Machu Picchu 

Over Thanksgiving week, we traveled to Machu Picchu with friends of ours, another Embassy family with kids about the same ages as ours.  We were a total of ten people – four adults and six kids (ages six, five, four, three, two, and 11 months). 

We woke the kids up for our early morning flight.  Kev was not happy about that, but he calmed down when he realized we were taking him on vacation.  (In case you’re wondering about the cut on Danny’s head- after repeatedly spinning in circles and ignoring the warnings from his teacher, he fell at school the day before and skinned his forehead.)

We flew from Asuncion to Lima (four and a half hours), switched planes (two hour layover), and then flew from Lima to Cusco (an hour and a half).

A driver with a large 12-passenger van was waiting for us outside the Cusco airport.  We loaded up the vehicle and headed out of Cusco towards the town of Ollantaytambo, about three hours away and halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu.

That’s Cusco down in the valley, at an elevation of 11,151 feet.

We drove through beautiful mountain scenery.

We saw lots of corn growing on the side of the road and in valleys down below.

Those green patches are all corn fields.

We stopped in the town of Pisac.

We did some shopping from the vendors’ stalls lining the sidewalks.

The boys befriended a Peruvian woman and her baby llama.

We had lunch at a small cafe in the town.  The kids, after being cooped up in a plane and van for hours and hours, were both restless and exhausted.  One kid (not mine) threw up and another kid (was mine) got hurt.  While trying to run out of the bathroom and back into the courtyard with its bird cages, Danny slipped and fell hitting his forehead on the edge of the open door.  Now Danny has cuts and bruises on both side of his forehead, not to mention numerous scars.  (Sorry – no pictures of Danny’s head immediately after he fell due to all the screaming and crying.)

Much to the delight of the other dining patrons, we left the restaurant and hit the road for our two hour drive to our hotel in Ollantaytambo.  The kids were all excited see the train we’d take to Machu Picchu the next morning.

As glad as we were to reach our destination, we were less than thrilled with our less than stellar accommodations.  We had been told we’d have the third floor of the hotel all to ourselves and that each room had a private bathroom.  While they did give us the whole third floor of the hotel, the four bedrooms had only twin beds and the only bathrooms were in the hallway and shared by all of us.  One bathroom had no cold water (so the toilet and sink didn’t work and the shower was scalding hot) and the other bathroom had no hot water (so the sink and toilet worked but the shower was freezing cold).  The hallway smelled like sewage.  There was a dead bug and a used qtip on the floor.  There were no curtains on the window in the room Brian and I shared.  Despite having been promised a restaurant and a crib, the hotel had neither.  The hotel staff did eventually come up with a pack n play for Kev.  The hotel was certainly not ideal but it was late, our options were limited, and the kids were all destroyed so we put them to bed.  The hotel had been recommended to us by friends who recently stayed there and loved it, so we were surprised and disappointed.  It turns out that the hotel owners (an American woman and her Peruvian husband) had gone to the United States for Thanksgiving leaving their (slacker? negligent?) staff to run the hotel.  While the cat’s away, the mice will play, I suppose.  We spoke by phone with the owner who promised to fix a few things and send hotel staff to go buy us dinner, hoping to make up for the hotel’s shortcomings.  Since the hotel was only going to be a place for us to sleep for a few nights and the owners offered a discount, we decided to just stay.  We ate our Peruvian chicken dinners and went to sleep in our separate twin beds.

Everyone got up extra early the next morning, at 3:45am, so that we could be at the train station at 4:35 for a 5:05 train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.  Despite the very early hour, the kids were all in good spirits as we waited to board the train.

During our 90-minute train ride, the kids were entertained with snacks and coloring books from the train staff, and of course the beautiful views.

The boys especially enjoyed traveling alongside the Urubamba River and looking for animals.  Danny was convinced there were sharks in the river and Patrick was sure there were octopus.  (Now you can see where Dan’s head hit the corner of the bathroom door at lunch the day before.)

We got off the train in the town of Aguas Calientes and then bought tickets for the 20-minute bus ride which would take us to the entrance of Machu Picchu. 

The drive was very steep with lots of switchbacks and impressive mountain views with clouds and the morning mist hanging low.

Once we got off the bus, loaded up on sunscreen, and had all used the bathroom at the hotel just outside the park, we were finally ready to enter the park. 

At last, we were in Machu Picchu!  Believed to have been built around 1450 (though the exact purpose remains unknown) and abandoned a century later, the site was discovered by American Hiram Bingham in 1911.  The property was built using large polished dry stones that fused together without the use of mortar.

We were rewarded with beautiful views right away.

After walking around a bit, the kids were all getting sweaty and stripped off a layer of clothing. Kevin too!

Although Baby Kev did seem to enjoy what he saw, he also did a lot of eating and sleeping and missed a bit of the scenery too.

The animals we saw, especially the llamas and alpacas, were very popular with the kids.

Machu Picchu is a huge place with lots of terraces and walking paths.

There’s Brian, Danny, and Patrick standing in front of what is believed to be the main door to the ruins.  And that towering mountain in the background is Huayna Picchu.

After a couple hours of walking around, all the kids were ready for a rest, a bathroom, and some food.  On our way out of the park, the kids were fascinated by the park caretaker “brushing Machu Picchu’s teeth” (cleaning the stones with a toothbrush).

We had a great lunch at the snack bar -they even had delicious deli sandwiches (can’t get that in Paraguay)!  Danny enjoyed French fries and the adults all enjoyed Cusqueña beers.

Recharged, we headed back into the park.

Everywhere we looked were steep drop offs and sheer cliffs. The picture below on the left is the switchback road we took to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

In many places the large stones fit so well together that a piece of paper would not even fit between them.  

Danny and Patrick and their friend Desmond had fun together climbing on rocks and playing and sitting in the dirt.  They all were wearing green shirts and several people asked us if the boys are triplets.

We walked a few miles and climbed up many flights of stairs exploring all the ruins.  Each kid had a breakdown or two at various times.  We pushed them pretty hard that day.

As we left the park and prepared to get in the extremely long lines for the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, a wonderful park guard took pity on us and our six filthy and exhausted children and let us get right on the next bus.  His kindness probably saved us at least 45 minutes of waiting in line and certainly spared us a few meltdowns.  Back down in the town we did some shopping and had a little snack (and bought pizza and chicken fingers for the kids to eat for dinner on the train).  

In the town square we saw a strange advertisement of a Guinea pig dressed in traditional Peruvian clothes advertising the consumption of cooked Guinea pig known as “cuy” a traditional Peruvian dish.

We walked to the station for our train back to Ollantaytambo.

Everyone was a little tired after the long train, but mostly happy.  There was a strange rainbow-clothed character who did a dance on the train and then led a fashion show of Peruvian clothing for sale.  We didn’t buy anything.

When we got off the train in Ollantaytambo, the boys – especially Danny – were so excited to take a jitney from train station to the town square.

In the town square, Danny was fascinated by the garbage cans with panther heads.

We put the tired kids right to bed and they all fell immediately asleep. We got alpaca burgers for takeout for dinner for the adults. 

To be honest, it was a tough day.  The scenery and the ruins were stunning, unbelievable, and thought-provoking.  But it is quite stressful traveling with a group of extremely active and risk-taking kids in a place where any wrong step could lead to a death plunge of thousands of feet.  It’s frustrating to constantly tell the kids to be careful, stay away from the edge.  Sometimes they are not the best listeners!  The kids certainly enjoyed it though.  Patrick told us it had been the best day of his life.  Danny frequently looked around at the scenery and said, “Isn’t this nice?”  It’s a beautiful place, though tough to get to, and not really ideal for so many young kids, but I’m glad we went!

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