Aguas Calientes is a small town at the base of Machu Picchu sitting astride the Rio Urubamba. The town exists, it seems, for the purpose of housing the throngs of visitors to Machu Picchu.
You can only reach the town by rail or by foot. We arrived by Inca Rail and are leaving by Peru Rail (the latter is better choice, in hindsight).
The town, despite its diminutive size is crammed with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir/craft shops and stalls. The restaurants and hotels are all overpriced and mediocre, banking on the facts that if you want to visit Machu Picchu, you have to pass through. It's a nice place to spend a night though and it is fun to walk the steep streets and over the bridges crossing the river.
We arrived in the evening and checked into our accommodations: the Supertramp Backpacker Hostel. For the money, it was the best choice as far as i could tell. We had a private room, but with (uncomfortably public) bathrooms. It was comfortable with a good restaurant and a pleasant terrace bar. The place was packed with young backpackers from all over, trading tales of Machu Picchu hikes had and anticipated.
I went out for dinner and a cigar and watched tourists dodge the restaurant and massage touts and dogs playing in the street. (An alarming number of dogs here wear clothes. I cannot explain this phenomenon.) The weather was warm in the evening and perfect for a stroll.
We awoke this morning at 4:30 am and readied ourselves for Machu Picchu. Breakfast on the square during a short lived but torrential rainstorm. Queuing up for the busses to the top. Zigging and zagging our way on the bus to the top, at each turn coming what seemed to be perilously close to plummeting down into the valley below. The mountains - sharp, green shards exploding out of the earth were covered in puffy foliage and surrounded by shrouds of mist that were simply magical.
At the top we were in the sun and we commenced exploring. We hired a guide for the first couple of hours, which was a good choice as we got to learn about the history and engineering of the site, as well as the many practical aspects of the architecture. The other bonus of hiring a guide is that it took away any stress i may have had of trying to navigate the nooks and crannies to see it all. We took lots of stops for photos.
Once we were on our own we continued exploring, climbing up and down very steep and jagged stone stairs, which were generally unsecured on one side by walls, meaning that a misstep could lead to a serious fall. We were careful - Betty-Lou being averse to heights and i being prone to falls. It was exhilarating though and each level climbed led to new discoveries. There were llamas lazing on the top of the grass terraces and we saw a chinchilla sleeping in a window of an Incan temple.
The place was amazing. The ruins and the spectacular setting.
We descended from the mountain and spent the late afternoon hanging around and relaxing and fending off sleep.
Currently we are on board the Peru Rail train to Poroy (the closest station to Cusco). The train is quite fancy (they just fed us dinner and drinks) and although it is too dark now to take in the view through the huge windows, the ride is relaxing. Tonight we return to our hostal in Cusco and tomorrow is a mystery.
I am pleased that Machu Picchu did not disappoint.