Long before leaving Canada, we had talked about making a trip to see Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Once we were settled in Cuenca, I started making the travel arrangements.
Since Cuenca is not an international airport, we had to fly first to Quito, then to Lima and then on to Cusco. Through Airbnb, we found an apartment and spent two nights in Cusco with Claudia and her son Carlos. Neither one spoke English, so it was a bit of a challenge making ourselves understood. Our room was small but comfortable and we were within walking distance of the central part of Cusco, close to the historic buildings and main sights. Cusco’s altitude is 11,200 feet above sea level.
Through Carlos, we met his friend Elvis, who didn’t speak English either, but we ended up hiring him as our driver for the short time we were in Cusco. Elvis took us to several fascinating sites close to Cusco including… Moray, Chinchero, and Pisac. We spent some time and money in the artisan market in Pisac. Elvis also drove us to Ollantaytambo, where the altitude is about 9,100 feet.
While in Ollantaytambo, we ventured to Patacancha, a traditional Quechuan community about a one-hour drive up a dirt road. The community has lived the same way for hundreds of years working the land and selling whatever agricultural products they don’t use. The community is known for its colourful high-quality textiles, which are hand-woven primarily by the women in the community, and for their traditional lifestyle. This was a real treat and well off the beaten track.
There’s certainly more than one Inca Trail and more than one way to reach Machu Picchu. Some keeners opt for the popular 3 nights and four days hike that starts just outside of Ollantaytambo. The Peru government strictly controls foot traffic on this particular route. Hikers must hire a local guide and porters are often enlisted to carry the tents, food and other gear. We were told this trail has at least a 5-month wait list for an access permit.
Others get off the train and take the one-day hike, again with a guide in your group. Some, like us, take the train that follows the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, which is as far as the train will go. At this point the Sacred Valley is so narrow that train travel is difficult. After leaving the train you either climb up or go back where you came from.
Once in Aguas Calientes, you follow the crowd to a find the bus that takes you up a winding gravel road (oh to be rallying again… sigh) to the purpose thousands arrive here every day from all over the world – Machu Picchu.
In the 15th century, the Incan Emperor Pachacútec built a city in the clouds on the mountain known as Machu Picchu (“old mountain”). This extraordinary settlement lies halfway up the Andes Plateau, deep in the Amazon jungle and above the Urubamba River. It is suggested the Incas abandoned this city because of a smallpox outbreak. After the Spanish defeated the Incan Empire, the city remained ‘lost’ for over three centuries. Hiram Bingham was credited with rediscovering Machu Picchu in 1911, although some speculate it was found sooner than this.
Exhausted and climbed-out, we retraced our steps from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes and the train back to Ollantaytambo. This time, we stayed on the train until reaching Urubamba where we stopped for the night. After a hot shower and a good meal, it was lights out.
The return schedule got us back to Cuenca safely but it was an overnight flight and an early arrival. Our landing in Cuenca was the scariest I think we’ve ever had as it had been raining quite a bit and the runway was very slick. Shortly after we landed another flight hydroplaned and slid off the same runway we had just come in on. No one was seriously injured but the plane got stuck in the mud at the end of the runway and as we would find out later, it resulted in the airport being closed for a week.
So we are now packing up and readying ourselves to say goodbye to Cuenca. Our time here was very enjoyable and we could certainly see ourselves living here on a long-term basis.
Our next adventure will be to check out an offer to “house-sit” in Belize. So we are leaving Ecuador, flying to Panama City for a couple of days and then on to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize.