Machu Picchu…it is the most popular tourist attraction in South America. Discovered exactly 100 years ago by an American and is the main reason why many people from around the world come to Peru I’ve been living within 50 miles of it for 2 months and have just now visited the site. Rather than taking the easier, expenses, and more boring way of taking the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, I decided to take the longer, cheaper, and a bit more off the beaten path route. The train ticket alone would cost at least $40 each way for foreigners ($1.50 for people from Ollantaytambo), and I learned of this alternate route through some research. The route takes more time and energy, but this is what I am willing to sacrifice to save some money. The trip both had its benefits and negatives, and it was definitely more interesting this alternative route. My trip started by waiting in the main plaza in Ollantaytambo for a bus to come by. Since information isn’t easily found for timetables, I had to go from the information I got from just asking around. I found out the bus usually leaves Ollanta around 9:30 or 10, so I arrived at 9 just to be sure. While waiting, I met a French guy and 3 Belgians waiting for the same bus, with whom I ended up traveling the whole route to Machu Picchu. At 9:45, the bus came and we got in. Unfortunately, there weren’t any seats so we were forced to stand. I want to talk a little bit about something I’d like to refer to as the travel gods. So far, the travel gods have treated me pretty well (knock on wood). I’ve been fortunate to have some great experiences while traveling. However, sometimes the travel gods will do something to keep you on the ground. For example, in the Colca Canyon, I was invited to go to the wedding anniversary of the hostel owner with traditional food, beer, and dancing. Afterwards, I spent the entire night vomiting from the mixture of strange food and beer that my stomach couldn’t handle. Also, on the way to the Great Barrier Reef, I got extremely sea sick and was vomiting for an hour and a half before passing out from exhaustion. This seemed to be another trip where the travel gods were saying, “Hey, not everything is perfect while traveling. This will put you in your place.” So unfortunately, this bus ride was far too similar to the boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef. Within 30 minutes of standing on the bus which was winding up huge mountains, I had a horrible feeling in my stomach and was overheating. I then tried sitting down in the aisle to see if this would help, and it did for a short while. I always try to paint pictures of good things that happen, but I want to paint a picture of this horrible situation. If you have a weak stomach or don’t like to think about vomit, then skip the next paragraph. So within an hour of this 3.5 hour bus ride, I found myself vomiting into a paper bag that I fortunately had. I thought everything was going to be alright. Immediately after, I felt better. And like all paper bags with liquid, it started to leak through onto the floor of the bus. Since the bus was packed, I had nowhere else to go (nor did I have the energy to get up). I found a plastic bag to put the paper bag in soon after. However, the floor was already wet. With all of this, I started to feel sick again. I decided to try my luck by lying down. Here I am, lying in the aisle of a crammed bus and half laying in vomit and nothing I can do about it. The people around me would give me glances once in a while, but lying down was the only thing to do to keep from feeling sick. So I lay in the aisle for the next hour and a half wondering why the travel gods would treat me this way. However, in my misery of the sickness, I completely forgot to pay for the bus, and apparently they forgot to make me pay since they didn’t see me lying in the aisle. I didn’t think of this until afterwards, but apparently the travel gods thought I had taken enough. Well after all of this, I arrived to Santa Maria, a small jungle town. From there, I took an hour and a half taxi to Santa Teresa, which I then took a 30 minute taxi to Hidro-electrica. Both of these routes were on dirt roads curving around mountains with beautiful views. From Hidro-electrica, my new European friends and I had lunch and then walked the 2 hours to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu). The walk along the train tracks was a beautiful one along a river and through valleys. After arriving to Aguas Calientes, we found a hostel and then had dinner. Ex the hostel, everything in Agueas Calientes was 3 times as expensive as a normal town in Peru. The town was incredibly touristy and I’m glad I only had to spend one night here. The next morning, I woke up and immediately heard the sound of a downpour. At 5am, I packed my bags and walked to the bus stop which takes people up to Machu Picchu. I finally was inside the Machu Picchu site at 6am. I immediately climbed up to the lookout point to get a good view of the Incan city. When I got to the top, I was initially disappointed by what I saw: only fog. I couldn’t see anything but the blanket of white. However, the next hour is what I would call “magical”, and I don’t know if I’ve ever called anything magical before. The fog disappeared little by little. The view of the ruins and the surrounding mountains was constantly changing. Seeing the Incan fortress atop this steep mountain with the fog was truly incredible. The city was built over 400 years ago and wasn’t discovered by outsiders until 1911. Still, they don’t know exactly what was going on here, but they think it was big. With such magnificent architecture hidden up on top of this mountain, it had to have been extremely important to the Incans. After the fog had pretty much cleared, I headed up the nearby mountain called Huanypicchu. This is a popular thing to do, and they charge an extra fee to enter and climb the mountain. It’s an extremely steep climb on stairs made of the rocks, and it takes about an hour to reach the top. Luckily, I am adjusted to the altitude, otherwise I would’ve been dying during the climb. After getting to the top, I was disappointed by the cloud cover. Machu Picchu wasn’t visible, but I waited around a good 45 minutes or more, and at this time the clouds went away and a good view of Machu Picchu came along. A beautiful view with sight to all of the surrounding mountains. Seeing the site from above made it even more impressive, considering how hidden Machu Picchu is up on this mountain. The rest of the day, I explored the ruins. The construction of these buildings is extremely impressive since it is all out of stone. And the fact that it was built hundreds of years ago. These buildings went a few hundred years without any maintenance and are still standing. Quite impressive. I ended up leaving Machu Picchu at 1:30pm and made the 3 hour walk back along the train tracks to Hidro-electrica. From there, I took the taxi to Santa Teresa and stayed there for the night. I arrived and found a hostel for a little over $3, then went to a polleria (grilled chicken place) for dinner. I have a Peruvian friend who works for the non-profit organization, and her family lives in Santa Teresa. She asked if I wanted to meet up with her brother so I said “of course”. Turns out he is the same age as me, and we hung out for a good 3 hours. He works at a canopy where a lot of tourists come, so he was asking me to teach him a lot of things in English. A bit later, I met the rest of his family at their house in town. Everyone is very friendly and always asked a lot of questions. Two nephews of my friend live in the house, and I am impressed by how respectful they are. In Peru, it’s a custom for the guys to always shake hands when they see each other, girls will kiss on the right cheek once, and a guy and a girl will normally kiss on the right cheek once. So every time I saw these boys (6 years old and 9 years old), they would stick out their hand for a nice shake “hello”. The following day, my friend came back for the weekend so we spent the day in Santa Teresa. She lived there for some years, so she showed me around. Santa Teresa is in the jungle, so finally I had some nice hot weather. She showed me trees that had avocados, bananas, papayas, and even coffee beans. In the town, they have all of their coffee beans especially fresh, and I had the best coffee there since I’ve been in Peru. We then walked out to the hot baths near the town. These were especially natural feeling since they are located about 2 miles out of town in a valley where a river runs. Perfect situation to have some hot baths to soak my sore legs from the hike to and from Machu Picchu! Finally, I headed back to Santa Maria and then caught a bus back. A big tourist bus came through and people seemed to be getting on, so I always jumped aboard when the driver told me it’d be only 15 soles to Ollanta (the same as the other buses). The seats were comfortable and I had two seats to myself on this bus with only 20 or so people. We even stopped for dinner halfway through the trip at a little restaurant along the road. I thought everything was perfect until getting out of the bus, when the driver asks me for 25 soles. I told him that he said 15 soles, and I had even asked him twice before getting on the bus. He then said 20, but I was persistent on the 15. Even after arguing as best I could in my Spanish, he wouldn’t budge. These are the things that really bug me about Peru, that this can happen so easily. Tourism is the biggest industry in Peru, and tourists are taken advantage of all the time. When almost everything is negotiable and have no fixed prices, tourists never know how much something should cost. Many locals take advantage of this by charging much higher prices. I am always on the defensive when someone asks for a price and I am always questioning whether it’s a decent price or not. This has definitely helped my negotiating skills, but it’s something that gets very annoying on an everyday basis. What this guy did to me was a bit different, but he still took advantage of the fact that I couldn’t do anything afterwards. I don’t care about the 5 soles (less than $2), but it’s the principle of it all. Maybe this was just the travel gods making me pay a premium for the comfortable ride home! So that was the end of my Machu Picchu trip. It was an interesting trip, and I am glad that I went the alternative route (minus the vomiting). Machu Picchu is what it’s hyped up to be, so definitely go if you get the chance! Now onto Lake Titicaca!