cable attached to a stone wall that you had to used to climb up one section.
Me on top of Wuaynapicchu
But coming up over the top of the mountain and looking down at Machu Picchu was really amazing, it would have been better if it weren´t almost totally obscured by the fog. There were quite a lot of people sitting up there on the top and everyone was just waiting for the fog to clear so that they could take some photos. Finally the fog did clear and the views of the ruins  and down to the river valley below were just amazing. After a rest at the top I proceeded back down and wandered through the ruins for a while.The stone work was really remarkable and the shear size and complexity of the site was rather awe inspiring. I also took the trail to see the Inca bridge which consists of several tree trunks spanning two stone walls constructed on the face of a shear vertical cliff.
Ruins on Wuaynapicchu and the Rio Urabamba below
Past the bridge you can see the path, demarcated by a narrow ribbon of trees on the gray rock wall, continue up and around the cliff and out of view. The only other walking trail at Machu Picchu leads to what is known as the Sun Gate, a v-shaped groove between two mountains where the Inca Trail comes into Machu Picchu. As I rested at the view point the sun began to come out from behind the clouds and shine down on the ruins, illuminating the whole site. From there it was also possible to see the winding road that the bus took up the mountain to Machu Picchu. At this hour of the day the ruins were much more peaceful as many people that had come from Cuzco for the day had headed back down to the station to catch their return train, if they were running.
More of the ruins
At the ruins I talked with a Peruvian mother and daughter who told me that the trains were running, which was rather good news since I could maybe get back to Cuzco the next day. They were happy to talk with me and they each had to have their picture taken with me.
 
When I got back down from Machu Picchu I headed straight for the train station to try to change my ticket. Because of the strike security was very tight and they had the gate closed and police officer opening the door for people only after checking their ID and tickets. I couldn´t get inside to talk to anyone but through the fence I was able to talk to a women who worked for the train company and she told me to come back the next mornng 30 minutes before the train leaves.
Looking at Machu Picchu and Wuaynapicchu
I figured that the early train at 5:30am would be my best shot at getting out of there so I showed up a few minutes before 5 and waited for 20 minutes with about 10 other people who were also trying to get on the train or buy tickets. But when someone finally showed up it was a very simple process and I was on the mostly empty train in no time. The train arrived without incident in Ollantaytambo at around 7:30am. From Ollantaytambo two combis left for Urubamba but everyone was very unsure as to whether the road to Cuzco was open or not. None of the drivers wanted to make the trip because they said that even if the road was open that people would throw rocks at their car. Soon another combi arrived from Urubamba and said that the road had been blocked and wouldn´t reopen until maybe 1pm or maybe in the night.
Machu Picchu illuminated by the sun, as seen from the Sun Gate, the end of the Inca trail
It was really a mess with everyone on their cell phones trying to sort things out. Eventually a truck pulled up in the plaza and along with two guys from Chile we talked to him about giving us a ride. He said that he thought he could take us on some back roads as far as the town on the other side of the hill from Cuzco, about an hour walk from the city, but that he wasn´t sure if it would be safe for us to walk across the blocked section of the road. We figured that we could see how it was when we got there and if it wasn´t safe we could just wait until things calmed down. Paying him 10 soles each we got in the cab of the truck and from the main road we crossed a small bridge and took this dirt road that paralleled the train tracks until we reached a small town called Huaracondor where the truck driver stopped for breakfast.
The truck that I rode in from Ollantaytambo back towards Cuzco
After breakfast we got in the truck and he turned the key and absolutely nothing happened. He tried multiple times then took a look at things under the cab. He figured out that one of the batteries was dead (the truck actually has two batteries). No one had jumper cables so he had to actually borrow a battery from a taxi drivers car and swap out the dead one. The truck started right up and he swapped the batteries back, wedging the gas pedal down with a stick so that engine wouldn´t conk out, and soon enough we were back on our way. People had put rocks in the road to block it off but most of these had either been moved or driven around. As we began to get closer to Cuzco there were more and more rocks, as well as a few trees and bushes here and there.
Crossing a bridge on the truck ride back to Cuzco
We got to some town about 20km from Cuzco which was obviously one end of the blockade. There were telephone poles and trash cans blocking the road and the truck driver had to stop the truck and he told us that he couldn´t take us any further. He told us to follow the road and it would lead right to Cuzco. The three of us started walking across the rock strewn road as people stared at us strangely. Everything was really peaceful and there wasn´t anything going on. The road was covered in broken glass and there were some smoldering remains of tires. After walking for a few kilometers a guy on a motorcycle came up and said he would take us to the other side of the blockade, one by one, for 3 soles each, which sounded a lot better than walking.
Broken glass and rocks littering the road during the strike
So we rode on the motorcycle as he weaved in and out of the mess of broken glass and rocks before we arrived at the edge of the blockade at the town of Anta. He there was a large group of people hanging out by the giant boulders in the road. They were really nice to us and didn´t seem to care that we had broken through the blockade. They told us to take the path down the hill rather than the road because it was much shorter. They told us that by 6pm everything would be open and running as normal, which was hard to believe after seeing the amount of broken glass and other stuff littering the roads. About 30 minutes later we arrived near the center of Cuzco. The whole city was strangely empty, there was not a single car on the road and everything was closed.
The blockade line leaving Cuzco
As we neared the Plaza de Armas there was lots of chanting and drums banging and people yelling. We had arrived just in the time for the massive lunch time protest. There was a huge group of people marching around the plaza, yelling and waving flags and signs. The outer edge of the plaza was ringed with police in riot gear with tear gas guns, waiting in case things turned violent. I watched the protest for a while and after about 45 minutes things started to die down and most of the protesters left. I read in the paper the next day that several people had been arrested trying to take control of the airport on Thursday, and the airport had subsequently been closed for two days stranding hundreds of tourists. In some places the protests had started to get out of hand with only heavy rains acting to disperse the mobs of people.
Protests over the privatization of the operation of ruins and other tourist sites in Cuzco 2/22/08
People had thrown rocks at any cars on the streets, including ambulances. Later in the day things started to open up again and cars returned to the streets of the city and just like that life was back to normal. It was quite an ordeal getting back but definitely a good and interesting experience, and I´m glad that the strike didn´t really adversely affect my plans like it did for many others who were unable to see Machu Picchu at all after coming all the way to Cuzco, or the many others that were stranded on the other sides of the blockade or at the airport. And after many days of seeing ruins and museums, it is time yet again to continue moving south.
jillsaks says:
Machu Picchu is magical! You must go at least once in your life to this incredible place. The scenarios are beautiful, especially during the travel on the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. I went a couple of months ago on the Peru Rail train and I just loved the experience. The service was really good and the trajectory itself its an adventure that can not be missed If you go to Cuzco.
Posted on: Dec 18, 2009
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A car on the train to Machu Picchu
A car on the train to Machu Picchu
The Grand Cavern, my shelter from …
The Grand Cavern, my shelter from…
The Temple of the Moon
The Temple of the Moon
Looking down on Machu Picchu from …
Looking down on Machu Picchu from…
Me on top of Wuaynapicchu
Me on top of Wuaynapicchu
Ruins on Wuaynapicchu and the Rio …
Ruins on Wuaynapicchu and the Rio…
More of the ruins
More of the ruins
Looking at Machu Picchu and Wuayna…
Looking at Machu Picchu and Wuayn…
Machu Picchu illuminated by the su…
Machu Picchu illuminated by the s…
The truck that I rode in from Olla…
The truck that I rode in from Oll…
Crossing a bridge on the truck rid…
Crossing a bridge on the truck ri…
Broken glass and rocks littering t…
Broken glass and rocks littering …
The blockade line leaving Cuzco
The blockade line leaving Cuzco
Protests over the privatization o…
The protests in Cuzco over privati…
The protests in Cuzco over privat…
Riot police watching the protests …
Riot police watching the protests…
Llamas blocking the path to Machu …
Llamas blocking the path to Machu…
The Machu Picchu ruins in the fog
The Machu Picchu ruins in the fog
A vizcacha or chinchilla at Machu …
A vizcacha or chinchilla at Machu…
A wooden ladder and steep path on …
A wooden ladder and steep path on…
The truck that I rode in on the le…
The truck that I rode in on the l…
Walking back to the center of Cuzc…
Walking back to the center of Cuz…
Machu Picchu
photo by: NazfromOz