Everyone knows that getting to Machupicchu is a challenge. Whether you trek for days along the Inca Trail and stumble through the Sun Gate, exhausted and sweat-drenched, or you hike in through Aguas Calientes and climb the 1,800+ steps to the entrance of Machupicchu.
And that's what we all talk about. The trek to Machupicchu and, of course, Machupicchu itself. But no one ever talks about leaving Machupicchu. It's no wonder why; after an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience who wants to talk about the long, boring bus ride back to Cusco?
Usually, no one. But in this case, the road back to Cusco was far from boring. It was, however, long. Very long.
It all started with the flooding
After exploring Machupicchu and gawking at the unbelievable sights, my friend and I walked down the 1,800+ steps where we met the rest of our crew snacking and giving their feet a much needed rest.
"Have you heard?" They asked as we took seats beside them.
Their discouraged looks filled me with dread. "Heard what?" I asked.
Apparently the rain from the night before had created a mud slide on the only road out and no one was sure how the buses were going to get us back to Cusco. Still, no one had an alternate route, so we made our way back to Hidroelectrica and waited for the van to come for us.
The van came and said nothing about any flooding, so we all piled in feeling a bit reassured, like maybe the mudslide had been a miscommunication. Surely the driver would have told us otherwise.
The drive was going well...
We were all drifting in and out, exhausted from the trekking, and I was pretty sure I was going to sleep the whole drive home. Then the car stopped.
The driver turned off the car and instructed us to all get out and wait on the side of the road. We did as he instructed and saw a few trucks clearing up a minor mud slide. It was causing a hold up, but nothing too major. Within half an hour the trucks were waving our bus across a small wooden plank that served as a make-shift bridge over the still-rushing water.
"Well that wasn't so bad," I exclaimed. We all assumed that was the mudslide everyone had been talking about and settled back in for a long drive. A general sense of relief filled the van; the hardest part was over. We would make it to Cusco in no time.
Then the car stopped again.
This time, there was an entire line of cars parked on the side of the street. Tourists from all over the world were lined up and muttering to one another in various languages. At first it was hard to see why, but we pushed our way to the front of the crowd and this is what we saw:
We all watched, mesmerized. Their progress was so... interesting... that we couldn't look away and could hardly worry about getting to Cusco. It was entirely impossible to make sense of what the workers were doing. Every time we thought we understood where they were planning to lead us, they made another move and sent rocks flying in an avalanche down the mountain, destroying the very road we thought they were planning to send us across.
This went on for what felt like forever. The crowed gasped and held their breath as the truck drove dangerously close to the edge, pushing more and more dirt and rocks over the cliff, causing avalanche after avalanche. But the longer they worked the harder it became to see where they could possibly be sending us.
Then the car pulled back and we all assumed he was getting ready for another charge. Everyone spoke rapidly to their fellow travelers, each group coming up with their own idea of what he would do next. However, none of us guessed right and his behavior came as a complete shock.
The driver pulled the truck back as far as it would go, stopped, got out of the car, and turned to the crowd.
The construction workers insisted that the road was safe and started guiding the first traveler across their haphazard path.
This "path" meant that each person had to climb atop the truck, over the mudslide, across the dirt that had been supported by the rocks we'd just watched him push off the cliff, and down a steep 15-foot drop. On the other side a new group of vans sat waiting for us to continue the ride to Cusco. The workers and drivers acted as if this was no big deal and a few travelers tried to adopt this nonchalant attitude, but the majority of us watched with horror as the first group made their way across.
The scramble would have been tough enough if we'd moved one at a time, but that was not the case. The workers kept sending tourists through, regardless of how many of us were lined up on the path already. This meant that at one time at least ten or fifteen tourists were standing on a dirt path no more than a foot wide, close to twenty feet high, and supported by... well by nothing as far as we could see. In fact we had just watched the truck create avalanche after avalanche out of the very shaky ground they were now corralling us on to.
Regardless, everyone made it through. Some with more difficulty than others, but in the end we were all on the other side of the mudslide and finding our new vans. Laughter and chatter filled the air (the kind that always follows when people are at least 50% sure they could die), but it was soon replaced by frustration as the vans took ages to fill and leave.
The rest of the drive went fairly well... we had to stop a few more times for longer than we'd have hoped for and in the end the entire drive home took twice as long as it would have without the obstacles, and there's no doubt it left us all tired, muddy and grumpy... but hey! At least it made our leaving Machupicchu story something worth telling!