A Memorable Birthday
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru – 13th- 16th August Woke full of anticipation and excitement as I`d been looking forward to seeing Dave again after a long four months and we were due to meet at Lima. Arriving early at San Jose airport, I made use, once again, of his very practical leaving present of a Lounge Pass card. His flight had arrived earlier at Lima and he was there waiting for me when I made it through to arrivals. I`d arranged a taxi, which failed to turn up, so we jumped in a cab to our hotel in the Miraflores area of the city. The mad driving and heavy traffic didn`t do much to endear me to the place, and I felt glad we were flying straight out the following day. We had a lovely evening catching up, and even managed to fit in having my laundry done and even a spot of shoe shopping! (Dave had brought out a nice dress for me to wear at the 5* hotels we were about to stay in and I didn`t think that my hiking boots, or my very worn out flip flops would complement my outfit too well). After the luxury of a comfortable bed, a hot shower, a lie-in and a hearty breakfast, we managed to survive the return journey to the airport for our short flight to Cusco. I had worried about the altitude and must admit to feeling a bit light-headed and short of breath for the first few hours (or maybe that was just seeing Dave???) I had managed to blag a free night at the luxury Orient Express owned Hotel Monasterio, which, as the name suggests was set in an old monastery which would have been a haven of peace and tranquillity in the centre of the city, if it hadn`t been for the fact that a wedding was taking place. It appears that even in Peru everyone has an auntie who turns up at their wedding, drinks a little to much and then proceeds to show the world the latest dance moves. We were tempted to crash the party, but decided to brave the cold to take a stroll through the town instead. Cusco is set in a valley, and with it`s central Plaza de Armes and cobbled streets, surrounded by mountains, it made a for a very pretty, if a bit chilly, setting. Dave resisted the “cuy” (guinea pig) which apparently is eaten whole, and even felt a bit squeamish about eating the other local delicacy, alpaca. I tried the local potato and cheese stew (was nicer than it sounds). We tried to sort out our train tickets for the next few days – I`d had to re-arrange our itinerary and discovered that Peru Rail was about as efficient as the Greek Ministry of Finance. Our booking back from Machu Picchu to Cusco had been lost, and we were promised a part train/part bus transfer, although for some unknown reason they were unable to re-issue our tickets. Assuring us we were “on the list”, we had to take their word for this – our doubts were later to be proved correct. The first part of our rail journey was from Cusco up to Aguas Caliente (the town at the bottom of the Machu Picchu mountain). The scenery on the way up was stunning (unlike the breakfast), and we had some brilliant views of the soaring peaks through the glass windows of the Vistadome. The 100 km journey took just over 3 and a half hours on the single track railway. The town of Aguas Caliente is clearly, solely there for tourists visiting the ruins and was full of tacky souvenir shops and restaurants so Dave loved it. The road up to the site was incredibly steep and quite scary (much like the price of the entrance tickets!). We arrived at our luxury hang out for the night, The Sanctuary Lodge, which is the only accommodation directly at the entrance to the site. The location was unrivalled and the gardens had amazing views of the mountains and were overlooked by the final part of the Inca Trail. It was quite satisfying lounging in the sunchairs looking up at the hardy travellers finishing their trek. Once checked in to our room, we booked a slot at the Jacuzzi and cracked open the champers that Dave had dragged 9,500 miles from England (well, it was my birthday). A very relaxing afternoon – and another moment where I had to pinch myself to believe that I really was there – we made our way down to dinner, where I was treated to a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in Peruvian (thankfully without the pan pipes) and a cake. This will be one birthday I won`t forget in a hurry. We had agreed to try to get into the site as early as possible to view the ruins at sunrise. A queue had already formed by the time we walked out of the hotel at 6am. It was also incredibly cloudy, but we made our way up to one of the highest viewpoints and watched this iconic city gradually emerging out of the mists. We set off exploring, before nipping back to The Lodge for breakfast. The day turned quite hot, but we managed to get around most of the main structures within 4 hours. By mid afternoon, after providing lunch for the sandflies (I began to regret wearing cropped trousers) we retreated back to the Lodge for a rest. That evening we made our way back down to the railway station to find that we were not booked on the train we had originally been scheduled to take, but one leaving 20 minutes later, that our seats were in a different carriage to those on our tickets, and oh, what a surprise, there was no record of our names on the passenger list for the bus connection back to Cusco. However, the Peru Rail woman gauged the situation by my reaction and decided it would be safer to let us on the bus anyway – good call! After a very cold and bumpy journey back to Cusco, we settled into our hotel for a (very) few hours sleep, before heading back to the airport for our flight to Puerto Maldonaldo and our rainforest lodge adventure (feeling very much the intrepid traveller now).


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