Galapagos has a challenger in the ‘Highlight of the Trip’ category. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present…Machu Picchu! (Thunderous applause!!) Machu Picchu would have to be one of the most phenomenal experiences of our lives. It exceeded all of our expectations, as did the journey on the Hiram Bingham train.
We were very excited about our little train trip, and eagerly clambered into the taxi for our 20 minute drive from Cusco to Poroy station. The drive itself was quite interesting. It had rained most of the night (as it seems to do every night in Cusco!), and the morning saw the drizzle persisting. Once out of the cities in Peru, there is a clear lack of footpaths of any sort, and so with the regular rain of the region, everything is awash with mud – roads, cars, people, buildings…dogs! But the rain did not deter us. Once at Poroy station, we leapt from the car, bidding Eduardo adieu, and let ourselves be swept away by the fantasy that was the Orient Express owned Hiram Bingham train. Everything about this train fulfilled all dreams about old world train journeys. Such decadence! Such luxury! AND champagne at 8:30am!! Bliss! Peru Rail, Hiram Bingham train
There were a small group of indigenous Peruvian musicians and dancers on the platform performing for us as we arrived, and being the helpful and, oh so retiring people that we are, we joined them in a bit of a dance. It didn’t take long for us to get a bit puffed, though, bloody altitude! Once exhausted by our exertions, we climbed aboard and explored the train. There were two sumptuous dining carriages, a bar and lounge carriage (that also had a jewellery display cabinet for those inclined to shop!), and an observation carriage at the rear, which had a glass ceiling and was open at the back.
Nic settled in to write in her journal (which had been much neglected of late), but was distracted from her task by striking up a conversation with a couple from Belfast, Robert and Richard, who were sitting opposite us in the dining carriage. Our connection was immediate, animated and vivacious, and we didn’t stop talking until we got off the train at 10:15pm!! We are already planning our trip to Northern Ireland!
The 3 or so hours of train ride passed quickly, in contrast to the actual speed of the train, which meandered along at a charming pace on the narrow gauge rails. Our time was spent in conversation, as well as quick runs to the observation carriage with many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the magnificent scenery. The scale of the mountains really is impossible to fathom, and drifting through the tiny picturesque villages dotted with colourful poncho-wearing people and their llama companions, continued to make us smile as we attempted to capture the moments with our cameras. What took us by surprise were the many young eucalyptus trees sprinkled throughout the landscape – a tiny snippet of Aus right there in Peru.
When we arrived in the small town of Aguas Calientes (at the base of the mountain that is home to Machu Picchu), we were faced with many market stalls and hawkers selling their wares. It was a cute little town – a smaller, Peruvian version of Thredbo! We boarded our bus for the very winding ascent to the top, jaws agape at the ever more awe-inspiring scenery unfolding at each hairpin turn.
But even our train and bus journeys could not prepare us for the beauty and wonder that greeted us as we climbed the first rise in the national park and saw before us the citadel of Machu Picchu. There was something so very moving, almost spiritual, about that place. There were tears in Nic’s eyes as she gazed, slack-jawed and a little ‘trembley,’ at the ruins. Our intelligent and witty guide, Carlos, must be so used to such reactions, and he waited patiently for us to gather our composure before taking us to the best viewing spots for photos and filling our hungry minds with information about the ancient city – he answered our questions before we could even ask them!
It was fascinating to learn about this civilisation that lived in complete harmony with nature. They were so NOT about pillaging the earth and letting greed rule their lives. Their engineering was phenomenal; the structures they created with their primitive tools were beyond belief – especially the sun temple, which has not needed ANY reconstruction since it was ‘rediscovered’ (not even earthquakes have impacted on that sucker!)
Carlos explained about the harmony of balance in the architecture, as well as the importance, and holiness of the ‘threes’ in the temples (windows, steps…) – we didn’t expect it to extend to the 3 chinchillas sitting on a rock in one of the many, many temples! They were very cute – a chinchilla looks like a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit.
After exploring the citadel remains for a few hours, under the guidance of trusty Carlos, we alighted from our time machine, and joined our fellow travellers in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge for high tea (all inclusive of our Hiram Bingham experience). From there we held on for the winding descent to Aguas Calientes, drifted aimlessly through the numerous stalls back to the station, and breathed a satisfied sigh when we were ensconced in our dining carriage aboard our familiar, luxurious train. Nic decided NOT to buy the magnificent, truly gorgeous piece of jewellery that had been taunting and teasing her throughout the outward bound journey (that mongrel thief in Lima put an end to those dreams!), and settled for some more excellent Argentinian wine and food instead. Such sacrifice!
Our journey back to Poroy station (and the trusty care of our driver Eduardo), passed even more quickly than the outgoing one. Our conversations with our newfound friends were cranked up a notch, as more and more surprising connections were made, and laughter flowed more freely than the wine. It seems we managed to cram a week of companionship into the one day, and we were sad to say goodbye at the end of our adventure.