“Seriously my life is not normal…not normal…not normal” I silently talk to myself while I walk through Cusco Airport in Peru and shake my head in disbelief. I could try to explain how I completely unexpectedly and miraculously ended up in Machu Picchu. But would you believe me if I tell you unicorns can fly? See, so I won’t even try. So basically a miracle happened and within days I landed in Cusco; totally unequipped, dressed in my flip flops (Muktinath repeat…sweet memories) and borrowed jacket, trouser and bag pack of my friend.
I quickly get a bag of Coca leaves. Yes right, Coca! The same leaf cocaine is made from. You can buy Coca here in Peru in every shop around the corner….no no, not around the corner as in dark-alley-special-offer-kind-of-shop. I mean all shops sell them officially and legally. It helps against altitude sickness and with a sudden jump from sea level altitude in Lima to 3,400 Meters in Cusco it is a good excuse to taste all possible forms of Coca that they sell here. Coca leaves, Coca candy, Coca chewing gum, Coca tea. To me it tastes awful by the way. But I have to try them all of course regardless. Where else in the world will I get such a chance again? So my bag filled with Coca, out of Cusco Airport I am and see myself on the way to Ollantaytambo to catch my evening train to reach Aguas Calientes or “Machu Picchu Town” as it is called as well. This is the last stop and village before one ascends to Machu Picchu ruins.
A few years earlier I met a lady who did the pilgrimage to Kailash followed by Machu Picchu. She raved about the beauty of both places and explained that often Kailash is considered to resemble the male energy portal of the World and Machu Picchu the female energy portal. That time I was to embark to Kailash and Machu Picchu was not of particular interest to me. I never further investigated into it, yet it always stayed in the back of my mind. Kailash and Machu Picchu are not comparable at all. Both are two entirely different experiences and journeys all together. To me there is no place like Kailash on Earth. Kailash basks in sacredness. It is a true Pilgramige journey. A feeling that is also evoked because unlike Machu Picchu there is no common tourism and proper infrastructure either. Yet Machu Picchu carries something so unique, mystic and gentle that my awe is too deep to express it adequately yet. I observe the gazillions of tourists that embark to Machu Picchu each day, pass countless tourist shops, buses, cafes, and trains. Each traveler is attracted to Machu Picchu for seemingly different reasons. History, curiosity, and spirituality…and yet in the end it is all the same calling that they follow: Mother Earth or PachaMama as Peruvians call this sacred land as well.
Peru is often referred to as the most powerful feminine energy vortex on the planet. Perched high on a mountaintop in the Andes, it is the Tibet of the Americas. Machu Picchu is a stone city made of white granite, composed of 40% quartz crystal. In essence you are sitting on top of a giant powerful crystal and one can often feel this energetic vibration emanate from all around. It is an energy that is gentle, caring, kind and I observe it immediately reflects in the expressions and mood of all travellers. It has a profound effect on the visitor. On my way to Huayna Peak, a challenging hike up to the famous Huayna Mountain (which is always seen in the background of each famous Machu Picchu picture) travelers that I pass express motherly care towards each other, complete strangers, that is very way beyond ordinary communication. I am puzzled first, then smile and realize that it is the energy effect of the location. I am the first one to reach and have the blessing to be on the top on my own; which is a very welcomed change. It is hard to find a spot for your own in and around Machu Picchu. Huayna Mountain Peak offers a spectacular view over the entire landscape.
I was keen to hike to it swiftly in order to enjoy this sacred land for some moments on my own. Yet once reached I am deeply internally compelled to continue my hike to the very less frequented path towards the Temple of the Moon. I have not particularly studied the history of Incas nor of the historic architecture here. When I heard of the Temple of the Moon I simply knew I had to go there. This entire walk to Huayna Peak and specially the much longer part to the Temple of the Moon turns out to be the most significant experience for me from my Machu Picchu journey. It is a challenging several hours long walk on a small trail fully secluded and embedded into pure nature.
It goes vertical a few times and one needs to occasionally use hands and feet alike to move forward. I am completely on my own for the entire walk and have the freedom to fully immerse myself in my spiritual practices. Precious internal gifts where given to me on that walk, which I shall keep for myself for now. Once I complete the hike I use the remaining hours of my day to simply stroll around, to sit down and to overlook the ruins. It is an opportunity to calmly absorb this unique location and for my internal experiences to take its full effect. It is a process that is lasting till now weeks later while I write this article. I am deeply touched by the uniqueness of Peru. A precious seed lies in this sacred land of the Andes, something so outstanding that I did not witness in that form and intensity in any other part of the World. An aspect of femininity that is powerful, sensitive, gentle and caring. PachaMama you are beautiful….only gratitude remains.
And last, similar to my previous article “FlipFlop Quest to Muktinath” I would like to share a few practical travel tips for Machu Picchu as well:
- Transportation: Most travellers take the very expansive train to reach from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. PeruRail is a rather posh transportation and costs a fortune, especially during off-season. There is a much easier way. Simply catch a Collectivo, which is a shared mini-van. They leave every 15mins from Avenida Grau in Cusco Town (10Sol per person) or get a Taxi from Cusco Airport (80Sol per car) and head down to Ollantaytambo. It is a 90mins long drive through beautiful landscape. Then from Ollantaytambo you can catch IncaRail (confirmed tickets in advance are required), which runs a number of times from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and is a lot more reasonable ($50 USD per person) than PeruRail (which can cost a few hundred bucks). Taxis and Collectivos can be found easily in Cusco as well as Ollantaytambo. The advantage of investing into a taxi you can easily visit the numerous other ancient sides along the way between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. To me the best part here is not so much the ruins, but leaving the beaten path and to drive into the small village roads soaking in the very basic and natural lifestyle of rural Peruvians. An outstanding experience of culture, people and landscape.
- Tickets: You must book your tickets well in advance and coordinate it well with each other. In advance you require Machu Picchu entry tickets, Huayna Peak (if you wish so), return train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. They get booked out weeks and months in advance. Book them together at once, so you don’t end up with a train ticket but no entrance into Machu Picchu and vice versa. You can easily book all tickets on your own in the Internet and do not require travel agents.
- Time to Visit: I went during off-season, in January, which is supposed to be a rainy month, and can only recommend it. I had the full spectrum of sun, rain, clouds, blue sky and enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu in all these diverse flavors. There is something very special to see the clouds playing with the Machu Picchu peaks, hiding and revealing them and of course nothing tops beautiful sunrays through deserted Machu Picchu ruins either. It is busy even during off-season and perhaps I would less like the manifold increased visitors during the high season.
- Huayna Mountain: You have two options to visit Huayna Peak (which includes access to the Temple of the Moon route as well). You can book the ticket for the 8am till 9am entrance or the 10am till 11am entrance. I recommend the second time window because often the 8am visitors are actually deprived of any view as the morning clouds and fog still hang low in the peaks and can cover the Machu Picchu ruins. It was exactly from 10am that the clouds moved aside for us to grant us a breath taking view.
- Suitcase: You are not allowed to take heavy suitcases (max 6kg) into the train to Aguas Calientes. The staff on the ground did not seem to check the suitcases in detail, yet due to space you will struggle to get a large suitcase into the train. Simply just take a bag pack or otherwise you can find storage facilities in Ollantaytambo. And once you head up to the Machu Picchu ruins you are only allowed to bring an even smaller bag. Also you are not allowed to bring in food to Machu Picchu ruins. They don’t check the inside of the bag, but I observed a few times security staff asking visitors to refrain from eating.
- Altitude: I did not have any issue with the altitude and found it very easy to manage. Cusco (3,400 meters) lies higher than Ollantaytambo (2,600 meters) and Machu Picchu (2,400 meters). So it may be a wise idea to immediately head out of Cusco upon landing, first get used to the altitude in Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu and discover Cusco on your way back. You can buy medicine against altitude sickness at the domestic terminal in Lima (in the souvenir shop. There is no pharmacy). It is horrendously expensive, yet made of great natural ingredients. And of course you can buy tons of Coca products everywhere. Be kind to your body. Drink plenty of water, well in advance. Do not drink alcohol when on such altitude even if you feel healthy. Your body will not take it well at all. I saw people throwing up due to that.
- Llama: …and don’t leave the Andes without going on a Llama date 🙂