Location: Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

We left Ollantaytambo this morning to take the train to Aguas Calientes – the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train station was also the starting point of the Inca Trail. These four days and three nights, however, we replaced with a 90-minute train ride. Phew. The inside of the train was surprisingly modern, and the windows stretched up into the ceiling to better see the mountains overhead. We were traveling to a place of significantly lower altitude, and this decline was obvious. Most of the vegetation we had seen so far was prickly pairs and small shrubs. Outside the train, everything suddenly became green. A cascade of thick vines and mosses dominated the mountains on every side. Trees with huge leaves stretched out from the cliff faces like they were reaching for my hand. Snow-capped peaks still towered over the Andes as the touched the cloudless sky. The sight was, like, totally awesome.

We reached Aguas Calientes at around 10 am. We had some free time to explore the mountain town before lunch, and later, a hike to a nearby waterfall. I found a small art gallery and realized how badly I wanted some artwork to take home with me. I had to use my parent’s credit card to purchase a small, abstract oil painting of Machu Picchu. They told me to use it only for emergencies, and I’m assuming this classified as one. If it’s not, I’m still not sorry.

The hike was, unsurprisingly, stunning. Once we reached the outskirts of the town, we walked beside the Urubamba River. The river was littered with huge, smooth, limestone boulders. Combined with the surrounding mountains, the only thing I could think to do was sing the Jurassic Park theme song. It looked so untouched until we reached the railroad. We spent most of the hike walking either on or beside the tracks. We sang every song we could think of, from Disney to Taylor Swift (official mascot of this trip). We veered off to a dirt track after about an hour. We walked through what felt like a jungle. I could hear the rushing water but couldn’t see it through the thick vegetation. When we reached the clearing, I was immediately graced with the cool mist of the waterfall on my hot skin. The torrent of water was turquoise. On the way back we walked along the same path, definitely more tired but just as happy. About halfway back we heard the roar of a train in the distance. I truly felt like one of the kids from Stand By Me (without the dead body). We waited by the side of the path while the blue machine rumbled past. The passengers waved as we attempted to take pictures. I sadly missed our trek due to illness and this hike was perfect.

Tomorrow we finally go to Machu Picchu. We are waking up at 4 am so we can watch the sunrise. I truly can’t believe it. My whole life I’ve dreamed of going to The Sacred City, standing at the point where all the postcard photos are taken, getting a really cute photo, and posting it on Instagram. I’m just sarcastic of course. But in all seriousness, thank you Lifeworks, my parents, and everyone involved for giving me the opportunity to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve waited my whole life, and now it’s just a few hours away.