The sun is barely up as our train departs Ollantaytambo for Aquas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. To a never-ending soundtrack of pan flute music, the train zigzags through lush valleys hugging the Rio Urubamba. Entertainment is also provided by the other 50 tourists in the train car diving from side to side while snapping tremendous numbers of photos with their mobile phones. We are feeling very spoiled to have been immersed in spectacular scenery for months. I must admit that the view from the train seems quite pale by comparison.
After transferring from the train to a bus for a final steep climb, we arrive at Machu Picchu and the exploration begins. The site more than lives up to its reputation as one of the most spectacular archeological discoveries on earth. The ruins of the legendary “lost city of the Incas” sits majestically amid the highland jungle surrounded by the massive Andes.
We head straight up the hill to a spot above the ruins that affords us the classic postcard view of the site. We are overlooking rows and rows of steep agricultural terraces being visited by a few grazing llamas. In the opposite direction, we look down on the Inca Bridge, built of stacked stones and overlooking a sheer drop of nearly 2000 feet.
As we sit admiring the view, a thoughtful man named Tim approaches and asks if we would like him to take a photo of the two us with this spectacular backdrop. After some discussion, we discover that Tim and his wife, Sandy, are fellow Calgarians and are also friends with our traveling compatriots, Janet and Tom (www.adventurouspirits.com). All of us have been trying to plan our travels to meet up with Janet and Tom in Chile. Sandy also comes over to speak with us and we enjoy the opportunity to chat and put together the pieces that reveal that we have actually met before. We would certainly never have expected our second meeting to be thousands of miles from home at the top of Machu Picchu. Yet again we are amazed by the realization of how small our world is. We eventually accept that we need to get moving if we are going to see all of Machu Picchu today, so we part company and Miles and I trek down into the main section of the ruins, hiking and exploring for several more hours.
The next day, Stefan takes us to do some further exploring of the ruins he has discovered – right across the street from our hotel. We pass through an unassuming doorway and climb to the ruins of Pikuylluna. The climb is very steep but provides spectacular views of Ollantaytambo, the ruins across the gorge, and much of the valley. We take a different route down, ending up at a set of stairs that lead us back to Ollayntaytambo’s old town. I’m still amazed at the wonders of archaeology that lie around every corner in this fascinating country.