Machu Picchu

When we booked our cruise around the Galápagos Islands, we added the option to visit Machu Picchu (Wikipedia). This meant travelling to Lima from Quito (after our return from  Baltra), an overnight in Lima at the very nice Country Club Hotel and then another flight to Cuzco where we spent three nights in the Monasterio Hotel. We checked into the hotel for a late lunch, and then visited the local cathedral—no photos worth displaying. The following day, the rest of the group took a trip to a local market and the Sacred Valley; unfortunately, I was laid low by tummy trouble, which may have been a symptom of altitude sickness. I stayed in the hotel to give myself the best chance of recovering for Machu Picchu the following day.

Although it was only a day trip to Machu Picchu, we went in luxury on  the Hiram Bingham Orient Express. My tummy was much better at breakfast and completely recovered after a couple of welcome glasses of champagne—the first of which included a dash of Pisco and a small piece of lime. It wasn’t the most successful cocktail; the Pisco really did overpower the champagne (I think it was really South American bubbly).

The train ride was 3+ hours each way; so we ate brunch (really lunch) and dinner on the train. The food was excellent , and the Pisco Sours on the return journey made sure I had no recurrence of my trouble. There was a decent 3-piece band providing entertainment both ways. They were particularly good fun on the return journey with a mixture and Spanish songs and pop/rock that the crowd could sing along to. It was already dark, so no point in looking out the window.

It’s about 25 minutes on a coach long a seriously winding road to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu from the station. Entrance is by personal ticket, so you need a passport to get in. Once inside, keep the passport open because you can get a commemorative stamp.

Although the actual site is quite large, some areas—Temple of the Sun, Guard House—were pretty crowded. There is supposed to be a daily limit of 2,500 visitors, but our guide said that no-one pays it much attention.

Pictures of Machu Picchu are so common that I found no real “wow factor” when seeing it myself: “Oh yeah, it really does look like that”. And I couldn’t help thinking about Tintin. The weather was a mostly overcast with occasional bursts of sunshine, but we didn’t get rained on. I did get seriously bitten, though I didn’t notice at the time, which was unfortunate because we did have insect repellent wipes that remained unused. Still I did take plenty of photos.

A Galápagos Islands Adventure with a Machu Picchu Postscript

We have just returned from a fabulous vacation that included a week visiting the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador and a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. We travelled with Celebrity Cruises. This is the first of a series of posts. Of course, I took lots of pictures, which I’ll post as I process them.

Day 1 Friday: London – Quito  crappiness from Iberia

A dreadfully early start was required: a 2am pickup for a flight from LHR at just past 6am for the first leg to Madrid. This was operated by BA and was perfectly fine. It was a different story on the next leg, Madrid-Quito, which was operated by Iberia. Both companies are now part of IAG, but  based on our experience this holiday, service levels are poles apart.

The trouble began at the boarding gate in Madrid Airport. Iberia have a group approach to boarding: starting with the usual people with young children or needing special assistance, frequent fliers and people sitting in the posh seats. After that lesser mortals board according to a group number printed on their boarding card. None of this was explained ahead of time, so the gate area was a crush of people who surged forward each time one of the gate staff began to announce something. English reserve is no use in such situations, so with our group 1 status we pushed our way to the gate—when the number was announced, of course.

Once on board we discovered that there was no in-seat entertainment system (for a flight of around 11 hours). There were communal screens. Of the two we could see, one was too far away and the other was off to the left, and would have almost certainly resulted in a stiff neck. Since the main feature was The Smurfs movie, the screens didn’t matter much in the end.

Airline food is usually not the best cuisine: Iberia exceeded expectations…  but not in a good way. The food was awful. The service we received was OK, but not very friendly. Subsequently, we spoke to other passengers—about 30-odd from the UK were also on the cruise—who reported rudeness and surly behaviour from the crew.

One final story about the flight: we were surprised to see a cute Boxer puppy waiting at the gate in Madrid—not in a kennel, but on a leash. We were even more surprised to see the same puppy waiting at baggage reclaim in Quito. Apparently, the puppy was seen walking around the plane. This also explained the little puddle that we’d seen walking from the plane to baggage reclaim.

Discomfort ended when we were deposited at the JW Marriott in Quito for the first of two nights. We ate at the sushi bar in the hotel, or rather half-ate their Sushi Kamikaze, which even with one between two was too big to finish. I ignored the advice about going easy on alcohol at altitude and drank beer followed by saké.

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