Everything they say is true. Aguas Cali­entes is a tacky tourist town; the entire train trip there and prices in town are out­rageous with dis­crim­in­atory pri­cing for tour­ists and it’s all worth it.

On the first day, we got onto the bus and clutched each other throughout the heart-stopping bus ride, con­scious of prom­ises to 

to “be careful” after news of a bus going over a pre­cipice in Central Peru (how are we sup­posed to be careful? We’re not driving!) At the top, we climb above the ruins and it’s mag­ni­fi­cent, spread out beneath us.

We stop on one of the ancient agri­cul­tural ter­races and swing our legs over the stones. We hold hands and murmur softly in the bright blue day. Even­tu­ally we walk down into the town, the res­id­ences, the temple of the sun, the green, green grass of the square. We see llamas grazing on the sides, and so many swal­lows and a grand bird of prey gliding down with out­stretched wings. As the light fades, we see a chinchilla, sweet and small with a long fluffy tail.

We catch the last bus down and then go to meet Aussie glass­blowers we met on the train at a French Per­uvian café called Indio Feliz that serves excel­lent wine and a set menu for an out­rageous 40 soles (around $13). We have divine rainbow trout and ginger chicken and per­fect veget­ables and incred­ible desserts.

Next day we are up at 4am and on the first bus up the moun­tain. Today the plan is to climb Waynu Picchu, the peak behind Machu Picchu. We make it to the top in an hour and a half, only to find that the temple of the moon is actu­ally a per­ilous climb halfway down the north face of the moun­tain using lad­ders and ropes where the Incan stair­ways have col­lapsed. It is, how­ever, beau­tiful. The vistas, the forest, the sky. All of it.

At times, returning to Machu Picchu, we are exhausted and in pain and feel we can’t go on, but even­tu­ally we make it back, five hours of walking under our belts, and pay through the nose for a fairly extra­vagant and extensive buffet. I go back in to look at the Inti­huatana and the Temple of the Condor while Doug sits out his pain and then we go back down on the crazy bus. I drag the poor guy up the (com­par­at­ively gentle) hill to the hot water baths that the Aguas Cali­entes town is named after and we soak for a little before our train back to Cuzco. We need it. We’re not exactly in shape.