Monday, 24 August 2015

2015 LAOTN - Machu Picchu - OMG I Nearly killed Tim

Like I said, I love travel and to appreciate it, you have to make the most of the opportunities.

When I was considering the LAOTN tours, Tim Hall asked me if I was up for a trip to Machu Picchu. A few years back others had made the trip and I was envious, Ronald and Cindy Bradford had been and Tim's Dad, Graham Wood after another tour, so we had help with ideas.

I like to be organised so I did the research, planning and booking. That is fine if it works out, but I do tend to worry. This year I think it was so regimented I almost killed Tim.

As I said in the earlier post the tours are very tiring, and with the flights I chose to make the most of each destination, we were by the time we reached the last city Lima, pretty exhausted. We had a quiet day and I would like to think recharged the batteries.

The plan was:

  • 8 am Flight to Cusco
  • drop off big bags at hotel
  • taxi through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo
  • train to base of Machu Picchu (Aguas Caliente) 
  • find bus ticket for trip up mountain
  • find something to eat in
  • early night
  • very early start to be first up the mountain
  • enjoy Machu Picchu
  • train to Peroy (almost Cusco)
  • few hours enjoying Cusco and dinner
  • early night
  • equally obscene early start
  • first flight to Lima
  • start our separate but equally stressed and long journeys home
Sounds simple enough, and we were up for it, but right from the outset Tim struggled. At first he was just very tired which was understandable. Then he felt nausious. But then we started to worry it was something more sinister.

Cusco,(11,000 feet) is the 9th highest commercial airport in the world so the main problem here is Altitude Sickness and the mantra is, if you feel unwell it is Altitude Sickness until proven otherwise. Everywhere there was medicine advertised and we did try to find some without success.

At the airport when we landed it was a normal chaos. The official taxi company wanted $140 to take us to our Cusco hotel, drop bags and then the hour and half to Ollantaytambo. The websites had suggested $50 for the long drive so even with having to go into and back out of Cusco it was high, but I was tired, tired of arguing with irate and practiced rip off taxi drivers and just gave in. Tim looked bad and wandering around a crowed airport trying to negotiate a better deal was simply not worth the aggro, exactly what these con artists rely on.

The hotel in Cusco was a recommendation, problem was it was down a warren of streets and the taxi couldn't get to it. I hate road journeys and this one although slow ranked high on the stress levels and it didn't help the poor wee soul, dying in the back seat. Eventually we found the hotel, had to drag the heavy suitcases up many stairs both outside and inside the building, and were on our way.

The driver stopped a few times at chemists along the way but still no luck with drugs. The drive from Cusco takes you to a lower altitude so I hoped Tim would get better. I remember the years I had visited Breckenridge (9,600 feet) in Colorado with RMOUG. Tim Gorman the local always worried about people being taken ill, and we had the advantage of a few days in the high but lower altitude of Denver (5,690 feet) to sort of acclimatise. Cusco is much higher than Breckenridge and it is where we start with no acclimation.

Ollantaytambo(9,160 feet) is a beautiful village and I did fancy a ride in a Tuk Tuk as they seemed quite sedately compared to the ones in India, however Tim just needed food and drink and I am too much of a coward to do that sort of thing on my own.

Whilst waiting for the train at the station, the announcements screen was frozen, then it came to life showing a TOAD screen and someone running SQL. We went and found the lady and yes they do use Oracle at Peru Rail but she would let us see it, and our mutual language skills did not overlap enough to discus it.However The ACE program should be proud of us meeting users wherever we go.

The train was beautiful and we had the front two seats, with the best view however it did drizzle a bit so the view was sometimes obscured. We follow the river to Machu Picchu and this ride was about 2 hours and very picturesque.

On arrival we found the bus ticket queue, or rather hut that was empty but were joined with two other tourists who had done their first climb so were able to help us, it also turned out they were in the same hotel, so they were able to solve our next problem. Once we were checked in it was still very early so we had a quick pizza in a nearby cafe and then really early nights. 

Machu Picchu is busy, they limit the number of visitors to 2,500 a day and these arrive in three ways but at just two times. Most are either trekking through the Scared Valley (3 days) or like us, coming unto the entrance from the village by bus. We all want to see the sun rise and that meant queuing from 4am. Every seen a bus queue of several hundred possibly a thousand people? We have. The rest arrive on the first train from Cusco and are day trippers about 10:30.

We did make it, and it was beautiful
So we queued for the bus, then the bus queued to get out the village, to get in the park, and we then queued for the only bathrooms, and then the entrance queue, actually stepping onto the 'official' Machu picchu about 7am. We had managed to find some Altitude drugs whilst queuing for the bus, but they didn't seem to be helping. Tim was wrecked already. We walked, slowly, the altitude really starting to kick in as each step up seemed such hard work (7,972 feet). I had been carrying tekking poles with me around Latin America but had left them in my suitcase in Cusco so had to buy a second pair, but they were worth every penny. Tim was starting to struggle but we made it to the first and most famous viewing point and I took with my Oracle bluetooth selfie stick the obligatory pictures. Some people have said they looked photoshopped but the sun was just coming up and that was how it was. There are no others of Tim so this is it.

We then slowly made it to the next vantage point and I did notice hidden in a guard's house a casivac stretcher, noted for reference if I needed help with Tim. However not long after he said he had to go look for help, or just somewhere to sleep. I did offer (half heartedly) to go with him, but he said he would be ok. I went to the main area, took more photos, enjoyed the rest of the sunrise and then guilt took over and I made my way to the entrance and the medical centre. Tim looked awful but once the medic explained it wasn't altitude sickness and that he had had anti nausea drugs and sleep would help him, I went back up the mountain for a little longer, he was in safe hands.

I had started the day, muttering prayers, 'I hope I'm OK', "I hope I'm OK', I am not fit and Tim practices yoga so I thought if either of us struggled it would be me. Then when he felt unwell I was muttering 'Thank God it isn't me', followed by "I hope this doesn't mean we have to abort the trek', then 'I hope it isn't serious' to "Let him be OK'. I am not a very good nurse, and although it wasn't Altitude Sickness, we were lucky that, enough people suffer from it for there to be a fully equipped medical centre at the entrance to the national park. 

We returned to the village once Tim felt a little better and then had a small lunch and rested till our train back was due. I had chosen a mid afternoon train to avoid the day trippers later but had made one logistical error. We were taking the longer train back to Peroy almost Cusco and that takes 3 1/2 hours, which would have been OK if it hadn't of got dark after only 2. Not much point being on a picturesque train if you can't see anything and then our carriage was full of children who didn't seem to have been affected by altitude at all.

The taxi to our hotel took a long time and did give us a tour of Cusco by night. It is a lively place and we did know they have dancing and marches in the evenings but didn't realise it would affect us in the hotel, where Tim especially just wanted sleep. My room was at the back and higher and I slept fine once the fireworks stopped about 9:30. Poor Tim had a room nearer the front and didn't sleep well at all. 

Next morning we were out again before 4am to catch our flights to Lima, and then my 4 flights home were long but evenly spaced through the next day and a half, whereas poor Tim had a nightmare flight plan. His blog is just one tale of the need for sleep.

It was expensive, each component seemed ok but added up to a lot, but I am so pleased I have visited. And thank you to the tour to give us the opportunity. I am glad Tim asked me along I wouldn't have done it on my own, I just wish he had not been taken ill, and hope my punishing travel schedule during the main OTN tour was not the only factor. He does say that overall he was pleased he did it.

I loved Machu Picchu, it was surprisingly calming despite the crowds, and really well looked after. They are looking at reducing the numbers allowed to visit to preserve it and that means it will be harder to visit in the future. I did find it peaceful and magical when I lifted my camera above the people and looked into the surrounding mountains or down into the valley we had travelled by train. If you get the opportunity, take it, you won't regret it.

Tim's blog

My photo album (hosted by Tim)

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